Thursday, February 13, 2014

Why you wanna play that?

I enjoyed hearing jazz organist Jack McDuff making his performance philosophy clear on a recent KCSM broadcast interview. Re musicians who would sit in and ask to play an old standard, like All The Things You Are: "Man, why you wanna play that? Nobody wants to listen to it!"

Because I started playing sax in 1955 my personal taste meshed with the rock 'n' roll boom. At the same time I came to dig this new music's R&B roots thanks to KWBR (later known as KDIA) and early KSAN on the AM dial. And Blue Note jazz could be heard on KROW AM late at night -- great days for San Francisco, Oakland and the Bay Area when all that was coming at us new!

So I learned to treat anything with a swing or shuffle beat as hopelessly ancient. Louis Jordan an old fogey -- Ray Charles version of Let The Good Times Roll the definitive one for my generation. Big band swing -- boring...

Within a few years sixteenth note funk was the hottest thing going: Get Out Of My Life Woman by Lee Dorsey, anything with a Jamey Jamerson bass (we didn't know who was who in those days - just called it Motown) -- dance styles defined the mid 60s...

Then the Fillmore and Avalon blossomed starting in 1966 and everything came together. Blues roots, psychedelic newbies (most of 'em really didn't play that well -- my favorites in that era were Moby Grape and Quicksilver) -- and horn bands -- Linda Tillery & Loading Zone, Sons of Champlin, Cold Blood, Electric Flag. Then Charles Lloyd's Forest Flower recorded live at the Fillmore (one whole side of the LP was a one chord exploration) and Miles Davis had a new sound with Filles de Kilimanjaro, and of course Bitches Brew.

Country Joe & the Fish were better than they get credit for, and the only "hippie" group to live by the new ethic. They took their album proceeds and opened up the "Free Store" in Berkeley and only closed it when too many abused the privilege -- that was an instructional exercise! Santana "Blues Band" and Sly & the Family Stone were like rooting for the home team. And The Doors, The Seeds, anyone from LA were the enemy. Blood Sweat & Tears, Chicago Transit Authority -- scholarly carpetbaggers coming in to rip off our scene -- grudgingly had to admit they were really good, maybe even great. Earth Wind & Fire were rehearsing in Carmel Valley in their early days, and even though they smelled like LA money there was enough soul and musicianship there that they could come on in, and even Kool & the Gang were almost counter culture R&B when they started out.

So that's why I can't hang with the blues revival, and I don't fit with the be-boppers and Real Book crowd. And I don't fit with younger soul burners because I was dismayed when even soul music got almost too slick -- don't know the book for Ohio Players, Parliament/Funkadelic -- even my James Brown knowledge stops shortly after Sex Machine and Cold Sweat. About the time I quit playing for a living Put It Where You Want It was a new song. Anyway, there was such a proliferation of new music in every genre starting in the 70s that I quite comfortably dropped out of "the scene" in early 1972, went to school for a career in the new "digital electronics." If I hadn't got that AA (or pretty damn close, just lacking one political science and one ethnic studies course) I wouldn't have the retirement pay I have today -- at least I can make my "nut" -- unlike some of my musician friends who played straight through and have to keep playing.

Luckily I have time now to write and study. I recently spent about 3 days analyzing and charting out Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance." This is the type of song we would incorporate into our show circa 1970-71. We would cover Sly, the Isleys, Aretha, Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers "Does Your Momma Know About Me," Detroit Emeralds, Temptations, ChiLites, James Brown, James Brown, James Brown -- and for instrumentals we'd do Grazin' In The Grass, Listen Here, Live Right Now (Eddie Harris), My Money's Funny (Frank Samuels & the Kinfolk) and we'd come up with originals that sounded like Miles at the Fillmore. We could take the last chord of any tune and turn it into a 2-3 minute jam. If we could have done it as good as Charles Earland, we would've played Dolphin Dance -- certainly not "All The Things You Are." And the beautiful thing about gigging for mixed audiences circa 1968-1972 was that you would get over with a soul and R&B format -- even including "far-out" jazz -- of course, not too much of it, and wait for the right moment.  
Listen to:  Dolphin Dance -- Charles Earland -- YouTube 
Chord chart at Don Baraka's Studio Update

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