The Seven Day Music Challenge

I’m often loathe to participate in Facebook-type “List your Top Ten Favorite Reptiles – ththen hit share!”  But this invitation proved irresistible.

The premise was that the participant would write about a musical epiphany  – one a day for seven days.  Oh, the hours of my life I lost obsessing on this!  But here we go.

Chronologically:

Day One – It’s kind of a long story about how I came to love Beethoven and, from there, many composers of the Baroque and Romantic periods.  It started with a biography I read from my elementary school library.  I was in 3rd or 4th grade, I think. As it happened, Leonard Bernstein conducted the New York Philharmonic at the time, and every couple of months he andth-1 the orchestra would host a televised Young People’s Concert.  These were amazing shows, and Bernstein was a very engaging educator.  One such show was devoted to Beethoven and, among other pieces, the orchestra performed Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major.  All of it is stunning, but the II Andante con moto is darkly beautiful.  It is supposed to sonically represent Orpheus at the gates of Hades.  I don’t think there’s any question!

Why no heavy metal band has stolen the phrases of the menacing strings in the con moto escapes me.

Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major – II Andante con moto – L. Bernstein conducting

 

Day Two – I think I was a freshman in high school, and just starting to find out what FM radio was about.  I remember hanging in my room on a Saturday, dialing through the FM stations on my oh-so-cool digital clock radio.  WGLD was a favorite Chicago station in the very early ‘70’s, and I think it was there that I landed on this beat poet-esque soliloquy, accompanied by only conga drums.  For the first minute, I thought the content was funny. By the end, in a sudden, bolt-upright glimpse into adulthood, I realized it wasn’t funny at all.

Gil-Scott Heron – The Revolution will not be Televised

 

Day Three – There was a neighbor of mine that the local guys all thought was very hip.  He was probably seven years older than most of us. He played the drums (which is why I started playing), and would wash his yellow VW bug with the 8-track blaring something cool from the interior.  Some of the tapes were Traffic’s John Barleycorn Must Die and Jethro Tull’s Benefit – both of which I ran out and bought, and are both still pretty groundbreaking, even today.

But we were talking drummers one day, and he tried to describe a band to me (I later found out why he couldn’t describe them – because it was not possible).  I don’t know that he remembered the band’s name, but he somehow recalled that the name of the album was The Inner Mounting Flame.  With that much info, I was able to find it.  I put it on the turntable, and the first of those nine long, intense, opening chords to Meeting of the Spirits sounded – almost daring you to listen on. By then, the emerging hypnotic, 6/4-time arpeggiated guitar already lured me in. That unchained, phrenetic-but-beautiful album is as amazing today as it was 40+ years ago.

http://Mahavishnu Orchestra – Meeting of the Spirits — youtube

VERY close runner-up: Jimi Hendrix, Band of Gypsys – the guitar solo on “Machine Gun”

 

Day Four – There was a core of rock musicians in my high school, and most of us Joejammed in various permutations of over that time.  As a junior, I gigged with a couple of seniors who were into blues, but also appreciated jazz.  We were jamming at the guitarist’s house and took a break, repairing to his room to listen to some records.  He may have asked if the bass player and I had heard of guitarist Joe Pass – I can’t remember.  But he put Pass’ Virtuoso on the turntable and cued up How High the Moon, which starts slowly and beautifully. It caught my attention.  But by the 2:00 mark I was standing up, staring at the speaker.  By 2:30 where the unaccompanied guitarist was walking his own bass lines and strumming a syncopated rhythm guitar line, I’m pretty sure I was audibly yelling “what the fuck????”

I bought it on the way home after our jam.  You should find it and buy it, too.

Joe Pass “How High the Moon” from the lp “Virtuoso’

 

Day Five – Progressive Rock (a.k.a. Art Rock) was kind of the thing when I was in high school.  Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes, Peter Gabriel-era Genesis…  The musicianship was pretty staggering, even if Rick Wakeman’s gold cape and multi-keyboard set-up was maybe a bit more style than substance.

The music was filled with mellotrons, odd time signatures, novel key modulations and Renaissance / minstrel fantastical lyrics (I’m guessing… I’m not a lyrics guy).  As a drummer, I loved the challenge of the occasional 15/4 and 9/8 time signatures.  But the band that really trumped the genre didn’t seem to get much press.  I had read about them before I heard them (maybe around my senior year of HS), and after I heard them, I don’t know why the press even bothered trying to describe what the group attempted.

The first album I heard from Gentle Giant was Three Friends, and the opening cut Prologue. I’m not going to try and describe their music either.  It would be futile : ) But when I heard the madrigal voices emerge in the middle of the opener, well….  just listen for yourself at 1:49.  And if I hadn’t seen them pull things like this off LIVE…  for that reason, they may have been the greatest live rock band I ever saw.  Apart from the usual rock arsenal, they brought with them actual strings, saxes, trumpet, descant recorders, vibraphone… and they made serious use of everything on that stage.

Early on they apparently were the opening act for Yes.  If I were Yes, I’d have switched that order around in a hurry. Yes was made up of great instrumentalists, but as an ensemble, they couldn’t touch GG.  GG’s undoing was probably that their music wasn’t as “accessible” to the listener, as in it was too complex, therefore not marketable.  Alas, “accessibility” seems to plague many of the bands I love.  But delve into the GG catalog.  There are fortunately 35-40 year-old (!) clips of their amazing live and studio work on youtube.

Gentle Giant – Prologue from “Three Friends” youtube

Very close runner-up in same time frame: Zappa / Mothers – One Size Fits All

 

Day Six – Dan, the same guy who turned me on to Joe Pass (see Day 4), recruited me to attend his small liberal arts college in Wisconsin.  We were both night owls, and I would get out of my dorm to avoid temptation (18 year-old drinking age at the time) and show up at his decrepit off-campus house because I knew he’d be studying, and I’d be able to do the same.

It approached midnight one such night and Dan announced that it was “almost time for Cuzner”.

Who?

He gave me a knowing “just wait” look, and tuned his receiver in to WFMR, the Milwaukee classical music station.

At the stroke of midnight, you heard the opening piano notes of Duke Ellington’s Solitude, and it would continue, beautifully and uninterrupted, until the formal-sounding Ron Cuzner would languidly announce “Good Morning… and welcome to (the brand new day of the week)”.  And at just the right times while Solitude continued in the background, he’d inform you that you were listening to “The Dark Side” of (insert new day here).  Well, you can hear it for yourself.  Through the miracle that is the internet, I’ve found an actual October, 1976 Dark Side intro.  Let the “This is jazz” wash over you.

Throughout my college years, Ron – along with a few gallons of bad coffee and cartons of Marlboros – would educate Dan & I about Kenny Dorham, Fats Navarro, Miles Davis, Sonnys Stitt, Criss and Rollins, Johnny Hodges, Charlie Parker, Lew Tabackin, Don Byas, Gerry Mulligan, Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans, Mary Lou Williams, Count Basie, Joe Pass, Freddie Green, Ron Carter, Jimmy Blanton, Billy Higgins, Elvin Jones, Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Williams…   an endless list.

In between cuts, caffeination, cigarettes and study, Dan and I would talk jazz, argue jazz, and just generally revel in the artistic moment while the rest of the campus and country slept.

They were some of the best hours of my life.

October, 1976 Intro to The Dark Side – Sonny Criss set follows

(This link opens with the ending of the classical programming.  A Blood, Sweat & Tears album cover appears.  Stay with it, and do not panic).  : )

 

Day Seven:  In the late spring of 1978, just ending my junior year in college, two pals in my class and I attended an older classmate’s graduation on campus, and immediately UKafter the four of us made off in a packed old Buick to go backpacking in the Smoky Mountains.

Adventures involving makeshift car repairs, fearless indigenous wildlife, etc. ensued.

But the musical epiphany happened when the backpacking was done and we still had some days to kill, so we road-tripped to a campground in the Florida panhandle.  We drove all night, and in between the mind-numbing you’ll-burn-in-hell! southern Christian radio, we managed to find a college radio station that was playing something instantly familiar – but not.

First I picked out the vocals and bass of John Wetton – a fave of mine who had played with Family and a ‘73-ish incarnation of King Crimson.  Then, the drummer in me quickly picked out former Yes and King Crimson percussionist Bill Bruford.  From that I deduced that it was a post-Crimson trio rumored to involve Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman, Wetton and Bruford that I had read about, but never materialized.

Were these the “lost tapes”?

Then through the car stereo I heard the unmistakable guitar of Allan Holdsworth.  The elusive guitarist was (and still is) beyond category. I was familiar with his work in Tempest, the New Tony Williams Lifetime, Bill Bruford’s solo work and Pierre Moerlin’s Gong, but his output was unpredictable, as he never stayed with the same band for long.  You had to revel in his Coltrane-like “sheets of sound” approach when you could find it.  Together with former Roxy Music & Zappa keyboardist Eddie Jobson (the only member I couldn’t really ID from the radio) they formed U.K.

I found the album at a Florida record store the next day during a gas stop, and found out what I could from the liner notes, but didn’t buy it until I returned to the Midwest.

Later that summer, I flew to Albany, NY, to visit my girlfriend, and who should be appearing in town at a small theater?

So I got to see them live, very early in their tour.  The talent was pretty mind-boggling.

UK: In the Dead of Night

 

So… what would your Seven Day Music Challenge look like?

Book Review: The sonic boom: How sound transforms the way we think, feel, and buy

Beckerman, J., Gray, T. (2014). The sonic boom: How sound transforms the way we think, feel, and buy. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

We react faster to sound than to any other sensory stimuli. Not by much, especially relative to 9780544191747touch and sight (placing 2nd & 3rd in the sense race). But composer and Sonic Boom author Joel Beckerman cites this science to argue why some companies knowingly offer ongoing (and profitable) “boom” moments for their customers, while other companies spend millions exclusively on visual ads while ignoring the importance of sound in fostering a great customer experience.

Beckerman is the founder of Man Made Music, a company specializing in sonic branding. He and co-author Tyler Gray waste no time in regaling the reader with corporate stories where sound played an important part in a company’s success – whether the customer realized it or not!

The art of successfully utilizing sound as a marketing tool is to make it speak for the brand. The th-2authors offer diverse examples: Why do kids run past a home freezer that might be stocked with Ben & Jerry’s to beg for money and chase the jingle-playing Mr. Softee ice cream truck? Mr. Softee founder Jim Conway knows: because “going to the fridge isn’t an experience”. A more high-tech example? If it wasn’t for devoted Apple employee Jim Reekes, that big, comforting two-hands-on-the-synthesizer-keyboard C-major chord that announces your Mac is ready would have been a harsh tritone – historically known as the “devil’s interval”. For my non-musician readers, ask a musician pal to simultaneously hit C with the F# above it. Sonic
agony! Many of Reekes’ coworkers didn’t understand the big deal, but at this point in the book, theimages term “earcon” is introduced – the sonic version of the icon or logo. And that big, warm C-chord is as experientially important to Apple as the visual design lines and screen graphics of your MacBook Air.

Some of Sonic Boom’s marketing and customer experience claims would seem to be common sense: customers spent significantly more on food & drink in a restaurant when slower tempo music is playing; supermarket sales are up 38% when the stores opt for the same. Simply, when you’re aroused by music, you’re less likely to take time to shop, and your extra money walks out the door with you. But the authors challenge businesses to take sound to a new creative level: Why not pump in college or NFL game sounds in the chip, dip, and beer sections of the supermarket? Salsa music in the aisles lined with tamales and frijoles negros? Pair sounds with the store’s visuals and aromas, and transform a domestic chore into a trip to a theme park!

On a larger scale, the authors believe in the creation of brand anthems, not jingles. Think the Star Wars and James Bond franchises: each has an anthem that can be sonically related with both a few notes AND a cinematic orchestra.

On a smaller scale, a business owner needs to devote some serious planning on their soundscape. How do you want people to feel when they hear your sonic brand? What music does your competition play in their stores? Rather than go with the most recognizable tunes by a customer-friendly band, maybe go with deeper cuts. But as the authors note, “make sure it sounds like YOUR party, and not someone else’s.”

In any case, the authors advise that it’s never too early in a plan to consider your sonic branding – don’t wait until the end of your creative process. Sonic branding should be a consideration from the beginning (where it might even offer some inspiration!).

Finally, it’s ironic that I’m finishing this entry on Martin Luther King Day. Sonic Boom actually cites Dr. King, and recalled how his song-like oratory style yielded its own sonic stamp. He often made reference to and quoted from spiritual music. Indeed, the lyrics from the spiritual Free at Last was the crescendo of his “I Have a Dream” speech. The authors note that “…King might have created history’s most powerful “boom” moment by tapping into the power of a song lyric that instantly conveyed a place in time, a rich history of a specific set of disenfranchised people and hope for their future”.

Find out more about Joel Beckerman and to try out his Interactive Experience here:

http://joelbeckerman.com

 

 

 

So, just who IS the lord-god-king of shredding whammy bar guitar?

This blog entry was originally published in 2014, and based on a 2009 interstate concert marathon!

Some of you know that fellow guitar geek Brother Vince and I saw Jeff Beck a few years back, then saw Adrian Belew on the following night in an unofficial electric guitar shredder smackdown.  Here are my notes from that trem3interstate two-nighter.

The criteria:

Most Guitar Effects Pedals on a Single Stage:

Advantage – Belew (the most in history!)

Attractive Young Woman on Bass with Chops Deluxe:

Advantage – Beck — but not by a landslide! Tal Wilkenfeld was great, but Julie Slick with Belew was doing some serious bassin’.

Best Drummer:

Advantage – Beck.  Hey, he had former Zappa drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. Say no more! But…. Julie Slick’s brother Eric still did some monster drumming for Belew!

Guitar Strangling Technique:

Advantage – Belew. Both these guys can contort a guitar to make it speak, but only Belew can tie it into a pretzel.

Better Music Venue:

Advantage – Belew. He played at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music, soon apparently to be renamed as “The Old Town School of Folk and electric-guitars-so-amped-and-effected-up-your-eardrums-will-melt Music”. But the place is so intimate that you could be in the balcony and reach out and dab the sweat from Belew’s balding pate. Which brings us to……

Best Rockin’ Guitarist ‘do:

Advantage – Neither. Belew at least goes au naturel, but Beck (at about age 62) cannot possibly have the full head of black hair he sports onstage. Maybe he and jailed former Illinois guv Rod Blagojevich have the same stylist?

Best Ability to go from shredding rock licks to tear-jerking ballad melody:

Advantage – Beck. His version of Stevie Wonder’s “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” really holds up. Plus, he did another ballad as an encore from the album “Guitar Shop” — the song title of which escapes me – that was just wrenchingly beautiful.

Best Version of a Beatle Tune:

Advantage – Both?? A tough one! Beck did “A Day in the Life”, Belew quoted “Within You and Without You”. Points all around. Interesting that they both dipped into the Sgt. Pepper’s well. Personally, I’m waiting for someone to dare to try a version of one of my fave Beatle’s tunes — Pepper’s “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite”. Belew probably has a couple of guitar pedals that would convey the required calliope and 3-ring circus music, though.

Guitar-God Stage Strut: 

Advantage – Beck. If only because I remember when Belew was with Zappa in ’78-ish and briefly wore a dress onstage. No amount of Belew’s attempted strutting will eradicate that image for me.

Look at Your Watch and Tell Me What Time is This Time Signature:

Advantage – Belew. Both performers definitely got out of the 4/4 box early and often with some 6/4 and occasional 9/8 stuff, but I think this goes to Belew.

Best Closing Tune:

Advantage – Even. Belew ended with Crimson’s “Thela Hun Gingeet”, Beck with “Peter Gunn”. Although I have to weigh in here: One of Beck’s influences is the late Roy Buchanan, who put out a disc on the Alligator label (can’t remember the disc title) that opened with “Peter Gunn”. Buchanan’s frightening solo on “Gunn” might be one of the top solos of all time. Not sure that the best of Beck – even with all of his chops – could equal the best of Buchanan’s work.

And, our judges have applied their statistical weighting to the above items, and are returning with an envelope. We know it had to be a squeaker of decision, but the 2009 winner of the lord-god-king of shredding whammy bar guitar is…….. Jeff Beck!

Thanks to all of you for playing. Now go see some live music!

Music Therapy: The Lute as an Aural Non-Narcotic Opiate and Treatment for ADHD

This blog entry was originally published in January, 2015

My throngs of blog readers have been asking why my title page threatens some entries about music, yet there are none. Far be it from me to disappoint my legions of fans, so read on!

As many of you know – or have guessed — I’m a music junkie. In fact, I may be insufferably so. Honestly, I can’t shut up about the stuff. Musicians, instruments, acoustic, electric, arrangements, genres… I can’t think of a musical subtopic about which I wouldn’t want to know more.

I tend to stay pretty grounded in mainstream jazz, with regular forays into indie rock, classical, and world music. In fact, I’m just getting over a long-term salsa music habit (that stinging brass section and polyrhythmic percussion! Muy caliente!).

But today, I’m going to write about the lute. It’s my latest instrumental obsession. Actually, the lute and Ith-1 have kind of had a once-a-decade love affair since the early ‘80’s, when I was sharing an apartment in Chicago with a guy who had miles of vinyl, including Julian Bream: Lute Music from the Royal Courts of Europe. I was and remain enchanted by that album. I am a passable guitarist, and have nothing but respect for the classical players. But hearing Julian Bream play a single lute was like hearing two classical guitarists at once.

Perhaps some instrumental history is in order:

The lute was likely born in 12th century Europe, and can claim the North African / Middle Eastern oud (pronounced “ood”) as its parent. The lute remains physically and sonicallybream_julia_lutemusic_101b similar to the oud, with both sharing a resonant pear-shaped body with a rounded back, as well as a unique angled “pegbox”, which houses the tuning pegs. But the oud is generally strung more like the modern mandolin, with four “courses” of two strings, and is generally played with a plectrum (a.k.a., pick). By the 16th century, the lute makers of Europe were expanding the bowl size for resonance and adding courses of strings, and so lutes of the time might have anywhere from 6 to 10 courses. Later, as music of the Renaissance was often written with multiple melodies, more courses of strings could be added, the use of the plectrum fell away, and lutenists adopted a finger plucking technique for the music of the era.

With that history lesson out of the way, let’s move on to the lute’s ability to cure-what-ails-you.

Many of us listen to music as we work. Some people like pop hits with vocals. I personally work best with instrumental music, but it has to be something mentally engaging and challenging (no Kenny G., please). Lute music meets all of the above criteria for me. Plus, there are these bonuses: it’s like a non-pharmaceutical opiate. It has that effect on me, anyway. But lute music still helps you simultaneously relax and engage! And it’s cheaper than any medications (sorry, Pfizer). No syringes are necessary, and lute music leaves no reason to fear that random drug test!  In fact, I’m thinking of designing an experiment with the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration. Imagine setting up special cell towers in high congestion areas. I’m convinced that if you piped lute music via the towers so that it would temporarily override all cell phone, Bluetooth and car stereo activity in that high-stress area, the drivers would automatically relax and engage. Imagine that! Relaxed and engaged drivers! What a novelty. The insurance industry ought to fund it. Think of the return on investment!

I know, I know — you are now so excited about this little-known instrument that you’re combing iTunes while simultaneously finishing this blog entry.

Here are some starter suggestions – available on iTunes:

Julian Bream – The Complete Album Collection (this is actually the current title for the “Courts of Europe” album I noted above)

Jakob Lindberg & Paul O’Dette – English Lute Duets

Christopher Wilson & Shirley Rumsey – Early Venetian Lute Music

Bonus! Here’s an up close video of Maestro Bream in action playing a piece by lutenist and composer John Dowland (1563 – 1626) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiiLfzJcn6c

If you explore some lute music, let me know what you think. I’d like to know what pieces you most enjoy. Just remember that while no prescription is necessary, it can be habit forming! : )