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History > 2008 > UK / USA > Music (I)




Freddie Hubbard,

Jazz Trumpeter, Dies at 70


December 30, 2008
The New York Times


Freddie Hubbard, a jazz trumpeter who dazzled audiences and critics alike with his virtuosity, his melodicism and his infectious energy, died on Monday in Sherman Oaks, Calif. He was 70 and lived in Sherman Oaks.

The cause was complications of a heart attack he had on Nov. 26, said his spokesman, Don Lucoff of DL Media.

Over a career that began in the late 1950s, Mr. Hubbard earned both critical praise and commercial success — although rarely for the same projects.

He attracted attention in the 1960s for his bravura work as a member of the Jazz Messengers, the valuable training ground for young musicians led by the veteran drummer Art Blakey, and on albums by Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and many others. He also recorded several well-regarded albums as a leader. And although he was not an avant-gardist by temperament, he participated in three of the seminal recordings of the 1960s jazz avant-garde: Ornette Coleman’s “Free Jazz” (1960), Eric Dolphy’s “Out to Lunch” (1964) and John Coltrane’s “Ascension” (1965).

In the 1970s Mr. Hubbard, like many other jazz musicians of his generation, began courting a larger audience, with albums that featured electric instruments, rock and funk rhythms, string arrangements and repertory sprinkled with pop and R&B songs like Paul McCartney’s “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” and the Stylistics’ “Betcha by Golly, Wow.” His audience did indeed grow, but his standing in the jazz world diminished.

By the start of the next decade he had largely abandoned his more commercial approach and returned to his jazz roots. But his career came to a virtual halt in 1992 when he damaged his lip, and although he resumed performing and recording after an extended hiatus, he was never again as powerful a player as he had been in his prime.

Frederick Dewayne Hubbard was born on April 7, 1938, in Indianapolis. His first instrument was the alto-brass mellophone, and in high school he studied French horn and tuba as well as trumpet. After taking lessons with Max Woodbury, the first trumpeter of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, at the Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Music, he performed locally with, among others, the guitarist Wes Montgomery and his brothers.

Mr. Hubbard moved to New York in 1958 and almost immediately began working with groups led by the saxophonist Sonny Rollins, the drummer Philly Joe Jones and others. His profile rose in 1960 when he joined the roster of Blue Note, a leading jazz label; it rose further the next year when he was hired by Blakey, widely regarded as the music’s premier talent scout.

Adding his own spin to a style informed by Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Clifford Brown, Mr. Hubbard played trumpet with an unusual mix of melodic inventiveness and technical razzle-dazzle. The critics took notice. Leonard Feather called him “one of the most skilled, original and forceful trumpeters of the ’60s.”

After leaving Blakey’s band in 1964, Mr. Hubbard worked for a while with another drummer-bandleader, Max Roach, before forming his own group in 1966. Four years later he began recording for CTI, a record company that would soon become known for its aggressive efforts to market jazz musicians beyond the confines of the jazz audience.

His first albums for the label, notably “Red Clay,” contained some of the best playing of his career and, except for slicker production and the presence of some electric instruments, were not significantly different from his work for Blue Note. But his later albums on CTI, and the ones he made after leaving the label for Columbia in 1974, put less and less emphasis on improvisation and relied more and more on glossy arrangements and pop appeal. They sold well, for the most part, but were attacked, or in some cases simply ignored, by jazz critics. Within a few years Mr. Hubbard was expressing regrets about his career path.

Most of his recordings as a leader from the early 1980s on, for Pablo, Musicmasters and other labels, were small-group sessions emphasizing his gifts as an improviser that helped restore his critical reputation. But in 1992 he suffered a setback from which he never fully recovered.

By Mr. Hubbard’s own account, he seriously injured his upper lip that year by playing too hard, without warming up, once too often. The lip became infected, and for the rest of his life it was a struggle for him to play with his trademark strength and fire. As Howard Mandel explained in a 2008 Down Beat article, “His ability to project and hold a clear tone was damaged, so his fast finger flurries often result in blurts and blurs rather than explosive phrases.”

Mr. Hubbard nonetheless continued to perform and record sporadically, primarily on fluegelhorn rather than on the more demanding trumpet. In his last years he worked mostly with the trumpeter David Weiss, who featured Mr. Hubbard as a guest artist with his group, the New Jazz Composers Octet, on albums released under Mr. Hubbard’s name in 2001 and 2008, and at occasional nightclub engagements.

Mr. Hubbard won a Grammy Award for the album “First Light” in 1972 and was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2006.

He is survived by his wife of 35 years, Briggie Hubbard, and his son, Duane.

Mr. Hubbard was once known as the brashest of jazzmen, but his personality as well as his music mellowed in the wake of his lip problems. In a 1995 interview with Fred Shuster of Down Beat, he offered some sober advice to younger musicians: “Don’t make the mistake I made of not taking care of myself. Please, keep your chops cool and don’t overblow.”

Freddie Hubbard, Jazz Trumpeter, Dies at 70, NYT, 29.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/30/arts/music/30hubbard.html






Davy Graham,

Influential Guitarist,

Dies at 68


December 19, 2008
The New York Times


Davy Graham, a British guitarist whose musical fusions, technique and tuning shaped generations of musicians, died on Monday at his home in London. He was 68.

His Web site confirmed the death, saying it was caused by a seizure. Mr. Graham had been battling lung cancer.

To many American listeners Mr. Graham’s best-known piece of music is “Anji,” a guitar solo that Paul Simon performed on Simon and Garfunkel’s 1966 album “Sounds of Silence.” But Mr. Graham’s blend of Celtic music with blues, jazz, spiky syncopations and Eastern modes — he called it folk-Baroque — has been widely influential since the early 1960s, particularly with musicians who sought to revitalize and extend British folk traditions. Among them were Pentangle, Fairport Convention, John Martyn, Martin Carthy and the guitarist Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.

Mr. Graham popularized what guitarists call the DADGAD tuning, named for the notes on the six strings from lowest to highest; the standard tuning is EADGBE. The DADGAD tuning, introduced on recordings by Mr. Graham’s 1962 version of the traditional song “She Moved Through the Fair,” facilitates modal chords with the resonance of open strings. It has been used widely in traditionalist music as well as in rock by Led Zeppelin and others.

David Michael Gordon Graham was born in Hinckley, Leicestershire, England, and grew up in London. His mother was Guyanese, and his father was Scottish. He took classical-guitar lessons and also learned from a Moroccan-influenced guitarist, Steve Benbow.

At the same time he was drawn to the blues of Leadbelly and Big Bill Broonzy and to the traditional jazz of the skiffle movement in England. During summers, he visited Paris, performing on the streets. He played in British folk and blues clubs, including a stint with an early-1963 lineup of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. He wrote “Angi” as a teenager for a girlfriend, and in various spellings the piece spread across the English folk scene. (Mr. Simon discovered it during his time in England.)

For “The Guitar Player,” in 1963, he performed duets with a percussionist on jazz and classical tunes. In 1964 he released the wide-ranging “Folk, Blues & Beyond...” and the collaboration “Folk Roots, New Routes,” which included innovative duets on folk songs with the traditional singer Shirley Collins.

There were Middle Eastern and Indian elements in his music, slipped into a repertory that encompassed the Beatles, Thelonious Monk and his own compositions like “Blue Raga.”

Mr. Graham, who at times in his career was billed as Davey Graham, remained better known to musicians than to the broader pop audience. The British newspaper The Guardian reported that he had been a registered heroin addict in Britain.

After releasing two albums in 1970, “The Holly Kaleidoscope” and “Godington Boundry,” Mr. Graham recorded and performed more sporadically, preferring to travel and study languages (Arabic, Turkish, Greek) and instruments (Arabic oud, Indian sarod).

“I’m a traveler really,” he once said. “I would die as a person if I stayed in place for more than a year.”

Mr. Graham’s 1970s albums included “All That Moody,” in 1976, and “Dance for Two People,” in 1979. In 1993 he made “Playing in Traffic.” In 2003 he performed in the PBS series “The Blues,” and a 2005 BBC Radio interview, “Whatever Happened to Davey Graham,” revived interest in him, spurring reissues of his early albums.

Soon afterward he returned to regular performing, and in 2007 he recorded his final album, “Broken Biscuits.”

This year the C. F. Martin guitar company made a commemorative version of the OM 000-18 guitar, with which Mr. Graham forged his 1960s style.

He is survived by two daughters, Kim and Mercy.

Davy Graham, Influential Guitarist, Dies at 68, NYT, 19.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/19/arts/music/19graham.html






Turning 100 at Carnegie Hall,

With New Notes


December 12, 2008
The New York Times


Classical music tends to lionize the great composer cut down in youth, but Elliott Carter made a mockery of that trope on Thursday. Mr. Carter, the dean of American composers, celebrated his 100th birthday, on the day, with a concert at Carnegie Hall.

He had a piece on the program, of course, but not some chestnut written when he was a student in Paris in the 1930s or an avant-gardist in New York in the 1950s or a Pulitzer Prize winner in the 1960s or a setter of American poetry in the 1970s or a begetter of chamber music and concertos in the 1980s.

Mr. Carter wrote the 17-minute piece, for piano and orchestra, just last year, at 98. In fact, since he turned 90, Mr. Carter has poured out more than 40 published works, an extraordinary burst of creativity at a stage when most people would be making peace with mortality.

His first opera had its premiere in 1999. He produced 10 works in 2007 and six more this year. “I don’t know how I did it,” Mr. Carter said on Tuesday in the cluttered but homey Greenwich Village apartment where he has lived since 1945. “The earlier part of my life I felt I was more or less exploring what I would like to write. Now I’ve found it out, and I don’t have to think so much about it.”

The new piece, “Interventions,” was given its New York premiere Thursday evening by the pianist Daniel Barenboim and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with James Levine conducting. When it ended, Mr. Carter slowly rose amid the cheers and applause, and with the aid of a friend, made his way to the stage. Mr. Barenboim took his arm and helped him up the steps. A mock cake adorned with piano keys and musical notes, topped with a sparkler, was wheeled out. The orchestra broke into “Happy Birthday,” with the audience singing along. After Mr. Carter made his way back to his seat, Mr. Barenboim and Mr. Levine, who had asked him to write the piece for the occasion, stood at the edge of the stage applauding.

Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” came next on the program; Mr. Carter said that hearing a performance of that piece at Carnegie 85 years ago had helped inspire him to become a composer.

Mr. Carter is a phenomenon. To paraphrase the musical satirist Tom Lehrer, when Mozart was Mr. Carter’s age, he had been dead for 65 years.

He has lived more than three times as long as Schubert did. Some composers, like Verdi and Richard Strauss, produced until the end of long lives — but that was merely their 80s.

Lionized as one of the great American composers, Mr. Carter is respected as much, if not more, in Europe. The intellectual and performing giants of the field champion him and several top musicians in New York remain deeply loyal. Despite the thorny, complex nature of much of his music, his concerts these days are often packed, as was Carnegie on Thursday night.

“He’s still writing at the top of his form,” Mr. Levine said. “Like all great composers, every time he writes a piece he has new ideas he’s trying, as well as coming up with a subtler reworking of something he had done before.”

The Carnegie affair is one of dozens of concerts that have taken place worldwide recently to honor Mr. Carter. “God help me,” Mr. Carter said.

All the attention has left him feeling a little ambivalent. “There are all these pieces I want to write,” he said, “and I can’t get to them because there are all these things getting in the way. But on the other hand one does enjoy appearing, having especially wonderful performances, which is fascinating to me.”

That prompted a provocative thought.

“I’d rather hear them play good contemporary music than old music,” he said of the performers devoted to his work. He was bored, he said, with scores from the age of “gaslights and horses,” although he admits to exceptions: Mozart, Wagner, Beethoven symphonies. But 20th-century composers “have a spark” and convey “what it is like to be living now,” he said.

In the interview, Mr. Carter displayed a mind alive with ideas, a gentle but slightly tart wit and a streak of self-deprecation.

Mr. Carter, whose father was a lace importer, was born in New York. He attended Harvard with a recommendation from Charles Ives, majored in English, and went to France to study composition with the legendary teacher Nadia Boulanger. He wakes every day at 7 a.m., composes for two and a half hours, goes out for a constitutional with an aide, rests after lunch, composes again or receives visitors in the afternoon, and watches French satellite television in the evening, if he does not have a concert to attend.

He said he has gone back to reading the classics, including “Hamlet.” After starting a third bout with Proust in the original French, “I got a little sick of it two months ago,” he said. “That’s why I turned to Shakespeare.”

A terra cotta self-portrait head of his wife, Helen, a sculptor who fiercely protected him until her death in 2003, sits in his living room. Virgil Blackwell, a clarinetist, serves as Mr. Carter’s business manager and constant helper, handling everything from royalties to hearing-aid batteries.

Audiences do not always take well to Mr. Carter’s complicated works. But players are drawn to his music because of its challenges and his ability to write well for their instruments.

His recent compositions have generally grown shorter and less dense. “I finally have done all my adventures and great big noisy pieces. Now I write simple ones. That’s a new adventure.”

He said that life — his, at least — “is just a matter of luck.”

“I’ll be damned if I know why I write all that music that people like,” he said. “That some people like, anyhow,” he added.

With the interviewer out of the apartment, Mr. Carter was heard on the other side of the door saying to an aide, “I’ve got to rest a little after this nonsense.”

Turning 100 at Carnegie Hall, With New Notes, NYT, 12.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/12/arts/music/12carter.html






Dennis Yost, 65,

Singer for the Classics IV,

Is Dead


December 10, 2008
The New York Times


Dennis Yost, the lead singer with the rock group the Classics IV, which in the late 1960s and early ’70s challenged the then-ascendant music of drugs and protest with a more laid-back, softer sound in Top 10 hits like “Spooky,” “Stormy” and “Traces of Love,” died on Sunday in Hamilton, Ohio. He was 65.

The Classics IV Web site (crystalhorizon.com/Classics_IV) announced the death. Mr. Yost had been hospitalized since suffering a brain injury in a fall in 2006. The cause was respiratory failure, a hospital spokesman told The Associated Press.

The music of the Classics IV has been called hard to define, because of its changing lineup. Unquestionably, it lacked the hard edge that characterized much of rock during the years of the group’s success, 1968 to 1974. Later singles, like “Everyday With You Girl,” placed higher on easy-listening charts than on rock charts.

In an interview with The Tennessean newspaper in 2002, Mr. Yost called the Classics IV “the first soft-rock band.” But this did not mean the band specialized in cheery up-tempo pop: “Stormy,” which reached No. 5 in 1968, and “Traces,” which hit No. 2 in 1969, were downright melancholy.

Mr. Yost’s throaty, resonant baritone defined the sound. Buddy Buie, who with guitarist J. R. Cobb wrote many of the group’s songs, said in an interview with Mix magazine in April that Mr. Yost drew passion from his youthful devotion to R&B and doo-wop and had been a James Brown imitator.

“Dennis had one great voice,” Mr. Buie told Mix, “a voice that filled up the whole spectrum. It was so round, so full.”

Mr. Yost moved to Jacksonville, Fla., from Detroit when he was 7, and in high school played drums for a group called the Echoes. He sometimes sang as he played the drums.

After the Echoes broke up, he joined a band called Leroy and the Moments in the mid-1960s. With his arrival, that group changed its name, inspired by Mr. Yost’s Classic drum kit. It became the Classics and specialized in cover versions, mostly of Top 40 hits.

The group was signed to Capitol Records in 1966 and made its debut with a song called “Pollyanna.” The Four Seasons resented the song, finding it too close to their style, according to the online All Music Guide (allmusic.com), and successfully sought to have its airplay reduced in New York. Around the same time, a Brooklyn group called the Classics had a single on the charts and fought vigorously for the name.

So Mr. Yost’s group became the Classics IV and moved to Atlanta, appearing often in bars with its Top 40 repertory. By this time, Mr. Yost had stopped playing the drums and just sang.

Moving to Imperial Records, then part of Liberty Records, the group recorded “Spooky,” originally an instrumental number for which Mr. Buie and Mr. Cobb later wrote lyrics.

In a realization of perhaps the biggest dream in rock ’n’ roll, a bar band got lucky. The song was popular on a Louisville radio station, then became a national hit in the winter of 1967-68. The group changed its name again, to Dennis Yost & the Classics IV.

Some members left in 1970 to work in recording sessions and form what became the Atlanta Rhythm Section. The popularity of the Classics IV waned. Mr. Yost became a solo act without great success, and then pursued other business interests.

In the 1980s, he became a hit on the rock nostalgia circuit. He had to fight a protracted legal battle to get the Classics IV name back after a former manager sold it to another group.

Mr. Yost is survived by his wife, Linda Yost, and five children.

Dennis Yost, 65, Singer for the Classics IV, Is Dead, NYT, 10.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/10/arts/music/10yost.html






Elmer Valentine,

Owner of Rock Clubs,

Dies at 85


December 9, 2008
The New York Times


Elmer A. Valentine, a self-described crooked cop who fled Chicago to start a new life on the Sunset Strip by opening the Whisky a Go Go, one of the most celebrated clubs in the history of rock music, died Dec. 3 in the Studio City section of Los Angeles. He was 85.

The cause was heart failure after four years of numerous ailments, said Lou Adler, Mr. Valentine’s business partner.

Whisky a Go Go was a nondescript former bank building at the northwest corner of Sunset Boulevard and Clark Street in West Hollywood that became musical legend in the 1960s. The Byrds, the Doors, the Kinks, the Who, the Mamas and Papas and Sonny and Cher, among many other stars, performed there.

Bob Dylan dropped by to play pool, Jimi Hendrix to jam. When the Beatles arrived in Los Angeles in 1964 on their first American tour, the Whisky was the place they wanted to see. At the urging of his daughters, President Lyndon B. Johnson made a reservation — but never showed up.

On the night the Whisky opened, Jan. 15, 1964, Mr. Valentine pretty much by accident introduced what for years to come was a pop-culture staple: the go-go girl suspended in a cage.

“It was just so popular, right from the very first night,” Mr. Valentine said in an interview with Vanity Fair in 2000. “I tell you, I was just lucky. It was easy. You know what? It was easy.”

The Doors, with Jim Morrison, were the house band, at least until the night they sang “The End,” which Mr. Valentine considered obscene; one night the club had performances by them, Buffalo Springfield, Love, Van Morrison and Frank Zappa.

Though the club never again reached the level of fame it reached in the 1960s, it became a focus for the punk and new-wave movements in the 1970s, hard rock and metal bands in the 1980s and grunge in the 1990s, when Mr. Valentine sold his interest.

Elmer Aaron Valentine was born on June 16, 1923, in Chicago. He told Vanity Fair that an elementary school teacher told him he would be sent to the electric chair someday. At 14, he bolted home and rode trains and hitchhiked to California. He served in the Army Air Forces in England in World War II.

He became a policeman in Chicago, rising to the rank of detective. After his marriage ended, he said, he ran into what he termed “a little career trouble.” He was indicted on charges of extortion involving collecting bribes on behalf of a captain but was never convicted.

“I used to moonlight running nightclubs for the outfit,” he said to David Kamp, the Vanity Fair writer. “For gangsters.”

He moved to California and joined with partners from Chicago to open a nightclub, P.J.’s, named after the Manhattan bar P. J. Clarke’s. In 1963, visiting Europe with the idea of becoming an expatriate, he happened to visit a discothèque in Paris called Whisky à Go Go and was enthralled by the enthusiastic young dancers.

Mr. Valentine returned to Los Angeles and invested $20,000 of his profits from his share in P.J.’s in what became the Whisky. He gave a one-year contract to Johnny Rivers, then a 21-year-old rocker and bluesman, who turned out to be wildly popular.

The Whisky briefly had satellite franchises in San Francisco and Atlanta. Later, with partners, Mr. Valentine started the Rainbow Bar & Grill and the Roxy Theater, also in West Hollywood, retaining an interest in them until his death.

Mr. Valentine is survived by his daughter, Kimberly Valentine, and a grandson.

In between Mr. Rivers’s three sets, Mr. Valentine wanted to play records as they did at the Whisky in Paris, suspending a D.J. in a glass-walled cage to save space. The mother of the girl who won a contest to be the D.J. would not let her take the job. The cigarette girl, Patty Brockhurst, wearing a slit skirt, was drafted; she spontaneously started dancing. “Thus out of calamity and serendipity was born the go-go girl,” Mr. Kamp wrote.

Mr. Valentine soon installed two more cages and hired two more dancers. One, Joanie Labine, designed what became the official go-go-girl costume, fringed dress and white boots.

    Elmer Valentine, Owner of Rock Clubs, Dies at 85, NYT, 9.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/09/arts/music/09valentine.html







Voice of Civil Rights Movement,

Dies at 77


December 3, 2008
The New York Times


Odetta, the singer whose deep voice wove together the strongest songs of American folk music and the civil rights movement, died on Tuesday at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. She was 77.

The cause was heart disease, said her manager, Doug Yeager. He added that she had been hoping to sing at Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Odetta sang at coffeehouses and at Carnegie Hall, made highly influential recordings of blues and ballads, and became one of the most widely known folk-music artists of the 1950s and ’60s. She was a formative influence on dozens of artists, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin.

Her voice was an accompaniment to the black-and-white images of the freedom marchers who walked the roads of Alabama and Mississippi and the boulevards of Washington in the quest to end racial discrimination.

Rosa Parks, the woman who started the boycott of segregated buses in Montgomery, Ala., was once asked which songs meant the most to her. She replied, “All of the songs Odetta sings.”

Odetta sang at the march on Washington, a pivotal event in the civil rights movement, in August 1963. Her song that day was “O Freedom,” dating to slavery days: “O freedom, O freedom, O freedom over me, And before I’d be a slave, I’d be buried in my grave, And go home to my Lord and be free.”

Odetta Holmes was born in Birmingham, Ala., on Dec. 31, 1930, in the depths of the Depression. The music of that time and place — particularly prison songs and work songs recorded in the fields of the Deep South — shaped her life.

“They were liberation songs,” she said in a videotaped interview with The New York Times in 2007 for its online feature “The Last Word.” “You’re walking down life’s road, society’s foot is on your throat, every which way you turn you can’t get from under that foot. And you reach a fork in the road and you can either lie down and die, or insist upon your life.”

Her father, Reuben Holmes, died when she was young, and in 1937 she and her mother, Flora Sanders, moved to Los Angeles. Three years later, Odetta discovered that she could sing.

“A teacher told my mother that I had a voice, that maybe I should study,” she recalled. “But I myself didn’t have anything to measure it by.”

She found her own voice by listening to blues, jazz and folk music from the African-American and Anglo-American traditions. She earned a music degree from Los Angeles City College. Her training in classical music and musical theater was “a nice exercise, but it had nothing to do with my life,” she said.

“The folk songs were — the anger,” she emphasized.

In a 2005 National Public Radio interview, she said: “School taught me how to count and taught me how to put a sentence together. But as far as the human spirit goes, I learned through folk music.”

In 1950, Odetta began singing professionally in a West Coast production of the musical “Finian’s Rainbow,” but she found a stronger calling in the bohemian coffeehouses of San Francisco. “We would finish our play, we’d go to the joint, and people would sit around playing guitars and singing songs and it felt like home,” she said.

She began singing in nightclubs, cutting a striking figure with her guitar and her close-cropped hair.

Her voice plunged deep and soared high, and her songs blended the personal and the political, the theatrical and the spiritual. Her first solo album, “Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues,” resonated with an audience hearing old songs made new.

Bob Dylan, referring to that recording, said in a 1978 interview, “The first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta.” He said he heard something “vital and personal,” and added, “I learned all the songs on that record.” It was her first, and the songs were “Mule Skinner,” “Jack of Diamonds,” “Water Boy,” “ ’Buked and Scorned.”

Her blues and spirituals led directly to her work for the civil rights movement. They were two rivers running together, she said in her interview with The Times. The words and music captured “the fury and frustration that I had growing up.”

Her fame hit a peak in 1963, when she marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and performed for President John F. Kennedy. But after King was assassinated in 1968, the wind went out of the sails of the civil rights movement and the songs of protest and resistance that had been the movement’s soundtrack. Odetta’s fame flagged for years thereafter.

In 1999 President Bill Clinton awarded Odetta the National Endowment for the Arts Medal of the Arts and Humanities.

Odetta was married three times: to Don Gordon, to Gary Shead, and, in 1977, to the blues musician Iverson Minter, known professionally as Louisiana Red. The first two marriages ended in divorce; Mr. Minter moved to Germany in 1983 to pursue his performing career.

She was singing and performing well into the 21st century, and her influence stayed strong.

In April 2007, half a century after Bob Dylan first heard her, she was on stage at a Carnegie Hall tribute to Bruce Springsteen. She turned one of his songs, “57 Channels,” into a chanted poem, and Mr. Springsteen came out from the wings to call it “the greatest version” of the song he had ever heard.

Reviewing a December 2006 performance, James Reed of The Boston Globe wrote: “Odetta’s voice is still a force of nature — something commented upon endlessly as folks exited the auditorium — and her phrasing and sensibility for a song have grown more complex and shaded.”

The critic called her “a majestic figure in American music, a direct gateway to bygone generations that feel so foreign today.”

    Odetta, Voice of Civil Rights Movement, Dies at 77, NYT, 3.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/03/arts/music/03odetta.html






Music Review | Tina Turner

Still Proud, Still Kicking,

Still Nice and Rough


December 3, 2008
The New York Times


Several times during Tina Turner’s show at Madison Square Garden on Monday, Ms. Turner sang to the audience from on high. First she stood on a riser, later a scaffold, then a crane. It was a decent visual effect, but anyone can be imperious when she’s 30 feet above you. Her genius took hold after she was lowered to the stage.

On solid ground in high heels, she was a ferocious, shaky blur. If Motown choreography intimates the smooth stroke of a cello, hers is the sound of an outboard motor. That strobing physical language, heavily borrowed by Mick Jagger in his youth, was what stuck in your head as you left.

Nothing could outdo it: not more than 40 years’ worth of hit-song melodies, not the shamelessly extravagant stage show, which involved ninjas, flash pots and dancers in flesh-colored lamé shorts. When Ms. Turner did her farmerlike dance — palpitating with slightly bent knees, kicking out one lower leg and then the other as she grimaced and smiled at once — that was a kind of music too, and it was her gift to you.

The screaming wasn’t bad, either. Ms. Turner, who is 69, fattens her voice with emotion whether she’s singing songs of dominators or the dominated. It’s a hopeful voice; it connotes ambition and longing, never misery. But over the course of a night, she had an evenness, even a flatness. It took screams to pierce through that, and she used them pretty often, considering that this was the 30th show in a world tour that will run through April.

As Mr. Jagger has borrowed from her, she has borrowed back. This concert bore strong vibes of a Rolling Stones show: the cherry picker that swung her out in a semicircle over the first 20 rows; the insistence on playing songs with the same original arrangements (particularly “Proud Mary,” with its opening soliloquy about “easy” versus “rough”); the museumlike, video-enhanced emphasis on a back catalog of recordings, film roles and television appearances, rather than the living performer herself, as the entity to be worshiped; the carnivalesque elder-sexpot game, at which she is totally credible. And she did play a few Stones songs outright — “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll.”

Often the show felt like a sampling of MTV from about 1989. An acoustic, “Unplugged”-like section started the second half, with Ms. Turner sitting on a stool and singing a reharmonized version of the Beatles’ “Help.” (It gave her a necessary rest, and offered a better view of the lacquered red soles on her black Christian Louboutin shoes.)

She performed her version of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love,” backed by screen images of models vamping with guitars, similar to the ones in his video. And there were high-camp interludes more properly suited for television awards shows: ninja masters fake-fighting with security guards; armored post-apocalyptic warriors (for her song “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” from the “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” soundtrack); an absurd James Bond sequence to go with her song “GoldenEye” (from the 1995 film of the same title, if you don’t have a keen memory).

As opposed to her dancing, Ms. Turner has finishing-school manners. She thanked her sound and light engineers by name; she sang “Happy Birthday” to one of her backup singers. And she told the audience, in a way that was so nuanced and artful that I can’t quite remember how she put it, to be aware of how excellent an audience it really was. Underneath the imperiousness and gloppy show business there seemed to live a decent person. She sent you home with that in mind too.

Tina Turner appears on Wednesday and Thursday at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., and on Saturday at the XL Center in Hartford; tinaturnerlive.com..

    Still Proud, Still Kicking, Still Nice and Rough, NYT, 3.12.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/03/arts/music/03tina.html






New Springsteen Disc Set for January


November 17, 2008
Filed at 11:43 a.m. ET
The New York Times


NEW YORK (AP) -- Bruce Springsteen returns with a new album in January 15 months after ''Magic.'' That's unusually quick for an artist with a reputation as a perfectionist.

The album is called ''Working on a Dream.'' He's made 14 tracks with the E Street Band and they'll be available on Jan. 27.

Springsteen said he was excited by the return to pop production on his previous album and kept writing songs while touring with his band. They recorded the album in Atlanta during breaks in their concert schedule.

Springsteen said that ''we all had a blast making this record from beginning to end.''

    New Springsteen Disc Set for January, NYT, 17.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/arts/AP-Music-Springsteen-Album.html






Mitch Mitchell Dies at 62;

Drummer for Jimi Hendrix


November 13, 2008
The New York Times


Mitch Mitchell, the jazzy and versatile British drummer in the Jimi Hendrix Experience, died on Wednesday in a hotel in Portland, Ore. He was 62 and had recently finished a national tribute tour, Experience Hendrix.

The cause was unknown, said Bob Merlis, publicist for the tour.

Mr. Mitchell was one of two Englishmen in the Experience, the group that catapulted Hendrix to fame in the late 1960s. Along with the bassist Noel Redding, who died in 2003, Mr. Mitchell was recruited in a rush in the fall of 1966, after the journeyman Hendrix had been discovered in a New York club and whisked to London by Chas Chandler of the Animals.

Hendrix’s guitar pyrotechnics caused an immediate sensation among the British rock elite — the audience at one early gig included John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Brian Jones — and a backup band was needed for a last-minute French tour. Mr. Redding was hired first, followed a few days later by Mr. Mitchell, who was barely out of his teens but already an established session player with the Pretty Things and Georgie Fame.

Mr. Mitchell did not expect much from the job. “I’ll give it a crack,” he later remembered telling Mr. Chandler, who became one of Hendrix’s managers. “I’ll have a go for two weeks.”

But led by Hendrix’s explosive and rhapsodic style, the group revolutionized rock music and became an archetypal power trio. Its style was built around Hendrix’s improvisations, with Mr. Redding’s steady bass lines acting as an anchor and Mr. Mitchell — who was influenced by jazz players like Elvin Jones — playing a lighter, looser counterpoint to the guitar.

The group also developed a signature look that embodied the dandyish flamboyance of the British psychedelic era. The members sought out bell-bottoms and vintage clothes in British shops and teased out their hair. “For Noel, the curly Afro came naturally,” wrote Charles R. Cross in his 2005 Hendrix biography, “Room Full of Mirrors.” “Mitch had to get a permanent to achieve the same result.”

The Jimi Hendrix Experience released three albums: “Are You Experienced” (1967), “Axis: Bold as Love” (1967) and “Electric Ladyland” (1968). Mr. Mitchell continued to play with Hendrix until his death in 1970, and later played in the band Ramatam.

Born John Mitchell in London, he worked as a child actor, appearing in the BBC television show “Jennings at School.”

Survivors include his mother; wife, Dee; a daughter; and two grandchildren.

After Hendrix died Mr. Mitchell worked with the producer Eddie Kramer in completing the albums “The Cry of Love” and “Rainbow Bridge,” and he long worked with Experience Hendrix, the company founded by Hendrix’s father, in promulgating the Hendrix legend.

    Mitch Mitchell Dies at 62; Drummer for Jimi Hendrix, NYT, 13.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/13/arts/music/13mitch.html






New Yorkers

Trying to Save Historic Tin Pan Alley


November 9, 2008
Filed at 3:41 a.m. ET
The New York Times


NEW YORK (AP) -- A group of New Yorkers is fighting to save Tin Pan Alley, the half-dozen row houses where iconic American songs were born.

The four-story, 19th-century buildings on Manhattan's West 28th Street were home to publishers of some of the catchiest American tunes and lyrics -- from ''God Bless America'' and ''Take Me Out To The Ballgame'' to ''Give My Regards to Broadway.''

The music of Irving Berlin, Scott Joplin, Fats Waller, George M. Cohan and other greats was born on Tin Pan Alley.

The buildings were put up for sale earlier this fall for $44 million, with plans to replace them with a high-rise. The construction plan fell through amid the turmoil in the economy, but the possibility of losing the historic block hastened efforts to push for landmark status for Tin Pan Alley.

''The fear of these buildings being sold for development crystallized their importance, and the need to preserve them,'' said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, a nonprofit preservation organization aiming to secure city landmark status for the buildings, which would protect them from being destroyed.

The Landmarks Commission is ''researching the history of the buildings and reviewing whether they'd be eligible for landmark designation,'' said Lisi de Bourbon, a spokeswoman for New York's Landmarks Preservation Commission.

No date has been set for a decision, which she said depends on ''a combination of historical, cultural and architectural significance.''

The block is sacred to Tim Schreier, a great-great-grandson of Jerome H. Remick, whose music publishing company occupied one of the houses and employed a young sheet music peddler named George Gershwin.

''I'm not opposed to development in New York, but we have to balance development with history -- and this is definitely American cultural history,'' said Schreier.

From the late 1880s to the mid-1950s, the careers of songwriters who are still popular today were launched from the buildings at 45, 47, 49, 51, 53 and 55 West 28th.

Nearby, high-rise condominiums have pushed out old brownstones. The four-story Tin Pan Alley buildings house street-level wholesale stores selling clothing, jewelry and fabrics; eight apartment units fill the upper floors.

It's a noisy neighborhood, with trucks beeping as they back up amid street hawkers selling bootleg movies and knockoff perfumes. A century ago, the windows of music companies broadcast a cacophony of competing piano sounds that earned the area the nickname Tin Pan Alley, to describe what one journalist said sounded like pounding on tin pans.

Leland Bobbe, a 59-year-old photographer, has been renting his apartment at Remick's old building since 1975. He says it's important to salvage the buildings in a neighborhood ''that has lost its uniqueness. It's just another symbol of what New York was and what it will no longer be.''

    New Yorkers Trying to Save Historic Tin Pan Alley, NYT, 9.11.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/arts/AP-Tin-Pan-Alley.html






Rudy Ray Moore, 81,

a Precursor of Rap, Dies


October 22, 2008
The New York Times


Rudy Ray Moore, whose standup comedy, records and movies related earthy rhyming tales of a vivid gaggle of characters as they lurched from sexual escapade to sexual escapade in a boisterous tradition, born in Africa, that helped shape today’s hip-hop, died Sunday in Akron, Ohio. He was 81.

The cause was complications of diabetes, his Web site said.

Mr. Moore called himself the Godfather of Rap because of the number of hip-hop artists who used snippets of his recordings in theirs, performed with him or imitated him. These included Dr. Dre, Big Daddy Kane and 2 Live Crew.

Snoop Dogg thanked Mr. Moore in liner notes to the 2006 release of the soundtrack to Mr. Moore’s 1975 film, “Dolemite,” saying, “Without Rudy Ray Moore, there would be no Snoop Dogg, and that’s for real.”

Most critics refrained from overpraising “Dolemite,” with the possible exception of John Leland, who wrote in The New York Times in 2002 that it “remains the ‘Citizen Kane’ of kung fu pimping movies.” The film, made for $100,000, nonetheless became a cult classic among aficionados of so-called blaxploitation movies — films that so exaggerate black stereotypes that they might plausibly be said to transcend those stereotypes.

Very little of Mr. Moore’s work in any medium reached mainstream audiences, largely because his rapid-fire rhyming salaciousness exceeded the wildest excesses of even Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor. His comedy records in the 1960s and ’70s — most featuring nude photographs of him and more than one woman in suggestive poses — were kept behind record store counters in plain brown wrappers and had to be explicitly requested.

But Mr. Moore could be said to represent a profound strand of African-American folk art. One of his standard stories concerns a monkey who uses his wiles and an accommodating elephant to fool a lion. The tale, which originated in West Africa, became a basis for an influential study by the Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., “The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism.”

In one of his few brushes with a national audience, Mr. Moore, in a startlingly cleaned-up version, told the story on “The Arsenio Hall Show” in the early 1990s. Other characters he described were new, almost always dirtier renderings in the tradition of trickster stories represented by Brer Rabbit and the cunning slave John, who outwitted his master to win freedom.

Mr. Moore updated the story of an old minstrel show favorite, Peetie (which he changed to “Petey”) Wheatstraw, a k a the Devil’s Son-in-Law and the High Sheriff of Hell. Others in his cast were Pimpin’ Sam and Hurricane Annie. Mr. Moore became a master at “toasting,” a tradition of black rhymed storytelling over a beat in which the tallest tale — or most outlandish insult — wins.

Rudolph Frank Moore was born on March 17, 1927, in Fort Smith, Ark., where he was soon singing in church. He moved to Cleveland at 15, found work peeling potatoes and washing dishes and won a talent contest. He was drafted in 1950 and performed for his fellow soldiers as the Harlem Hillbilly, singing country songs in R&B style.

After his discharge, he resumed his pre-Army act as the turbaned dancer Prince Dumarr. He made some records as a singer under the name Rudy Moore, doing songs like “Hully Gully Papa,” who liked to “coffee grind real slow.”

His life changed in 1970 when he found himself listening to the stories of Rico, a regular at the record store in Hollywood, Calif., where Mr. Moore worked.

He was particularly captivated by Rico’s rude, rollicking stories of Dolemite, a name derived from dolomite, a mineral used in some cements. Mr. Moore perfected the Dolemite stories in comedy routines, most of which he recorded, then spent all his record earnings to make the movie “Dolemite.” A sequel, “The Human Tornado,” followed. A second sequel, “The Dolemite Explosion,” also starring Mr. Moore, may be released later this year.

Fallout Entertainment bought the rights last year to remake the original movie. Bill Fishman of Fallout said some of Mr. Moore’s famous lines would be used.

Mr. Moore is survived by four siblings; his daughter, Yvette Wesson, known as Rusty; and his 98-year-old mother, Lucille.

Violent scenes in Mr. Moore’s movies included a man’s guts being ripped out by another character’s bare hands in “Dolemite.” Almost none of the dialogue in any of his movies can be printed in a family newspaper, not to mention the language of his more than 16 comedy albums — or even many of their titles.

But what is probably his most famous line is also his most typical:

Dolemite is my name

And rappin’ and tappin’

That’s my game

I’m young and free

And just as bad as I wanna be.

    Rudy Ray Moore, 81, a Precursor of Rap, Dies, NYT, 22.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/22/movies/22moore.html






Levi Stubbs, 72,

Powerful Voice for Four Tops, Dies


October 18, 2008
The New York Times


DETROIT — Levi Stubbs, the gravelly-voiced, imploring lead singer of the Motown group the Four Tops, who stood out in 1960s pop classics like “Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” and “Bernadette,” died on Friday at his home here. He was 72.

His death was confirmed by the office of the Wayne County Medical Examiner. No cause was given. Mr. Stubbs had had a series of illnesses, including a stroke and cancer, that forced him to stop performing in 2000, although he briefly participated in the Four Tops’ 50th-anniversary concert in 2004, which was broadcast on public television.

Formed while its original members were in high school, the Four Tops were one of the most successful groups of the 20th century. They had more than 40 hits on the Billboard pop charts, including their first No. 1 single, “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” in 1965.

Hugely popular abroad as well as in the United States, the group became a linchpin of Motown Records, the Detroit label started by Berry Gordy Jr., and was second only to the Temptations, with whom it was often compared, in popularity among its male artists. In 1990 the Four Tops were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Unlike the Temptations, whose members regularly changed, the Tops exhibited extraordinary loyalty, with the original four remaining together for more than 40 years. In fact, they began their singing career almost a decade before joining Motown in 1963.

In 1953 Mr. Stubbs, a student at Pershing High School in Detroit, and his friend Abdul Fakir, known as Duke, attended a birthday party at which they met two other founding members of the group, Renaldo Benson, known as Obie and Lawrence Payton, who were students at Northern High School.

(Mr. Fakir, who continues to perform with the Tops’ current lineup, is now the last surviving member.)

Originally calling themselves the Four Aims, they were rechristened the Four Tops in 1954 and signed with Chess Records, the Chicago rhythm and blues label, in 1956.

It was clear from the beginning that Mr. Stubbs, with his booming, rough-edged baritone, would be the lead singer, Mr. Fakir said in a 2004 interview. Yet many of his songs were written in a tenor range that pushed his voice higher and made it sound urgent and pleading.

Mr. Stubbs and the group did not plan a pop career, but began as jazz singers. Leaving Detroit in the mid-1950s, they headed for New York, bouncing around the nightclub circuit.

The four singers shared a studio apartment and rotated three daytime suits among them; whoever had the more important appointment got first pick, Mr. Fakir recalled.

The Tops added choreography to their act, but were advised to drop it when they toured with the jazz balladeer Billy Eckstine, who told them to master their singing. In 1963 Mr. Stubbs and the other Tops appeared on the “Tonight” show, then hosted by Jack Paar, singing a jazz arrangement of “In the Still of the Night.”

Mr. Gordy, who saw their performance, told his staff to sign them up, and assigned the songwriting team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland to shape their sound and deliver them a hit song.

It took a year before the group recorded “Baby, I Need Your Loving,” followed by their first No. 1 hits, “I Can’t Help Myself” in 1965 and “Reach Out” in 1966.

“We didn’t know what bag to put them in,” Mr. Dozier said in 2004. The three songwriters concluded that Mr. Stubbs’s booming voice should be most prominent, backed by the Tops’ harmonies; layered with vocals by a female group, the Andantes; and supported by the Motown studio band known as the Funk Brothers.

The combination worked.

“Stubbs’s bold, dramatic readings of some of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s choicest material set a high standard for contemporary soul in the mid-’60s,” the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame said when the Tops were inducted.

Snappily dressed, even offstage, the Tops toured extensively throughout the United States and around the world, recording more hits like “It’s the Same Old Song” and “Standing in the Shadows of Love.”

In 1971 the group joined the Supremes to record a cover version of the Ike and Tina Turner song “River Deep — Mountain High.” But by then, relations with Motown were strained, and the group left the label after Mr. Berry moved it to Los Angeles.

The Tops continued to record during the 1970s and ’80s, often touring with the Temptations. Their biggest post-Motown hit was “Ain’t No Woman Like the One I’ve Got,” in 1973.

Levi Stubbles was born in Detroit on June 6, 1936, a cousin of the soul singer Jackie Wilson. His younger brother, Joe, sang with the Falcons and the Contours, two rhythm and blues groups.

Mr. Stubbs is survived by his wife of 48 years, Clineice; five children, Deborah, Beverly, Raymond, Kelly and Levi Jr.; and 11 grandchildren.

Mr. Stubbs took on a side project to become the voice of a man-eating plant, Audrey II, in the 1986 musical film “Little Shop of Horrors,” and also was the voice of Mother Brain, an evil character on the cartoon show “Captain N: The Game Master,” from 1989 to 1991.

By 1995, Mr. Stubbs’s health had begun to fail, forcing him to curtail his performances. Mr. Payton died in 1997, and Mr. Benson in 2005. Mr. Fakir has continued singing with Mr. Payton’s son Roquel; a former Temptation, Theo Peoples; and Ronnie McNair, a veteran Motown singer.

Before his death, Mr. Benson said in an interview that he was saddened by performing without Mr. Stubbs and Mr. Payton.

“It’s like having one body with two limbs missing,” he said.

    Levi Stubbs, 72, Powerful Voice for Four Tops, Dies, NYT, 18.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/18/arts/music/18stubbs.html?hp






Four Tops Frontman Levi Stubbs

Dead at 72


October 17, 2008
Filed at 2:01 p.m. ET
The New York Times


DETROIT (AP) -- Four Tops lead singer Levi Stubbs, who possessed one of the most dynamic and emotive voices of all the Motown singers, died Friday at 72.

He had been ill recently and died in his sleep at the Detroit house he shared with his wife, said Dana Meah, the wife of Stubbs' grandson. The Wayne County medical examiner's office also confirmed the death.

With Stubbs in the lead, the Four Tops sold millions of records, including such hits as ''Baby I Need Your Loving,'' ''Reach Out (I'll Be There)'' and ''I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch.)''

The group performed for more than four decades without a single change in personnel. Stubbs' death leaves one surviving member of the original group: Abdul ''Duke'' Fakir.

Stubbs ''fits right up there with all the icons of Motown,'' said Audley Smith, chief operating officer of the Motown Historical Museum. ''His voice was as unique as Marvin's or as Smokey's or as Stevie's.''

    Four Tops Frontman Levi Stubbs Dead at 72, NYT, 17.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/arts/AP-Obit-Stubbs.html






Alton Ellis, Jamaican Singer,

Dies at 70


October 17, 2008
The New York Times


Alton Ellis, the smooth Jamaican singer and songwriter known as the Godfather of Rock Steady, died early Saturday morning (local time) in London. He was 70 and had lived in Middlesex, England, for nearly two decades.

The cause was multiple myeloma, a form of bone cancer, said his business manager, Trish De Rosa.

Starting in the 1950s, Mr. Ellis helped lay the foundations of the Jamaican recording industry, singing songs that would profoundly influence global pop music.

“Alton was a bigger artist in Jamaica than Bob Marley,” said Dennis Alcapone, another Jamaican recording artist working in Britain who often performed with Mr. Ellis. “Everybody, even Bob, would love if he could sing like Alton Ellis. All of them would sit back and listen to Alton because Alton was the king.”

Alton Ellis was born and raised in Trenchtown, the same underprivileged Kingston neighborhood that was home to stars like Marley. Mr. Ellis and his younger sister Hortense got their start as schoolchildren competing on Kingston talent shows like “Vere John’s Opportunity Hour.” In 1959, as half of the duo Alton & Eddie, he recorded the R&B-style scorcher “Muriel,” which became one of the first hit records for the pioneering local producer Clement Dodd, known as Coxsone.

Bouncing between Mr. Dodd’s Studio One label and the Treasure Isle label of a rival producer, Arthur Reid, known as Duke, Mr. Ellis blazed a trail with a series of classic love songs like “Girl I’ve Got A Date,” “I’m Just a Guy” and his signature, “Get Ready Rock Steady,” a 1966 dance-craze record that inspired a new era in Jamaican music. (Much later he established his own label, All-Tone.)

Rock steady was a sweeter, slower sound that formed the bridge between the hard-driving brass of ska and the rebel reggae that Marley later spread throughout the world. Rock steady’s easy pace and spare arrangements were the perfect showcase for Mr. Ellis’s soulful tenor, an elegant instrument that fell somewhere between the roughness of Otis Redding and the silkiness of Sam Cooke.

“Alton ruled the rock steady era,” Mr. Alcapone said. But Mr. Ellis’s influence did not stop there.

“Get Ready Rock Steady” was used in 1969 on “Wake the Town,” featuring a Rastafarian D.J. named U-Roy; the track would be described by some as the world’s earliest rap recording. The instrumental track to Mr. Ellis’s composition “Mad Mad” became one of the most covered recordings in reggae history, influencing generations of dancehall and hip-hop artists. And his 1967 composition “I’m Still in Love With You” was covered several times, most recently by the dancehall artists Sean Paul and Sasha, reaching No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot Singles chart in 2004.

Mr. Ellis was awarded Jamaica’s Order of Distinction in 1994 and was inducted into the International Reggae and World Music Hall of Fame in 2006.

Ms. De Rosa said his body would lie in state in the National Arena in Jamaica to accommodate the crowds expected to pay their respects to Mr. Ellis, who never stopped working until he collapsed after a London performance in August. He had juggled demands to perform and record even as he underwent chemotherapy, making a final trip to Jamaica in June.

“My dad did a lot for music, but he didn’t really boast about it like he could have,” said his 23-year-old son Christopher, who often performed with his father and was one of his more than 20 children. “He’s got a lot of respect, and his name is really big, but financially he’s been robbed over the years. He told me, ‘Son, do not let them rob you like they robbed me.’ ”

After a long battle for royalties, Mr. Ellis received a check for “I’m Still in Love With You” a few weeks before he died, Ms. De Rosa said.

    Alton Ellis, Jamaican Singer, Dies at 70, NYT, 17.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/17/arts/music/17ellis.html






Nick Reynolds,

Kingston Trio Harmonizer,

Dies at 75


October 3, 2008
The New York Times


Nick Reynolds, a founding member of the Kingston Trio whose smooth tenor and gift for harmonizing helped propel the group to worldwide fame in the folk-music revival of the late 1950s and early ’60s, died Wednesday in San Diego. He was 75 and lived in Coronado, Calif.

The cause was acute respiratory disease syndrome, said his son Joshua Stewart Reynolds.

Whether singing high harmony or taking the lead part in songs like “M.T.A.,” “The Wanderer” and “Hobo’s Lullaby,” Mr. Reynolds, who played tenor guitar, helped define the clean, close-harmony style that brought folk music into countless American homes for the first time.

“Nobody could nail a harmony part like Nick,” said Bob Shane, another founding member of the group. “He could hit it immediately, exactly where it needed to be, absolutely note perfect, all on the natch.”

Although regarded as overly commercial by purists, the trio inspired the folk-music revival and paved the way for the breezy and ingratiating Limeliters and Chad Mitchell Trio and later for more political artists like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary. “We got America up and singing,” Mr. Reynolds said.

Wary of the political songs that had caused trouble for the Weavers during the era of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the Kingston Trio, formed in 1957, steered clear of protest music and stuck to a mixture of traditional songs like “Tom Dooley” and “A Worried Man” and humorous ballads like “M.T.A.” and “Tijuana Jail,” with storytelling between songs during their live performances. Mr. Reynolds, called the Budgie or the Runt of the Litter by his fellow founding members, Dave Guard and Mr. Shane, often added a zinger for comic effect.

The formula was astonishingly successful. Thirteen of the group’s albums reached the Top 10, and in 1959 alone four of its albums placed in the Top 10, a record matched only by the Beatles.

Nicholas Wells Reynolds was born in San Diego and raised in Coronado. His father, a Navy captain, played guitar and led his three children in singalongs that Nick credited with developing his keen ear for harmony. After graduating from Coronado High School, he attended the University of Arizona and San Diego State University before earning a business degree from Menlo College in Palo Alto in 1956.

While at Menlo he met Mr. Shane, who introduced him to Mr. Guard, a graduate student at Stanford University. (Mr. Guard died in 1991.) The three friends formed a group that added and subtracted members and performed under different names, including Dave Guard and the Calypsonians.

Frank Werber, a publicist who caught their act at the Cracked Pot in Palo Alto, booked them at the Purple Onion nightclub in San Francisco and, after their one-week engagement became an extended sold-out run, signed them to a contract with Capitol Records. By this time they had renamed themselves the Kingston Trio, in a nod to the popularity of calypso music, and chosen a team uniform — button-down, striped, short-sleeve shirts — that exuded a wholesome, collegiate image.

Mr. Reynolds’s first two marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, the former Leslie Yerger; his sons Joshua of Portland, Ore., and John Pike Reynolds of Coronado; his daughters Annie Clancy Reynolds Moore of San Diego and Jennifer Kristie Reynolds of Bandon, Ore.; two sisters, Jane Reynolds Meade and Barbara Reynolds Haines, both of Coronado; and three grandchildren.

Mr. Reynolds remained with the Kingston Trio until it disbanded in 1967, as folk music lost its audience to rock. After a brief time building and racing Formula B cars, he moved to a cabin in Port Orford, Ore., without a television, telephone or radio. There he worked as a rancher and antiques dealer. He also ran the Star, Port Orford’s only movie theater.

In 1983 he and John Stewart, who had replaced Mr. Guard in the Kingston Trio in 1961, joined with Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac to record the album “Revenge of the Budgie.” (Mr. Stewart died in January.) In 1988 he joined a reconstituted version of the Kingston Trio and performed with them until retiring in 1999.

Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Stewart also ran an annual fantasy camp in Scottsdale, Ariz., where fans could join them onstage and, for a brief moment, sing as honorary members of the Kingston Trio.

    Nick Reynolds, Kingston Trio Harmonizer, Dies at 75, NYT, 3.10.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/03/arts/music/03reynolds.html






Saxophonist Johnny Griffin

Dies at 80


July 26, 2008
The New York Times


Johnny Griffin, a jazz tenor-saxophonist from Chicago whose speed, control, and harmonic acuity made him one of the most talented musicians of his generation, and who abandoned his hopes for an American career when he moved to Europe in 1963, died Friday at his home in Availles-Limouzine, a village in France. He was 80 and had lived in Availles-Limouzine for 24 years.

His death was announced to Agence France-Presse by his wife, Miriam, who did not give a cause. He played his last concert Monday in Hyères.

His height — around five feet five — earned him the nickname “The Little Giant”; his speed in bebop improvising marked him as “The Fastest Gun in the West”; a group he led with Eddie Lockjaw Davis was informally called the “tough tenor” band, a designation that was eventually applied to a whole school of hard bop tenor players.

And in general, Mr. Griffin suffered from categorization. In the early 1960s, he became embittered by the acceptance of free jazz; he stayed true to his identity as a bebopper. When he felt the American jazz marketplace had no use for him (at a time he was also having marital and tax troubles) , he left for Holland.

At that point America lost one of its best musicians, even if his style fell out of sync with the times.

“It’s not like I’m looking to prove anything any more,” he said in a 1993 interview. “At this age, what can I prove? I’m concentrating more on the beauty in the music, the humanity.”

Indeed his work in the 1990s, with an American quartet that stayed constant whenever he revisited his home country to perform or record, had a new sound, mellower and sweeter than in his younger days.

Mr. Griffin grew up on the South Side of Chicago and attended DuSable High School, where he was taught by the high school band instructor Capt. Walter Dyett, who also taught the singers Nat (King) Cole and Dinah Washington and the saxophonists Gene Ammons and Von Freeman.

Mr. Griffin’s career started in a hurry: At the age of 12, attending his grammar school graduation dance at the Parkway ballroom, he saw Ammons play in King Kolax’s big band and decided what his instrument would be. By 14, he was playing alto saxophone in a variety of situations, including a group called the Baby Band with schoolmates, and occasionally with the guitarist T-Bone Walker.

At 18, three days after his high school graduation, Mr. Griffin left Chicago to join Lionel Hampton’s big band, switching to tenor saxophone. From then until 1951, he was mostly on the road, though based in New York City. By 1947 he was touring with Joe Morris, a fellow Chicagoan who ran a rhythm-and-blues band, and with Morris he made his first recordings for the Atlantic record label. He entered the army in 1951, was stationed in Hawaii, and played in an army band.

Mr. Griffin was of an impressionable age when Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie became a force in jazz. He heard both with the Billy Eckstine band in 1945; having first internalized the more ballad-like saxophone sound earlier popularized by Johnny Hodges and Ben Webster, he was now entranced by the lightning-fast phrasing of the new music, bebop. In general, his style remained brisk but relaxed, his bebop playing salted with blues tonality.

Beyond the 1960s, his skill and his musical eccentricity continued to deepen, and in later years he could play odd, asymmetrical phrases, bulging with blues honking and then tapering off into state-of-the-art bebop, filled with passing chords.

Starting in the late 1940s, he befriended the pianists Elmo Hope, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, and he called these friendships his “postgraduate education.” After his army service, he went back to Chicago and started playing with Monk, a move that altered his career. He became interested in Monk’s brightly melodic style of composition, and he ended up as a regular member of Monk’s quartet back in New York in the late ‘50s; later, in 1967, he played with Monk’s touring eight- and nine-person groups.

In 1957, Mr. Griffin joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers for a short stint, and in 1958 started making his own records for the Riverside label. On a series of recordings, including “Way Out” and “The Little Giant,” his rampaging energy got its moment in the sun: on tunes like “Cherokee,” famous vehicles to test a musician’s mettle, he was simply blazing.

A few years later he hooked up with Eddie Lockjaw Davis, a more blues-oriented tenor saxophonist, and made a series of records that act as barometers of taste: listeners tend to either find them thrilling or filled with too many notes, especially on Monk tunes. The matchup with Davis was a popular one, and they would sporadically reunite through the ‘70s and ‘80s.

In 1963 he left the United States, eventually settling in Paris and recording thereafter mostly for European labels — sometimes with other American expatriates like Kenny Clarke, sometimes with European rhythm sections. In 1973 he moved to Bergambacht, in the Netherlands; in the early 80s he moved to Poitiers, in southwestern France.

With his American quartet — including the pianist Michael Weiss and the drummer Kenny Washington — he stayed true to the bebop small-group ideal, and the 1991 record he made with the group for the Antilles label, called “The Cat,” was received warmly as a comeback.

Every April he returned to Chicago to visit family and play during his birthday week at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago, and usually spent a week at the Village Vanguard in New York before returning home to his quiet countryside chateau.

    Saxophonist Johnny Griffin Dies at 80, NYT, 26.7.2008,






Paul McCartney

Joins Billy Joel at Shea Stadium


July 19, 2008
The New York Times


It takes a lot to upstage Billy Joel at Shea Stadium.

But late on Friday night, nearly three hours into a career-spanning performance advertised as the last concert at Shea before it was to be demolished, Mr. Joel seemed happy to turn over the spotlight to Paul McCartney, who, he said, had just flown in from London.

The sold-out crowd of 55,000 people let out an ear-splitting roar as Mr. McCartney sang the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There,” with Mr. Joel singing backup and, fitting his reputation as a self-deprecating rock star, looking on from his piano as if he were just another fan himself.

Before beginning “Let It Be,” Mr. McCartney alluded to the Beatles’ first concert at Shea in 1965, the year after the stadium opened.

“It’s so cool to be back here on the last night,” he said. “Been here a long time ago — we had a blast that night, and we’re having another one tonight.”

The concert was the second of two farewell shows by Mr. Joel, who told the crowd earlier in the night: “They’re tearing this house down. I want to thank you for letting me do the job and keep doing it — the best job in the world.”

Mr. McCartney wasn’t the only big guest. The country star Garth Brooks, dressed in a Mets T-shirt, sang Mr. Joel’s “Shameless,” which was a big hit for Mr. Brooks; Steven Tyler of Aerosmith performed “Walk This Way;” and Roger Daltrey of the Who — which played at Shea in 1982 — sang “My Generation” as Mr. Joel smashed a guitar on the center-field stage.

Before the show, fans praised Mr. Joel, Long Island’s favorite son, as an approachable superstar whose songs chronicle everyday New York lives and struggles. “Only New Yorkers have a true sense of what he talks about,” said Lauren Marchiano, 26. As an avowed follower of both Mr. Joel and the Mets, she said, the night was doubly poignant for her.

But the most popular topic of conversation seemed to be how much everyone had paid to get in. Ronnie Glowacki, an administrative assistant from Brooklyn, had been frozen out when tickets went on sale in February; she would say only that she paid “somewhere between zero and $500” to get in on Friday. A Yankees fan, she was there to catch what could be a last glimpse — not of Shea Stadium, but of Mr. Joel.

“I don’t know how much longer he’s going to be doing concerts, so I want to get every one I can get in,” she said. “For me it’s all Billy.”

    Paul McCartney Joins Billy Joel at Shea Stadium, NYT, 19.7.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/19/nyregion/19joel.html?hp






Music Review

With Friends,

Billy Joel Gives Shea

Its Own Last Waltz


July 17, 2008
The New York Times


Maybe it takes a strayed New Yorker to truly cherish New York City. Billy Joel, who was born in the Bronx and became the quintessential Long Island songwriter, was flanked by New York cityscapes and video backdrops on the Shea Stadium stage Wednesday night. It was the first of Mr. Joel’s two “Last Play at Shea” shows, which are to be the final concerts there before it is demolished.

Mr. Joel played to two kinds of local pride. “This is where New York meets Long Island,” he said with a smile. “Queens — politically, that’s New York City. But geographically, we are on Long Island.” In a three-hour concert dotted with guest stars, Mr. Joel hinted that a long pop career — like his — can parallel the life of a city, full of pleasures and disappointments, triumphs and mistakes, changes and tenacity.

Mr. Joel hasn’t released an album of new pop songs since 1993, but he charged into his catalog like a trouper, with two-fisted piano playing and a voice that turned the grain of an older singer into stadium-sized vehemence — usually a decent tradeoff.

Mr. Joel, 59, doesn’t pretend to be anything but grown up. Fans in distant stadium seats got the first video close-up of his grizzled face and balding head as he sang “Angry Young Man,” the skeptical song about youthful self-righteousness that he wrote back in the 1970s. Late in the show, he played rock star for a little while, knocking around a microphone stand in “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me,” and putting some Jerry Lee Lewis growls and whoops into “You May Be Right.”

Mr. Joel’s music spans the styles of New York City before hip-hop, from classical Tin Pan Alley to doo-wop to Irish-American waltzes to big-band jazz to soul to rock. At Shea, his band was expanded with strings and horns. Amid the hefty chords, classical arpeggios and splashes of honky-tonk, his hits send melodies climbing toward well-turned choruses that, countless radio plays later, just sound inevitable. The tunes work so neatly as pop that they can make Mr. Joel’s songs seem less hard-nosed than they often are.

Mr. Joel sang cynically about a musician’s life in songs like “The Entertainer” and “Zanzibar,” and he sang about crushed hopes in songs like “Allentown,” “The Downeaster ‘Alexa,’ “ “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” and “Goodnight, Saigon,” a power ballad about Vietnam for which he was joined by a chorus of soldiers in uniform.

But New York itself was often the concert’s muse. Mr. Joel brought Tony Bennett out to join him in “New York State of Mind,” and they pushed each other toward flamboyantly jazzy vocal turns. Other songs were filled with New York City memories and locales. There were baseball references, too; he added a line about the Mets and Shea to the borough-hopping song “Miami 2017.”

Mr. Joel’s concert presented his New York City as a place full of romantic possibilities that, like ballparks, won’t last forever. He recalled that Shea was built while he was a teenager. “Now they’re going to tear it down,” he mused, “and I’m still playing.”

Shea Stadium is no CBGB. Its musical cachet has nothing to do with atmosphere, aesthetics or acoustics (although Mr. Joel’s sound system was first-rate; the concert was being filmed for a documentary). Shea gained its musical reputation directly from the Beatles, whose concert there in August 1965 showed the world that rock’s audience had grown by an order of magnitude. No wonder Mr. Joel sang “A Hard Day’s Night” with John Lennon inflections in his voice — though he inserted it between verses of his own “River of Dreams.” He returned to the Beatles to finish his two-and-a-half hour main set with “Please Please Me.”

Shea never became part of a regular stadium rock circuit, partly because its summer season is filled with baseball games. (Giants Stadium holds most of the stadium shows in the New York City area.) So the relatively few concerts at the stadium still bask in a Beatles afterglow. When the Police played their farewell concert at Shea Stadium in 1983, they thanked the Beatles. On Wednesday night, Mr. Joel became the only musician ever to headline all three area stadiums: Yankee, Giants and Shea.

Mr. Joel apologized to audience members who had bought tickets for Wednesday’s show expecting it to be Shea’s very last; after some boos he said the second show, on Friday, was added after the first sold out, and was the date offered by the Mets organization.

Guest stars seized their last chance to perform at Shea. John Mayer squeezed off bluesy guitar solos for “This Is the Time.” Don Henley picked up the night’s baseball theme with his own “Boys of Summer.” John Mellencamp added some lines about the current price of gasoline to his song “Pink Houses.” But it was a night for New York, a place where a pop hook can outlast a stadium of concrete and steel.

“I want to thank the Beatles for letting us use their room. Best band that ever was, best band that ever will be!” Mr. Joel shouted near the end, before belting one more Beatles song: “She Loves You.” But Mr. Joel seized his own last word: “Piano Man,” with a new introduction: “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” The stadium crowd sang along on both. But his finale was quiet: “Every year’s a souvenir,” he sang, “that slowly fades away.”

    With Friends, Billy Joel Gives Shea Its Own Last Waltz, NYT, 17.8.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/17/arts/music/17joel.html






Bo Diddley and the beat surrender

Bo Diddley has shuffled off, but his trademark rhythm,
and his part in the creation of rock'n'roll, will remain.
By Andy Gill


Friday, 6 June 2008
The Independent

Bo Diddley, who died earlier this week, was perhaps the least celebrated of the original pillars upon which the mighty, world-changing edifice of rock'n'roll was built: less glamorous than Elvis, less flamboyant than Little Richard, less dangerous than Jerry Lee Lewis, and less poetic than Chuck Berry. But, in at least one respect, he was every bit their equal.

In pure sonic terms, Bo Diddley was perhaps rock's single most influential architect. Small wonder he became known as The Originator: for if one were to add up just how many different songs have been constructed around Diddley's innovative beat – part shuffle, part rumba, part cakewalk, and who knows what else besides – it would probably equal the number likewise built around Chuck Berry's timeless trademark guitar licks.

The Rolling Stones' "Not Fade Away", arriving via Buddy Holly's emulation of The Originator, is perhaps the best-known – others include Springsteen's "She's the One", U2's "Desire" and George Michael's "Faith" – but the curious thing about the Bo Diddley beat is just how enduring it is, with bands able to vamp away at it for ages, without boring either themselves or their audience. Quicksilver Messenger Service, for instance, dedicated an entire side of their Happy Trails album to Bo's 1956 classic "Who Do You Love", using a series of different interrogatives to break the lengthy jam up into sections (and score some of the songwriter's royalties for themselves): "Where Do You Love", "How Do You Love", etc. Somehow, there's an integral drama to the stop-start, push-pull of the beat that enables it to remain fresh and exciting for far longer at a time than more direct rhythms. In simple riff terms, the Bo Diddley beat is one of the strongest girders in rock's entire edifice.

Part of Diddley's appeal resided in his individuality, especially in the way he was so clearly self-made, rather than a creation of some manager. Even his unique instrument, the instantly recognisable rectangular red electric guitar, was obviously home-made, and his wielding of it, and other, similarly outlandish self-made machines, inspired a generation of British kids to fashion their own instruments. Just as virtually every British guitar hero's abilities are ultimately traceable to Bert Weedon's Play In A Day manual, so too is every home-made instrument, from Bill Wyman's bass to Brian May's guitar, traceable to Bo: before him, they didn't know diddley.

The same free-thinking individuality applied to Diddley's guitar style, which was rooted in minimalism (punk may have required three chords, but Bo often needed no more than a single chord, scrubbed rhythmically throughout a song), but developed in a truly avant-garde manner. Listen to the epochal "Mumblin' Guitar", the instrumental justly chosen to lead off the most recent hits compilation The Story of Bo Diddley: heaven alone knows what chords he's playing, but they're virtually immaterial anyway, serving simply as the ground for a series of rhythmic flourishes and stunt-guitar tricks lashed to the chugging beat. It's almost not actually "playing" the guitar, so much as wrestling intriguing sounds out of it – a tectonic approach to creating music that regards the delicate matters of melody and harmony as entirely secondary to the sheer rhythmic impact of the performance.

Not only did Bo help invent rock'n'roll, but there's an obvious claim to be made on his behalf as the man who invented hip-hop, too. And this is not simply because his songs kept referring to himself in such an immoderately immodest manner. Listen to the bantering songs he cut with his maracas man Jerome Green, particularly the boisterous ""Say Man", and the entire rap framework is present, way back in 1958: there's the relentless, unchanging rhythm, over which two vocalists declaim insults about each other and their girlfriends, in the manner known in black American culture as "the dozens", to wit:

"That chick looked so ugly, she had to sneak up on the glass to get a drink of water!"

"Why, you gotta nerve to call somebody ugly – you so ugly that the stork that brought you into the world oughta be arrested!"

"That's all right, my mama didn't have to put a sheet over my head so sleep could slip up on me!", and so on.

Like Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon, his stablemates at Chicago's Chess/Checker Records, Diddley was responsible for phrasings and locutions that have entered the collective unconscious at such a deep level they've become part of the lingua franca of everyday life, now often considered "traditional". Alongside the plethora of self-referential material built out of the original 1955 "Bo Diddley" (including "Diddley Daddy", "Bo's A Lumberjack", "The Story of Bo Diddley", "Bo Diddley is Loose" and "Hey Bo Diddley"), the roll-call of legendary Diddley proclamations includes "Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself", "You can't judge a book by looking at the cover", "I'm a road runner", "I'm a man, spelt m-a-n"; while his "Who Do You Love" creates an entire horror-show netherworld of scarily fanciful claims: "I walked 47 miles of barbed wire/ Used a cobra snake for a necktie/ Got a brand new house on the roadside, made from rattlesnake hide/ Got a brand new chimney made on top, made out of a human skull", and so on – all cited, unbelievably, as erotically attractive elements!

Ironically, however, the same man apparently hell-bent on scaring the pants off of girls with this psychotic litany was in reality a paragon of feminist equality by the standards of the Fifties and Sixties, making women musicians integral to his stage act. For years, the statuesque, elegant Norma-Jean Wofford, aka The Duchess, played the Beauty to Bo's Beast as his bass-player, her ball-gowns contrasting starkly with his saturnine presence; likewise, the afro-topped Peggy Jones, aka Lady Bo, served as lead guitarist in his band, the pair of them devising the cleverly intercutting rhythm parts that powered his performances.

Bo's sense of style, of course, was all his own, from the outrageous plaid jackets and slick black pompadours of the Fifties, through the high-heeled suede boots and black hats of subsequent decades. And, like Holly, he was an immediate hero to every myopic kid forced to wear spectacles with outsize frames. There was no limit to his sartorial indulgence, nor to the visual strategies he was prepared to adopt in the name of promotion: the sleeve to his Have Guitar – Will Travel album, for instance, presented Bo in a bright red top, waving to us from atop a garish red-and-white motor-scooter, his rectangular guitar slung at his side. How much more ludicrous could a rock star look? Yet, whatever indignity was visited upon him, Bo's appeal remained firm: and if you can stay cool while looking like a fool, then you're a bona fide icon.

Diddley was never less than keenly aware of his iconic status, either. Having released an album entitled Bo Diddley's a Gunslinger, in later years he made the fanciful claim an actual fact, by becoming a deputy sheriff in New Mexico, and thus entitled to wear his guns in public. The sheriff's badge, meanwhile, became the centrepiece of the black Stetson he favoured in later years; and whether or not he actually did too much actual police work, he repaid his position several times over by raising enough money to buy the local police department three cars.

Born Ellas Otha Bates (subsequently Ellas McDaniel) in 1928 in McComb, Mississippi, Diddley's progress through the last century mirrored that followed by many black Americans, as he moved up to Chicago as a child to experience the post-war emancipation, before ultimately returning in his dotage to the more genteel South of his childhood (he died at home in Archer, Florida, surrounded by 35 relatives). Inspired to take up the guitar by seeing John Lee Hooker perform, Bo started playing in public with his first band, The Hipsters, during the war years.

He was already into his late twenties by the time he made his recording debut with "Bo Diddley" in 1955, and was pushing 40 as the rock era got into overdrive. But, unlike most of his fellow rockers, such as Elvis and Chuck Berry, Bo's appeal was not built entirely on the teenage market – almost alone amongst pop stars of his era, Diddley never stooped to the kind of junior love songs that might have scored him bigger hits. Instead, he represented a more authentic, even dangerous, expression of sexual potency through his hip-grinding rhythmic style that gave his records a broader adult appeal, and bestowed upon them a timeless quality that endures today. Put the likes of "Bo Diddley", "Mumblin' Guitar" or "Bring It To Jerome" up against tracks from Sixties beat, Seventies punk, Nineties grunge, or the Noughties retro-analogue, and they'll hold their own.

It's this timelessness that has made Bo Diddley a touchstone for subsequent generations of artists, from Springsteen and The Clash to The White Stripes, and that ensures his enduring legacy. Bo Diddley was as basic and awesome as Stonehenge, and just as crucial a part of our culture.

    Bo Diddley and the beat surrender, I, 6.6.2008, http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/bo-diddley-and-the-beat-surrender-841194.html






Music Review

Looks Like a Party,

but Filled With Pain


April 12, 2008
The New York Times


A lot of people think Gnarls Barkley is a party band. They were whooping it up at the Highline Ballroom on Thursday night, yelling, “Cee-Lo!” (Cee-Lo, the band’s singer) and “Danger!” (Danger Mouse, the band’s keyboardist and producer) between songs.

The band itself was dressed for a frat party gig, in tuxedo jackets (white for the leaders, blue for the backup band) and ruffled shirts. Cee-Lo wore a wig styled like James Brown’s early-1960s processed pompadour. And the music was made for dancing: pumping, socking, upbeat ’60s garage-soul riffs topped with gleeful swoops of analog synthesizer. The band played full tilt throughout the set, looking nerdy and hyperenthusiastic, with heads bobbing and hair flopping.

But the songs said something else. Gnarls Barkley’s worldwide 2006 hit, “Crazy,” applied their reconstituted soul riffs to thoughts of paranoia and fear, and the band’s newer material is equally despondent. At this small club show to start its tour — Cee-Lo called it an “overpaid dress rehearsal” — Gnarls Barkley was promoting its new album, “The Odd Couple” (Downtown/Atlantic), and performed most of the songs on it.

They are about impending disaster (“Run”), the mind of a sociopath (“Would-Be Killer”) and, everywhere, a desperate loneliness: “Even my shadow leaves me all alone at night,” Cee-Lo sang in the first song, “Charity Case.” In “Surprise,” over hand claps and backup vocals of “ba-ba-ba-ba,” he sang, “Everything that’s alive ultimately dies.”

While Cee-Lo dispensed banter between songs, he wasn’t joshing when he sang. He has an old-school soul voice, building from a croon to a rasp, sometimes melting into a pure falsetto; there’s more than a hint of the tense, weary Southern-soul quiver of Bobby (Blue) Bland. Cee-Lo also has a soul singer’s instinct for drama; although the band rarely held back, Cee-Lo did before moaning sustained, all-out confessions like the one in “A Little Better”: “Thank you mom and dad for hurtin’ me so bad.”

Perhaps it takes layers of costumes, self-consciousness and musical anachronism to package that kind of pain for pop hipsters. As long as Gnarls Barkley can get away with being a party band, it should.

Santogold, who opened the show, makes noise and discordance catchy. Her trappings come from hip-hop: She was backed by a disc jockey, while two female dancers, deadpan in white sunglasses, flanked her with robotic, synchronized routines.

Santogold’s singsong choruses are full of defiant self-assertion, and every so often her songs draw on a reggae beat. But much of her music is closer to the dance-oriented new wave electro of the early 1980s. Her bright, tinny voice has the quaver of Siouxsie (from the Banshees), the B-52’s or Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs; many of her tracks knock together sparse drumbeats and untamed synthesizer riffs behind declarations like “It’s all right — everything they say doesn’t make no sense.”

With its singsong refrains and bristling beats and riffs, Santogold’s pop is ready to elbow its way into the spotlight.

    Looks Like a Party, but Filled With Pain, NYT, 12.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/12/arts/music/12gnar.html






In Rapper’s Deal,

a New Model for Music Business


April 3, 2008
The New York Times


LOS ANGELES — In a move that reflects the anarchy sweeping the music business, the superstar rapper Jay-Z, who released his latest album to lukewarm sales five months ago, is on the verge of closing a deal with a concert promoter that rivals the biggest music contracts ever awarded.

Jay-Z plans to depart his longtime record label, Def Jam, for a roughly $150 million package with the concert giant Live Nation that includes financing for his own entertainment venture, in addition to recordings and tours for the next decade. The pact, expected to be finalized this week, is the most expansive deal yet from Live Nation, which has angled to compete directly with the industry’s established music labels in a scrum over the rights to distribute recordings, sell concert tickets, market merchandise and control other aspects of artists’ careers.

As CD sales plunge, an array of players — including record labels, promoters and advertisers — are racing to secure deals that cut them in on a larger share of an artist’s overall revenue. Live Nation has already struck less comprehensive pacts with Madonna and U2.

In Jay-Z, Live Nation has lined up with a longtime star who, after toiling as a self-described hustler on the streets of Brooklyn, earned acclaim as a rapper and cachet as a mogul.

Live Nation’s core business has revolved around major rock and country tours, and with Jay-Z it is making an unexpected foray into hip-hop. The company is also placing an enormous wager on a performer who, like many others, has experienced declining record sales. (Last year’s “American Gangster” sold one million copies in the United States; “The Black Album,” from 2003, sold well over three million.)

But the arrangement would also position Live Nation to participate in a range of new deals with Jay-Z, one of music’s most entrepreneurial stars, whose past ventures have included the Rocawear clothing line, which he sold last year for $204 million, and the chain of 40/40 nightclubs.

Jay-Z, 38, whose real name is Shawn Carter, owes one more studio album to Def Jam, where he was president for three years before stepping down in December after he and the label’s corporate parent, Universal Music Group, could not agree on a more lucrative contract.

His first undertaking with Live Nation is his current 28-date tour with Mary J. Blige, his biggest live outing in more than three years. After that, Live Nation envisions integrating the marketing of all Jay-Z’s entertainment endeavors, including recordings, tours and endorsements.

“I’ve turned into the Rolling Stones of hip-hop,” Jay-Z said in a recent telephone interview.

The deal answers a question that had been circling through the rap world for months: Where would Jay-Z take his next corporate role? As part of the arrangement, Live Nation would finance the start-up of a venture that would be an umbrella for his outside projects, which are expected to include his own label, music publishing, and talent consulting and managing. Live Nation is expected to contribute $5 million a year in overhead for five years, with another $25 million available to finance Jay-Z’s acquisitions or investments, according to people in the music industry briefed on the agreement. The venture, to be called Roc Nation, will split profits with Live Nation.

The overall package for Jay-Z also includes an upfront payment of $25 million, a general advance of $25 million that includes fees for his current tour, and advance payment of $10 million an album for a minimum of three albums during the deal’s 10-year term, these people said. A series of other payments adding up to about $20 million is included in exchange for certain publishing, licensing and other rights. Jay-Z said Live Nation’s consolidated approach was in sync with the emerging potential “to reach the consumer in so many different ways right now.” He added: “Everyone’s trying to figure it out. I want to be on the front lines in that fight.”

The popularity of music downloads has revolutionized how music is consumed, and widespread piracy has contributed to an industry meltdown in which traditional album sales — composed mostly of the two-decades-old CD format — have slumped by more than a third since 2000. (The best seller in 2007, Josh Groban’s “Noël,” sold 3.7 million copies, compared with 9.9 million for the top album in 2000, according to Nielsen SoundScan.)

That has further pressured record-label executives to rewrite the economics of their business and step beyond the sale of albums in an attempt to wring revenue out of everything from ring tones to artist fan clubs.

Jay-Z said that his future as an artist could involve elevating the role of live performances, long a mixed bag even for popular rap acts.

“In a way I want to operate like an indie band,” he said. “Play the music on tour instead of relying on radio. Hopefully we’ll get some hits out of there and radio will pick it up, but we won’t make it with that in mind.”

Though sales for Jay-Z’s tour with Ms. Blige have been strong since it began on March 22, with almost all the early dates resulting in sold-out arenas, it is unclear when Live Nation could carry out other aspects of the deal. (Jay-Z said that he hoped to deliver his final album for Def Jam later this year.)

Critics of Live Nation, which lost nearly $12 million last year, predict that it would be difficult to turn a profit on the arrangement, given the continuing decline in record sales and the mixed track record of artist-run ventures. Shares in the company have suffered since October when Live Nation negotiated a reported $120 million deal with Madonna.

Michael Cohl, Live Nation’s chairman, said he was not worried. Though he declined to discuss terms of the Jay-Z arrangement, he said it did not require an increase in record sales to be profitable. “He could be doing more tours and doing great,” Mr. Cohl said. “There could be endorsements and sponsorships.” He added, “The whole is what’s important.”

He cited Jay-Z’s forays into a host of other businesses as a model for Live Nation. “What he’s done has kind of mirrored what we want to do and where we think we’re going.”

Some executives at major record labels have privately portrayed Live Nation’s artist deals as overly expensive retirement packages for stars past their prime.

Others disagree. “I’d much rather be in the business of marketing a superstar who cost me a lot of money than taking the 1-in-10, demonstrably failing crapshoot” of signing unknown talents, said Jeffrey Light, a Los Angeles entertainment attorney, referring to the traditional record company model.

But the dimensions of the competition could change if Live Nation begins vying for the same emerging artists that the labels hope to sign. Live Nation is negotiating with a Georgia rock act, the Zac Brown Band, after apparently wooing it away from an offer by Atlantic Records, according to music executives briefed on the talks.

Jay-Z, for his part, suggested that the string of stars to exit the major-label system would also signal to younger acts how to plot their careers. He said that rising artists will be thinking: “ ‘Something must be happening. Madonna did it, she’s not slow. Jay-Z, he’s not slow either.’ ”

    In Rapper’s Deal, a New Model for Music Business, NYT, 3.4.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/03/arts/music/03jayz.html






Music Review

Hip-Hop Assurance,

R&B Suffering


March 29, 2008
The New York Times


UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige are worlds apart in their songs. He’s a calmly assured mogul whose every past hustle has paid off. She’s a wounded, needy, much betrayed woman whose old pain is close to the surface, and who has to keep reminding herself that now she’s O.K. Onstage he’s nonchalantly skillful, while she works herself into sweaty, disheveled, riveting turmoil. But they have collaborated on each other’s songs, and now they are sharing the Heart of the City tour, which came to Nassau Coliseum here on Thursday night and reaches Madison Square Garden May 2, 6 and 7.

In an efficient two-and-a-half-hour production, Jay-Z and Ms. Blige use one stage set (with different bands), start and end the show together, do cameos with each other and praise each other in video clips; Jay-Z follows Ms. Blige with no intermission. For both, the back story is one of struggle capped by success. But for Jay-Z the success is up front; for Ms. Blige the struggles are. She makes them passionately vivid.

Her set started with professions of unlimited love: midtempo R&B songs that dissolved into lithe scat singing and wordless oohs and ahhs. When ecstasy was replaced by discord, she had all the words she needed: in “Stay Down,” a plea and a vow to make it through a rough patch in a marriage; in “Fade Away,” where she realizes she has been betrayed; in “No More Drama,” where she decides to break up; and in “Your Child,” where she discovers that her man has fathered another woman’s baby. The songs built slowly with anger, ache, tearfulness and fury, with sustained notes and cascading melismas. Her face was contorted, and sometimes she raised a shaking fist.

The musicality never wavered, and Ms. Blige’s performances were cathartic: the deepest soul, private torment at arena scale. Then, having worked through the traumas, Ms. Blige proffered advice — the self-esteem counsel of “Work That” and “Just Fine” — and she was dancing again.

Jay-Z’s set was a high achiever’s victory celebration. At one point Jay-Z moved alongside his disc jockey to spin his old tracks. Audience members immediately started rapping along, expecting him to step in, but he stopped each one short — more than a dozen — as a hitmaker with material to burn. He also did a string of songs based on his own nicknames: Jigga and Hova.

Jay-Z presented his inner-city credentials with photographs of the Marcy Houses project in Brooklyn, where he grew up, as he rapped his reminiscences in “No Hook,” and the rapper Memphis Bleek joined him on “U Know,” about the cocaine trade. But the present — wealth, fame, a few regrets about women but not enough to stop the party — was more on his mind.

For “Public Service Announcement” the video screen showed assorted presidents, and Jay-Z encouraged the crowd to curse George W. Bush. Then he rapped unaccompanied about his sympathy for soldiers at war and endorsed Barack Obama, taking care to say that Mr. Obama was not sponsoring or endorsing him.

A large band replaced the sampled beats of Jay-Z’s hits, dipping into hard rock, reggae and Latin rhythms. It wasn’t always an improvement. Perhaps to challenge himself, he had the drummer playing so busily that the percussion collided with the rapid-fire syncopation of his rhymes.

Jay-Z aims for variety, setting different meters for nearly every one of his raps, but in concert his virtuosity was just one more thing he took for granted. When Ms. Blige joined him to sing the hook on the finale — “Heart of the City,” of course — it was her voice that put the longing into the song.

Mary J. Blige and Jay-Z come to Madison Square Garden on May 2, 6 and 7; (212) 307-7171, ticketmaster.com. The May 6 and 7 concerts are sold out.

    Hip-Hop Assurance, R&B Suffering, NYT, 29.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/29/arts/music/29blig.html






1,700 Bands,

Rocking as the CD Industry Reels


March 15, 2008
The New York Times


AUSTIN, Tex. — “I don’t want to feel like I don’t have a future,” sang the Shout Out Louds, one of more than 1,700 bands that have been performing day and night at Austin’s clubs, halls, meeting rooms, parking lots and street corners since Wednesday.

The Shout Out Louds, from Stockholm, were singing about a romance, but they could have been speaking for thousands of people attending the 22nd annual South by Southwest Music Festival. It is America’s most important music convention, particularly for rising bands, gathering a critical mass of musicians and their supporters and exploiters from the United States and across the world. While major labels have a low profile at this year’s gathering, other corporations are highly visible, using sponsorships to latch on to music as a draw and as a symbol of cool.

Southwest is a talent showcase and a schmoozathon, a citywide barbecue party and a brainstorming session for a business that has been radically shaken and stirred by the Internet. For established recording companies, the instantaneous and often unpaid distribution of music online is business hell; CD album sales are on an accelerating slide, and sales of downloads aren’t making up for the losses. But for listeners, as well as for musicians who mostly want a chance to be heard, the digital era is fan heaven. As major labels have shrunk in the 21st century, South by Southwest has nearly doubled in size, up to 12,500 people registered for this year’s convention, from 7,000 registered attendees in 2001, not including the band members performing. In an era of plummeting CD sales and short shelf lives even for current hit makers, the festival is full of people seeking ways to route their careers around what’s left of the major recording companies.

Sooner or later, public forums and private conversations at this year’s festival end up pondering how 21st-century musicians will be paid. For nearly all of them, it won’t be royalty checks rolling in from blockbuster albums. Musicians’ livelihoods will more likely be a crazy quilt of what their lawyers would call “alternative revenue streams”: touring, downloads, ringtones, T-shirts, sponsorships, Web site ads and song placements in soundtracks or commercials. Festival panels offer practical advice on all of them, for career-minded do-it-yourself-ers.

The key is to gain enough recognition to find an audience. Over its four days, SXSW, as the festival is called, is like MySpace moved to the physical realm: more music than anyone could possibly hear, freely available and clamoring to be heard.

Major labels used to help create stars through promotion and publicity, but their role has been shrinking. Multimillion-selling musicians who have fulfilled their major-label contracts — Radiohead, the Eagles, Nine Inch Nails — are deserting those companies, choosing to be free agents rather than assets for the system that made them famous.

Even a moderately well-known musician can reach fans without a middleman. Daniel Lanois, who has produced U2 and Bob Dylan and is also a guitarist and songwriter, noted during his set that he now sells his music directly online in high fidelity at the Web site redfloorrecords.com.

“We can record something at night, put it on the site for breakfast and have the money in the PayPal account by 5,” he said. “With all due respect for my very great friends who have come up in the record-company environment, it’s nice to see that technology has opened the doors to everybody.”

South by Southwest has insisted, ever since it started in 1987 as a gathering for independent and regional musicians, that major-label contracts have never been a musician’s only chance. Musicians who have had contracts are lucky if they recoup their advances through royalties. Lou Reed, who gave an onstage interview as a convention keynote, was terse about getting a label contract. “You have the Internet — what do you need it for?”

There’s never a shortage of eager musicians. Many bands drive cross-country by van or cross an ocean to perform an unpaid showcase at South By Southwest, and the most determined ones play not only their one festival slot but also half a dozen peripheral parties as well, hoping to be noticed. Sixth Street and Red River, two downtown streets lined with clubs, are mobbed with music-hopping pedestrians until last call.

Musicians make the trek even though discovering a local band from another town or another country is just a few clicks away. That spread of information opens new career paths, from tours stoked by blog buzz to recognition for a song tucked into a commercial or a soundtrack. South by Southwest draws like Ingrid Michaelson and Sia got big breaks through songs that appeared in television shows, while Yael Naim found an international audience through a MacBook Air commercial.

With music whizzing across the Internet, South by Southwest probably has fewer completely unknown so-called baby bands, but hundreds of more toddlers. They have unlikely allies now. If record labels can’t help them, corporations might. Few musicians worry about selling out to a sponsor; now it’s a career path. This year’s festival has brand-name sponsors everywhere, from Citigroup and Dell to wineries, social-networking Web sites and the chef Rachael Ray (who is the host of her own day party).

Governments subsidize bands from countries including Australia, Norway, Spain and Britain, which see new markets and trade value in music.

Radio stations are also active. Two well-established bands, R.E.M. and My Morning Jacket, played through their coming albums at packed South by Southwest shows that were broadcast live on National Public Radio and can be streamed at nprmusic.org/music — giving away new songs they know full well will soon be bootlegged. The logic is that fans who hear them will show up for concerts, pick up T-shirts and perhaps even buy the studio versions.

But for many of the performers at South by Southwest, the ambitions are on a smaller scale: just to be heard. Casey Dienel is the 23-year-old songwriter, pianist and wispy-voiced singer of White Hinterland; her gentle melodies carry tales of visionary transformations. She said she was at the festival just hoping that “if you put yourself out there authentically, you’re going to attract people who think like you.” Looking at her rapt audience of perhaps three dozen people, she smiled shyly. “There are so many of you!” she said.

    1,700 Bands, Rocking as the CD Industry Reels, NYT, 15.3.2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/15/arts/music/15aust.html?hp






Buddy Miles,

Hendrix Drummer,



February 28, 2008
The New York Times


Buddy Miles, the drummer in Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys and a hitmaker under his own name with the song “Them Changes,” died on at his home in Austin, Tex. He was 60.

Mr. Miles suffered from congestive heat failure, his publicist, Duane Lee, said, according to Reuters. Mr. Lee said he did not know the official cause of death.

Mr. Miles played with a brisk, assertive, deeply funky attack that made him an apt partner for Hendrix. With his luxuriant Afro and his American-flag shirts, he was a prime mover in the psychedelic blues-rock of the late 1960’s, not only with Hendrix but also as a founder, drummer and occasional lead singer for the Electric Flag. During the 1980’s, he was widely heard as the lead voice of the California Raisins in television commercials

George Allen Miles Jr., whose aunt nicknamed him after the big-band drummer Buddy Rich, was born in Omaha and began playing drums as a child. He was 12 years old when he joined his father’s jazz group, the Bebops. As a teenager he also worked with soul and rhythm-and-blues acts, among them the Ink Spots, the Delfonics and Wilson Pickett. By 1967, he had moved to Chicago, where he was a founding member of the Electric Flag.

That band included a horn section and played blues, soul and rock; it made its debut at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and released its first album in 1968. But the Electric Flag was short-lived. Mr. Miles formed the Buddy Miles Express, and its first album, “Electric Church,” was produced by Hendrix, whom he had met when both were sidemen on the rhythm-and-blues circuit. Mr. Miles appeared on two songs on the Hendrix album “Electric Ladyland.” When Hendrix disbanded the Jimi Hendrix Experience and replaced his trio’s British musicians with African-Americans, Mr. Miles joined him in the Band of Gypsys along with Billy Cox on bass.

On the last night of the 1960s, a New Year’s Eve show, they recorded “Band of Gypsys,” an album that included “Them Changes.” Mr. Miles also worked in the studio with Hendrix, and appears on “Cry of Love,” released after Hendrix died in 1970.

He re-recorded “Them Changes” with his own band, and it became a hit and a blues-rock staple; Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood performed it on Monday at Madison Square Garden. Through the 1970s, Mr. Miles made albums with his own bands. He also made a live album with Carlos Santana in 1972, and sang on the 1987 Santana album “Freedom.” During his career he appeared on more than 70 albums and worked with musicians including Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Barry White and George Clinton.

He was imprisoned on drug-related convictions during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, but when he emerged, advertising recharged his career. He sang the lead vocal for the California Raisins, whose Claymation commercials were so popular that they led to a string of albums by the fictional group. Two of them, “California Raisins” and “Meet the Raisins,” shipped a million copies. Mr. Miles also produced and performed commercials for Cadillac and Harley Davidson.

He and Mr. Cox recorded a live album, “The Band of Gypsys Return,” in 2004. Mr. Miles continued to perform even after suffering a stroke in 2005. Survivors include his partner, Sherrilae Chambers.

    Buddy Miles, Hendrix Drummer, Dies, NYT, 28.2.2008,



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