Friday, November 30, 2007

Tom Terrell (1950-2007)

It saddens me to report that music journalist Tom Terrell – a well-loved figure in the New York and D.C. music scenes – died yesterday after a long fight with prostate cancer.

Tom had been a progressive radio and club deejay in Washington, a record-industry publicist in New York City, and lately an on-air music critic for National Public Radio.

Back in the day, Tom even contributed graciously to my short-lived fanzine, UNCUT FUNK.

Fond remembrances of Tom Terrell have been shared today at NPR’s blog for “All Songs Considered.”

A good friend of Tom’s – photographer and blogger Jeff Fearing (who shot the photo above) – had earlier set up the “Tom Terrell Photo Blog” in his honor.

That blog now includes details for next week’s wake and funeral service in Washington, D.C. (A proud Bison, Tom will be memorialized at Howard University’s Rankin Chapel.)

Through the magic of the Internet, you can read or hear Tom Terrell’s words with the push of a button.

Click here, for instance, then press “Listen” to hear a piece Tom did in July about a classic roots-reggae single – “Two Sevens Clash” – for NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

To read some of his CD reviews for the online magazine Global Rhythm, follow this link.

May Tom rest in peace, and may his family be comforted.

MBP of the Week: Newsday

Last week on Long Island, 25-year-old Tanisha Armstrong and her 4-year-old daughter, Talani Johnson, died in their apartment of carbon monoxide poisoning.

This has been fairly big news in New York City, with the victims’ relatives calling for a crackdown on “slumlords.”

This past Wednesday, Newsday issued the following correction:

“A photo published yesterday did not show Talani Johnson, who died last week of suspected carbon monoxide poisoning. It showed Azariah Johnson, a surviving sibling.”

Of course it did!

(Hat-tip: Regret the Error.)

Speaking ill of the dead

A reader pointed me to this online column by Washington Post sportswriter Leonard Shapiro. Title: “Taylor’s Death Is Tragic but Not Surprising.”

As a Redskins fan, I was particularly stunned by this week’s shooting death of Pro-Bowler Sean Taylor. Then stunned again to see Mr. Shapiro write:

“[C]ould anyone honestly say they never saw this coming? You’d have to be blind not to consider Taylor’s checkered past.”

Ummm... saw this coming??

Sean Taylor wasn’t shot in a crack house.

Sean Taylor wasn’t shot on a street corner in Overtown.

He wasn’t shot in a nightclub, surrounded by his “posse.”

Sean Taylor was shot in his suburban Miami home while defending that home – and the lives of his fiancée and infant daughter – against armed intruders.

Taylor was 24 years old.

The Miami Herald reports today that three young men – two in their teens – have been detained in the case. Evidently they targeted Sean Taylor’s house to burglarize because of Taylor’s wealth.

And yet, early Tuesday afternoon, within hours of the man’s death – and with no indication that Taylor had done anything to bring about this misfortune – Len Shapiro felt compelled to write:

“At the moment, it is far too soon to draw any conclusions as to how or why this tragedy occurred... why another athlete, Michael Vick, Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson, and now Sean Taylor becomes headline news for all the wrong reasons.”

The fuck...? What does Michael Vick have to do with this?

And what does Sean Taylor’s “reputation as a moody, enigmatic athlete” have to do with his being targeted for a burglary?

“Clearly,” Shapiro wrote, “he seemed to embrace the thug image on and off the field...”

The fuck...? I say again, Shapiro wrote this while the man’s corpse was still warm.

Readers at washingtonpost.com have been outraged. Here are some of their comments:

“[I]t is incredibly insensitive and downright malicious to defame a decent human being only hours after his death. I am horrified. What was the writer thinking when writing this? What was the editor thinking when reading this?”

“Lenny. You are an idiot plain and simple.”

“I’ve read this thing three times now just to make sure I wasn’t be overly emotional. It’s easily the lowest this paper has sunk since Janet Cooke. Shapiro’s name belongs in the same sentence as hers and other disgraced journalists.”

“FIRE SHAPIRO”

I fully expect the Washington Post’s ombudsman to address this embarrassment come Sunday.

UPDATE (12/01/07): Well, I was right. The Washington Post’s ombudsman, Deborah Howell, has weighed in on Len Shapiro.

Her column will appear in tomorrow’s newspaper, but it’s on the Web right now... after “huge howls from hundreds of Redskins fans upset by the initial Post online commentary,” she writes. “Hearing criticism of Taylor as he was fighting for his life and immediately after he died struck readers as insensitive.”

No shit, Shirley?

Ms. Howell talked to Shapiro, who told her: “In retrospect, I would have worded it a bit differently, softened it a little bit. I’m not a callous or uncaring person. Maybe I didn’t say it very elegantly. I feel very badly if people interpreted [the column as an attack].”

She also talked to Mike Wilbon, who had shit-talked Sean Taylor in an online chat the day before he died... and was bashed for it by some readers. Wilbon stuck up for Shapiro, telling Howell that Shapiro got attacked more than him because Shapiro is white.

Black readers, according to Wilbon, “don't want a white person to lead that discussion in Washington.”

Oh bull shit. Shapiro got attacked because he fucked up.

And Deborah Howell, when she arrives at her bottom line, lets everybody off easy:

“The issue was timing. As unfeeling as it sounds, it is just not in the nature of the news business for critical comment to be withheld until the body is in the ground. But in this case, it would not have hurt good journalism to have backed off on harsh commentary until the next day. That would have let the news sink in for readers.”

Mmm-kay. A lesson learned, I guess. It wouldn’t have “hurt good journalism” to wait a day before lumping Sean Taylor in with Michael Vick and Pacman Jones. Got it.

Fuck it, Rodney. Just stay in the house.

Rodney King was shot Wednesday night in San Bernardino, Calif., while riding his bike.

Apparently, an unidentified black man and woman tried to steal the bike from him. As Rodney King rode away, someone fired a shotgun at him, spraying his face, back and arm with pellets.

His injuries are not life-threatening.

Dang... never a cop around when you need one...

A free Robin Eubanks download

As the Penguin jazz guide puts it, the Eubanks family is Philadelphia’s answer to the Marsalises of New Orleans. Right down to the fact that guitarist Kevin Eubanks took over as leader of the “Tonight Show” band from Branford Marsalis.

Kevin’s little brother, Duane, is a trumpet player.

And Kevin’s big brother, Robin Eubanks, is a trombonist who has served with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and the Dave Holland Big Band.

If you’re registered at AllAboutJazz.com, you can download a FREE MP3 of a tune called “Pentacourse” by Robin Eubanks and his group, EB3. Just follow this link.

To stream “Pentacourse” on my Vox blog, click here.

The photograph above is © Don Berryman of JazzPolice.com. (Cheers, Don.)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A free Antibalas download

A multiethnic Brooklyn band that jams like Fela Kuti? Interesting.

I’m talking about the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra. And those of you registered at Calabash Music can get a FREE MP3 called “El Machete.” Follow this link.

“El Machete” is from the band’s 2001 CD, “Liberation Afro Beat, Vol. 1.” To hear the track streaming on my Vox site, click here.

Tay Zonday gets pizzaid, bitch!

Yes yes y’all! My boy T-A-Y-to-the-Z – the Barry Bonds of viral video – has capitalized on his YouTube smash “Chocolate Rain” by starring in a new Web commercial for Dr Pepper.

Tay is pimping something called “Cherry Chocolate Dr Pepper” (sounds disgusting) by way of parody lyrics and a big-money music video called “Cherry Chocolate Rain.” It even has a real-live guest rapper (Mista Johnson).

I got nothing but love for Tay Zonday. And I dig the new video. Something about the guy just makes me happy to be human.

(Big thanks to Scott.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

When I say sex, you say scandal...

Huffington Post political blogger Bill Robinson posted this last night:

“... I’ve just spent two weeks travelling and speaking with media elites in L.A., Chicago, NYC, and D.C. and among other things, I was repeatedly told that The New York Times and The L.A. Times are ‘sitting on a BIG Clinton story.’ What concerns me is that this story has nothing to do with Hillary, her policy positions, her record, or her presidential potential. The ‘big story’ everyone is sitting on apparently has to do with the many current affairs of Bill Clinton, whom, they will allege, has a gal in every port.

“I know, I know, you roll your eyes, you yawn, you wonder how anyone could possibly care about such things, true or not, when there is so much at stake in this upcoming election. But then you see what is going on with today’s Trent Lott/gay hustler rumors, this week’s Hillary/lesbian aide rumors, and you remember that the ghost of Karl Rove still haunts us. ...”

Wednesday 45 Flashback: ‘Willie and the Hand Jive’

Here’s a rock ’n’ roll/R&B classic from my favorite White Negro of all times, bandleader Johnny Otis. (That’s him singing lead as well.)

This tune has been covered by the likes of Eric Clapton, Levon Helm and George Thorogood.

I doff my cap to YouTube wax jockey nelsonwalrus.

A free Turkish hip-hop download

Did you know that rap is huge in Turkey?

(Mmm... huge Turkey rap!)

I became aware of this fact only last night, after stumbling on a track by Ceza. Ceza is at the top of the Turkish rap game. Matter fact, it says on Wikipedia that Ceza just won an “MTV Europe Music Award” for Best Turkish Act, period.

The track I found is “Komedyenler Is Basnda.” It’s from Ceza’s 2002 CD, “Med Cezir.” To hear it streaming on my Vox site, click here.

And then ponder how freakin’ wild it is that a form of vocal expression and musical performance which 30 years ago existed only in black neighborhoods of New York City (not to mention the ’tude) has been embraced, studied and internalized by cultures all over the globe.

If you want a FREE MP3 of “Komedyenler Is Basnda,” you can download it off the MySpace page of DJ Funky C. He’s the guy who raps the middle verse in English.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A free Widespread Panic download

I started paying attention to the “jam band” phenomenon when I realized that those neo-hippie types tend to include vintage Funkadelic songs in their repertoires. And I’m all for that. (“Maggot Brain” in particular is a jam-band standard.)

Widespread Panic is a badder band than most. They’ve jammed with Herbie Hancock, Carlos Santana and Taj Mahal. (Click them links and see for yourself on YouTube.)

Plus they’ve been gigging for more than 20 years and putting out albums since 1988.

Widespread Panic has released a new studio single called “Up All Night.” It’s available as a FREE MP3 download; simply follow this link to the band’s website.

To stream “Up All Night” on my Vox blog, click here. It’s a Southern-rock groove with Memphis-soul horns on top.

I’m also streaming a bootleg live version of “Maggot Brain” which I copped seven years ago via Napster. The track is incomplete... but the 6½ minutes I have are pretty tasty. Click here to listen.

Something throwbacky from Marcus Miller

Good thing I occasionally check in at Fabchannel.com, the Dutch concert-video site, to see what new concerts they’ve got streaming. Here’s one fresh from the oven:

Marcus Miller in Amsterdam, October 17, 2007.

The superstar bass player was in Europe last month promoting his new CD, “Free.” He’ll be in Japan next month doing the same thing.

Which is a drag for Miller’s U.S. fans... because “Free” hasn’t even been released here yet. Not even on iTunes.

(If you wanna buy it now, you’ll have to cope with the sticker shock of a European or Japanese import.)

Mr. Miller is streaming a few tracks on his MySpace page, including a pair of 1970s throwbacks, Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” and Tower of Power’s “What Is Hip?”

And we have this Amsterdam show.

To watch the whole thing, follow this link. The concert includes a couple more throwbacks (off earlier albums): the Philly-soul classic “People Make the World Go Around” and John Lennon’s “Come Together” – “like if the Beatles got together with George Clinton,” as Miller says. (Actually it evolves into a New Orleans-style stomp.)

The title track, “Free,” was a hit for Deniece Williams 30 years ago. In Amsterdam, it was sung by special guest Jean Baylor (formerly of Zhané). But on the CD, it’s sung by Corinne Bailey Rae.

To hear a 2½-minute portion of the album version, click here; I'm streaming it on my Vox site.

Marcus Miller offers this partial track among many free downloadable “sound samples” on his official website.

Yep, I’m ready for a sex scandal.

So... while we were looking Left, some shit done hit the fan over on the Right!

According to a salacious gossip blog called Big Head DC, Republican Trent Lott’s abrupt resignation from the U.S. Senate yesterday might have something to do with Lott’s “alleged” involvement with a “gay escort” known as Benjamin Nichols.

(Matt Drudge won’t even touch that item.)

The Huffington Post last night quoted the gay escort as categorically denying that he’d ever met Trent Lott.

But early this morning, Big Head DC updated with this from Larry Flynt’s website:

“HUSTLER Magazine has received numerous inquiries regarding the involvement of Larry Flynt and HUSTLER in the resignation of Trent Lott. Senator Lott has been the target of an ongoing HUSTLER investigation for some time now, due to confidential information that we have received.”

I suppose we’ll soon see whether Big Head DC (i.e., Rob Capriccioso) is a useless scumbucket or a beacon of truth. He has already done his part to spread the Hillary rumor.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Cat fight! #2

There’s a different sort of scratchin’ and clawin’ going on at The Assault on Black Folk’s Sanity, a rambunctious “Black partisan” blog that I’ve mentioned here before.

Two highly educated African Americans – Michael Fisher (Yale) and Craig Nulan (MIT) – have had a falling out.

After posting some interesting information at the Assault concerning the history of the eugenics movement, Craig Nulan suddenly disappeared those posts, and now he says he wants nothing more to do with Michael Fisher. For reasons unclear. (Some arcane ideological dispute, most likely.)

Yep. Instead of focusing on what they share in common – a seething contempt for the United States of America, and a belief that black people’s problems are white people’s fault – Nulan and Fisher are going the crabs-in-a-barrel route.

Couldn’t happen to two nicer guys. Read the comments they left here several weeks ago if you want to size up these charmers.

Fisher welcomed me into the comments section at the Assault last month with these words:

“David Mills? Your treacherous ass is giving us the honor of a visit? You low life, we ain’t never gonna forget what you did. Ever.

“Go back to your mentor Sun Myung Moon and keep on writing some more black-on-black violence-inducing scripts and go get your pat on the head from your boy Simon.

“I detest traitorous hypocrites like you. You’re about the wost kind of Negro I can think off.”

(And that, my dear friends, is why I try never to antagonize a Yalie.)

Nulan seconded Fisher’s emotion in a comment thread at BlackProf.com, calling me a “sell-out” for exposing the Jew-hatred of Professor Griff 18 years ago.

So come on, Mr. Nulan and Mr. Fisher. Squash your interpersonal beefs and re-focus on the real enemy: the Global System of White Supremacy and its sell-out Negro conservative lapdogs.

Stakes is high.

Cat fight! #1

A free Rudresh Mahanthappa download

You don’t find many Hindu South Asian jazz cats. (Or maybe I don’t know where to look.) But Brooklyn-based Rudresh Mahanthappa is a rising star on the alto sax.

Click here to check out a track called “The Decider,” streaming on my Vox blog. It’s from Mahanthappa’s 2006 CD “Codebook”.

“The Decider” is available as a FREE MP3 download. Just follow this link to firehouse12.com, scroll down, and you’ll see it under “Music Samples.”

UPDATE (11/26/07): Mr. Mahanthappa has informed me that he is not Hindu. That’s what I get for relying on Wikipedia. (Take a lesson, friends.)

Meanwhile, here’s one more FREE MP3, for those of you who are registered at AllAboutJazz.com. It’s another track off “Codebook.”

You can stream more of Rudresh’s music at rudreshm.com.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Post-Thanksgiving humor

natalie dee
What really tickles me about this Natalie Dee comic is... my sister hit the stores on Friday morning, doubled up on the “jumbo” George Foreman grills ($29.99), and gifted me with one of them bad boys.

Time for Dave to go buy some steaks!

Meshell Ndegeocello on WNYC

I must confess, I’ve never been into Meshell Ndegeocello. Just never got around to checking out her music too deep. (Heck, I can’t listen to everything. Not even everything I’m curious about.)

But if you’re a fan of hers, you’ll be interested in this:

Embedded below is a 22-minute streamcast from WNYC (New York Public Radio). The show is called “Soundcheck.” This episode, broadcast six weeks ago, features Ms. Ndegeocello plugging her new CD, “The World Has Made Me the Man of My Dreams.”

Ndegeocello and her band perform two songs live in the WNYC studio (“The Sloganeer: Paradise” and “Evolution”), and she chats with host John Schaefer about spirituality and sexuality.

“I was always told, once I found the man of my dreams, that would solve all my problems,” she says. “And he never came. So I had to become that, and create my own world of happiness.”

A free Manu Chao download

More Spanish guitars!

Transnational hipster Manu Chao released a new album over the summer – “La Radiolina.” Manu Chao, as you may know, is the “King of Alternative Latin.”

Do you wanna download a track called “Me Llaman Calle”... for FREE? If yes, then click here to commence downloading the MP3 file, courtesy of KEXP.org at the University of Washington.

To hear “Me Llaman Calle” on my Vox audio stash, click here.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

This date in Beatles history: 1966

Let’s travel back in time to November 24, 1966. The place: EMI’s recording studios at Abbey Road, London, England.

In September of ’66, the Beatles took a break from each other, going their separate ways for a while, working on separate projects.

Then, at 7 p.m. on November 24, John, Paul, George and Ringo reconvened in Studio Two to begin work on a new album. An album which, when released in June of 1967, would change the world of rock music.

“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

But the song that the Beatles recorded on this first night back in the studio didn’t end up on “Sgt. Pepper.” In fact, this night’s work – Take 1 of a new John Lennon composition – wasn’t released at all. (Until 1996, that is.)

November 24 was the night the Beatles recorded their first take of “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

As historian Mark Lewisohn wrote in his wonderful book “The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions”:

“ ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ captured in one song everything the Beatles had learned in the four years spent inside recording studios, especially 1966, with its backwards tapes, its use of vari-speed and its use of uncommon musical instruments.” (Paul McCartney played the Mellotron.)

The Beatles took their time getting “Strawberry Fields” right. They devoted their next two Abbey Road sessions – on November 28 and 29 – to recording more takes of the song. None of those would be released either.

The basic tracks for the final version of “Strawberry Fields Forever” were recorded on December 8. In the meantime, the Beatles cut their first actual “Sgt. Pepper” track: “When I’m Sixty-Four.”

By the end of December, the group would begin work on a new McCartney tune, initially labeled “Untitled” but soon called “Penny Lane.”

The “Strawberry Fields”/”Penny Lane” single was released in the U.K. on February 17. It remains one of the greatest pop records of all time.

Eventually, Take 1 of “Strawberry Fields Forever” was released on the double-CD “Anthology 2.” To hear it streaming on my Vox audio stash, click here.

A free Federico Aubele download

I’m a sucker for the sound of a Spanish guitar. Laid on top of some modern beats? All the more better.

Argentina’s Federico Aubele mixes it up like that on his new album, “Panamericana,” which was produced by Eric Hilton of Thievery Corporation.

To download a FREE MP3 of the track “En El Desierto,” follow this link to AOL’s Spinner.com. To hear “En El Desierto” on my Vox audio stash, just click here.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Two free Bettye LaVette downloads

Speaking of Joe Henry, I should mention another album he produced: Bettye LaVette’s “I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise” (2005).

It’s a concept album, with Ms. LaVette – an admired soul-music veteran – covering songs by admired female singer-songwriters (including Rosanne Cash, Fiona Apple and Lucinda Williams).

You can get two FREE MP3s off that album by following this link to Download.com.

Click here to hear one of those tracks – Joan Armatrading’s “Down to Zero” – on my Vox blog.

‘Speechless’

Filmmaker George Hickenlooper and screenwriter Alan Sereboff have created a series of clever digital shorts in support of Hollywood’s striking writers.

The “Speechless” campaign features prominent actors like Sean Penn, Holly Hunter and Harvey Keitel.

The shorts will debut throughout this long holiday weekend on Nikki Finke’s blog, Deadline Hollywood Daily. (Three cheers to Ms. Finke for her indispensable blow-by-blow coverage of the strike so far.)

Here’s the most recent short posted, featuring Jeff Garlin of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”:

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Some free Joe Henry downloads

Happy Thanksgiving to all! I’m halfway between L.A. and Phoenix, on my way to do the family thing.

Won’t let that interfere with my FREE MP3 compulsion, though.

Two days ago, in mentioning Solomon Burke’s album “Don’t Give Up On Me,” I neglected one salient fact: It was produced by Joe Henry.

Come to find out, Joe Henry is hot stuff in a recording studio. He has worked with Elvis Costello, Ani DiFranco, Loudon Wainwright III, Aimee Mann, and soul-music legends like Allen Toussaint, Mavis Staples and Billy Preston.

Joe Henry has also been out there as a singer-songwriter for more than 20 years. He released a new CD in September called “Civilians.”

If you follow this link to Joe Henry’s website, you’ll see that he’s giving away full-length MP3 downloads of four tracks off the new album: “Civilians,” “Time Is a Lion,” “You Can’t Fail Me Now” and “Our Song.”

If you listen to “Time Is a Lion” streaming on my Vox blog (click here), you’ll see why Joe Henry’s biggest boosters compare him to Tom Waits.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Wednesday 45 Flashback: ‘Rama Lama Ding Dong’

Here’s a song that was a hit the year I was born (1961): “Rama Lama Ding Dong” by the Edsels.

I’m not deep into doo-wop, but I’ve liked this record ever since I stumbled upon it in the ’80s. Turns out that aficionados consider it a masterpiece of the form.

What trips me out is... doo-wop was the hip-hop of 50 years ago. This was ghetto music. Don’t-need-nothing-but-your-throat music.

Cool-guys-on-the-corner music. Male-bonding music.

Competitive music. Impress-the-ladies-with-your-tightness music.

Hope-to-get-a-record-deal music. White-guys-wanna-copy-it music.

So let’s not forget the history.

Plus, Edsels lead singer George Jones, Jr., was a bad cat by any standard.

A free Omar Sosa download

Here’s one thing I will give thanks for this year: Calabash Music, the online cornucopia of world grooves.

Calabash is still giving away two FREE MP3s per day (to registered persons). Here’s a nice, jazzy one: “Nuevo Manto,” by the Cuban-born keyboard star Omar Sosa (now living in Spain).

This postmodern cha-cha comes from Sosa’s 2004 CD, “Mulatos.”

To download “Nuevo Manto,” follow this link. To hear it streaming on my Vox blog, click here.

The track has been up for two days at Calabash; it’ll be available for a few days more. So if you want it, grab it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

MBP of the Week: New York Times

The New York Times posted this correction on its website Sunday:

“An entry on Nov. 4 in the Holiday Movies listings misidentified the actor who portrays a member of a small-time crime duo preparing to rob a local church in ‘First Sundays.’ He is Tracy Morgan — not Chi McBride, who plays the pastor at the church.”

(Hat-tip: Regret the Error.)

For those keeping score, this is the sixth time I’ve featured a New York Times mistake since I began cataloging Misidentified Black People nine months ago.

A free Solomon Burke download

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Solomon Burke is having a good 21st Century. His 2006 album “Nashville” included duets with Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Patty Loveless.

He can still draw a crowd in Europe, as demonstrated by this 2005 gospel concert in Amsterdam.

And Burke won a Grammy for his 2002 album “Don’t Give Up On Me.”

A popping tune off that CD – “None of Us Are Free,” written by Brenda Russell, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil – is available as a FREE MP3. Follow this link (and scroll down) to cop from Download.com.

To stream “None of Us Are Free” on my Vox audio stash, click here. (Burke is backed up vocally by the Blind Boys of Alabama.)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Two sides to every issue. (A right one and a wrong one.)

I don’t blame you if your eyes glaze over at coverage of the Hollywood writers’ strike. For those interested, the L.A. Times on Saturday published op-ed columns by the chief negotiators on both sides.

This one is by David Young, executive director of the Writers Guild of America, west. This one is by Nick Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which is negotiating on behalf of the multinational entertainment corporations.

And boy, Mr. Counter does a spin job that really roasts my chestnuts.

Before I get to that, I must correct something I posted earlier. I was under the impression that writers receive no residual payments for digitally downloaded TV episodes.

Apparently, in the absence of a contractually stipulated payment formula, the corporations are going ahead and paying a residual for Internet downloads equal to the DVD residual. So for a $1.99 episode of “30 Rock” downloaded from iTunes last season, for example, the writers’ residual is... less than a penny.

I stand corrected.

Now... Nick Counter. In his attempt to portray screenwriters as already over-compensated, Counter wrote this in his L.A. Times opinion piece:

“[M]embers of the Writers Guild and its sister guilds are covered by the country’s finest healthcare and pension plans, and our contribution to those plans has consistently increased while other industries’ contributions have decreased.”

Hmmm.

Guess what? The Writers Guild had to strike – for five months in 1960 – to get Hollywood studios to pay health and pension benefits in the first place!

How ironic for Nick Counter to bring up our health and pension plans, as if writers hadn’t had to fight like hell for those... just like we’re fighting now. The corporations give up nothing without a fight.

Speaking of the 1960 strike, that was a hugely important one. The Screen Actors Guild was on strike for part of the same time. And those strikes led to the creation of “residual” payments to writers and actors for TV reruns, and for shows sold overseas.

“The exploding power of television had brought a new kind of militancy to the [Screen Actors Guild], especially over TV residuals,” wrote Dennis McDougal about the run-up to the 1960 strikes. “While studios grew richer every day collecting TV fees for syndicating old movies, actors still got nothing, and a growing faction within SAG as well as the Writers Guild began talking seriously about shutting Hollywood down.”

Today’s strike, then, is a little bit of history repeating itself. A new media technology triggers new prosperity for the entertainment industry... and Hollywood’s creative talent must fight to share in that new prosperity.

Playlist: Jamaican singers, American songs

I likes the reggae music. I loves the American R&B. Put ’em both together and it’s like “Hey, you got chocolate in my peanut butter!” “You got peanut butter on my chocolate!”

Mmm... tasty!

Click the song titles below to hear the tracks.

1. “Sexual Healing” – Jimmy Riley

Produced by Sly & Robbie. EMusic.com subscribers can find it here. It’s also available as an iTunes Plus track.

2. “Ain’t No Sunshine” – Horace Andy

I love this man’s quavering high tenor.

Downloadable from eMusic (here) and as an iTunes Plus track (in various mixes; this mix is off the “This World” album).

3. “Baby I Need Your Loving” – Leroy Sibbles

Downloadable from eMusic (here) and as an iTunes Plus track.

4. “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” – The Pioneers

Available on the CD anthology “Funky Kingston: Reggae Dance Floor Grooves 1968-74.” Which is downloadable from iTunes and Amazon.com.

A free Slapbak download

Jara Harris and his band Slapbak have been funking up Orange County since the early ’90s, God bless ’em. Their debut CD, “Fast Food Funkateers,” featured guest artists George Clinton, Bootsy Collins and Fred Wesley.

Fifteen years later, Slapbak is still on the job. Follow this link to the band’s MySpace page, where you can download a 2006 track called “Futurevoid.”

Click here to spin it on my Vox site.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A free Roy Ayers download

Vibraphonist Roy Ayers produced some tasty funk in the 1970s, after starting out in a straight-ahead jazz vein in the ’60s (alongside Hampton Hawes and Herbie Mann).

Ayers is held in high esteem by hip-hoppers and acid-jazz freaks, as illustrated by a 2006 CD called “Virgin Ubiquity: Remixed.”

Follow this link to Download.com to cop a FREE MP3 of “Holiday,” remixed by DJ Spinna.

To spin the track on my Vox blog, click here.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A free DJ Bitman download

Straight outta Santiago, Chile, here’s DJ Bitman... cuttin’ up with a combination of old and new flavors (and gaining some attention in the U.S.).

Follow this link to DJ Bitman’s website, where you can download a FREE MP3 of “Blackbossa,” a track from his brand new CD, “Latin Bitman.”

Click here to spin “Blackbossa” on my Vox audio stash.

Are y’all ready for a sex scandal? (cont.)

Mainstream conservative columnist Robert Novak threw this into the mix today:

“Agents of Sen. Hillary Clinton are spreading the word in Democratic circles that she has scandalous information about her principal opponent for the party's presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama, but has decided not to use it. The nature of the alleged scandal was not disclosed.

“This word-of-mouth among Democrats makes Obama look vulnerable and Clinton look prudent. ...”

Matt Drudge links to it. In red type. Which means that Rush Limbaugh will probably talk about it on Monday... unless that fat load takes all of Thanksgiving week off. One can only hope.

So... might Sen. Obama be the subject of the supposed L.A. Times sex-scandal bombshell-in-waiting??

Friday, November 16, 2007

A free Prince download

I wanna be your funky Santa Claus. I wanna stuff your stockings full of free (and legal) MP3 downloads. Because good music makes life worth living, don’t it?

So... from now until January 1, 2008, I will point you to a different FREE music download every day. And I mean good stuffs – rock and funk, jazz and blues, hippity-hop and dance music, foreign and domestic.

Just to prove I’m serious, I’m doubling up on today’s freebiosity by pointing y’all to a brand new Prince jam called “PFUnk.” Click here to download it direct from Prince’s website. (Hat-tip: Edshugeo the GodMoor.)

Let the music play!

A free Jef Lee Johnson download

Time for more Jef Lee Johnson love. Matter fact, I’m a little late.

I posted a Q&A with the Philly-based guitarist in February. Now let me point y’all to a FREE MP3 that gives a sense of his peculiarly funky urban-blues style.

Follow this link to Jef Lee’s MySpace page. Check the music player for “A Song Shook the World.” (It’s off his 2002 CD “Things Are Things.”) Click “Download.”

To stream “A Song Shook the World” on my Vox blog, click here.

I’ve uploaded something extra. Jef Lee put out a new CD over the summer. (Actually, it came out two years ago in France, but the re-release is the first I’ve heard of it.) It’s called “Thisness,” and it’s downloadable from iTunes, Amazon.com and eMusic.

Click here to hear Mr. Johnson’s burning 12-minute rendition of “Compared to What,” the Gene McDaniels protest song made famous by Les McCann and Eddie Harris. Philly sax men Ben Schachter and Ron Reddy also stretch out on this one.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ali LeRoi and Todd Bridges on the picket line...

... and them boys are sick! (Hat-tip: United Hollywood.)

Improvising While Black

I’m an improv groupie.

Between 1983 and 1985, I spent about 13 months in Chicago. And I spent maybe 50 hours at the Second City Theatre, having either paid for a scripted show or gotten in to a free late-night improvisation session.

I saw Bonnie Hunt, Dan Castellaneta, Richard Kind and other now-familiar faces.

I love the history of improv. I can rattle off a long list of Second City alumni going back to the 1960s; Alan Arkin, Peter Boyle, Robert Klein, Joan Rivers, Burns and Schreiber, Shelley Long...

One can’t help but notice... improvisational theater is an almost lily-white art form. I’ve always wondered about that.

Diana Sands and Godfrey Cambridge did some early improv work. But only since the ’90s have black actors of my generation such as David Alan Grier and Wayne Brady excelled at this most difficult comedic team sport.

Which brings us to a very cool book – “The Second City Almanac of Improvisation” by Anne Libera [Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2004].

Basically a handbook for actors, “The Second City Almanac” contains golden nuggets for fans and students of improvisational humor, including short essays by Tina Fey, Fred Willard, Tim Kazurinsky, Avery Schreiber and others.

One essay – “Finding Your Voice” – is by Keegan-Michael Key, a “MADtv” cast member since 2004. Key got his start at The Second City Detroit.

(Click here to check out one of his “MADtv” recurring characters.)

I’m not a Keegan-Michael Key fan. I’m not a fan of “MADtv” period. The show has always been heavy-handed and kind of smutty.

But I want to share with you what Key has written. Not just to explore the racial dynamics of improv culture, but to illustrate that a “multiracial” consciousness is different than a “black” consciousness. And that’s a sign of our times.

After reading this, ask yourself: Is Keegan-Michael Key black? And if not, so what?

My thanks to Northwestern University Press for permission to use this excerpt:
KEEGAN-MICHAEL KEY: How do you find your voice as a person of color in improvisational theater? As I began to contemplate this inquiry it was met with anxiety. Why are they asking me this question?

I am a thirty-one-year-old male. I’m half black and half white. I was primarily raised by a white woman who grew up on a farm in northern Illinois. I spent my formative years in a mostly white, definitely suburban high school. I have often felt guilty about not spending more time with African American people. I don’t listen to Erykah Badu or Ja Rule every day. I don’t play dominoes. I don’t wear baggy jeans. I married a white woman! In fact, I have felt guilty about not experiencing more racism in my life.

As I began to reflect more on the answer, something a colleague of mine once said popped into my head: “If you’re black and in a scene then the scene is about race.”

I agree with this statement. Whether conscious or otherwise, your ethnicity will resonate with an audience. Due to the sociological underpinnings of our culture it is unavoidable for an American to ignore the dynamic of a black person and a white person onstage together.

My guilt about not being “more black” is part of my black experience. With that said, my initial response to the above question is find your voice by being yourself, no matter what your melanin count is. No one person’s experience is “blacker” or more Hispanic than the next. You are not more Chinese than your neighbor. Life experiences are intrinsically filtered through how you appear, just as much as how you were raised or taught.

Therefore, how you improvise should not be compromised. Improvisation as a culture strives to find some absolutes within itself. We all agree that there is some form of agreement, that we are creating and establishing something together. No matter what nomenclature you use, the basic concepts are the same. So bring your voice to your skill. ...

When you are trying to find your voice, I caution you not to hold on to notions of what you may think you are supposed to do. “I’m Hispanic, but I don’t speak Spanish, so why should I perform scenes about my ethnicity?” Your experience is your experience. How do you struggle with not speaking Spanish? Use the improvisational tools you’ve learned to dramatize that.

Sometimes, we feel we must show a blind deference to our elders or try to duplicate their experiences. I say put forth your reactions to your elders and their lives. Do you admire them or disapprove of them?

One of the best ways for us to seek our voice is to observe your reactions to what other people do, and if you are aware enough, others’ reactions to what you do. How we feel about a given word or action informs us as to what our opinions of life are.

When I have been in the process of writing a show, I often meditate on certain questions to get my mind working in a particular way. These questions typically deal with my natural impulses toward what I witness and observe in this life. What do I think people’s expectations of me are? What makes me angry about being a person of color? What about stereotypes do I believe are true? Are there generalizations about my race that I think are true? As you ask one question of yourself more will start toppling out of you.

I think it’s important to mention that when you are improvising you should not force these questions or answers to the forefront of your mind. If you find yourself in a position where your race may enhance the scene then react accordingly.

You will find that you react from your own truth. There is no right way to do it. There is no quota of how many angry young black men you have to play in a week’s worth of sets; if that is what comes to you, then pursue it. ...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A free Black Kids EP download

Black Kids are a mixed-race boy-girl pop-rock band out of Jacksonville, Fla. They’re being talked about on the internets.

Some say: Yay! They’re fresh and fun and hip!

Others say: Boo! They’re wimpy and crappy and over-hyped!

The Kids themselves are probably saying: Wowee! We’re going to London!

Yep, after getting some love from the New Musical Express, a British rock magazine, Black Kids are scheduled for six gigs in London next month.

And the only music they’ve put out so far is a four-song EP called “Wizard of Ahhhs.” The band is giving it away FREE as a digital download. Follow this link if you’re interested.

I’m withholding judgment. The songs are a bit cute for my taste. But front man Reggie Youngblood is said to have a magnetic stage presence. And I support black rockers on principle.

So here is the Black Kids MySpace page.

And here is a gushing interview done last March by Jacksonville blogger Richard David Smith III.

And here is the song “Hurricane Jane” streaming on my Vox audio stash.

Wednesday 45 Flashback: ‘Time Is Tight’

You might not recognize the title... but you’ll recognize the melody. This was a 1969 gold record for Booker T. & the MG’s.

What I didn’t know is that this tune comes from the soundtrack album to the movie “Up Tight!”

Cheers, as always, to thunderbird1958, steady spinning the platters that matter on YouTube.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Return of the media-star ‘pedophile’

Two months ago, I wrote about Jack McClellan, the self-proclaimed “pedophile” who blogs about the best places to ogle pre-teen girls.

He had just departed the Los Angeles area for Portland, Ore., because restraining orders were cramping his style.

Jack McClellan was discussed frequently in the L.A. media over the summer. McClellan himself spoke so freely on national platforms such as CNN, Fox News, “Glenn Beck” and “The Steve Wilkos Show,” people began to speculate that the man’s real problem wasn’t sexual perversion but a pathological desire for attention.

I wondered whether McClellan’s ultimate goal was to be beaten severely by a bunch of irate fathers. He was certainly talking enough shit to bring that kind of energy crashing down on himself.

Well, I heard on the radio this morning that Jack McClellan has apparently returned to L.A. County. Why? Who knows?

But he has re-titled his blog “Los Angeles Girl Love,” and he has posted an item that seems calculated to stimulate the salivary glands of local reporters and radio talk-show hosts. (Or to hasten his own lynching. Whatever gets him off.) To wit:

“I am now available to sexually service young women in the Los Angeles area. In order to arrange a date with me, you must e-mail me a copy of your state-issued driver's license or photo ID (or passport) proving that you are at least 18. I prefer small, height-weight-proportional young women who are into role-playing as underaged girls (shaved pussy a must). All races are welcome, but I prefer Caucasians, Latinas, and Asians. Due to numerous threats to my physical safety, the date location will be of my choosing after we meet in a public place, you will be subject to a weapons search, and there will be no telephone communication allowed during the date. No monies or other valuables will be exchanged for sex acts.”

In my bones, I feel that this won’t end well. Call me Kreskin.

MBP of the Week: Philadelphia Daily News

As you might’ve read, the headmistress of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy in South Africa has lost her job... because a dorm matron got charged with sexual assault and other crimes against students.

The ousted headmistress is Lerato Nomvuyo Mzamane. South African by birth, Mzamane is now in Philadelphia, where she formerly worked as a private-school administrator.

L.N. Mzamane had been recommended for the gig by Joan Countryman (pictured) of Philadelphia, a consultant to Oprah Winfrey on the Leadership Academy project.

Last Friday, the Philly Daily News published an article mentioning both L.N. Mzamane and Joan Countryman.

Guess what happened?

The correction published on Saturday tells it all:

“A photo of Joan Countryman was misidentified as Lerato Nomvuyo Mzamane.”

Well, of course it was!

(Hat-tip: Regret the Error.)

Hey, GSN... KMA!

So I’m watching a little “High Stakes Poker” last night on GSN (the Game Show Network), and a promo comes on for GSN’s late-night reruns of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”

It shows a contestant answering a million-dollar question, followed by screams and balloons and confetti. And then these words flash on screen:

“You can’t write this stuff.”

Ummm... say what?

An hour later, another GSN promo... a different contestant answering a million-dollar question on “Millionaire”... more balloons and confetti. And again, the tag line:

“You can’t write this stuff.”

Oh, hells no... Are they mocking Hollywood’s on-strike writers? Is GSN saying: “Who needs scriptwriters to tell you a story when you can sit back and enjoy some fuggin’ eight-year-old game-show repeats?

Not only is that a ridiculous insult, but I got news for you:

The Writers Guild of America includes game-show writers.

So, in a sense, the GSN tag line is utterly accurate: As long as this WGA strike is on, you game-show writers can’t write that stuff!

Playlist: Prince songs, a cappella

Ever wonder what Prince’s music would sound like with all the funk removed?

Now we know, because college a cappella groups love to sing Prince songs. Because, you know, that way, glee clubs are cool!

Below are some collegiate a cappella Prince covers I gathered during the golden age of Napster. One of them I actually like – the first one, “Thieves in the Temple.”

Click the song titles to hear these tracks streaming on my Vox site.

1. “Thieves in the Temple” – UNC Loreleis

2. “Let’s Go Crazy” – Tufts Beelzebubs

3. “1999” – Hullabahoos (University of Virginia)

4. “7” – Brown Jabberwocks

5. “When Doves Cry” – Dartmouth Aires

Monday, November 12, 2007

Googlicious

I’m stealing this idea from Invisible Woman. (What’s up, IW?)

A lot of people stumble on this blog via Google searches. What are they searching for? Thanks to Sitemeter, I can find out precisely.

I have happily noticed, for example, quite a few Google searches for “Petey Greene” and “Betty Shabazz.”

Hereupon, a few more recent Google search terms which, through the magic of the intertubes, led eyeballs to UBM:

1. “evil white men” (which pointed to this post)

2. “Genetic mixing Jews and Blacks” (which pointed here)

3. “why are white people so evil” (which also pointed here)

4. “crazy black man smoking” (which pointed here)

5. “cruel white people” (which pointed – surprise! – to this)

Lt. James Reese Europe, U.S. veteran

In honor of Veterans Day, here’s the little-known story of James Reese Europe, a bandleader and composer who had a big impact on early jazz.

Born in Alabama in 1880, Jim Europe created music for black theatrical shows of a kind that flourished on Broadway in the early 1900s. He also organized the first professional guild of black musicians.

He led a 100-piece orchestra that performed a legendary recital – “A Concert of Negro Music” – at Carnegie Hall in 1912.

The next year, Europe was hired as musical director by a white dance team, Vernon and Irene Castle, who would almost single-handedly popularize ballroom dancing in the United States.

“Europe’s Society Orchestra” was likely the first black orchestra to make phonograph records for a major U.S. label (Victor).

Then came World War I.

In 1916, James Reese Europe was persuaded to take over the military band of the 15th New York Infantry, a black National Guard regiment. Under his leadership, the band performed at recruitment drives and attracted many new enlistees. Europe was rewarded with the rank of lieutenant.

The United States entered the war in 1917, and this black regiment was called to active duty, soon to be sent to France and renamed the 369th Infantry.

While overseas, Lt. Europe did more than lead the regimental band. He was assigned to a machine-gun company. According to pop-culture historian Tim Brooks, Jim Europe became “the first black officer to lead troops in combat” during the war.

The 369th Infantry distinguished itself in battle, earning the nickname “Hell Fighters.” That name also attached to Jim Europe’s band.

At war’s end, Lt. Europe and his musicians received a hero’s welcome in New York City.

The band would recreate the sounds and spirit of combat in a 1919 recording, “On Patrol In No Man’s Land.” It was written by Europe, Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, with Sissle singing. Click here to hear it.

This story ends badly. In 1919, in the midst of a triumphant concert tour, Jim Europe was killed by one of his own musicians, a hotheaded drummer who sliced him with a pocket knife.

“People don’t realize yet today what we lost when we lost Jim Europe,” Eubie Blake would recall. “He was the savior of Negro musicians. He was in a class with Booker T. Washington and Martin Luther King. I met all three of them.

“Before Europe, Negro musicians were just like wandering minstrels. Play in a saloon and pass the hat and that’s it. ... Jim Europe changed all that. He made a profession for us out of music. All of that we owe to Jim.”

The definitive biography of James Resse Europe is “A Life in Ragtime” by Reid Badger. It’s brand new in paperback.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Dead White Negro

Norman Mailer died yesterday. I’m not going to pretend I’m all well-read and shit. But I do know that Norman Mailer coined the term “White Negro” in a famous 1957 essay of that title. So let’s discuss.

Mailer’s thesis was that black men created the style and language emulated by white men who wanted to define themselves as “hip.”

At the same time, Mailer argued that the essence of this black style was uncivilized... “primitive.”

Thank you, Norman, for that insight.

James Baldwin answered Mailer in a 1961 essay titled “The Black Boy Looks at the White Boy” (included in the book “Nobody Knows My Name”).

“[T]o be an American Negro male,” Baldwin wrote, is “to be a kind of walking phallic symbol: which means that one pays, in one’s own personality, for the sexual insecurity of others.”

Baldwin had met Mailer, and was charmed by him. And he didn’t confront Mailer about “The White Negro.”

“[T]he really ghastly thing about trying to convey to a white man the reality of the Negro experience has nothing whatever to do with the fact of color,” Baldwin explained, “but has to do with this man’s relationship to his own life. He will face in your life only what he is willing to face in his. ...

“And matters were not helped at all by the fact that the Negro jazz musicians, among whom we sometimes found ourselves, who really liked Norman, did not for an instant consider him as being even remotely ‘hip’ and Norman did not know this and I could not tell him.”

Oooh, snap!

To read “The White Negro” in its entirety, follow this link to Dissent magazine.

Here’s a little slice:
NORMAN MAILER: In such places as Greenwich Village, a menage-a-trois was completed – the bohemian and the juvenile delinquent came face-to-face with the Negro, and the hipster was a fact in American life.

If marijuana was the wedding ring, the child was the language of Hip for its argot gave expression to abstract states of feeling which all could share, at least all who were Hip. And in this wedding of the white and the black it was the Negro who brought the cultural dowry.

Any Negro who wishes to live must live with danger from his first day, and no experience can ever be casual to him, no Negro can saunter down a street with any real certainty that violence will not visit him on his walk. The cameos of security for the average white: mother and the home, job and the family, are not even a mockery to millions of Negroes; they are impossible.

The Negro has the simplest of alternatives: live a life of constant humility or ever-threatening danger. In such a pass where paranoia is as vital to survival as blood, the Negro had stayed alive and begun to grow by following the need of his body where he could.

Knowing in the cells of his existence that life was war, nothing but war, the Negro (all exceptions admitted) could rarely afford the sophisticated inhibitions of civilization, and so he kept for his survival the art of the primitive, he lived in the enormous present, he subsisted for his Saturday night kicks, relinquishing the pleasures of the mind for the more obligatory pleasures of the body, and in his music he gave voice to the character and quality of his existence, to his rage and the infinite variations of joy, lust, languor, growl, cramp, pinch, scream and despair of his orgasm.

For jazz is orgasm, it is the music of orgasm, good orgasm and bad, and so it spoke across a nation, it had the communication of art even where it was watered, perverted, corrupted, and almost killed, it spoke in no matter what laundered popular way of instantaneous existential states to which some whites could respond, it was indeed a communication by art because it said, “I feel this, and now you do too.”

So there was a new breed of adventurers, urban adventurers who drifted out at night looking for action with a black man’s code to fit their facts. The hipster had absorbed the existentialist synapses of the Negro, and for practical purposes could be considered a white Negro.

Jesse Jackson lends his support...

... and we appreciate it. This video was shot at Friday’s big rally outside of Fox Studios:

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Why Hollywood writers are striking

If you’re interested in what the current Writers Guild of America strike is all about, here’s an audio bite that should make it clear (without making your eyes glaze over).

Patric Verrone (pictured), president of the West Coast wing of the WGA, appeared yesterday on the Bill Handel radio show. Handel is the morning man at KFI 640, L.A.’s leading talk station.

I’m streaming a slightly edited 9-minute version on my Vox blog. Click here to listen.

Bill Handel is a joker, and he has some fun with the issue. But Handel also understands the bottom-line fairness of the WGA’s position: If the Hollywood studios make money selling TV shows over the Internet, then the creative community – writers, actors and directors – deserve a small share of it.

As of now, we get zero.

The corporations would rather let this painful strike happen than sit and negotiate a number higher than zero.

You can download the Patric Verrone interview as a podcast via iTunes. Just search the iTunes podcast directory for “Bill Handel” and find the November 9 clip labeled “Writers Strike.”

A free Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings download

I long ago pledged my allegiance to the funk. The P-Funk in particular.

But I haven’t gotten into the whole funk/soul revivalist thing happening... with bands like El Michels Affair and England’s James Taylor Quartet.

See, I’m into grooves that reach forward. Even listening to some vintage Funkadelic or James Brown, you can still feel the forward momentum of the music.

The revivalists... they seem to be about lo-fi nostalgia and vinyl fetishism. Fanboy shit. Stylin’, profilin’ and steady looking back.

Hey... whatever gets you over, I guess.

The Brooklyn-based Dap-Kings appear to be getting over. They backed up Amy Winehouse on her last project. And they put out a new CD of their own, with vocalist Sharon Jones.

They’re trying their damnedest to sound like something released by Atlantic Records in 1968.

The track “100 Days, 100 Nights” – from the album of the same name – is available as a FREE MP3 from AOL’s Spinner.com. Follow this link to cop.

You can also download this song from the Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings MySpace page.

You can hear it streaming on my Vox blog by clicking here.

Maybe I need to check out this gang when they come perform in L.A. next month... and see if they’re worth getting excited about.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Q&A: Johnny Griffin

Tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin is one of the last living pioneers of bebop. Bay Area jazz writer Andrew Gilbert interviewed him by phone in 1999. Mr. Griffin spoke from his home in the French countryside.

I am pleased to present their conversation here.

Griffin has recorded with Thelonious Monk, Max Roach, John Coltrane, Art Blakey, Chet Baker and Wes Montgomery, to name just a few. To understand how he earned a rep as “the world’s fastest saxophonist,” put your ear to “It’s All Right With Me” from his 1956 Blue Note album, “Introducing Johnny Griffin.” I’m streaming that track on my Vox audio stash. Click here to listen.
ANDREW GILBERT: You went from playing in Capt. Walter Dyett’s DuSable High School big band in Chicago to sitting in Lionel Hampton’s saxophone section next to Arnett Cobb. That’s pretty heady stuff for a 17-year-old.

JOHNNY GRIFFIN: You have to remember, our school would always be up amongst the leaders in the school contests in the state of Illinois. And this is playing classical music, mostly little black kids.

I’m just showing you Capt. Dyett would take these kids off the street and take care of business. He didn’t want you to waste his time. If you were a drag, he would mince no words, going through some terrible language, and he might throw his baton at your head.

But his courses were fantastic. He transcribed arrangements from Ellington and Lunceford or whoever. He was a father-like figure to us. Very stern, no nonsense, a real disciplinarian, but fair. The man was fair.

GILBERT: When Hamp recruited you for the band, you were playing alto. How did you end up on tenor?

GRIFFIN: Well, I graduated from school on Thursday, and on Sunday I was at the theater on the stage jamming with Arnett Cobb. I joined the band and the next week, when I was walking on the stage in Toledo, Ohio, I still had my alto. And the late Gladys Hampton said, “Junior, where’s your tenor saxophone? You’re playing tenor in this band.”

That’s what I wanted to play anyway, so I had to go back to Chicago to find a tenor, and I did, an old Conn, and I rejoined the band two days later.

GILBERT: Did you try to establish a reputation as the fastest tenor?

GRIFFIN: No, I think that started with a journalist. I remember I read one of those first articles, calling me the fastest tenor in the west. See, we would have these jam sessions all the time, and I think it was mainly the nervous energy I had.

I still like to play fast, but I like to play ballads too. And nobody’s interested in me playing ballads. But it doesn’t bother me one way or another. The main thing for me is the music itself and the musicians I’m playing with. And the acceptance of the public at large.

GILBERT: Your most famous stint with Monk was at the Five Spot in 1958 when you replaced Coltrane in his quartet. But you had been friends for years before. When did you first meet?

GRIFFIN: I met Monk in 1948, through Elmo Hope and Bud Powell. Those three pianists were like my higher education.

Joe Morris and I needed a pianist for our band, and Bennie Harris, the trumpeter, said he knew this little cat up in the Bronx, Elmo Hope. With Elmo you automatically gained Bud and Thelonious, because they were like the three musketeers. They adopted me and really threw me into the New York jazz society.

Monk and I met up later when I got out of the military and was back in Chicago in 1955. Wilbur Ware called me up and said Monk was at the Beehive and needed a sax player. I didn’t even know he was in town. I went over there and played with him for a week and it was like old times.

GILBERT: The documentary “Straight No Chaser” portrayed Monk as withdrawn and distant, sort of the archetypical weird genius. Does that jibe with the person you knew?

GRIFFIN: My relationship with Thelonious was one of having fun. We’d hang out, go to Art Blakey’s house after the gig and sit up and argue all night about anything.

Thelonious was himself 100 percent, and I loved him. I loved his music, I loved playing with him and I loved his sense of humor. People always look at Monk, saying he was so weird. That’s bullshit. If Monk didn’t know you, he always had that look, like a black king. Like Jomo Kenyatta. But under that demeanor was a comedian.

He wouldn’t have long conversations. While a musician was running off his mouth, blah blah blah, Monk would wait for everything to get quiet, and he would say two or three words and destroy everything that had happened conversationally. Just shoot it down and walk away.

And everybody’d be looking at his back as he walked away – “What was that?”

GILBERT: Your sessions with Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis are some of the great tenor duels on record. What made your partnership with Jaws so effective?

GRIFFIN: He had a completely different way of playing than I did. I was amazed at what he could do. He was doing things I would never have thought of trying because he played so unorthodox that he made it his own.

At certain times we were supposed to be having these battles, but it could never be like a cutting contest, like I would have with Sonny Stitt or Wardell [Gray], because we played so differently.

GILBERT: After years of living in Paris, was it hard getting used to the chateau lifestyle out in the country?

GRIFFIN: When I left Paris in 1973, I went to a little village outside Rotterdam, and that kind of got me into the country. I liked getting out of hotel rooms and apartments.

Then when I moved back to France I had some French friends who lived over in the southwest above Bordeaux. I liked it out here with the farmers and the space. Good wine and good food, and it’s peaceful. ...

When I got to Europe, the treatment that I received was so fresh. They gave us the same respect classical musicians have in America. The Europeans have studied your life. They can tell you where you went to school, who you played with. The Japanese too.

Americans take jazz for granted. I mean, when you say “jazz” to the average American, they think you’re talking about the Utah basketball team, or some house of prostitution in New Orleans. They never really see it as an art form, not the majority.

So when I came here, I got addicted to the feel. And here I am in the middle of France, still addicted.