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Hash’s Faves: “I Wish”

10 Dec

i_wishThis week’s pick is Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish.”It was released as a single in 1976, and then included on the album Songs In The Key Of Life in the same year. The musicians are Nathan Watts, bass; Hank Redd, alto saxophone; Raymond Maldonado and Steve Madaio, trumpet; Trevor Laurence, tenor saxophone; trumpet; and Stevie on vocals, Fender Rhodes, ARP 2600 Synthesizer, and drums.

I played my first Christmas music gig of the year Friday and during the course of the job realized that this is really a Christmas song. Since it’s also one of my favorites and a Sueños staple, we played it, and no one objected, so jobbers, here’s your hip Christmas alternative.

The groove on this song is just the stankiest funk imaginable, driven by Watts’ bass line, which is a line that every bassist should know. It’s doubled by Stevie on synth, but he gives Watts the freedom to play some nasty fills on the vamp-out; after one of them Stevie absolutely cackles with glee. As a jobbing aside, here’s a little story from the trenches. This song is in High Society’s book, but it’s always been in the wrong key, I guess because the original key was too high for an earlier version of the band’s vocalists to handle. I hate it, because I only play a 4-string bass, and the bass line is not only impossible to play a half-step lower but it sounds stupid. Anyway, we were playing it one night with a female vocalist who was auditioning for the band. She evidently had a really weird sense of perfect pitch, because she sang it in the original key, completely ignoring us. The rhythm section made the switch somewhere in the first verse (with me thanking the Dark Gods of Jobbing,) but when the horns came in half of them hadn’t gotten the memo, so it was kind of our “Skies Of America” version of the song (look it up).

As another aside, I attended Senn high school on Chicago’s north side; it was one of the first Chicago schools to bus students in from across the city, including many black students from the south and west sides. It made for some bad moments: Senn was notable for riots in the schoolyard and fights in the halls, and the city eventually had to provide police escorts to get the black students to and from the el stop safely (you can read an account of this in the book The Old Neighborhood by Bill Hillmann, a former juvenile delinquent from my ‘hood). Bless her heart, my mother used to drive to school and fill up the car with a bunch of students who I had become friends with and drive them all the way home to the south side, which we were familiar with because when the Japanese first came to Chicago from California, out of the relocation centers, that’s where they settled, and our family dentist still had an office at 63rd and Jeffrey. Anyway, one of the first black kids I met at Senn was a guy named Larry Brown, who always claimed to be Stevie’s cousin. Stevie still hadn’t quite crossed over to massive mainstream popularity yet so most of us north siders didn’t even really know who he was talking about, but I do remember Larry brought a single in and showed us the songwriting credits, which read Stevland Morris, and for some reason that made it believable to all of us. I don’t know why this story has stuck in my brain the last 50 years.

You can listen to it here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYKYka-PNt0

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.

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Steve Hashimoto

Hash Faves: “Volunteers”

31 Oct

jeffersonairplanevolunteersThis week’s pick is hippie rock – Jefferson Airplane’s “Volunteers”. It’s from their 1969 album of the same name, and features what I (and I’d wager most people) think of as the “classic” lineup: Grace Slick and Marty Balin on vocals, Paul Kantner on guitar and vocals, Jorma Kaukonen on guitar, Jack Casady on bass, and Spencer Dryden on drums. Pianist Nicky Hopkins guests on this, and other, cuts. The song was written by Balin and Kantner.

Ah, we were so young then! I was a snot-nosed wanna-be revolutionary, convinced that we could change the world, convinced that we knew better, and foolishly convinced that anyone with any sense would recognize this and go along with the plan. Kantner and Balin and Slick were idealists too, the main difference being that they had a public forum in which to make their statements (as well as a mansion in the Haight-Ashbury and tons of money as a cushion). I find much of their political posturing to be slightly embarrassing now, but that doesn’t mean that I think that they were wrong to hold those beliefs. I wonder what Kantner, who died earlier this year, would have thought about Donald Trump; my guess is that he’d be howling with glee. “See, I told you people, but did you listen? Noooo…”

Aside from the politics, what I love about the song is that it’s a gem of economical rock. It sounds raw, yet the parts are executed really well. Jorma plays some pungent, to-the-point guitar lines, and Casady rumbles along in typical Earth-shaking style (on one of the previous albums he was credited with ”Yggdrasil bass” (this is how Jack explained it, in an obscure interview: “The Yggdrasil, in Norse mythology, is the tree of life; to play the Yggdrasil bass is to play the low notes of existence. And the low notes are the sweetest. When I hit a good low-bottom string A and shake the ground and force wind from the speakers, I’m playing the planet through my bass. No one’s cheering or writing me checks, but it doesn’t really matter. In these moments I’m wired into deity.”). The singers all sing with youthful passion and rage; they were true believers, even though I think Grace was always a skeptic (and a sexy one) at heart. The changes are simple, 3-chord rock, but they’re still interesting.

This was the last album for the classic lineup, and indeed future drummer Joey Covington has a cameo on the record. Balin would leave shortly, and I always thought that he was absolutely essential to the band’s sound. He was a great singer, as, of course, was Slick; Kantner not so much, although he was an inventive harmony singer. But Balin’s departure forced Paul to sing more lead, and the band’s signature 3-part harmonies were gone forever. This was also the time that Casady and Kaukonen, a bit frustrated by the Airplane’s hippie indolence, formed their offshoot band Hot Tuna, which quickly became their priority. Eventually, Slick and Kantner would be the only “original” members left (the true original band, of course, had Signe Anderson on vocals, Bob Harvey on acoustic bass and Jerry Peloquin, soon to be replaced by Skip Spence, on drums). Although I find parts of the subsequent albums interesting, they just don’t hold a candle (in my exalted opinion) to Surrealistic Pillow, After Bathing At Baxter’s, Crown Of Creation and Bless Its Pointed Little Head.

This was the infamous album that the Airplane butted heads with RCA Records, their label, over inclusion of the words “Motherfucker” (in the song ”We Can Be Together”) and “shit” (the chorus to ”Eskimo Blue Day”). For various reasons, not the least, I’m sure, being that the Airplane were RCA’s top money-makers, the company finally caved. It was also, I believe, the first album to use 16-track recording technology.

You can listen to it here:

 

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.

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Steve Hashimoto

Hash’s Faves: “Just You, Just Me”

6 Aug

After_MidnightThis week’s pick is the jazz standard ”Just You, Just Me,” from Nat “King” Cole’s After Midnight album. The song is by Jesse Greer and Raymond Klages, from a 1929 movie called Marianne. Cole’s album featured his trio, with Cole singing and playing piano, guitarist John Collins and bassist Charlie Harris. On this song, they’re joined by Lee Young, Lester’s brother, on drums, and Willie Smith on alto saxophone.

This was another album that was part of my introduction to jazz. I don’t know why I bought it; it was probably in a cutout bin somewhere. But I loved every cut, and still do (the CD re-release has several bonus tracks that were not on the original LP). Cole’s voice, of course, was familiar to me, most likely from his rendition of Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song,” but his piano playing was a revelation. As part of my jazz self-education I had been reading books (Ira Gitler, Martin Williams, Whitney Balliet, etc.) and so I knew, intellectually, that he was considered a pivotal player, but even to my unsophisticated ears his lines were elegant, sophisticated, and above all, swinging. And as I was still a guitarist at that time, Collins’ playing was equally revelatory, and still is. I think he’s an underrated and under-recognized player, and his playing contributed much to what I still think of as proper jazz guitar slinging.

The album’s concept was also pretty cool – the trio accompanied by special guests on every track. Besides Smith, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Juan Tizol, Stuff Smith and Jack “Mr. Bongoes” Costanza all appeared, so the album also served as a pretty good introduction to the history of jazz styles, from swing to bebop and Latin-jazz.

This particular tune has a swinging intro (the arranging on the record is superb), and all of the front-line instruments get a chance to blow. As a sidebar, the song is the basis for Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence.” Monk’s tune was originally titled ”Justice,” (Justice = Just Us – Just You, Just Me), then retitled ”We Named It Justice,” then “Evidence.” John Kaplan pulled my coat to that way back in the Famous Pizza Gig days; thanks, John.

You can listen to it here:

–Steve Hashimoto

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.

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Steve Hashimoto

 

Hash’s Faves: “Forever in My Life”

31 Jul

prince_sign_o_timesThis week’s pick is a funky love song by Prince, “Forever In My Life.” It’s originally from his 1987 album Sign O’ The Times.The album was a quasi concert film, and featured Prince’s band at the time, Prince on lead vocals and guitar (and, one assumes, drums, keyboards and bass); Wendy Melvoin, guitar, percussion and vocals; Lisa Coleman, keyboards, sitar, flute and vocals; Sheila E, drums, percussion and vocals; Dr. Fink, keyboards; Miko Weaver, guitar; Brown Mark, bass; Bobby Z,drums; Eric Leeds, saxophone; Atlanta Bliss, trumpet; and Sheena Easton, Susannah Melvoin and Jill Jones, vocals. The very different, expanded live version here is from the movie Sign O’ The Times and features a slightly different band, adding keyboardist/vocalist Boni Boyer (in a star turn), bassist Levi Seacer and dancer Cat Glover.

I slightly favor the album version; it’s more economical and it’s easier to hear the brilliant background vocal arrangement in the second verse, which, in my opinion, should become standard repertoire for college vocal ensembles attempting to be hip. But the live version has plenty of high points, including the aforementioned Boni Boyer feature (“It’s your house, Boni,” Prince exhorts), the chanted vocals by the audience in the front and back of the song (surely written by and instigated by Prince), the long group vocal vamp out (“Back up offa the mic’s, chil’un!”) and the passionate ad libs in the outro by Prince. It’s all stagecraft at the highest level – the costuming of the band, the band choreography, the preaching. The groove is elegantly simple and supremely funky, but at the heart of everything is a gorgeous melody and lyrics; this is a SONG. The lyrics, perhaps, are slightly disingenuous, given Prince’s reputation as a mack daddy, but who am I to say?

You can listen to the CD version here:
http://whomakesmelaugh.wrzuta.pl/audio/9D5KqJjXTkM/princeforever_in_my_life

Steve Hashimoto

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net

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Steve Hashimoto

Hash’s Faves: “Seven Come Eleven”

10 Jul

Charlie-Christian-solosThis week’s pick is one of the tunes that was on that reel-to-reel bootleg that introduced me to jazz; “Seven Come Eleven,” by Charlie Christian, with the Benny Goodman Sextet, Benny on clarinet, Christian on guitar, Lionel Hampton on vibes, Fletcher Henderson on piano, Artie Bernstein on bass and Nick Fatool on drums.

Even at this late date I think it’s impossible to overstate Christian’s impact. He was one of those rare players that completely revolutionized his instrument, like Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Blanton, Charlie Parker, Max Roach, Bill Evans, John Coltrane, Jaco Pastorius or Buddy Emmons. Certainly there had been guitarists who played single-note lines, and Christian wasn’t the first to amplify his guitar, but Charlie’s melodic and rhythmic vocabulary was unprecedented. This may be a bit of a stretch, but I hear similarities between him and Ornette Coleman; both came out of the Southwest, and there’s a certain stringent, desert-like aridity to their lines.

I also think that at this late date in jazz history it’s easy to forget what a great player Goodman was. I think he suffers from what I think of as the Miles Davis syndrome, in that people (well, us musicians, anyway) automatically think of his terrible reputation as a person and turn our minds off when we hear his playing. But, you know, the cat could play, and another extremely important thing to remember is that, even though he sometimes treated the black members of his bands badly he was among the first white bandleaders to hire black musicians, and he was certainly the leader with the highest visibility (Jimmy Durante was actually the first).

Producer John Hammond, one of music’s great talent scouts, learned about Christian through the pianist Mary Lou Williams, and recommended him to Goodman. His tenure with Goodman thrust him into the spotlight; his recordings with Goodman have been the Holy Grail for jazz guitarists since their creation. Sometime in the early 1940’s he started making the jam sessions at Minton’s Playhouse in New York city, and he’s credited as being one of the inventors of bebop; indeed, the term itself is thought to be Christian’s description of his playing style.

He died at the age of 25 from tuberculosis. His influence extends beyond the world of jazz; blues, rock, rockabilly, country and bluegrass guitarists all owe Christian a debt.

You can listen to it here:

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.

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Steve Hashimoto

 

Hash’s Faves: “Things We Said Today”

1 May
Things_We_Said_TodayThis week’s pick is some Beatles music, the Lennon/McCartney composition ”Things We Said Today.” It was written and recorded in 1964, originally intended for use in the film A Hard Day’s Night, but didn’t make the cut. It was released on the soundtrack album, though. This was still in the time period when the boys were recording as a self-contained unit, so it’s John Lennon on guitar, piano and vocals; Paul McCartney on bass and lead vocals; George Harrison on guitar and vocals; and Ringo Starr on drums and tambourine.

I’ve been participating in a class on the Beatles with guitarist/vocalist/composer John Kimsey and I’ve come away from it with lots to ponder. One of the subjects he covers is the different approaches to composition that Lennon and McCartney use; although, as in life, there are always exceptions, a rule of thumb is that Lennon’s melodies are more horizontal and static than Paul’s, and that Paul tends to use more sophisticated chord changes. Another general rule of thumb is that John’s lyrics tends to be more inward-looking while Paul’s are more extroverted and cheerful. And in a way, those two rules-of-thumb are intertwined; John tends to write melodies that won’t detract too much from his lyrics, while Paul is a bit of a show-off; he has a wider vocal range and he likes to use it. Paul is also famous for occasionally coming up with melodies and plugging in nonsense words until he can get around to writing proper words, the most famous example being ”Yesterday,” the original working lyric of which was “Scrambled eggs, oh my baby how I love your legs.” Applying these rules of thumb, however, would result in misdirection here. One might assume that John wrote the A sections, which are relatively static, while Paul wrote the free-ranging bridge, but most sources say that this is entirely a Paul composition. One might also think that John had a hand in the lyrics, which are a bit gloomy and introspective, but again they’re entirely Paul’s work.

The lyrics, I’m sure, were the soundtrack to many an angst-ridden adolescent’s life; I know that every time I broke up with a girlfriend this was my go-to song.

You can listen to it here:

http://my.mail.ru/inbox/ironer/video/3543/71994.html

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net

 

Hash’s Faves: “When Doves Cry”

24 Apr

princeOf course by now all of you know that Prince died, suddenly and unexpectedly, this week. I know that his music is pretty far afield from what some of you folks listen to, but his impact, not only on the music scene but on American pop culture in general was enormous. One could argue that he changed the entire texture of pop music through his production techniques and arranging savvy. His integration of Hendrix-influenced guitar, new-wave instrumentation, hippie philosophy, punk attitude and funk grooves drawn from classic James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone, Parliament-Funkadelic, The Ohio Players and The Gap Band provided the template not only for the artists that he produced or wrote hits for, like The Time, Chaka Khan, Sheila E, Sheena Easton and Wendy and Lisa, but for other producers like Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Babyface and L.A. Reid. And it goes without saying that Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson pretty much owe their careers to Prince.

Culturally, I think many people forget how totally outrageous he was when he first hit the scene, with his over-the-top androgyny and his sexually explicit songs like “Head” and “Soft and Wet” (co-written with Chris Moon). With his death many LGBT people have come forward to say that Prince gave them the courage to be themselves. His bands were always multi-ethnic and multi-gendered as well, and although he projected a Svengali-like image when managing the careers of female artists like Appolonia, Vanity and Sheena Easton, it was always obvious that he had great respect for the female players in his bands. (Many hard-core jazz fans are unaware that Wendy, of Prince side-project Wendy & Lisa, and longtime guitarist in Prince’s band The Revolution, is the daughter of L.A. jazz and studio pianist Michael Melvoin.)

He was capable of playing (and often did) all of the instruments on his recordings; he was not only a great rock and funky rhythm guitarist but a stanky bass player, a drummer capable of playing or programming irresistible grooves, and a more-than-serviceable keyboard player. And, of course, he could sang! The world of music will miss him.

In his honor, this week’s pick is his “When Doves Cry,” from his 1984 album Purple Rain. Prince composed it and plays all instruments on the track; there are female background vocals (I think, although they could also be Prince), but I couldn’t find any credits in my cursory search.

Prince wrote this song specifically to go with a scene in the Purple Rain movie that had no Prince-When-Doves-Crymusic yet; the Prince mythology has it that he wrote it overnight and recorded it the next day. The texture of the song is remarkably open, and influenced pop music production enormously. It’s mostly Linn drum machine, electric guitar and very sparse synths. It was probably the first hit dance record to not have a bass part; Prince has said that he recorded one initially but that he thought it sounded “too conventional” so he took it out. But the textural space is one of his trademarks; quite a lot of his music, although there might be a lot going on, is very carefully arranged and produced to sound open. All of the rhythm parts, whether they’re drums or drum machines, percussion, guitar, bass or keyboards are carefully orchestrated to stay out of each other’s way. I think Prince would have been a hell of a big-band arranger, and that’s one of the things we’ll never have a chance to know now.

The lyrics refer obliquely to Prince’s troubled childhood and his parents’ relationship. I say this with the greatest respect, but Prince was a master of image projection; he knew how to let his music show tantalizing glimpses of his personal life without letting the listener all the way in. In this may have been influences by John Lennon and Bob Dylan, and he paved the way for Madonna, Sinead O’Connor, Adele and other singers who wrote confessional lyrics.

You can listen to it here:

 

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.

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Steve Hashimoto