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Les Paul Leaves Us

This is a post that I hate to have to write. Les Paul, musician, inventor, industry-changer and all -around great guy passed away today in White Plains, NY. Les was 94. Up until just a couple of months ago, he was still playing his guitar, live, every Monday night at the Iridium Jazz Club, in New York City.

Although he always considered himself a Jazz guitarist and never put out a Rock record, Les was, literally, one of the founders of Rock ‘n Roll. The inventor of the solid-body electric guitar; the creator of over-dubbing and multi-track mixing, Les Paul is at the heart of the modern recording industry. An inveterate tinkerer, he built his own equipment and then taught the mainstream manufacturers, like Gibson Guitar Corporation how to duplicate it.

I became a fan when I was just a kid, watching the Les Paul & Mary Ford Show on TV. It was purportedly filmed at their house (Les & Mary were married for fifteen years) and the performance of a couple of songs would be woven into some small episode of daily life like Mary planting new flowers. I remember one show where Les explained some of his unique recording techniques and the home-made equipment behind it.

In the late 1930s Les formed The Les Paul Trio with bassist-percussionist Ernie Newton and Jim Atkiins (Chet Atkins‘ half-brother). The trio played on Bing Crosby‘s radio show and Les backed Bing on several recordings. When Crosby made an investment in Ampex Corporation, he secured for Les one of the first commercially produced reel-to-reel tape recorders, the Ampex Model 200. Les immediately began to tinker and he added a second playback head, mounted in front of the standard record/erase/playback. This allowed him to record a live track on top of an existing recording, the first instance of “overdubbing.”

Here is a link to an archive of several of The Les Paul Show which ran on NBC:

http://www.archive.org/details/TheLesPaulShow

In 1980 a documentary of Les’ life and career was released called The Wizard of Wakeshau. Just a couple of years ago, PBS produced an updated version featuring current interviews with Les and some of his appearances at the Iridium Jazz Club. Keep your eye out over the next few days for your local PBS station or other cable channel to be running one of these shows. It is time well spent learning about one of the giants of the music business and one of the nicest guys ever.

Vaya con Dios, Les!

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Some tunes from my “special mix”

Hoagy at the piano

I have made a pair of CDs as a sampler of some of my favorite performances and I have given copies to each of my brothers and a couple of friends. It is an eclectic mix of current, and some ancient, performers and tunes. You will find Hoagy Carmichael and Cole Porter mixed in with a tune from Earth Wind & Fire. There are multiple performances of some of my favorite songs (like Stardust).  I wanted to share with people close to me some of the music from which I draw so much pleasure, and to possibly introduce them to someone they may not have heard before.

I have decided to post my “liner notes” from these CDs to share some of my personal thoughts on music I am listening to.  Here is Disk 1:

the jazzmonger’s Jazz & Big Band Mix 3

Disk 1

1.   When I Fall In Love – Chris Botti – Edward Heymann; Victor Young        NEW

This young trumpeter is classically trained but specializes in old standards, Big Band classics and smooth jazz. He has partneredwith such talents as Sting, Paula Cole, Andrea Bocelli & Mary J. Blige to create some memorable performances. Everything this guy does is high production values and musically sound. You can’t go wrong with a Chris Botti album.

2.   They Can’t Take That Away From Me – Diana Krall – George Gershwin; Ira Gershwin      NEW

Diana has become one of the few mega-stars of the jazz. For a long time she specialized in jazz classics and old standards. Since her marriage to Elvis Costello, she has put out an album of personal compositions and other all new material. All her early albums are great.

3.   ‘S Wonderful – Bill Charlap – George Gershwin; Ira Gershwin             NEW

Bill Charlap performs and records mostly with a small combo. He likes very upbeat arrangements of classic standards, as you will see here in this stepped up tempo version of a classic Gershwin tune. I have seen him live and it is a great show. Never heard a bad track from this guy.

4.   At Last – Etta James – Harry Warren; Mack Gordon                        OLDIE

Try not to think of Jaguar motor cars when you hear this song. They used it in their commercials for a couple of years. It also was used to great effect in the movie Pleasantville as Bud is driving Margaret in a classic ’50s Buick convertible down a leaf-strewn road to Lover’s Lane. Nice! Etta James is one of the really terrific and powerful voices of popular music in the ’50s and ’60s. She still performs live today. Her other really big hit was Sunday Kind of Love.

5.   That’s The Way of the World – Jeff Golub – Charles Stepney; Maurice &Verdine White                 NEW

We jump to the really modern with a song made popular by Earth Wind & Fire, the exceptional music and performance machine that was primarily the product of the genius of Maurice White. EWF charted fifteen hit singles and twenty-six gold and platinum albums. In addition, they put on one of the most entertaining stage performances in the history of music. Although Maurice stopped performing with the group in 1995 after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, brother Verdine White, Phillip Bailey and others still give one of the greatest shows ever. Get the original version of this great song and listen to the lyrics. “Child is born, with a heart of gold, Way of the world makes his heart grow cold…..”

6.   Stardust – Nat ‘King’ Cole – Hoagy Carmichael; Mitchell Parish          Big Band

Now we come to the greatest popular song ever written. Lyrics with a haunting message about lost love coupled with the syncopated rhythms of Hoagy Carmichael. Play this one over a couple of times in a row and just enjoy the magic of rhyming free-verse pushed through Hoagy’s unique musical phrasing. Not to mention the excellent talents of Nat ‘King’ Cole. Nat’s may very well be the definitive version of this great song. His enunciation, clear phrasing and impeccable timing make the most of Hoagy’s distinctive rhythms.. Stardust is going to show up again in this collection. One should not go too long without hearing it.

7.   Begin the Beguine – Artie Shaw – Cole Porter                    Big Band

Cole Porter, almost as good as Hoagy, may be the most popular composer of popular music. If you like clever lyrics (I do) set to the most memorable tunes (I do), the kind that really stick in your head, then Cole Porter is your man. Artie Shaw is about the only exception to my rule against buying and playing the music of people who were “jerks” in real life. I don’t play Sinatra, or Miles Davis. (Or Motley Crue, for that matter.) Artie had trouble getting along with people. He was married to Ava Gardner in her real prime and walked away, so he was obviously somewhat crazy. In fact, Artie was married eight times so he was even worse at being a husband than me. Musically, he was not only talented but a genius and an all-around good guy. He defied convention in hiring Billie Holiday and refused to take his orchestra anywhere that would not let her perform. He was the first to regularly include strings in his orchestra. He helped launch the careers of Buddy Rich, Mel Torme, Helen Forrest and Tal Farlow. Artie quit performing at the height of his career at the relatively young age of 44. His version of Cole Porter’s Begin the Beguine is considered the definitive performance.

8.   You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To – Julie London  – Cole Porter                  BIG BAND

Not sure how I ended up with two Cole Porter songs back-to-back, except he was pretty prolific and the attempt to alternate instrumental with vocal sort of took preference to spacing out songwriters. This is a nice little tune, but it is in here because it so fits the style of the beautiful Julie London. Come on, guys, you remember watching Julie London every time she was on Ed Sullivan. If you don’t recall her, do yourself a favor and watch this video. You will hear her sing Sway and see a great photo montage.

. Or watch this live performance from a concert in Japan, late in her singing career, and tell me how that guy managed to keep playing the bass:

. Julie appeared on TV in the ’70s as nurse Dixie McCall in the hit series Emergency.

9.   AS – Najee – Stevie Wonder                            NEW

Here is another taste of the new. Najee is a very versatile jazz-man who specializes in the wind instruments, especially the flute. He has several excellent albums. This song is off Songs From the Key of Life which is all Stevie Wonder tunes from his album of similar name. Najee does it as a bouncy jazz tune with a sizable orchestra. Get the Stevie Wonder version and listen to the lyrics. Very thought provoking.

10. Hey There – Rosemary Clooney – Jerry Ross; Richard Adler               BIG BAND

What a great performer lovely Rosemary was. Not only was she a talented singer, and host of a popular TV show for a while, she was also a pretty good actress who was in a number of very popular films. Next time you are watching White Christmas, notice how tiny her waist was. This was one of her biggest hits. Adler & Ross wrote many top hits (Steam Heat, Hernando’s Hideaway, Whatever Lola Wants) and also successful Broadway shows (Pajama Game, Damn Yankees).

11. The Ring – Keiko Matsui – Keiko Matsui                           NEW

This is new stuff, and Keiko is usually stocked in the “New Age” section of your local music purveyor. She is a talented pianist and composes most of her own music. She tends toward complex melodies. She has whole albums that make excellent background music for reading, cocktail parties, writing, painting or any kind of artistic endeavor. If you like this tune, at all, you can’t go wrong with one of her albums. I have three.

12. Fly Me to the Moon – Peggy Lee – Bart Howard                          BIG BAND

Ah, Peggy Lee. One of the best and this is one of her really big hits. Peggy had a very rough childhood and was singing professionally from a very early age. She was central to a number of big bands, including Benny Goodman at the tender age of 21. She is considered one of the 20th Century’s major influences of singing style. No less a light than Duke Ellington said, “If I’m the Duke, then Peggy’s the Queen.” Peggy was also a very talented songwriter. Just a few of the hits on which she collaborated are: Fever, It’s a Good Day, Johnny Guitar, What’s New, He’s a Tramp and The Siamese Cat Song. The latter two from the Disney movie Lady and the Tramp.

13. After Hours – Ronny Jordan – Ronny Jordan                     NEW

Ronny is one of the new jazz-men. He normally records with band rather than small combo. This tune is from the album The Antidote,which is a good album overall but this is the cream. I really like this song. His style tends toward fast, bouncy, big sound jazz.

14. I’ll Be Seeing You – Jane Monheit – Irving Kahal; Sammy Fain                      WW II

Jane Monheit is a terrific young talent. If you like this song, at all, do yourself a favor and go online or get to a store with listening stations and hear more of her work. Her version of Over the Rainbow is the only one that gets mentioned in favorable terms when compared to Judy Garland’s. The production values are always top-notch on her recordings and, when played on really good equipment, you won’t believe how clear her voice is. I have seen her live, in a small venue, and it was really terrific. She appears with a small combo of very talented musicians. She is now married to the leader who does all the arrangements. Monheit is a BIG talent. This song is one of those tunes that was popularized during World War II because of its message. Listen to it thinking about a young war bride singing it to her man who has gone off to fight. I’m not joking when I say it brings a tear to my eye.

15. Liza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away)  – Bill Charlap – George Gershwin; Gus Khan                   BROADWAY

Bill Charlap again, and again he is stepping up the tempo. This song was the closing number of the Broadway show Show Girl, a Florenz Ziegfeld production that introduced Ruby Keeler as its star. In addition to the singing and dancing of Ruby Keeler, a real beauty, the cast included Jimmy Durante and Eddie Foy, Jr. and the orchestra was conducted by Duke Ellington. How would you like to see THAT performance live? The song also became a recording hit for Al Jolson who married Keeler shortly before the show opened and used to join the final chorus to serenade her from the audience.

16. Someone to Watch Over Me – Linda Ronstadt  – George Gershwin; Ira Gershwin                     BROADWAY

Staying with Gershwin for one of my absolute favorites. Are you surprised to hear Little Linda singing this kind of song? Don’t be. This little dark-eyed doll can sing anything, from her barefoot days with the Stone Ponies, through her haunting version of Roy Orbison’s Blue Bayou, to her Canciones de Mi Padre album of traditional Mexican songs, she can handle it all. Here, she is teamed with the incomparable Nelson Riddle and his full orchestra. It is a two-disk album called Round Midnight and it is terrific from start to finish. The highest production values possible and Linda shows reverence for all these old standards. The song is another one of those where the lyrics say so much. Yearning young love, this time unmistakably a girl. If you want to hear, and see, a fantastic performance of this song by a talented young lady get the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus. The message of the song actually figures into the story line, and watching this young girl ‘s performance is really amazing.

17. Raise the Roof  –

18. (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons – Nat King Cole – Derek Watson; William Best                     BIG BAND

Can’t beat “the real King” to close out Disk 1. I wanted something soft and smooth for the sign-off and this guy can always deliver that. Nicely backed up by a small combo, Nat’s uniquely smooth voice and clear phrasing are just nonpareil. You will note, Nat is the only male singer who made it into this collection. That is no accident.

cc -Some rights

DVR alert! Check your Local PBS Station

Check your local TV listings for tomorrow night, Friday – March 6, and over the next few days. My local public station is in one of its fund-raising cycles and they use some terrific music specials as their major vehicles.

This Friday (March 6) Atlanta’s PBA-30 is broadcasting Rock, Rhythm & Doo Wop, a terrific all-star show of performers from the early days of Doo Wop & Rick ‘n Roll. You will get to see the original performers do their hits from the early 50’s to the early 60’s.

This show is one of T.J. Lubinsky‘s excellent productions for public television. Yeah, there will be a few pledge breaks but, if you like this music as much as I do, you probably have to go pee a few times anyway. And consider calling in during one of those breaks to support your local station and get one of the great CD-DVD thank-you gifts in return.

There are some really great acts in this show. Little Anthony & the Imperials do three numbers, including Goin’ Out of My Head. This may be the last filmed performance with the classic foursome. Jay Black, of Jay & the Americans fame, does an unbelievable performance of Cara Mia. Jay sounds deeper, better, stronger than when he performed the same song on Shindig in the ’60s

Don’t stop watching too early. Near the end Kathy Young & the Innocents reunite do A thousand Stars. She looks wonderful! As the host, Jerry Butler, points out, she was “only fourteen years old” when she cut the original hit. Amazing! Also, Fred Parris rejoins The Satins (used to be The Five Satins) to do I’ll Remember (In the Still of the Night).

Also on the show are The Tokens. Original lead Jay Siegel (now Dr. Jay Siegel) is terrific in this performance, and most of the original Token’s appear. The only missing ingredient is Anita Darian, who sang descant on the original recording. I have always thought that Anita had the greatest voice ever pressed onto a ’45. The descant part is adequately performed here by Donna Groom, wife of the kettle-drummer.

The Greatest Voice in Rock 'n Roll

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