Music as an Escape?

The concept of music as a form of escapism, a doorway out from the mundane and tiring repetitions of modern life, is simply put, a look in the wrong direction. Of course the initial experience of musical creation and the thought of escapism is an attractive feeling. However, when we follow our music away, we create a dichotomy that accepts the daily monotony of our lives rather than invigorating and charging the interactions with our surroundings. Our art then becomes essentially useless, doing nothing to inform our waking reality.

The modern workplace is too often sterile, bound in legal and cultural etiquette, resulting in robotic conversation that is little better than watching television. This sterility acts as a sort of blinders keeping our attention firmly planted on a narrow and unfulfilling objective that serves only to tire our spirit. However, when we bring our art, our philosophy, and our passions to the table our mundane activities and interactions can be colored and invigorated by meaningful conversations and creative approaches to our work environment.

Our history in music has shown us that there is great beauty in repetition. Let us apply this to our everyday lives.




The Songwriter’s Challenge

So often songwriting becomes the topic of debate in popular music: whether someone writes their own material, how sincere the lyrics are, the musicality, the simplicity, etc. Its an art-form which is so difficult because it is often so simple. It requires mature writing both lyrically and musically without relying on virtuosity or intellectualism. All that counts is its connection with the listener. However, because of the art-form’s starkness it can often be twisted by aesthetics, sexuality or any marketing tactics meant to draw in the audience while detracting from the musical expression. Also, because songwriting is such a large part of our entertainment industry you often have to question whether a song is stuck in your head because it the result of a formula that is being pushed out like a factory product or whether it really means something to you as a sincere expression. Take Bruno Mars for example; I recently heard a girl say, “he gets it, he knows what girls want to hear.” But does he get it or does some musician on the label’s payroll get it. When it really comes down to it, does that even matter?

Some would obviously say that a song’s origin doesn’t really matter but rather the meaning that each person derives from it. I say “bullshit.” I would like to think that when I buy something, it is a quality product and not something that breaks down after I take it out of its deceivingly well packaged box. In addition, it’s more than an annoyance that generations are fed some of the trends that corporate interests think will make them the most money.

Now, for some true songwriting: Dink’s Song – First recorded in the early 1900’s.

Smalls: NYC’s Heavy-Hitting Jazz Underground

Take a walk to NYC’s Greenwich Village and you’re sure to see some jazz clubs you’ve heard of: Blue Note, the Village Vanguard, the Fat Cat etc. Though, the true gem of NYC may not be among the most extravagant venues, lacking a large flashing sign or wide raised stage. Instead, Smalls Jazz Club is a basement with a single small door and a crooked chalkboard for the featured performers. As you approach you’re likely to see a man with a modest cashbox and a violin sitting outside. If it sounds like something out of a novel, that’s because it’s pretty much how it feels when you approach.

I stepped inside with a group skeptical friends. Down a few short stairs and we peered into a dark but packed room as we barely were able to get our feet off of the last step. Eager college students strained to peer over others in the back while business casuals leaned on the bar. A young waitress pushed her way through the standing room in the back and took our drink orders. She smirked as Pabst filled the list. The front featured seating room, scrunched oddly shaped chairs that looked like they had been individually handpicked from various garage sales. Not surprisingly, the bar was impressive with the majority of the light coming from the backlit bottles behind the bartender. Though, this was all in a moments glance as the wholeness of my attention was yanked to the stage where EJ Strickland’s Quintet burned through their first number. We listened for two sets slowly nudging our way to the front until by the end of the second set I sat with my now gently swaying friend and our feet tapping next to the musicians. The others started to get up as the band left the stage and it hit midnight. The jam session started. After about a half hour the stage was full and at 45 min in, a short man in a tightly checkered button down and black suit and hat stepped on stage. The bassist stepped forward, “I’d like to introduce my friend Roy Hagrove to the stage.” Everyone looked up eagerly and from there, it got heavy real quick.

Needless to say, it’s a must see venue for any NYC trip. Whether you think you’re into Jazz or not, the bottom line is that it’s a music best served live and the more intimate, the better. With Small’s, you see, up close, the best musicians in New York, and you can partake in something truly special until the street lights die for the morning commute. Its not just a venue for a nice occasion but a spot to come after work any and all days of the week. Essentially, it’s the way music should be experienced.

If the space itself wasn’t good enough, their website certainly makes it a staple for the preservation and dissemination of modern music. Boasting a huge audio archive of all the artists that have passed through its doors in recent years along with an impressive live video feed of nightly performances, Smalls has the market cornered.

Their Mission Statement speaks for itself:

“The intention and purpose of this website is ultimately dedicated to the betterment of Mankind through the dissemination of this music. Our hope is that the music on this site is studied and enjoyed by people of open minds and clear thoughts. We ask that you research the artists and, if you enjoy their music, to support them by buying their cds or contacting them with positive feedback. We dedicate this site as a resource for musicians and fans to discover each others work and to share ideas. Through peaceful interchange we will be able to progress as Artists and as Human Beings.

Our intention is also to support Smalls Jazz Club and the Artists that perform there. By supporting this site, you are directly supporting the club and its Artists. We hope that if you are able to, that you come visit us in New York City and experience the club in person.

We ask that you not steal from this site and that you treat the material here respectfully. Much of the content on this site is here by the goodwill of the Artists who have performed at the club.”

You can check out the site here: www.smallsjazzclub.com

Producing the Modern.

Since the 60’s, “jazz culture” has been in constant distress attempting to come to terms with the what trends would be considered a development of the genre; especially as so many new musicians challenged widely held conventions. Not surprisingly, the same long standing point of contention has also caused a rift in the philosophy of how to properly capture, record, and produce a jazz recording. Does the belief in natural/pure performance necessarily mean that the recordist must be completely minimalist in his approach. Does the mix stage of the production loose value? The attitude of a large majority of mix engineers reflects the ideology that the ideal jazz recording is a stark and true representation of the performance so as not to get in the way or alter the intended dynamics of the group. This, of course, varies quite considerably when considering the many different styles but is a widely held stereotype none-the-less. Compared to the pillars the of modern pop recording (such as the Lord-Alge brothers, Brendan O’Brien, and Andy Wallace) the jazz recordist may seem elementary in his/her mixing approach and must instead be a master of the tracking session primarily. However, this is simply wrong. What is not understood is the necessity of interpretation. The carefully crafted and fragile performance will loose all emotional intensity when translated onto loudspeakers without the skills of the engineer. This is what makes audio engineering a true art-form; the engineer who believes that a lack of production on a jazz record is always the best way to convey the artistry of the performance is acting on a pretentious thought process. Necessity must govern the recordists art. As Wagner states, “art is born out of necessity” and the recording process is its own form of communication. If the recording truly benefits from minimal mixing then that is what is appropriate. However, in the contemporary studio environment the performance may often benefit from an extensive mix; whether this “extensive” mix is subtle or aggressive is the actual question. Sweetening and trimming may involve considerable editing and processing but is not easily heard as a defining element of the recording. On the other hand, aggressive mix moves which can be audibly identified by the average listener are often reserved for pop music. With jazz in its current state the aggressive mix and use of modern recording techniques (such as full isolation during tracking) is becoming a more necessary element in the development of jazz in popular culture. Young audiences do not crave antiquity but appreciate culture through entertainment which invokes response/reaction; and recordings are the primary form of musical dissemination. How could the whispers of the quartet be expected to move the young listener unless they are amplified to stand next to the overbearing and often laughable trends of popular music today. The fear and bitterness that emanates from many traditionalists are the weaknesses that such a powerful music must overcome. If jazz hopes to survive as an influential art form, not only must the music advance but the production as well.


Armando Trovaioli passes at 95

You probably have no idea who Armando Trovaioli is, or was, as the case may be. Well he was an Italian film composer, who worked with the likes of jazz greats Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Miles Davis. He is most commonly known as the “voice of Rome,” for his most popular work, “Roma Nun Fa’ La Stupida StaSera,” (typically translated to Rome, Don’t Be Stupid Tonight) which sort of became the unofficial theme song of Rome:

Mr. Trovaioli was so much more than that song though, and scored several Italian films dating back to 1949, such as scoring Giuseppe De Santis 1949 film Arroz Amargo (Bitter Rice in English), and the internationally acclaimed “El Negro Zumbon:”

I think though that this may be my favorite score by Armando Trovaioli:

Though this this isn’t too bad a song either:


Jim Nix / Nomadic Pursuits / Travel Photos / CC BY-NC-SA

During the interminable lead-in to this past Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, I heard Scott Van Pelt, and Ryen Rusillo on their ESPN radio show make several glowing references and mentions to a local funk brass band called Bonerama.  I think most people wouldn’t think too much about a couple of sports talk radio guys giving their musical recommendations, and I admit I am one of those people.  However, I have been to New Orleans many, many times, it is one of my favorite cities in America, and through those many, many visits I have come to truly appreciate the actual culture that thrives in New Orleans that is so much more than the revelry of Bourbon Street.  One of the biggest pieces of New Orleans culture is music, so when Van Pelt and Russillo continued to speak of how awesome Bonerama is, going so far as to want to make this band the house band for their show, while in New Orleans (due to their proximity to other media sets though their want was not able to happen) I began to think that maybe I should check this band out, and see what the fuss is all about.  So, four days after the Super Bowl, I finally did just that, checked out the band Bonerama, and let me tell you, they are well worth the fuss.

As they describe themselves, they are a brass funk band, the brass in question though is the trombone – thus the bone in Bonerama – and are accompanied by drums, electric guitar, bass guitar, and synthesizers.  They play/produce both original and cover material, and let me tell you, this band brings the funk AND the noise.

Since I am a big Led Zeppelin fan I have to share Bonerama’s covers of two of Zep’s songs, first is The Ocean:

Then there is one of my favorite Zeppelin tunes, When the Levee Breaks:

And finally let’s close this out with one of Bonerama’s originals called Big Fine Woman, in which you can definitely hear much of that New Orleans sound:

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