Blogging from deep down beneath the Greater L. A. hipsterpolitan region….

I’m a writer, but there are zillions of writers, perhaps you’ve noticed. This here is a bunch of my stuff. I hope you dig it.

I try to blog at least once daily so there’s a lot of stuff here. You can browse by category or look at some selected essaysstories (non-fiction),  jazz writing or smartassery. Some flash nonfiction even.

My LA Weekly stuff can be found here.

My email is brickjazz@yahoo.com. My phone is 323-420-7410. I do a lot of short writing on Facebook, and really short writing on Twitter. I’m all over the goddamn internet and all over this goddamn town.

Jack Bruce

So Jack Bruce died. A whole age group of music fans felt a pang reading that for the first time. He was part of our young hipness process. One of those serious jazz loving bass players you’d find in rock bands back then, like they lowered themselves a notch to play loud blues and love songs. Which wasn’t true, really, but that was the thinking. Jack Bruce was the quintessential one of those. Kids would mention their favorite bass players and you could say Jack Bruce and be hipper than all of them. Ginger Baker too, though that didn’t last for me. He was just a pounder. Make him an astronaut. But Jack did stay with me. I remember watching that Cream reunion a few years ago on a hundred television sets in Circuit City, and aside from Eric Clapton’s solos, which were good, even fired up, the band was limp and weak and not the Cream I remembered from all my albums. Jack on a fretless bass didn’t help any. He couldn’t dumb it down just a little to slam through a Sunshine of Your Love or Tales of Brave Ulysses even though he managed the yelp in precious ears WERE tortured. But Deserted Cities of the Heart took on something new with his jazzier playing, and We’re Going Wrong (a favorite of mine off Disraeli Gears I’d forgotten all about) was gorgeous and spooky and perfect for him. His bass carried it. It was a couple levels above all the Cream classics, it seemed to me now, like a different band altogether. It knocked me out. I think Crossroads followed. His bass line had carried that one, too, on Wheels of Fire, Clapton soaring overhead, Jack keeping it together. Not at Royal Albert Hall, though, not in 2005. They’d rocked the place on their last show there back in 1969 (you can see for yourself in Farewell to the Cream, a standard in the hippie art house theaters back in the day). But not this time. Jack’s heart wasn’t in it. This Cream thing wasn’t what Jack Bruce was three decades on. He was beyond all this. I watched a hundred televisions thinking all those cheering people were seeing what I was seeing but they were hearing Disraeli Gears. That wasn’t the real Jack Bruce up there, the Jack Bruce who’d been growing in stops and starts ever since Cream said farewell. He was never a superstar again, but he was a musician, and kept doing interesting things, despite bouts of melancholy. Alas, I never saw him play, not even once. I intended to some day, but never will now. I no longer have any Jack Bruce records, either, and haven’t even heard his Tony Williams Lifetime project Spectrum Road from 2012. Or his very last, Silver Rails, from earlier this year. Everyone told me how good that one was. And you have to see him live, they said, he’s a legend, he’s Jack Bruce. I said I would, one of these days. Oh well. Sometimes you miss things, and then it’s too late. And my Cream albums are long gone, all of them. Even Live Cream Volume II, with its incredible take on Deserted Cities of the Heart, which would seem appropriate right now.

Jack Bruce's final release, Silver Rails. The extraordinary painting is Sacha Jafri's "The Child Within - The New Adventure".  Few musicians have the confidence to share an album cover with something so extraordinary.

Jack Bruce’s final release, Silver Rails. The extraordinary painting is Sacha Jafri’s “The Child Within – The New Adventure”. Few musicians have the confidence or humility (or both) to share an album cover with something so extraordinary.

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Tommy Sands

Tommy Sands a jazz singer on Hawaii Five-O laying down a hep cat rap worthy of Mezz Mezzrow. You know, Tommy says, it’s like sometimes you’re just riffing along, playing it by ear, and man, like, you hit notes ain’t on a scale, like you can hit anything, man,  you’re ten miles tall. I have no idea what’s he’s talking about. Commercials, and then there’s a crowded night club scene, I’m wondering who the vibes player is and Tommy is crooning Going Out of My Head. Crowd digs it. After a few more commercials he is shot by Jack Lord. Not sure why. It’s for the better. His girl screams, cradles his head. Jack calls for an ambulance. Tommy says “Nothing but blue sky, baby, blue sky” and expires. Cue the Ventures.

Moral of the story? You don’t fuck with Frank Sinatra.

Tommy Sands. And I always thought he was English.

Tommy Sands. A long drop from the Top of the Pops.

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El Duce

El Duce pissed on me once. Well, misted. He was pissing off a garage. It blew my way like a breeze off Niagara Falls. The girls screamed. He laughed. That was what, 1980? ’81? Ancient history. Though I’m the only jazz critic I know who was pissed on by El Duce. Well, misted. Though I wasn’t a jazz critic then, so maybe it doesn’t count..

Creativity happens only once

A couple decades ago my pal John Altman was doing a session with jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli. The producer in the booth asked Grappelli to play like he did with Django Reinhardt back in 1936. There must have been an uncomfortable few seconds, perhaps a sigh. “I wouldn’t know how” Grappelli said.

People sometimes ask me to recite passages from something I wrote as if I had it all memorized. This doesn’t happen as much now but when I was writing my jazz column it was a regular occurrence, sometimes two or three times a night. What was that you said about this gig? I almost never had a clue what I’d said about the gig. No idea. Why would I? I’d already written it. It was gone. Tucked into some corner of the memory, probably, filed away, and in all likelihood never to be seen again. I can’t even recognize my own writing lots of times. People have quoted me to me without me knowing it. I ask who wrote that and they stare at me. You did. I apologize. They’d give me a look, like I must be some kind of jazz critic idiot savant. Once I laughed aloud and said what fool wrote that? It was me. I don’t ask that now. But I still find it weird that people assume I can just recite anything I wrote. Because that’s not how it works. You’re writing in the moment. And once done, you put that writing away and think about what you’ll write next. There’s nothing in the creative process that enables you to go back and recite by rote anything you’ve written. Indeed, of the million or so words I’ve written in the last twenty or so years, I can recite but one line: “Broken back mountains, a lizard, a snake, and the meaningless rippling of sand”. And I remember that only because it pops into my head every time we drive that desiccated little stretch of Highway 111 on the way into Palm Springs. That is it, the only line I’ve ever written that I can repeat from memory.

I can’t see how improvising a jazz solo would be any different. It’s purely of the moment. You’ll never create the same solo again. You might re-create it, if you listen to a recording and figure out exactly what it was you did, but next time you’re playing that piece and its your turn, that same solo will not emerge from the bell of your horn. It’s the same with words. The second draft is always a new creation. Jazz soloing is pure creativity. Not painting by the numbers. When the band leader points at you you’re on your own. And when you’re staring at an empty screen, fingers poised, that opening sentence comes to you and you roll with it. You have to. It’ll never come to you again. Not like that. Creativity happens only once.

Stephane Grappelli and Django mid-creation, 1935

Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt mid-creation, 1935.

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Mostly White People Miles Davis

I keep seeing stuff about Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s Kind of Blue and I keep thinking Australian Pink Floyd, who’ve made their own killing playing Dark Side of the Moon note for note for people who really ought to know better. Maybe this is the same thing. They’re much better musicians the Australian Pink Floyd (saxophonist Jon Irabagon is an especially fine player), and their Kind of Blue is more Kind of Blue than the Australian Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon is Dark Side of the Moon, but we’re talking textures here. Both have all the notes right. And that’s what people are looking for, the notes. And that could be a lot of people. They really could make a killing at this. Mostly White People Miles Davis playing Kind of Blue, just like the album. At the Wiltern before you know it.

I wrote something a few years ago after the hologram Tupac Shakur played Coachella. The kids went nuts. Tupac is in the house! Tupac lives! they tweeted. It was like he never died several said. One tweeter mentioned Tupac had died before she was even born but now she’s seen him and could die happy. I blinked at that one a few times. Digital reality twisting temporal reality into Escher. I coolly predicted within a couple years Jimi Hendrix would play Coachella, and John Lennon, and James Brown. John Coltrane would be at the Playboy Jazz Festival, and Miles Davis.  Well, maybe they’re still working on those. But in the meantime you can have note for note perfection like Dark Side of the Moon and Kind of Blue. And if it’s not the real Pink Floyd down there or Miles Davis with his back to you, you can close your eyes and pretend.  It may not be the real thing, but maybe nobody can tell what is real or unreal anymore. Not the Beatles, Beatlemania used to say, but an incredible simulation. It wasn’t, though. Not even close. It’s ridiculous trying to reenact a live performance, right down to the snappy patter. But when you do a recording session–that’s a different story. Of course, not even Miles ever played the Kind of Blue album note for note.  Miles was a jazz musician. You can’t play jazz note for note. It’s not jazz if you do. And that’s definition…if there’s jazz there’s improvisation. Even tightly arranged big bands let their stars loose in every tune. Maybe for a stretch, maybe just a quick flurry. But those bits were improvised, mad jazz soloing, the kids went nuts, and it was jazz. If you copy the improvised passages on Kind of Blue with flawless perfection, you are not improvising. It’s not jazz.

But maybe that’s not the point. The point is to sound like the album. I met a jazz fan once who collected jazz records but never went to see jazz in person, not even by the original players. I asked why not. He said what’s the point? It doesn’t sound like the record. I didn’t know how to respond and said nothing. He and I were on different jazz planets. Mine loose and wild and improvised, his tight and tidy and the exact same every time. But I suspect that there are far more jazz lovers nowadays who feel the same as that guy than don’t. A large untapped market. Personally I couldn’t stand to see a performance that sounded just like the record. I’d wonder why I bothered and hope something would go wrong, just to mess things up. Sometimes the best things come out of things falling apart. But things falling apart scares most people.

So Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s Kind of Blue could be a big thing. They probably see it as a one time project, just to see if they could do it. Then back to the real jazz. But there has to be promoters out there just dying to have a go at this. There’s so much potential. A good marketing campaign and some slick promotion and they could be doing their note for note Kind of Blue for halls full of mostly white people all across the country. The jazz musician in them might say no, but the mortgage will say yes. And it’s not like they have to dress up in costumes, Milesmania this is not. All they have to do is play the music, note for note, every night of the tour. The fans will love it.

And you’ll be seeing more like it, I think. Trane and Monk are goldmines for this. A note for note A Love Supreme could make millions. It wouldn’t sell many records–people will buy the original–but it could pack concert halls. After all, when jazz decided to be America’s Classical Music it set itself up for this. Jazz is a living music, improvisational, ever changing. But most classical music today is symphonies performing famous works for people who don’t want to hear them sound all that different from what they’re used to. You don’t fill the Hollywood Bowl doing daring and crazy things to Beethoven. You fill the Bowl sounding like people think Beethoven is supposed to sound. There is always variation, of course, but not enough to bother most people, or even that they would notice. And when Kind of Blue becomes classical music, that’s what people will expect. Indeed, what they are expecting now. A live Kind of Blue just like the record. That improv thing just goes so far before people get annoyed. I don’t like jazz, a lot of people would say, just the albums. Give them a band that can sound exactly like their copy of Kind of Blue and they’ll be happy.

Kind of Blue, Miles listening.

Kind of Blue, Miles listening.

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Visitor experience consultant

I never knew there was such a thing as a visitor experience consultant. Actually, my opening line was what the hell is a visitor experience consultant, but I’m being nice. I saw an article in the Guardian of all things, a “visitor experience consultant” telling arts people to think like Ikea. I should have read it except I couldn’t get past visitor experience consultant. He had to have made that up, visitor experience consultant. He probably lost his Vice President of Synergy gig at some start up when the CEO realized he had no idea what a vice president of synergy actually did. Synergizing didn’t cut it. Synergizing what? Just synergizing. You synergize things?  No, just synergize, the verb is intransitive. No it’s not, it’s transitive, you need to be synergizing something. No, it’s intransitive, I just synergize. Somebody googled. It’s transitive. So now he’s a visitor experience consultant. At the same company even. And as long as no one asks him what the hell a visitor experience consultant does, he’ll be OK.

According to Google, this is a Visitor Experience Consultant visitor experience consulting.

According to Google, this is a Visitor Experience Consultant visitor experience consulting.

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Mostly Other People Do the Shilling

I whistled the entire Bitches Brew in the shower once, perfectly, including bonus tracks and out takes, but forgot to turn on the tape recorder. Too bad, I’d be all over Downbeat by now.

Kind of Blue.

Kind of Blue.

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