(Draft of an email to everyone when I stopped doing LA Weekly jazz listings, 2006. Had second thoughts and never sent it. I wasn’t yet aware the Weekly wanted me to do a regular column, Brick’s Picks.)
Allow me a self centered moment here…I never imagined I’d be writing about jazz, even just a blurb or pick here and there, so this was all quite an experience for me. Turning your solos, your rhythm section subtleties, your ideas and charts and interpretations, your hard work and passion and history into effective prose, and doing so in maybe a sentence or three…man, that has been a education. Especially for someone who, to be honest, doesn’t really know a damn thing about music. But somewhere deep down in the brain, far back in our evolution, language and music merge, and witnessing your playing and interplay in person has taught me a lot about language, stuff I would never had considered had I not been compelled to describe it week after week. In fact, a solo Kenny Burrell played at the Union Hall really opened up the possibilities of fluid accents in prose (outside the sentence structure…it’s complicated and dull, don’t ask), something I was beginning to hear in Lester Young but Kenny clinched it. There were all kinds of other moments, too…some Josh Nelson comps, dropped in just right; some Ralph Penland backing, like a frame in which accents bop about, echoing…and made me rethink Monk a little; the great Billy Paul dropping in hints of marching bands flitting by in acccents; Francisco Aguabella’s textured claves, rounding those diamond hard Cuban rhythms into supple jazz then letting Benn Clatworthy roar through like a sheets of sound powersaw, tearing a shredding each groove into fragments that Francisco kneaded back into shape; Gerald Wilson’s ka, flitting, darting, dancing across the Central Avenue Stage in the summer trilight; and all those hundreds of solos and thousands of phrases by Carl Saunders and Benn Clatworthy and Herman Riley and Chris Colangelo and Theo Saunders and Nedra (and Kristin K and Jennifer L) and Otmaro and Charles Owens (at the World Stage, blowing like a madman for the hangers on) and Richard Grant (by himself, alone, in a darkened World Stage) and Milcho Leviev (alone, by himself, in a church, playing Gershwin the way Milcho’s crazy god meant it to be heard) and Tim Pleasant connecting the dots in taps and tipples and just the hint of a tinged cymbal, Oscar Brashear blowing free lines; Dwight Trible singing like a horn, like a horn section, like a people praying; Elliott Caine & band just wailing at a blues joint, our englishman John Altman blowing Lucky Thompson throught that ridiculous little horn….I could keep listing names here but…well, that’s enough. You know who you are. And you get the idea. Jazz opens up language, live jazz especially. Watching you all invent music on the spot, watching your ideas spun into phrases intop extended logical tunes, then dissolve again as yiou drop out for the next guy, that’s the creative process at work, at it’s most ephemeral. The brain turning dexterity and sound and structure into music. Man…. What can I say? Can that be done in writing? Does it apply? Ask me years from now, I guess. It has certainly changed how I write. A little piece I did on Herman Riley once was inspired by the way he played a ballad. Taking that essence, that kernel, and writing about Herman in words that refected how he played that ballad. Hard work, really hard work. But I would never have seen the possibilities there had I not had a weekly deadline describing jazz musicians and their music all over town.
Another lesson I learned was that nobody can smoke dope like a jazz musician. Nobody. It’s hopeless to even try.
[from a Brick’s Picks in the LA Weekly]
We had a helluva weekend at the Playboy Jazz Festival. There was some great jazz, and killer funk, and Eddie Palmieri was so freaking great he blew our minds. Jackson Brown even read an awful poem. Finally Buddy Guy had people getting naked everywhere, even some critics we won’t mention. We were humming along and writing this column when a conga line driven mad by the jungle beat went berserk and burst into the press section, scattering reporters and papers and setting laptops on fire. We lost everything. Even our parasol. But someone handed us some rolling papers and we managed to scrawl some quick notes:
Oscar Hernandez & the LA-NY Connection are at Vitello’s on Thursday. Hernandez plays such mean piano with those perfect solos for great Latin jazz, and saxist Justo Almario and bassist Rene Camacho are also in this smoking band. As good a follow up to the Eddie Palmieri set at Playboy as you’ll find this week. Maybe you remember Hernandez winning a pair of Grammy’s for his Spanish Harlem Orchestra (who have a local gig coming up, too—details next week.) And like Eddie Palmieri, Oscar Hernandez is pissed as hell about the Grammy’s deciding there’s no such thing as Latin Jazz. But we talked about that in another article.
The Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach is about as historic as a jazz spot can get in this town. It still cooks on weekends in 11 a.m.-3 p.m. slot, but ya gotta get up sometime. This weekend there’s a pair of drummer led combos reflecting two great LA jazz traditions. On Saturday Donald Dean’s quartet features tenor George Harper and bassist Nedra Wheeler, a musical genealogy that can be traced a couple generations back to Central Avenue, through a lot of Trane feeling, and a looser, bluesier bop. On Sunday it’s the classic west coast jazz sound that once called the Lighthouse home. The drummer is scene veteran Dick Weller, with some nice horns up front—saxist Tom Peterson, trumpeter Clay Jenkins and trombonist Ira Nepus. Lotsa bop too, but with some very tight and well read ensemble skills. It’s summer in Hermosa Beach and the scenery outside is gorgeous, and 11 a.m. is a perfect time for the hair of the dog that bit you the night before. And we were going to wax poetic here but were invited to Hef’s big band orgy backstage.
Later in the press box sipping champagne and nibbling caviar we thought about how Charlie O’s is in the middle of the boring old San Fernando Valley where there’s no scenery at all. We’ve looked. But inside they have killer sax cat Charles Owens on Friday, backed by the John Heard Trio. Owens’ sax playing is a joy. Without aping Trane he nails him, he runs crazy around all the fifties and sixties greats, plays mean blues and some fine originals, too. We could go on about him forever and would have too but got distracted as a smooth jazz set turned into bloody fist fight in the middle of “Feeling So Good”. Cosby tried to break it up and got beaned by a soprano saxophone. Hef finally called in his security girls and things settled down. But just as we were about to tell you about the brilliant pianist Theo Saunders being at Charlie O’s on Thursday, we were knocked unconscious by a beach ball.
After Hef’s personal nurses revived us with smelling salts and feathers we remembered that pianist Josh Nelson is at the Blue Whale on Saturday. Nelson has that kind of refined graceful style and you could imagine him saying the hell with all this and switching to Chopin permanently without missing a beat. Problem is he just thrives on improvisation (you should see him cut loose on a boozy weekend night at the Foundry), and the blend of that European melodic structure and the jazz-going-nuts stuff and very original compositions does it for us. He has a nice quartet with him—guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Dave Robaire and drummer Dan Schnelle. A good one. And on Wednesday Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra are at the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday. No one gets naked at Wynton’s gigs, and beach balls are removed by security, but we love his trumpet playing, it’s drop dead gorgeous on ballads, hot as hell when the band is cooking. Best of all saxman Joe Lovano is featured. Very highly recommended. And two great jazz nights at the Café 322 in Sierra Madre this week, with the always recommended saxist Javier Vergara on Wednesday and trumpeter Elliott Caine’s quintet on Thursday. Caine always rocks this joint. Both nights will be solid jazz at a great venue. No cover.
OK, that’s it. We did have a whole bunch more picks written down as usual, we swear, but we took them to the Playboy Jazz Festival and someone ate them. Or smoked them. Or rubbed them all over their body. Something. Jazz fans are scary sometimes.
Back when Silverlake was leather heaven all the corner markets had lots and lots of Crisco on the shelves. I never thought about that until I saw a totally leathered out guy my size at the liquor store getting ready for a party. Snacks, beer, booze, cigars, breakfast cereal (coco puffs, I remember that 30 years later) , milk, juice, donuts and every can of Crisco on the shelf. Like eight cans worth. The poor kid working the counter looked absolutely horrified. The leather dude was loving it.
There are none of those guys left in the neighborhood. I bet 90% of them died. They sang I Will Survive and then died. Their bars are straight, their houses full of hipsters and irony. Chaps aren’t just for gay boys anymore. The plague came through and destroyed that whole civilization. It laid waste the land, leaving Silverlake barren with breeders. It’s raining babies now. But those were the days, the survivors sing. Those were the days. What a party. A man was a man and Crisco wasn’t just for frying chicken.
(Bloomfest in the Arts District of downtown Los Angeles, July 21, 2012)
Burrito wagons. That’s what was missing. Burrito wagons. Taco trucks. Back in the day that is what that stretch of Alameda Avenue was all about: artists, punks, winos and burrito wagons. Besides, their food was way better.
Spent the whole say at the Bloom Stage with all the geezers. We knew all of them. Beautiful time. Perfect. Saw some ex-Betty Blowtorch thing that shredded, Carnage Asada were loud and pounding and better than ever and ya gotta love frontman George. Saccharine Trust are one of the great bands of our time. I remember seeing them at Al’s three decades ago opening for the Misfits. (I remember seeing them for the very first time at the Cathay in 1981, but that’s another story). Mike Watt and the Missingmen doing double nickles on Hyphenated-Man. The Gears had a slam pit going for chrissakes with big huge inner tubes that people went crazy with and they bounced and bounded and knocked shit all over the place and watching some of the dads out there skanking was a trip…I hadn’t seen that in decades. Just no one gets hurt now. No bloody lips or black eyes or broken bones. Just good clean fun. Al’s Bar was a time warp. Surreal. It looked just like our Al’s Bar–it was our Al’s Bar, but it’s so clean now. So clean it was almost eerie. They sweep the floor now. They painted over the graffiti. The hole in the wall is covered up. The pool table is gone. The photo booth is gone. (Did that photo booth actually work? I just remember people fucking in it.) The wife and I had our 20th anniversary at Al’s Bar, I remember. That was forever ago. I had my 40th birthday party in there. That was forever-er ago. I smoked dope with Kurt Cobain there out on the back patio, and he’s been dead forever and ever.
On the way home the wife and I drove down Alameda to 1st St. That Senor Fish there on the corner used to be the Atomic Cafe. Had dinner in there once with Darby Crash. He had the wiener gotcha, a dude in a blue mohawk eating wiener gotcha. My wife ordered the fried chicken. Banquet. I watched the cook open the box. The service was awful, the food worse, it was wonderful. It wouldn’t last a week now. Hipsters want only the best food. Jonathan Gold made it impossible for any more Atomic Cafes. No more wiener gotcha. Now it’s overpriced ethno-hipster-world slop from food trucks with fey names. Oh well.
The Brave Dog was two doors down from the Atomic, right there where the Senor Fish parking lot is now. It was hipper than fuck for a while, The Brave Dog. I wandered through that parking lot one night a couple years ago and figured out where it was that Mike Watt and George Hurley and me smoked a joint while they told me about their brand new band called the Minutemen. Another night some of us walked from the Brave Dog to Al’s Bar. That must have been 1980. All those parking lots now were abandoned factories then, all brick and empty and spooky. Pere Ubu I said. (Old factories always reminded me of Pere Ubu album covers.) We walked and walked and finally turned a corner and there was light and smoke and music and it was my first trip to Al’s Bar. A thousand more followed. And there I was yesterday watching Watt on that stage absolutely cooking and the whole vibe was like three decades ago but we’re all old and beat up now, things hurt, and the ranks are thinned by heroin and growing up. Some people do heroin. Some grow up. The rest hang out in the street where Al’s Bar was and remember.
The line up on the Bloom Stage was perfect. That was the geezer stage, the nostalgia stage, the Dad’s trying to skank again stage. And while Chris Douridas is cool, I think they ought to let some younger dude or dudette book the Main Stage next time. Let the kids show us what’s hip instead of us telling the kids what is hip for them. Hopefully they’ll do shit us old people will really hate. That’s what we used to do.
Or better yet, ignore everything I just said. It’s a beautiful thing, Bloomfest. I kept thinking back to the early days of the Sunset Junction. It was just like Bloomfest. Though drunker, the Junction was much much drunker. And while Bloomfest had a jllion lovely women in tiny skirts and teetering clogs, oh my, the Junction rained men. Drunk, hairy, leathered, sweating men. In chaps. Now there was a sight.
But I digress.
“See that dame? A dame like that comes along once a century, maybe once in a whole civilization. Maybe a dame like that comes along just once in the whole history of the universe, just the once, and there will never be another dame like that again. A dame like that is pure electricity, one look from those eyes and there’s a pile of ash where you used to be. That’s what a dame like that can do. You touch a dame like that and oh boy, there’s not even ashes. You’re vaporized, just electrons and then not even that. Nothing. You never even existed. That’s what a dame like that can do. Seriuosly. Totally. Absolutely…. But you can’t take your eyes off a dame like that, can you? You can’t stop thinking about her, you can’t stop hoping a dame like that will look at you with those eyes and you’ll not vaporize. That you’ll still be there, and she’ll smile at you and when she does she’s yours. All yours. Forever. Totally yours. Tnat’s what you wish for, wish for more than anything. Why? Because you’d give anything for a dame like that. Anything and everything. Because a dame like that is a dame like that. ”
It was so show biz there. The side no one talks about. The kind of people Perez Hilton would never draw gonads on. At one point I was hanging with a legendary weed dealer (though that’s virtually legal now), a wholesale hashish dealer (“By the pound only, $3,600″) and a music journalist turned bank robber and now, paroled, a music journalist again. Well, a heroin dealing music journalist. I didn’t know that at the time, but writers all need that day gig. And I really liked the guy’s writing. The best of it he wrote in prison. All that spare time. He’s dead now though, a car accident. I liked him, but it was for the better. I hate heroin dealers. Come to think of it I have known two bank robbers, one that writer/heroin dealer/dead guy I mentioned, the other a musician. He was paroled and became a history teacher. A poetess I know was a heroin dealer. I lost track of her. It’s best to lose track of heroin dealers. It’s best to lose track of heroin addicts, too, but only because they steal your stuff and break your hearts. Continue reading