*The Loews Chicago O'Hare Hotel, home to the Montrose Room, is offering discounted room rates for those attending this show. Book a room, stay 'til the very last note of the final encore and don't worry about having to make the drive home! For information, click here.
Our Smooth Video of the Day: Jeff Kashiwa of The Sax Pack and "Hyde Park."
I sure hope Bill Cochran (above) enjoys being the inspiration for this one. His show is a foodie's dream!
Early Sunday morning I found myself wandering around. I saw Boney James and Rick Braun jamming atop a make-shift stage fashioned from wooden crates marked Salt Peanuts while Dizzy Gillespie stood offstage waiting his turn. I wondered why they weren’t all Grazing in the Grass with me. But suddenly I heard Come And Get It, so I headed for the pavilion where Fattburger was Sizzlin with All Natural Ingredients. They were definitely On a Roll. The smell of Green Onions made me turn around. There was Booker T and the MG’s stirring up big pots of Red Beans And Rice.
Before I could get close enough to ask for an autograph, a group of children ran past me waving handfuls of Michael Franks’ Popsicle Toes! Shaking my head, I wondered why their mothers hadn’t given them his Eggplant instead or even a good serving of Ray Charles’ Stringbean.
Passing a gleaming white door, Diana Krall said Peel Me A Grape to Cab Calloway. Always the gentleman, he flashed her his trademark smile and said Everyone Eats At My House. Swinging the door open, I could see Louis Armstrong Struttin with Some Barbeque toward a table covered with a blue and white checkered cloth. Behind that table stood Nat King Cole’s Swingers spreading Frim Fram Sauce on plates of Kelsey Grammer’s Tossed Salad and Scrambled Eggs.
Moving into the living room, I saw Frank Sinatra sitting behind a big, low table on elegant leather couch. He was singing The Coffee Song as he added a heaping dab of Herb Alpert’s Whipped Cream to his cup. Myself, I opted for a mug of Santana’s rich Black Coffee which I spiced up with Herb’s Taste of Honey. Sipping my jazzy concoction, I noticed Gregory Porter pouring some of his Liquid Spirit into a crystal tumbler before disappearing into a music room filled with all white instruments.
After my coffee was gone, I decided to walk through the gleaming all white house that Cab built. That’s when I found that it wasn’t just men in the smooth jazz kitchen. Patti Austin was standing by a stainless steel stove with an apron over a black ball gown crooning I Can Cook, Too. Patti LaBelle came marching through, dressed as Lady Marmalade, preparing to go strutting her stuff on the street. Billie Holiday and John Lennon were talking about some Strange Fruit that she had found growing at the edge of his property, Strawberry Fields Forever. As they debated the meaning of it, the girls of Manhattan Transfer were putting the final splashes of Spice of Life into their Soul Food To Go, being sure to include a few packets of Mindi Abair’s new Haute Sauce with each order.
Standing there watching everything was Herbie Hancock, who, when he saw me said, “I’ve been waiting for you! Come one, let’s go to Cantaloupe Island.”
Mesmerized, I linked arms with him and just as I was about to ask him about Rocket Man, I promptly woke up on my couch!
Note to self: Got to go easy on the bubbly and sardine sandwiches while listening to the Dinner Party!
It’s not something I like remembering. A day when people who hated us so much decided that they would kill a great number of us on our own soil and put a hole in the heart of a great city, New York. Not good. Not nice. I won’t regale you with the details of that event. We all know most of them far too well, even after thirteen years.
Where I will go is into the land of patriotic songs. On the 200th anniversary of the event that produced our National Anthem, I want to liken it to jazz. It’s a hybrid of music, like jazz. The tune of the Star Spangled Banner is an old English drinking song written by a group of amateur musicians in London that was fitted with lyrics that Francis Scott Key wrote as a poem while he was on sequestered on a ship in Baltimore harbor during the bombardment of Fort McHenry, September 13th, 1814. (What is it about September that makes people attack us?)
It’s quintessentially American, like jazz, because it’s been around in our collective consciousness for a long time. The Navy adopted it in 1889 as an official patriotic song and Woodrow Wilson used it in 1916 for official events; however, it was not adopted as the National Anthem until 1931 by an act of Congress.
Like jazz, the song struck a chord in the nation’s heart and persisted although it is notoriously hard to sing because of its octave and a fifth range. After Jose Feliciano did a blues-style rendition of the song for the fifth game of the 1968 World Series, many musicians have made many variations. The most notable ones are the 1983 Marvin Gaye opening for the NBA All-Star Game and Whitney Houston’s 1991 Super Bowl XXV version. Whitney’s was released as a single and charted to 20 that year and was re-released in 2001 when it rose to number 6. With Jose, those are the only times the anthem has hit the Billboard Hot 100.
To this day, the folks in Baltimore live up to the lyric, “And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there." In the National Museum of American History, the original 15 star, 15 stripe banner is still on display. Although we sing only the first stanza, the lyrics from the end of the second stanza are a perfect ending for this piece. Come on, hum them with me. You know the tune!
“'Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave, O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
When your father is a jazz trombonist of renown, your god parents are Quincy Jones and Dinah Washington and you live in New York, it’s expected that your life gravitates to music. But what isn’t expected is that you have a wonderful, wicked sense of humor, impeccable timing and if you didn’t sing, you could do standup. With Grammy and Oscar nominations, Patti Austin is a wonderful singer and a darn fine comic!
Get your hands on a copy of Patti Austin Live, skip ahead to track four to hear her riff about vocal affectations. She starts with her partner, James Ingram from her big hit “Come to Me” and she ends with an introduction for her duet partner Sheldon Beckman. Her spot on imitations of Luther Vandross, Michael Jackson, Cher, Jennifer Hudson, Michael McDonald and Anita Baker are amazing. And she reacts with the audience the aplomb of Jay Leno or Jimmy Fallon.
Again on track 10, she makes the audience howl. She does over ten minutes of double meanings on adult subjects that preclude it from being played on the airwaves. The way she gets the sing along going for "Through the Test of Time” is priceless. Thank you GRP Records for not cutting it out of the CD.
Most love songs are sung to a person who welcomes the attention, who gives back the affection and who wants to be with the singer/artist. But in the real world, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes love is one way, with only the singer being the one aware of the situation.
The first time I heard a song about love that wasn’t returned was in 1964. The Girl From Ipanema" defined unrequited love for me. "When she passes, I smile but she doesn't see, she just doesn't see." Originally called “Menina que Passa” (“The Girl Who Passes By”), it was conceived as a part of a musical comedy about a Martian who lands in the middle of Brazil’s carnival and becomes obsessed by a girl in a bikini. The rest of the music faded into obscurity when the musical didn’t get produced while this beautiful bossa nova became an international sensation, overpowering two Beatles songs in the process. Although it rose just to number five on the charts, it passed the Beatles "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and then went on to become the most recorded song ever, edging out Paul McCartney’s "Yesterday." To me, the thing that makes it so haunting is Astrud Gilberto’s accented English and the gender flip. She is singing lyrics that are clearly for a man. At first I thought that the singer/songwriter was so shy that he had to get someone else to sing it for him. No so. She was chosen because she was the only one in the studio who had enough fluency in English to make it sound right. Otherwise, her husband Joao Gilberto, would have been the singer and it would have been done totally in Portuguese.
Another 1964 hit was "Going Out Of My Head" by Little Anthony and the Imperials. In it, Little Anthony croons that he is being driven mad because "I see you each morning, but you just walk past me, you don't even know that I exist." Although it was written by Bobby Randazzo, a childhood friend of the band, especially for them, it was quickly covered and made jazzy by Wes Montgomery the following year. Since then, it has been embraced by jazz artists from Ella Fitzgerald to Ramsey Lewis to Frank Sinatra to Luther Vandross.
"My Cherie Amour" hit big in 1969 for Stevie Wonder. Originally written for a girlfriend he had in school, the tune's upbeat message speaks to the sweetness of new love. However, he modified the lyrics after their breakup. Keeping the melody but removing her name and generalizing the object of his affection in French, he laments that she isn’t paying him any attention, "I've been near you, but you never noticed me." It’s been covered by Anita Baker, Quincy Jones, Minnie Ripperton and Ramsey Lewis.
"Just My Imagination" done by the Temptations was a sledge hammer in a velvet glove when it was released in 1971. The first line says "Each day through my window I watch her as she passes by," while at the end of the same stanza he admits that "But in reality, she doesn't even know me." Next, the chorus clearly states that he is in deep trouble because "it’s just my imagination running away with me." Then the song goes on to tell of his dreams, "A cozy little home out in the country with two children, maybe three." Poor guy! It was done as a nod to the ballads that the Temps did back in the 1960s. As a departure from the psychedelic sound they were recording at that time, they didn’t have much hope for it, but it hit big. Later it was covered by Larry Carlton, Booker T and the MG’s, Babyface and Gwyneth Paltrow, Euge Groove and Peter White, just to name a few of the smooth jazzers.
Roberta Flack’s 1973 hit "Killing Me Softly’"qualifies as unrequited love because the lyric "He sang as if he knew me in all my dark despair, then he looked right through me as if I wasn't there" sums it up nicely. I find that in all these songs it’s the recurring idea, someone looking right at you but not seeing you. And I appreciate this one because it isn’t done in the gender flip mode. It was written for a woman, sung by a woman owing the feeling she is having.
The ever enigmatic Earth Wind and Fire may have written one for us in 1975 called "Reasons." The line "I'm in the wrong place to be real, I'm longing to love you, just for a night" makes me suspect that it is. But with most of their lyrics, I am never sure.
In 1984 Luther Vandross gender flipped the Carpenters 1971’s hit – "Superstar" (Long ago and oh so far away), which was a song about the relationship between a groupie and a rock star. The performer has moved on, and she is left with only his song on the radio to cling to. Hitting the number two slot on the charts, held out of first place by Rod Stewart’s "Maggie Mae," it was originally recorded in 1970 by Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen Revue on their Live album. It helped propel Rita Coolidge from backup singer to soloist. Yet, it didn’t even hit the charts until Richard Carpenter changed one line of the lyric. Hearing the then up and coming Bette Midler sing it on the Tonight show, Richard decided to reduce the risqué factor by changing one line. "I can hardly wait to sleep with you again" turned into "I can hardly wait to be with you again" with the songwriter's permission, and it got plenty of air time across the country. Luther’s version makes me wonder which female superstar he was referring when he sang "Your guitar, it sounds so sweet and clear, but you're not really here, it's just the radio." Could he be referring to Traci Chapman or Joyce Cooling or Sheryl Crow? Sadly, we’ll never know.
And Lionel Ritchie did a smooth job with his unrequited love song "‘Hello" in 1984. From the first words, we know that this man has it bad and he even admits that it is a one way street by saying "I've been alone with you inside my mind." But he’s hopeful because he asks the musical question "Hello! Is it me you're looking for?" as the chorus. Ten years later Luther Vandross worked his magic on it to make it even smoother on his album, Songs.
Now, after all this musical game of Loves-me,Loves-me-not, the only thing I can think to do is to take the advice of Crosby, Stills and Nash. "Don't be angry, don't be sad, Don't sit crying over good times you've had . . . Sometimes you can't be with the one you love, honey, so love the one you're with!"
I want you to think about Star Trek and jazz. For Trekkers, if I say music and Klingon, the only thing that comes to mind is Opera. Really bad opera. But Star Trek has many musical references, many of which are smooth jazz. Maynard Ferguson did a jazz version of the Star Trek Theme song on his album Conquistador in 1981, six years before the Next Generation series came into being.
In the original Star Trek, Mr. Spock played a Vulcan lute while Lt. Uhura sang. There are lutes galore, from the Bajorians to the Vulcans, alien species all have their own version of the instrument.
In Star Trek Next Generation, Lt. Commander Riker was a very frustrated jazz musician, his instrument of choice, the slide trombone. Data, the overachieving android, is seen playing a violin, an oboe and keyboards. Even Captain Picard has Ressikian Flute and was shown playing a duet with a crew member on keyboards. Q, the omniscient alien, plays a trumpet. Geordie LaForge dressed as Alan Adale plays a mandolin. But, to find a saxophone, you have jump series to Voyager, where Harry Kim is the only sax player in the Trek pantheon.
That brings up to the original question. You see, John Tesh, the well-known keyboardist, appeared in the role of a holographic Klingon on a pain-stick gauntlet in the season two episode called ‘Icarus Factor’ of Next Generation. Sadly, he did not play the piano. As a matter of fact, Klingons have played only drums, concertinas, accordions or guitars. I guess that’s why Klingon Opera sounds so strange.
Don’t believe me, check it out here. Now, Beam me up Scotty, and don’t spare the bagpipes!
The signature instrument of Smooth Jazz--is it a man?
In the HBO documentary “Santana," Carlos Santana said, “The guitar is a woman. The saxophone is a man.”
I agree. Have you ever watched guitar players? I’ve seen how George Benson plays with his eyes closed, in his own world like a young lover with his love.
The expressions that B.B. King makes when he is playing could lead you to believe he named his guitar Lucille after very special woman, but that is not the case. Yes, she’s held gently in his arms, coaxed by him to produce wonderful sounds. She’s so special that Gibson Guitar Company duplicated her back in 1980s, and you can still order one of her clones today. She’s the longest running specialized instrument in their line. But no, Lucille was not a woman that he was intimate with. According to B.B., he named his guitar because of a fight in a wooden night club that resulted in the place catching fire. After successfully escaping, he went back into the fire to save his guitar and was nearly killed. Finding out that the fight was over a woman named Lucille, he put that name on his instrument to remind him not to be that foolish ever again.
Getting back to Santana’s statement, the logic holds that all string instruments are women because they have to be cradled gently to sound right. Even though the string bass is much larger than the guitar and used more in jazz trios than the guitar, it is still held gently in the player’s arms. Just watch Stanley Clarke or Dave Holland play theirs.
Stretching the thought further, the violin is intimately cradled between the shoulder and chin. Jean Luc Ponty gives us electrified violin solos sounding so jazzy you might think they were done on a guitar. Even the cello is embraced and protected by the legs of the player. Although it’s not an instrument you usually see in the jazz band, one of the legendary jazzmen, Dave Brubeck has a son who is a jazz/pop/classical cello player. Matt Brubeck backs up Sheryl Crow, Traci Chapman and has recorded with his dad. When Matt Brubeck drapes himself over his cello, he makes her cry the blues.
If the saxophone is a man, it’s got to be because of its clear voice and hard brass exterior. That would put the all the brass on the male side of the equation along with the clarinets and woodwinds. Boney James and Rick Braun blow loud and clear. Chuck Mangione can wake the dead with his flugelhorn and I don’t have enough space to give Louis Armstrong his due.
Then the piano must be a man too, because it has a tuxedo of a persona, all shiny, dressy black and white. Pianists often dress in tuxes too, to match their beautifully balanced instruments. So the very French café sound of the accordion seems like a little boy sporting a tux!
However, an organ can be a man or a woman, depending upon whether it is has an ornately carved wooden exterior like a fancy dressed woman or a utilitarian one like a Yamaha or Hammond B3, which would make you think it’s one of the guys.
Expanding on this, would a harmonica be a baby girl? Carefully held, cradled with both hands and life softly blown into her? Stevie Wonder might agree, as he used his harmonica to celebrate the birth of his baby in the song, "Isn’t She Lovely."
Last, let’s talk about drums. There are some many kinds of drums it makes your head ache. They must be androgynous and badly behaved because no matter which kind you play or how they look, they keep getting beaten on!
Bill Cochran's "Dinner Party" show gives our blogger, Lydia Barnes, some food for thought.
Who would you like to have Dinner with, living or dead?
After attending a couple of Bill Cochran’s Dinner Party chats on Saturday night, I remembered this old chestnut. It’s used as a conversation starter, but if you give it some time to sink into your brain, it can be quite the quandary. Now that I am thinking a lot about jazz, I have an easy answer.
First, let me say to him, Happy Birthday (August 3rd). He’s probably tired of everyone remarking that he is 88, but hey, even in this world of good medical science, it’s an achievement and a monument to his good genes, good living and good luck.
Think about it. In his nearly nine decades on this planet, he has encountered and worked with most of the important jazz artists who ever were. And a lot of Hollywood royalty, too. Sitting across from him would be a night of wonderful memories and great stories.
For instance, from a 2010 interview with Keith Speara of the New Orleans Times-Picayune:
Speara: Who came up with “Joe Bari,” your original stage name?
I did. Bari is in the heel of the boot (of Italy) and Calabria is in the toe. My parents are from Calabria.
Rosie Clooney and I won this amateur contest, and then Pearl Bailey gave me a job down in Greenwich Village in her revue. Bob Hope was at the Paramount Theater with Jane Russell and Les Brown’s band. He came down to see Pearl Bailey and he got a big kick out of me because I was the only white kid in the show.
He said, “What’s your name?” I said, “Joe Bari.”
He said, “That’s a city in Italy. That’s a phony name. What’s your real name?”
I said, “Anthony Dominick Benedetto.”
He said, “Well, that’s a little long for the marquee. Let’s economize it and call you Tony Bennett.”
So when I paint it’s still Benedetto. And when I perform it’s Bob Hope’s name, Tony Bennett.
Very cool to be given your stage name by Bob Hope.
The second part of the same article that caught my eye was the admiration Tony has for Louis Armstrong. With birthdays only a day apart, I am sure they got toasted together on several occasions. And if in my Dinner Party wish, I got to have a person from the great beyond, I would have Louis come too. Here’s what Tony says about Louis:
“. . . He’s my idol. He’s my favorite. A lot of people listen to Sinatra and Nat Cole and say, ‘Boy, they really swing.’ People don’t realize that Louis Armstrong invented swing. He was an American genius. He actually invented bebop. Every musician I know that really knows how to play well, their idol is Louis Armstrong.”
And finally, here’s a great sum up of the two of them, straight from Tony’s mouth:
“ . . .You have to put a little humor in; it lightens up the show. It’s in the tradition of Louis Armstrong. I don’t want to act like I know more than the public. I still believe in the Louis Armstrong philosophy, where there’s melody and harmony and just the right tempo. I’m a strong believer in entertaining the audience. I’m a jazz-pop singer, but I really like to make people walk out feeling good.”
Thank you Mr. Bennett/Benedetto. You always make me smile!
Be sure to drop into one of the Dinner Party Chats while listening to Bill Cochran’s Dinner Party Show, Saturday and Sunday nights from 6pm to 10pm at SmoothJazzChicago.net. Everyone’s welcome! BYOB and a comfy chair. There’s always room around Bill’s table and the music is delicious.
Chicago born Chaka sang on Wendy Williams fiftieth birthday show. It was a rare TV treat. Naturally I went over to her official website.
It’s vibrant, engaging and very informative. The bio was so information packed I was impressed and disappointed at the same time. She has so many accomplishments listed that the bio was very light about her early days in Chicago. But, after reading it, I saw that they have a timeline and thinking that it will be just about her music, I explored it.
BINGO! This is what I was looking for – the early life of Chaka Khan. Complete with pictures.
It tells the tale of a girl who grew up in the crucible of the 1960’s civil rights days, the Feminist movement and the Vietnam War Protests, if you know how to read between the lines. It hints at why when she sang “I’m Every Woman” it rang so true.
Did you know that October 19th is Chaka Khan Day in both the state of Illinois and the City of Chicago? But this first weekend of August should be declared Chaka Khan Weekend because she will be at the Chicago Theater on Saturday.
Smooth Jazz haters like to flatter Boney James by saying that he gets "unfairly" lumped into the category. Citing that his playing is more robust, street wise and harder than what smooth jazz fan are supposed to like, he shouldn’t be included.
Balderdash! We love Boney!
He’s diversity personified. Boney crosses genres often and with magnificent ease. His passion is still the music, even after fourteen albums, four of which went gold.
Discussing his newest album “The Beat” in the bio section of his website, Boney said,
"There was no sense that this had to be a certain thing . . . I was recording for fun, experimenting with this hybrid R&B and Latin sound, two genres I love. So, my playing on this album has a different energy. I think it's one of the best records I've ever done.”
Speaking of energy, he must have tons. In August, he will be playing eleven venues, doing his Midwest shows with Brian Culbertson. And don’t think he is done after August. He has plenty of dates booked for the rest of the year. He averages fifty shows a year. That is prolific and accessible. Think about it – that keeps him on the road nearly every week, going somewhere.
He summed it up the best, “I just want to be fresh, not derivative.”
So there, haters, hush up and listen to the man play.
The Alabama native spent most of her too-short life in Chicago
Chicago does has a street named Honore (and sometimes pronounced "honorary"), but it is not to be confused with the over 1500 honorary streets that have been named for people who have contributed to life in Chicago. The wide brown signs hang under the green ones to give a nod of gratitude to people who have added memorable threads to the fabric of Chicago.
Joining the ranks of musicians like Sam Cooke, Muddy Waters, Sammy Davis Junior and Lou Rawls will be Dinah Washington, The Queen of Blues. Although we haven't heard her voice since her passing in 1963, she has not been forgotten. On what would have been her 85th birthday, August 29th, the block at 3800 to 3900 of South Prairie Avenue in Bronzeville will become Dinah Washington Way thanks to the persistence of jazz lover Al Carter Bey.
Miss Washington's first hit was, "What a Difference A Day Makes." Now we can point to the sign and wonder what a difference would it have made to her to have her own street.