I love all kinds of music, but there is something about smooth jazz and especially Dave Koz’s music. They brings me such joy, and whenever I see him live it always brings me to tears. If you have not had the chance, please do. He is the benchmark of how concerts should be, especially the Christmas concert.
I've had the pleasure of meeting him and quite a few of our smooth jazz superstars many times. Peter White to Mindi Abair, Jonathan Butler, Rick Braun and Euge Groove--just to name a few. Not name dropping, but they truly are as glad to see us as we are to see them. So many incredibly talented, and incredibly humble people. After giving 110% to us at a show, they always seem to find a little more time and energy to stick around and meet their fans. They are grounded enough to know enough to acknowledge the fans who appreciate them.
To me, that speaks volumes about their character. You don’t find that in most music types at this level of success.
Dave and Friends will be here on the 12th. Get your tickets and don't miss 'em!
Our Smooth Video of the Day: One of the highlights of every Dave Koz Christmas show is his song about Hanukah.
I can see that October is going to be one of those months – with so much happening that by the end of it, we will be happily exhausted with our stomach muscles toned and tightened from so much hopping up and down in excitement.
Tonight, it was the Cubs winning their wild card game!
So I had to research baseball and jazz. I found three songs, but only one that fits the bill for us smooth jazz fans. It’s a bossa nova for which pianist Dave Frishberg wrote both the lyrics and melody. Released in 1969, it was entitled "Van Lingle Mungo." The other song was called "Willie, Mickey and Duke" and is more a showtune than jazz. And lastly, there is the famous Steve Goodman folk song called "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request."
Van Lingle Mungo started as an ear worm then morphed into a song consisting of thirty seven names of major league players, rhymed loosely. Van Lingle Mungo was a pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Dave had a melody that he wanted to put lyrics to, but the words were alluding him. After seeing the name in a Baseball Encyclopedia, Dave kept repeating it until he decided to use "Van Lingle Mungo" as the chorus. Trying several times to construct stanzas around it, Frishburg searched for inspiration. He found it in the names of players. Some are quite obscure, but they all sound intriguing when he sings them.
The Cubs are well represented by eight players, starting with Phil Cavarretta, Augie Galan, Frankie Gustine, Stan Hack, Claude Passeau, Howie Pollet, Johnny Vander Meer and Eddie Waitkus.
Not to be outdone, there are also eight White Sox names, if you include Phil Cavarretta, who played most of his career with the Cubs and just two seasons with the Pale Hose. Rounding out the roster are Frenchy Bordagaray, Ferris Fain, Thornton Lee, Hank Majeski, Johnny Sain (manager), Hal Trosky and Early Wynn.
Of all the players mentioned in the song, Eddie Basinski is the last surviving man. He’s 92. Here's the song:
I'm hoping that the Cubs will continue to live by their manager Joe Maddon’s sentiment - “Don’t ever let the pressure exceed the pleasure.” Which is giving me an earworm by Maysa called "Friendly Pressure."
Go Cubs! Win it all! Then we can finally retire Steve Goodman’s folk song, "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request."
Jazz happens every day. Some days it takes me from the present moment to other moments in my life. Listening to the stream, a song caught my attention, so I went to see what the title and artist were by way of TuneGenie. That was when the fun started. Seeing that it was a song by David Foster called "Flight of the Snowbirds," it made me giggle.
The title took me back to the summer of 1988, when I was working in a riverside high rise. The rehearsals for the Chicago Air and Water Show began on a clear Wednesday afternoon. We could hear the planes as they flew high above us, getting their bearings over the lakefront. Someone found that there was an empty upper floor facing east. It was a great observation deck.
We oohd and ahhd our way through our afternoon coffee break, sipping lemonade and swapping trivia about airplanes. The blue jets soared and flashed in the sunlight. We got glimpses of them between the buildings and in the clear space that the river afforded us. We debated whom we were getting a peek at, the Blue Angels or the Thunderbirds, vowing to grab a newspaper or a brochure on the way home to look up who was gracing our skies. (Remember, this is pre-Google, so info access was not as instantaneous as it is today).
On the schedule was a visiting team called the Canadian Snowbirds. Described as a precision team of the Canadian Air Force, it wasn’t clear if they were prop planes or jets. As there was no picture of the planes, I filed them away in my brain as a side note.
The next day, while I sat in our 20th Floor lunchroom with floor to ceiling windows facing east down the Chicago River, we heard the telltale rumble of jets beginning their maneuvers. Before we could abandon our table and head for our impromptu viewing station, I spotted a dot in the sky above the river. In seconds, it became a formation of bright red fighter jets flying down the river at the same level as our lunchroom. When they streaked past us, my heart leapt. Being a child of the Cold War atomic bomb drills in grammar school, I uttered an explative while I dove under the table in full belief that we were under attack by the Soviets!
My co-workers coaxed me from my duck-and-cover posture under the table by assuring me that there was no attack on Chicago. Actually, I was waiting for the second wave and when it didn’t arrive, I decided to dust off my pride and emerge.
I was teased unmercifully by my co-workers. In my defense, all I could say was "who knew that snowbirds were RED!"
Chicago loves its jazz. We celebrate it over the Labor Day weekend every year with a public festival on the lakefront. And we have Duke Ellington to thank for it.
The Duke’s death in the summer of 1974 sparked several Chicago musicians to stage a festival to honor his legacy. They held it at the southern end of Grant Park near the museums in the old band shell. The crowd was ten thousand strong. It became an annual event, but by 1978 there were three different August jazz events being planned. When confronted with the dilemma of issuing overlapping permits, a solution was proposed by the city to combine them all into a full week festival. Starting with two days called Jazz Panorama, a tribute day for Ellington, one for John Coltrane and Wes Montgomery, the 29th celebrating Charlie Parker’s Birthday, followed by a day for Blues and Swing and ending with a day without a title that featured Benny Goodman and Mel Torme, the Chicago Jazz Festival was born.
The Petrillo Music Shell was new and over 125,000 people attended the first Jazz Fest. Putting it on Labor Day weekend and broadcasting portions of it on WBEZ and WDCB have helped it become a worldwide draw for fans of jazz.
Grab your sunscreen and head to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion for this year’s edition of the Jazz Fest, now held in Millennium Park. It’s some of the best free music around. Hope to see you there!
They call this part of the year the "dog days." When I was a kid, I thought it was because of the heat, when the only things dogs would do was find a shady spot, stick out their tongues and pant. But that’s not the case. It’s because of the influence of Sirius, the brightest object in the constellation Canis Major (Latin for the big dog). Rising and setting with the sun and visible to the naked eye, Sirius was believed by ancients to have added its heat to that of the sun to make the days sultry.
Here are some stars who have added their heat to the constellation of Jazz with birthdays in August.
I want to start on Saturday, the Ides of August (the 15th), but if I do I miss Karen Briggs on the 12th. She is the wonderful violinist who played with Yanni in the 1980s. So we will cut cake in honor of her, Bobby Caldwell’s great vocals, Everette Harp’s sexy saxophone, David Benoit’s twinkling keyboards and Nick Colionne’s grand guitar.
Or we could ask birthday boys Branford Marsalis and Gerald Albright to play a new arrangement of "Happy Birthday" that we will ask Wayne Shorter to write for the flumpet, a trumpet–flugelhorn combination that was specially designed for the late Art Farmer, between bites of cake and spoons of ice cream.
Then, we need to get some pretty flowers for the late Oscar Peterson, Isaac Hayes, Count Bassie, Art Farmer, Diana Washington, Charlie Parker and Michael Jackson, the August born musicians who have left behind their music for us to enjoy.
Then, just like that, the month is over. The dog-star has trotted off to play in the sky for another twelve months and we have to look ahead to September.
~Lydia Barnes (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Smooth Video of the Day: August 18 birthday boy David Benoit teams up with veteran vocalist Jane Monheit on a new track.
I missed the birthdays of some very influential people (jazz and otherwise) who were born in the early days of the month of August.
On the 1st of August, we needed to acknowledge Francis Scott Key. Not jazz, I know, but you have to admit that "The Star Spangled Banner" is one of the best songs to hear. It reminds us that we are living in the land of freedom, the place where jazz was born, raised and perfected. Without his song, we wouldn’t be talking about our songs.
Then, on the 3rd, Tony Bennett celebrated his 89th birthday, crooning his way into our hearts. Keep singing Tony, we love you.
These days the 4th of August is newsworthy because it is the birthday of our Commander in Chief – President Barack Obama. But if he were alive today, I am sure that it wouldn’t edge out the fact that this day is shared by the great Louis Armstrong (1910 – 1971). If he were still around, I'm pretty sure Louis and his golden horn would be blowing out a chorus of Happy Birthday to the President while POTUS did the same thing to the candles on a big White House cake.
Luckily, there isn’t another birthday to mention until the 9th, when Whitney Houston (1963 – 2012) shares the date with Jack DeJohnette, a Chicago jazz man who switched from piano to drums and played with Miles Davis, Sonny Rollings and Pat Metheny. Or the 10th of the month Patti Austin shares the date with Leo Fender, the inventor of the solid body Fender guitar, but I have done a blog piece on her, so that gives me some wiggle room. Looking at my Jazz Birthday Calendar, it means I have between six and sixteen days to catch up with the other August artists that I want you to know about.
So, here are my best wishes to them all and my sincere apology for being late. Like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, I’m off to do my research because I’m late!
Once upon a time in Chicago, there was a woman who loved music. At an early age she was given various musical instruments by her father in an attempt to see which one would sing out the songs that he knew were in her heart.
Like Stevie Wonder, she was given a harmonica, but it hurt her lips and the only notes she could coax out of it sounded like the squeaks of dying rodents. Neighborhood cats would gather to peek into the basement windows when she practiced.
She was given a wooden chantor from a bagpipe, but it tasted funny and her fingers were too small to cover the holes. Her grandmother replaced it one night with a large peppermint stick and said the fairies needed it.
There were the two green leather octagons with a cloth covered Slinky holding them together. It was called a concertina. It made better sounds when it was rolled down the stairs than when she attempted to play it.
When she held her dad’s Gibson acoustic guitar on her lap, she was so small that she couldn’t see over it to strum the strings, so he bought her a ukulele. After lots of plucking and plinking, she bashed it over the neighbor boy’s head because he said her version of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" sounded stupid.
Weekly piano lessons lasted for years and years. She knew that she was no Liberace because her family didn’t own a candelabra or fancy sequined clothes. Hearing Ramsey Lewis play "The In Crowd," she ran out and bought the sheet music. She quit lessons shortly thereafter because her version was more out-takes than "In Crowd."
Trying to build on that success she had found with four strings, she moved to the violin and played in the High School orchestra. But like many high school musicians, she was told that maybe she should find another hobby. The college she went to did not have a music program. Her instrument was put aside.
She tried to make music her day job. She worked for Lyon and Healy Music Company, renting pianos and later Carl Fischer selling sheet music, but to no avail. She went into the corporate world and spent many years drowning out the office Muzak by listening to smooth jazz on large Sony headphones, long before Dr. Dre made them stylish.
She even worked for a public radio station, thinking it would be nirvana, but they were in the process of changing their format to all talk. The next blow to her love of music was when her favorite smooth jazz station got changed to mariachi music. Then, just as her music life seemed bleakest, a perfect niche was found. Instead of notes, she uses words.
On July 24, 2014, Rick O’Dell gave me the opportunity to blog for Smooth Jazz Chicago!
Thanks Rick, for giving me a place to use my real music voice.
To all my readers, Happy Anniversary! Never hesitate to contact me about stories – pro or con - I promise that I don’t bash folks with Ukuleles anymore!
If I said that he cast his fate to the wind and Charlie Brown answered, who would you guess?
If you needed another clue I would say that, with his handlebar mustache and horn rimmed glasses, if he bent over his keyboard, he could have be a grown up version of Linus Van Pelt.
However, Linus was born from the pen of Charles Schultz in 1952 and described by Charles Schulz as his spiritual side. Our mystery guest wasn’t involved with the project until 1964.
Would you have the answer yet?
If you still didn’t get the references, I might tell you that he died of a sudden heart attack in 1976, a few weeks before his music aired on a beloved television special and they played Peanuts music at his funeral, much of which he wrote.
Do you have it now?
So who is this performer? The one and only, Vince Guaraldi.
Born in 1928, he lived in San Francisco most of his life. On his 1962 single inspired by the movie Black Orpheus, the A side “Samba de Orpheus" flopped but the DJs loved the B side, "Cast Your Fate to the Wind." It received considerable air time on the jazz and pop stations of the day. Hearing it while in a taxi cab going over the Golden Gate Bridge, Lee Mendelson, the producer for the first Charlie Brown animated special, decided that Vince was the man to compose the music. As they say, the rest is history.
From the bio on his website, he and his music are described as follows:
“Guaraldi's smooth trio compositions -- piano, bass and drums -- perfectly balanced Charlie Brown's kid-sized universe. Sprightly, puckish, and just as swiftly somber and poignant, these gentle jazz riffs established musical trademarks which, to this day, still prompt smiles of recognition.
They reflected the whimsical personality of a man affectionately known as a 'pixie,' an image Guaraldi did not discourage. He'd wear funny hats, wild mustaches, and display hairstyles from buzzed crewcuts to rock-star shags. . .
. . .On February 6, 1976, while waiting in a motel room between sets at Menlo Park's Butterfield's nightclub, Guaraldi died of a sudden heart-attack. He was only 47 years old.
A few weeks later, on March 16, ‘It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown’ debuted on television. It was the 15th--and last--Peanuts television special to boast Guaraldi's original music.”
It started back in 1969 when he played Woodstock. For many folks Carlos and his band were the gateway into the world of jazz. As for me, I was raised on a steady diet of jazz from a very early age, so Santana’s fusion of Latin, jazz and rock music made for a delicious treat. I was elated that I could enjoy his unique guitar playing and be hip at the same time.
His first album cover added to the sense of mystery by being a white line drawing of a snarling male lion with people hidden in his face and mane. "Santana" is written in distinctive psychedelic lettering. The cut "Evil Ways" got lots of air play on pop, jazz and rock stations of the day.
Again mixing art and music in a thought provoking package, the next album cover was quite a favorite. Everyone I knew had the album Abraxas. It was the one with the cuts "Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va." For many, even more tantalizing than the music was the buxom chocolate colored reclining nude with a stark white pigeon smack dab in the middle of the cover. They speculated that she was the inspiration for the song, "Black Magic Woman."
Others said that Abraxas was the nude red angel riding the floating bongo drum pointing up to a very fancy "S" because when you read the Herman Hesse quote on the back of the album it said “We stood before it . . . questioned the painting, berated it, made love to it, prayed to it: We called it mother, called it whore and slut, called it our beloved, called it Abraxas...”
One of my friends went to the record store and paid the owner for the promotional poster which was a much bigger version of the album cover. He had it framed and displayed it prominently in his living room. It was a win-win situation because in the early '70s, even with the sexual revolution in full swing, the store owner didn’t feel that he could display it.
When Santana released his Greatest Hits in 1974, the album cover featured a headless figure holding a white pigeon. Because this figure is decidedly male, we had many a discussion about whether it was the Abraxas pigeon or not, as Santana’s music played and the wine flowed.
We also spent time discussing Carlos’s love of hats. Like his album named Shape Shifter, Santana has always shifted his head covering. From an African kofia to an American Pork Pie, a Greek Fisherman’s cap to knitted beanies, baseball caps or sharp throwback fedora, Carlos is seldom seen bareheaded.
To this day, I find it difficult to describe what Carlos does with his guitar, but there is no dispute that he has mixed art, music, love and magic together. I wonder if for his birthday this July 20, they found him a new style of hat? Perhaps a trip to Ravinia in August will answer that question for me.
This is the birthday of our nation. There are hundreds of folks telling you what this means in word and deed and song and fury. Some of us are relaxing, some of us are working, some of us are serving, but we are all seeking a common goal. We are here--born in or immigrated to-- this country to seek the dream of Freedom. Not just freedom from the rule of a monarch, not just freedom to worship as we want, not just the freedom to say what we want when we want, not just the freedom to be who we want to be, but all those freedoms combined.
America is the land of liberty, a place where the streets are paved not with gold but with opportunity. America is the place where you can become. America is a land of music.
America is like jazz. We have every kind that you can think of and some that haven’t yet crossed your mind. We are the land of infinite possibilities, myriad selections, improvisation and vast horizons. We as a people can head everywhere all at once and arrive at our destination all together as planned. We are strong and determined, sad and lonely, happy and joyful.
If you want to understand America, listen to jazz. It is the quintessential American-made music and it says it all. Happy Birthday, America!