Friday, February 12, 2016
Rap had been around since the mid-70s. But the 1982 hit The Message was the first rap song to get serious mainstream attention. And it was the first social commentary rap song. Joseph "Grandmaster Flash" Saddler was born in Barbados but he grew up in The Bronx. In high school, he learned how to repair electronic equipment. And his dad was a big music fan with a large record collection. So Saddler became a DJ and invented a lot of the turntable techniques that are still used today. By 1975, he was working with legendary rapper Kurtis Blow. Then he formed his own group with Melvin "Melle Mel" Glover. There were others involved in the group that became Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. But Glover was around long term. A lot of the others didn't stay long. They were popular on the New York City party circuit. But when The Sugarhill Gang's Rapper's Delight was a hit in 1979, they signed with the same label, Sylvia Robinson's Sugar Hill Records. Of course Sylvia was a singer herself (Pillow Talk) and a record industry veteran who lucked into the dawn of rap. Grandmaster Flash had some success on the R & B charts with singles like Freedom. But the Message really established them as a force. It reached #4 on the R & B Singles chart and it crossed over to pop. The rapping was by Melle Mel and Ed "Duke Bootee" Fletcher. As for Saddler, he was important to the live shows but he wasn't much of a presence in the recording studio. Glover has said in interviews that the group wasn't crazy about doing social commentary. But Fletcher wasn't a regular member of The Furious Five. The Message was the only song he ever did with them. He was usually a session musician. Things went south for The Furious Five when they sued Sugar Hill for unpaid royalties and that ultimately split them up. They reunited for the 1988 album On The Strength but their time was over. This comp from the British label Metro has all their hits. Today Saddler owns a clothing store in New York City. And Glover still records occasionally. Fletcher returned to studio work after The Message. Here's the video for The Message by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five featuring Duke Bootee and Melle Mel.
Thursday, February 11, 2016
Song:Crossing The Border
Album:Sounds Of Space
Alfredo Rodriguez is the latest in the rich tradition of Cuban jazz pianists. If you like Chucho Valdez or Gonzalo Rubalcaba, you will also like Rodriguez. And the great thing is he is being mentored by music legend Quincy Jones. He was born Oct. 7, 1985 in Havana, Cuba. His father was a singer who led his own band. Rodriguez trained in classical piano as a child. Then as a teen, he played in his father's band. He received Keith Jarrett's Koln Concert album as a gift and that opened his eyes to improvisation. Rodriguez studied at the Instituto Superior de Arte and he won several piano competitions. Rodriguez was invited to play at the 2006 Montreux Jazz Festival. Festival founder Claude Nobs arranged for Rodriguez to perform in his home for Quincy Jones. Jones took him under his wing. Rodriguez moved to the US in 2009 and he appeared on the song Better City, Better Life with Chinese composer Tan Dun and veteran session singer Siedah Garrett for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo. Then Rodriguez started playing the jazz festival circuit. Jones got him a record deal with Mack Avenue Records. Sounds Of Space is his 2012 debut CD. Rodriguez wrote all the songs. The best known musician to work with him on this album was drummer Francisco Mela who has worked with Joe Lovano and Esperanza Spalding. Other musicians are Ernesto Vega on sax, Peter Slavov on bass and Michael Olivera on percussion. Rodriguez' new CD Tocoroco will be released on Mar. 4. So no doubt he will tour to support the album. Be sure to check him out if he's coming your way. Here's Alfredo Rodriguez performing Crossing The Border in Quincy Jones' living room (!). Take note of the Oscar on the piano.
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Song:The Christmas Song
Normally I would save a Christmas song for the Christmas season. But The Christmas Song is Mel Torme's signature song and he wrote it so it's the song that keeps giving to his family long after his death. For the most part, Torme was a jazz singer who frequently crossed over to pop. He was born Sept. 13, 1925 in Chicago. He performed as a teen and by 1943, he moved to Hollywood. Torme appeared in films, most significantly the 1947 film Good News. And he also led his vocal group The Mel-Tones. He wrote The Christmas Song with Robert Wells in July 1945. Wells would go on to film and TV work, especially The Dinah Shore Chevy Show. It's the hottest day of the year and Torme is at Wells' house and he sees some Christmas lyrics on a note pad. They decide to write a Christmas song to keep cool. The song was written in forty minutes. Of course the most famous version of The Christmas Song was by Nat King Cole in 1946. Though Torme performed The Christmas Song in concert, the first time he recorded it in the studio was on the 1961 album My Kind Of Music with an orchestra arranged and conducted by Wally Stott. This was Torme's final album on Verve and this recording of The Christmas Song is on this budget comp. Torme moved to Atlantic Records and he also worked for Judy Garland at that time. Torme died on June 5, 1999 at age 73. But The Christmas Song will continue to pay royalties to Torme's family for generations to come. Here's Mel Torme with Judy Garland performing The Christmas Song on The Judy Garland Show 1963.
Tuesday, February 09, 2016
Trumpeter Greg Adams was a founding member of Tower Of Power. He was an integral part of developing their trademark sound. When he started recording solo in the 90s, Adams immediately scored in the Smooth Jazz market with his cover of Sade's Smooth Operator and he has done well in that market ever since. Adams played trumpet in his high school band in San Francisco. After graduating, he joined Tower Of Power. Adams says it was better than going to music school. Of course Tower Of Power was known for their horn sound and Adams played on hundreds of albums. In 1995, Adams decided to record a solo album for Epic Records. Tower Of Power was on Epic at the time. Adams' instrumental cover of Sade's Smooth Operator was a hit in the Smooth Jazz market and he has been recording as a solo artist ever since. Adams wrote and produced most of the songs on Hidden Agenda with drummer Ken Kessie who was also a recording engineer. Other musicians on the album include Gary Herbig on tenor sax and keyboard player James Wirrick. Wirrick was the guy behind the Sylvester hit Mighty Real. Adams has since recorded for Blue Note and on his own label. And he continues to tour with Tower Of Power. Here's a video for Smooth Operator by Greg Adams.
Monday, February 08, 2016
Album:Tease! The Beat Of Burlesque
I'm sure all of you have heard The Stripper. But I bet you didn't know that it topped the pop charts in 1962. The song was written and recorded by veteran film composer and arranger David Rose. He was born David Rosenberg June 15, 1910 in London, England. His family moved to Chicago and shortened the family name to Rose. He studied at the Chicago School of Music and he was 16 when he joined Ted Fio Rito's dance band. Rose also worked at NBC Radio and he was an arranger for Frankie Trumbauer at WGN. Rose moved to Hollywood in 1938 and he worked for the Mutual Broadcasting System on the radio show California Melodies. He soon became musical director for Mutual. Rose scored his first hit single when Holiday for Strings reached #2 on the hit parade in 1944. This song is best known as the theme for The Red Skelton Show. Rose and Skelton met in The US Army during WWII and Rose became Skelton's musical director. In the 50s, Rose got into composing music for film and especially TV. He wrote the music for Highway Patrol, Sea Hunt and he won an Emmy for composing Bonanza. Rose recorded The Stripper for MGM Records in 1958. It was not released. In 1962, MGM was releasing Rose's recording of Ebb Tide as a single and they needed a B side. They had an office boy go through Rose's unreleased tapes and he chose the Stripper as the B side. And as sometimes happens in radio, DJs preferred the B side and The Stripper topped the Billboard Hot 100. I think many believe the song is from the 40s. Of course The Stripper is now a burlesque standard. It was helped by a Noxzema shave cream commercial with with a model cooing "Take It Off. Take It All Off". There is a David Rose budget comp of his MGM recordings available. But I think most will only want The Stripper and you can get it on this Verve various artists burlesque music comp. Rose returned to composing music for TV. He worked a lot for Michael Landon and Rose won a couple of Emmys for Little House on the Prairie. David Rose died on Aug. 23, 1990 at age 80. Here's a video for The Stripper by David Rose and his Orchestra.
Sunday, February 07, 2016
Song:Walk This Way
Album:Ultimate Run DMC
This 1986 record crossed rap over into mainstream rock. It was the first rap record to reach the Billboard Hot 100 top ten. So there's no question that Run DMC were music pioneers and worthy of induction into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. Run DMC are from Queens, NY. As a teen, Joseph Run" Simmons was recruited into performing rap by older brother Russell Simmons who would found Def Jam Records. Simmons performed with rap pioneer Kurtis Blow as DJ Run. Meanwhile, Darryl "DMC" McDaniels bought turntables and began to DJ. The two started hanging around a local park and that's where they met Jason "Jam Master Jay" Mizell. Simmons convinced his brother to record them and Russell Simmons came up with the name Run DMC. They didn't like the name at first. They signed with Profile Records who had some success in the rap market. Run DMC's first couple of albums did well in the R & B market. The 1985 album King Of Rock was certified Platinum. But it was the 1986 album Raising Hell that made Run DMC mainstream stars. This was their first album working with producer Rick Rubin who was Russell Simmons' partner at Def Jam. It was Rubin's idea to cover Walk This Way. But Run DMC didn't know anything about Aerosmith so Rubin had to explain it to them. Sampling rock classics has always been done by rappers. But Rubin convinced Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith to record new parts for this record. And the band in the video was not Aerosmith but an unknown band called Smashing Gladys. Aerosmith had just released their first album for their new label Geffen which stiffed so they needed a hit record. Of course the video was brilliant and MTV played it to death. It all helped Walk This Way reach #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Raising Hell was certified 3XPlatinum. So this was the biggest selling rap album at the time and it paved the way for future rappers. Run DMC never had another hit that big. And there was also conflict in the group which eventually split them up in 1993. Mizell had already started his own record label. This budget comp has all of Run DMC's hits along with a bonus DVD of videos. Run DMC reunited and released an album in 2002. But it wasn't the same and Simmons and McDaniels didn't get along. Then Mizell was murdered in his recording studio on Oct. 30, 2002 and that ended Run DMC for good. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 2009. Simmons appeared in the successful reality show Run's House. McDaniels has recorded occasionally but he started his own comic book company which has done well. There was talk a couple of years ago about a Run DMC biopic. That seems to have stalled. McDaniels says he wants to do a Run DMC Broadway musical. Here's the video for Walk This Way by Run DMC featuring Steven Tyler and Joe Perry.
Saturday, February 06, 2016
Sax player Kamasi Washington is the new "it" boy in jazz. The Epic has done very well on the jazz charts despite it being a 3CD set. He has talent but I think he's trying to do too much. Washington was mostly a session musician before The Epic. He was born Feb. 18, 1981 in Los Angeles the son of sax player Rickey Washington who was a member of the 70s funk group Raw Soul Express. While attending UCLA, Washington was mentored by legendary big band leader Gerald Wilson. Washington appeared on Wilson's 2005 CD In My Time. He played local clubs with his band Young Jazz Giants and released a few CDs independently. Then he started getting session work. Washington has recorded with Snoop Dogg, George Duke and Flying Lotus. You may have heard Washington's sax solo on Kendrick Lamar's 2015 hit single To Pimp A Butterfly. Flying Lotus signed Washington to his Brainfeeder label. The Epic is Washington's first release on the label. It's a sprawling 3CD set with an orchestra and voices. But mostly Washington works with guys he has known since high school. This includes Ronald Bruner Jr. on drums and his brother Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner on bass along with Brandon Coleman on keyboards. The album did very well on the jazz charts and also on the independent music charts because Washington isn't on a jazz label. Washington has been on tour since The Epic was released. Check him out if he's coming your way. Here's Kamasi Washington performing Final Thought at the Pickathon Mountain Stage near Spokane, WA July 31, 2015.