“When The Living Was Easy” . . . : Gershwin’s Summertime

Normally (yeah, what’s that now . . ) the end of May would be the start of summer with thoughts of vacation plans, beaches, outdoor concerts (yeah, about that . . .)

The song Summertime was written by George Gershwin in 1034 for his opera Porgy and Bess with lyrics credited to Ira Gershwin and DuBoise Heyward, the author of the novel Porgy on which the opera was based. Although Gershwin said that he did not use any previously written spirituals in his opera, musicologists and other music wonks have argued that it was based on a African American spiritual. Others have argued that it was inspired by a Ukrainian Yiddish lullaby. Most just split it down the middle.

Whatever the origins, Summertime has become possibly the most popular song written by an a American composer with over 25,000 recordings of the song. It’s one of the first jazz standards most of us learn. It’s harmony is flexible enough that you can jam over it with your trusty blues licks or you can add enough chord substitutions to make it a virtual harmonic ski trail (double back diamond, of course).

Below are some of my particular favorite versions of the tune.

Sidney Bechet (on soprano sax) was one of the first important soloists in jazz (he recorded before Louis Armstrong by several months), I love how he interacts with the guitarist.

Sidney Bechet – Summertime (1939)

 

Ella Fitzgerald with the Tee Carson trio. Live in Germany in 1968. So soulful.

Ella Fitzgerald – Summertime (1968)

 

Miles Davis with Gil Evan’s orchestral arrangements. Classic.

Summertime – Miles Davis (1966)

 

Ella Fitzgerald sang Summertime with a quiet solfulness. Janis brought intensity. Also dig he pseudo baroque instrumental intro.

Janis Joplin – Summertime

 

The Reverend Al Green. Gershwin meets Memphis.

Al Green – Summertime

 

Two of my favorite young guitarists, Billy Strings and Marcus King in a intimate guitar duet. Billy Strings channeling Doc Watson.

Summertime – Billy Strings & Marcus King

 

To better summer and better days.

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Posted in Classic Rock, Country/Bluegrass, Jazz, Music Appreciation and Analysis, Uncategorized

“What I Did On My Permanent Vacation” . . : New Music Project

Like many at the start of their self isolation, I thought this would be a good opportunity to be productive. There were projects that were on my ‘to do’ list: organize papers, clean closets . . .

Yeah, that hasn’t happened. I must say however that I did get one thing accomplished; I started learning the dobro.

I have previously written about th dobro (see https://roymusicusa.com/2019/10/31/that-high-lonesome-sound-a-very-quick-intro-to-the-dobro/). I’ve always loved the sound of the instrument and earlier this year (before the world as we know it ended) I decided to give myself a present by getting myself one. I was able to find a cheap dobro online (if you’re interested, here is the link to amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Ktone-Acoustic-Electric-Resonator-Natural/dp/B00DVWAOGO). In addition to being cheap enough to be willing to take a chance on, it was also an electric acoustic model which would make recording easier by allowing to just plug it into an audio interface rather than miking it. Just to be clear, it’s not the greatest dobro. There were some quality control issues: a rattle that required me to disassemble the faceplate to correct the problem and a tuning peg issue that I’ve found a work around for but will require more attention once I can get to a guitar store. That being said, it’s good enough for me to learn on and it’s been a blast. Because I have experience playing slide guitar and fingerpicking, I’m not starting from absolute zero but the tuning is different and hell, it’s played lap style, so it’s not without some transitional effort.

So anyway, I’m starting a new music project called Wire, Wood & Steel which will feature new acoustic based music. I hope to start recording soon (another of those projects . . ) and put out short videos. The first one is of an original tune in honor of our front line workers called 7 O’clock Song.

Wire Wood & Steel : 7 O’clock Song –

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Posted in Country/Bluegrass, Music Appreciation and Analysis

“That Was Then, This Is Now” . . . : Musical Flash Mobs

A reminder of a different time. A time when people gathered in public places casually, going about their business until they notice that the person beside them is carrying a bassoon. And that person coming up the escalator is holding a french horn. Suddenly an ad hoc music group has appeared out of nowhere, play a piece of music and then just as suddenly, disappear back into the crowd.

Flash mobs were a thing in the 2000’s. Originally they were more an exercise in artistic expression, not unlike the art “happenings” of the sixties. Then it became more of a marketing/public relations thing for companies but it still provided moments of beauty and wonder in this world for people just going about their day.

Here’s to a time when flash mobs can become a thing again.


Flashmob Flash Mob – Ode an die Freude ( Ode to Joy ) Beethoven Symphony No.9 classical music

 

RAVEL’S BOLERO, amazing FLASHMOB! (Spain)

 

Christmas Food Court Flash Mob, Hallelujah Chorus

 

Flashmob Performs ‘Here Comes the Sun’ in Madrid Unemployment Office

 

Party Rock Anthem – LMFAO / Flashmob Marchingband TSV Lauf

 

Flashmob: Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen

 

Technically, the Apartment Sessions videos are not flash mobs but their Halloween videos on the NYC subway are pretty cool nonetheless (check out their other videos here:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpU_PAsVFl2fO649QF6Zj0Q)

Queen – Somebody To Love (Apartment Sessions)

 

Stevie Wonder – Sir Duke (Apartment Sessions)

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Posted in Classic Rock, Classical, Music Appreciation and Analysis

“Quarantine Is Painless” . . . : Musical Mashups For Your Amusement

As I understand it a musical mashup is the blending together of two or more existing songs, by superimposing the melody of one song over the backing track of another. The practice has existed for centuries but with modern DJ and sound editing software tools it has become something of an art form in itself. The better ones have a smart ass snarky appeal *(“Oh, aren’t we clever”) that I find to be the right antidote for these times so below are some of the better musical mashups (IMHO).

Sweet Fat Bottomed Alabama (Queen + Lynyrd Skynyrd) Mashup

 

Stayin’ in Black (Bee Gees + AC/DC Mashup) by Wax Audio

 

Whole Lotta Sabbath (Led Zeppelin + Black Sabbath Mashup) by Wax Audio

 

Mashup James Brown vs Led Zeppelin Whole Lotta Sex Machine

 

Michael Jackson vs The Doors – Billie Jean on the Storm

 

We Will Rock You, Bossa Nova! Mashup (Elvis vs RHCP vs Queen vs Flo Rida vs Cee Lo Green)

 

For the music geeks out there, the video below from You Tuber extraordinaire Adam Neely goes into the theory of musical mashups.

The music theory of mashups

 

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Posted in Classic Rock, Music Appreciation and Analysis, Music Theory

“Bring Out Your Dead” . . : Resources For The Quarantined Deadhead

Welcome my friends to crazy times here in NYC. Unless you literally live in a cave you’ve heard of the fun times we’re having here with Covid-19. Personally, I haven’t felt much of a change in my daily routine. Being the anti-social troll that I am, I have been self isolating and social distancing for years now but my old friend Stevo was quarantined (thankfully now finished) and was going a little stir crazy. Back in our college days, Stevo and I went to many a Dead show together so I thought it would be cool to let my fellow Deadheads know of a couple of Youtube channels to help pass the time in isolation.

Wall of Sound has been posting some great Dead shows (audio only). They’ve been of excellent sound quality, as befitting the channel’s name. A recent post that I’ve been enjoying is the complete Grateful Dead set at Watkins Glen on July 23 1973. I’ve previously only have heard the soundcheck so this was a pleasant surprise.

Grateful Dead – 7/28/73, Watkins Glen NY – Soundboard – Complete show

Check out all the other shows on the channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOn8Nb8Tw5jyEmnmJIIZfTg/videos

The other channel I want to tell you about is OkieDeadhead. This kind soul has been sharing their impressive archive of Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia and other related material. A recent post of a March 19, 1977 show at the Winterland in San Francisco is a good example.

Grateful Dead 3/19/1977

You can find OkieDeadhead videos at https://www.youtube.com/user/CaptainTrips57/videos

Remember, a virus doesn’t care about your timeline so be safe and self-isolate.

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Posted in Grateful Dead, Music Appreciation and Analysis

“If You Get Confused Just Listen To The Music Play” . . : A Video Asks, “Was Jerry Garcia a Jazz Improviser?”

As a musician and as a Deadhead, I have had on more than one occasion a conversation with non-Deadhead musicians who dismiss Jerry Garcia as someone who just plays scales up and down, someone who “noodles”. This pisses off Deadhead musicians like myself because we know that such opinions are not based on any real listening to Garcia’s playing. Jerry’s playing was so much more than just running scales. Garcia was an intense student of many different genres of music, including jazz. While the Dead never covered a Charlie Parker tune, Garcia could certainly approach a tune with a jazz musician’s mindset. Instead of using a common scale to play over a song’s chord progression, Garcia would approach each chord individually but also as part of a progression of chords, being aware of linking his melodic ideas from chord to chord. His note choices went beyond the basic vanilla ones, often adding “spicy” chromatic tones to play against and highlight the more consonant chord tones. This is all jazz stuff.

The video below is from Amaruitar, whose video series dissecting Garcia’s solo on Deal from a 1989 performance I discussed previously (see https://roymusicusa.com/2020/02/29/dont-you-let-that-deal-go-down-learn-jerry-garcias-solo-from-deal-7-4-89-buffalo/). Here he presents the case for Garcia, being, if not a jazz improviser per se, than at least being a musician who was more than capable of hanging with the jazz cats.

Was Jerry Garcia a Jazz Improviser?

 

The end of the clip featured a short bit of Garcia performing with Ruben Blades for some television show and you can hear him play in what is for Garcia, a very uncharacteristic latin jazz setting. And he rips. Check out more of Garcia with Ruben Blades below.

Ruben Blades & Jerry Garcia (MueveteI) – Aug. 2nd 1989

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Posted in Grateful Dead, Improvisation, Jazz, Music Appreciation and Analysis, Music Theory

“Don’t You Let That Deal Go Down” . . . : Learn Jerry Garcia’s Solo From Deal (7/4/89 Buffalo)

I had lunch the other day with my old friend Errol. Errol is an excellent guitarist and we have been in bands together on and off for about forty years. Errol is currently in an excellent Jam band based in Rockaway, NY called Solshyne (check out their facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/solshyneband/app/2405167945/). He remarked that the band was adding some new Dead tunes to their repertoire and in doing so he once again appreciates just how amazing Garcia was. The talk then went on to YouTube instructional videos on Garcia’s playing and I mentioned the YouTube channel of Amarguitar as an excellent resource of Dead guitar information. I have previously written about Amarguitar videos which analyze several different Phish jams (see https://roymusicusa.com/2019/06/18/bouncing-round-the-room-videos-that-put-phish-jams-under-the-microscope/) but he has also created a whole series of videos dissecting Garcia’s guitar style. If you really want to dive deep than I suggest the video series he created that transcribe and analyze Jerry Garcia’s first guitar solo on Deal from the Grateful Dead’s performance on July 4th, 1989 in Buffalo, NY, Amaruitar literally goes over the entire solo bar by bar with the solo transcribed in guitar tablature (a form of musical notation that shows the guitar strings and frets to be played) so there are a load of Garcia lines to be learned. Good stuff.

Grateful Dead Guitar Lesson – Deal Jerry Garcia Solos with Tab (7/4/89 Buffalo)

For context, here is the whole performance of Deal from the show.

Grateful Dead Deal 7-4-89 Rich Stadium Orchard Park NY

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Posted in Classic Rock, Grateful Dead, Improvisation, Jam Band, Music Appreciation and Analysis, Music Theory

“What’s That Song With The Cello? . . . : J.S. Bach Cello Suite No. 1 Prelude in G Major

I’ve previously written of how the New York Public Library provided a invaluable resource in my early music self education (https://roymusicusa.com/2017/01/13/blues-for-new-orleans-duke-ellington-the-new-york-public-library-and-me/), Pre-internet, it was the only way I would get to hear musicians and pieces of music that I read about. I was reading up on Bach and was fascinated to learn that he composed a series of pieces for solo cello, solo violin and solo flute. Given that these instruments are for the most part restricted to single line melodies (yeah, the cello and violin can play two notes at a time but that ability is very limited), they are not the type of instruments typically featured in solo instrumental pieces. Those are usually reserved for instruments that can supply their own harmony like keyboards. So it was with great interest when I was able to take out of my public library a recording of a couple of the Suites for Solo Cello. The first piece on the record was the Prelude for  Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major and I was hooked.

I have since heard the Prelude thousands of times, often as background music in commercials for products that are suppose to convey some sense of class. It is ubiquitous. For a time it was my old Razor cell phone’s ring tone. Google famous cello tunes and it will come up as #1. The video below helps to explain why.

As the video explains, the piece itself isn’t very complicated but then takes it’s simple musical elements and uses them to create something much greater that the sum of it’s parts.

That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

Guitar arrangements (known in classical music terms as transcriptions) of the Bach Cello Suites are a mainstay of the classical guitar repertoire Below is guitarist Ana Vidovic’s performance of the Cello Suite No. 1 Prelude in G Major.

Ana Vidovic plays from the Cello Suite No. 1 Prelude in G Major BWV 1007 – BACH

This is amazing music that has and will stand the test of time. When the world is becoming a little too much I find myself going to Bach to convince myself that there is still truth and beauty and good.

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Posted in Classical, Music Appreciation and Analysis

A Blast From My Past: CPY at the Lone Star Roadhouse

I had a birthday not to long ago so I thought it would be appropriate to dig out something from the digital archives. In the late Eighties through the mid Nineties I played bass in a number of projects with a common pool of musicians. Often these projects lasted for literally one gig. One of the projects that actually lasted longer than that (i think something like 5 gigs) was a power trio I did with friend and amazing guitarist Frank Capeck and drummer Kieth Polishook called CPY. I never played in a power trio prior to this, the majority of bands I was in before this had two guitarists and sometimes a keyboard player. The change in format really did have an impact on the way I played bass in this band verses the larger ensembles. Ultimately, given the stark bare bones sound of the trio and the nature of the material, I went with a straight ahead no frills approach, Ultimately my job was to provide support for the guitarist to do his thing. Luckily we had a great guitarist who carried it off with style and grace.

The following clips are from the Lone Star Raodhound in NYC, somewhere around 1992. It’s from an old VHS video tape so sorry for the less than impressive video/sound quality.


CPY at the Lone Star Roadhouse – Led Boots


CPY at the Lone Star Roadhouse – Oh Well!


CPY at the Lone Star Roadhouse – Voodoo Chile

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Posted in Classic Rock, Jam Band

“The Bear Got You” . . . : Steely Dan and The Lost Gaucho

Gaucho was the album that (for a time at least) broke Steely Dan. Recording began in 1978 and over the course of a two year span, the band used at least 42 different musicians, spent over a year in the studio and went way over the original money advance given by the record label. Coming off the highly successful and critically acclaimed album Aja, the recording of Gaucho was plagued by a litany of problems: lawsuits, recording issues, disputes, health issues, and even death.

Even before recording started there was a legal battle between the record labels MCA and Warner Brothers over the rights to release the album with MCA eventually winning. Fagen and Becker relocated from LA to New York City but the Steely Dan recording process of endless takes, and countless hours in the studio clashed with many of the hired studio musicians who become increasingly unhappy with Becker and Fagen as time went by. Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler, who was recruited to play guitar on “Time Out of Mind”, likened the recording experience to “getting in a swimming pool with lead weights tied to your boots.” After assembling an ensemble of studio musicians from the local New York scene, along with Steely Dan favorites such as Michael McDonald and Larry Carlton, recording was underway.

Disaster occurred when an early favorite song , “The Second Arrangement”, was accidentally erased by an assistant engineer. The band attempted to re-record the track, but eventually abandoned the song entirely. Things only got worse. In January of ’80, Walter Becker found his girlfriend, Karen Stanley, dead of a drug overdose in their Manhattan aprtment. To add insult to injury, Stanley’s family then sued Becker for $17.5 million claiming he was the reason for her death on the grounds that he had introduced her to heroin and cocaine. Eventually the two sides had settled out of court for an undisclosed amount, but those around Becker have said he never got over it. Three months later Becker was struck by a taxi cab stepping off a curb. The result was a fractured right leg which had rendered him immobile. For weeks, the only way that Becker could communicate with Fagen and the engineers was through telephone.

To say that Fagen and Becker grew more and more disenchanted with the process would be an understatement and eventually they scrapped much of what had been recorded previously, including several entire songs. This brings us to The Lost Gaucho.

In addition to “The Second Arrangement”, a number of songs were written for the album which were not included in the final release. Some of them were included on a bootleg titled The Lost Gaucho, which features recordings from early in the sessions for the album. These included “Kind Spirit”, “Kulee Baba”, “The Bear” and “Talkin’ About My Home”, as well as “The Second Arrangement”. An early version of “Third World Man”, with alternate lyrics, is included under the title “Were You Blind That Day”. You can hear them in the videos below:

Steely Dan – The Second Arrangement (Restored 2nd demo)

 

Steely Dan The Bear Lyrics (Re-mastered)

 

Steely Dan – Talkin’ ‘Bout My Home

 

Steely Dan – Kulee Baba – Gaucho Outtakes

 

Steely Dan – Were you blind that day – Gaucho Outtakes


Steely Dan – Kind Spirit – Gaucho Outtakes

 

Finally, the video below goes into the story of Gaucho and The Lost Gaucho.

The Lost Gaucho (1980)… Steely Dan’s Alternate Album | Not Lost Media –

 

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Posted in Classic Rock, Music Appreciation and Analysis
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