“You Ought To Be In Pictures” . . : The Broken Formula Of Music Biopics

Given that the Oscars are coming up and Bohemian Rhapsody is nominated, it seems like an apt time to do something different from my usual posts. Musical biopics (biographical pictures) have been a common staple of contemporary movies for a while now. As a little kid I remember seeing movies like The Glen Miller Story or The Benny Goodman Story on TV. More recently there have been hits like Ray or Walk The Line and or course, Bohemian Rhapsody. I can’t say that any of them really knocked me out though I still have yet to see Bird (Charlie Parker) or Don’t Look Back (Bob Dylan). Many of them just seemed to be dramatized versions of the old VH1 series Behind The Music.

This brings me to the video below. Here the music biopic is discussed not from the viewpoint of a music nerd but from the perspective of a film geek. Patrick (H) Willems has a great YouTube channel featuring video essays that analyze movies. Framed and interspersed with an ongoing skit that serves as meta commentary on the music biopic formula, Willems gives a brief history of film biographies in general and music biopics specifically before deconstructing the standard tropes of the genre and the problems they present from a cinematic perspective.

The Broken Formula of Music Biopics –

There are a bunch of artists that I think would be great source material for a biopic.Here’s a idea: George Harrison. The story of someone who has to find himself as an artist while in the shadow of greater artists before the world recognizes his greatness. You have Beatlemania. You have the love triangle between his wife Patti Boyd, his friend Eric Clapton and himself. You have his relationship to Eastern Spiritualism and of course his sad passing. There is a lot there.

Hollywood, call me.

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“Up On The Roof” . . . : Two Rooftop Concerts, Same Ending

Just recently was the 50th anniversary of what turned out to be the final performance of the Beatles. On January 3oth 1969, The Beatles went up on the rooftop of the headquarters of Apple Records in central London and played an impromptu gig. At the time, The Beatles were recording their album, Let It Be, and the rooftop show let them run through various tracks from those sessions. Songs played during the set include “Get Back,” where the Beatles were accompanied by Billy Preston on the keyboards, and “Don’t Let Me Down” (see the video below), “I’ve Got A Feeling,” “One After 909,” “Danny Boy,” “Dig A Pony” and finally, another version of “Get Back.” The performance ends with the police shutting down the show due to noise and John Lennon uttering the immortal words, “I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition.” Luckily, film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg (who also worked with The Rolling Stones) captured the performance as well as the reactions of people on the street.

The Beatles – Don’t Let Me Down

Not as well known was a brief rooftop performance by the Jefferson Airplane in New York City roughly two months before The Beatles. On Tuesday, Nov. 19, 1968, the Airplane had agreed to participate in a work-in-progress by the radical French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, tentatively titled One A.M. (for One American Movie). As they’d often staged free concerts in their hometown of San Francisco, as well as in New York, the Airplane and Godard decided to set up their equipment on the roof of the condemned, nine-story Schuyler Hotel, at 57 W. 45th Street near Times Square. Needless to say, they didn’t bother securing a film permit and the band only has the opportunity to play one song before being shut down. The performance of that one song however is epic. The song is “House at Pooneil Corners,” a post-apocalyptic song from their recently released fourth studio album, Crown of Creation. Written by singer Marty Balin and rhythm guitarist/vocalist Paul Kantner as a sequel to the earlier “The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil,” the song showcases the band at it’s peak with each of the singers (Grace Slick, Balin and Kantner) weavuing lines around each other and the instrumentalists—lead guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, bassist Jack Casady and drummer Spencer Dryden, with Kantner on rhythm guitar, displaying a fierce intensity.

The clip ends with the police stoping the show.  “If they continue the music, lock ’em up!”

Jefferson Airplane – House at Pooneil Corners (In a New York roof 1968)

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Five More Classic Jazz Songs For Your Classic Rock Friends

This is a continuation of my previous post “Five Classic Jazz Songs For Your Classic Rock Friends” (https://roymusicusa.com/2019/01/13/five-classic-jazz-songs-for-your-classic-rock-friends/).  In that post, I was talking about classic jazz tunes that might appeal to your friends who are more inclined to listen to classic rock. The songs highlighted tended to be hard bop tunes that shared with classic rock, elements of blues, gospel and R&B along with a driving groove. So, here are five more classic jazz tunes for your classic rock friends.

“The Sidewinder” by trumpeter Lee Morgan is considered one of the defining recordings of Soul Jazz. It was actually a crossover hit in 1965 with an edited version released as a single. This is definite head bopping music. On a perverse biographical note, Morgan was killed at the East Village jazz club, Slugs’, where his band was performing, when he was shot by his common law wife between sets.

Lee Morgan – The Sidewinder

The general consensus is that Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” is his masterpiece but for the non jazz listener I would suggest starting with some of his earlier hard bop recording, in this case “Giant Steps”. Coltrane was the jazz saxophone version of what is referred today as a shredder, a hot virtuoso player. The tune Giant Steps has become something of a rite of passage for aspiring jazz players. The tune has a incredibly difficult chord progression to play over and is played at a very fast tempo. Like listening to your favorite hot guitar solo, it’s a thrill ride.

John Coltrane – Giant Steps


Drummer Art Blakey and his group The Jazz Messengers were considered to be the quintessential Hard Bop band and no tune exemplified this more than “Moanin'”. Written by pianist Bobby Timmons, the song, like last post’s Mingus tune “Better Get It On Your Soul”, wears it’s gospel influences out front, with it’s call and response melody and “amen” chords. It then segues into some great swinging blues based playing with Blakey’s drums kicking ass and taking names. In some ways the Jazz Messengers remind me of the bands of British blues legend John Mayall. Mayall’s bands featured players like Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Mick Fleetwood and others, The Jazz Messengers alumni include players Lee Morgan, Benny Golson, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Chuck Mangione, Keith Jarrett, Wynton and Branford Marsalis.

Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers – Moanin’

Thelonious “Sphere” Monk (his middle name was Sphere ’cause he was the opposite of square, daddy-o). There is so much I want to say about Monk but I’m going to save that for a later post (or three). For now, let me limit it to this particular tune, his classic (as is most of his tunes),”Straight No Chase”. First off, a great catchy riff for a melody (actually the melody is a short five note motif that is rhythmically displaced across a twelve bar blues progression). The rhythm section is just grooving as is Charlie Rouse’s sax solo. Then there is Monk’s piano playing. I’ve always thought of it as the art of beautifully making square pegs fit round holes. There is just something about his playing that makes me smile whenever I hear it.

Thelonious Monk – Straight,No Chaser


Finally, The Duke. Like Monk, so much to say with no amount of words able to do proper justice to the man’s musical genius. So again, let’s focus on the tune. Starting as just a piano trio before signaling the rest of the orchestra to come in. This tune interweave so many cool little riffs so seamlessly that it’s easy to miss cool little details in the writing like the way the opening melody played by the reeds are answered by the brass in the background. To listen to this tune is to hear joy.

DUKE ELLINGTON – Rockin’ in Rhythm

I think that if you put the songs I recommended in these last two post together into a playlist, you would get a pretty good introduction to jazz for your rock friends and a great playlist to listen to as you bop your way through this crazy world. Good luck.

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Five Classic Jazz Songs For Your Classic Rock Friends

One of the things that music nerds like me like to do is to try and turn people onto music we love (that’s really what this blog is about). So over the years I have tried to get my friends, whose tastes tend to classic rock, into jazz. I’m talking straight classic jazz, not fusion . Over time, I’ve accumulated a list of jazz songs that seem to have struck a chord (pun not intended) for those who are more likely to listen to Hendrix than Coltrane. I’ve noticed that these songs tended to be Hard Bop tunes, a subgenre of jazz, popular in the f1950’s, that incorporated elements of blues, gospel and R&B, elements shared by much of classic rock, making the music more relatable to rock fans. These tunes also tended to have a driving groove, imparting an energy that my jamband friends would appreciate.

Let’s start by taking it to church with “Better Git It On your Soul” by bassist/composer Charles Mingus. From the opening bass riff to the awesome sax break accompanied by only hand claps, this tune rocks.

Charles Mingus – Better Get It In Your Soul


When you see anything about Miles Davis’ modal period, it almost always centers on the album “Kind Of Blue” with the tune “So What” given as the prime example. But before Kind Of Blue there was “Milestones”. Similar modal chord structure as “So What” but Milestones has a more aggressive swing feel that your non jazz friends will dig..

Miles Davis – Milestones

I’ve written about guitarist Grant Green previously. He’s played on countless sessions for Blue Note records in it’s prime. His style is bluesy and direct. A jazzy version of B.B. King if you will. Check out my previous post on Grant Green (https://roymusicusa.com/2014/11/16/born-to-be-blue-grant-green-1935-1979/).

Grant Green – It Ain’t Necessarily So


Wayne Shorter is probably most well known for his essential roles in Miles Davis groundbreaking “second great quintet” and the group Weather Report but from 1964 through to 1970, Wayne recorded a series of records that feature some of his strongest playing and writing. This tune features standout playing from Herbie Hancock on piano and Joe Chambers on drums.

Wayne Shorter ― Adam’s Apple

Another tune I wrote about previously (https://roymusicusa.com/2015/01/18/work-song-the-paul-butterfield-blues-bandcannonball-adderley-quintetthe-animals/). The song had lyrics added to it and subsequently covered by artists like Eric Burdom and The Animals, Nina Simone and Bobby Darin. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band did a great instrumental cover of it on their classic album “East-West”. I would of loved to hear what The Allman Brothers Band could have done with this song.

Cannonball Adderley Quintet -Work Song

More classic jazz for classic rock next post.

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A Short Selection Of Holiday Themed Music That Doesn’t Suck

I think the title pretty much sums it up.

Let’s first go with something classy, Duke Ellington. who in 1960 recorded a jazz interpretation of “The Nutcracker” by Tchaikovsky. The video below is of the Overture, opening with a descending walking bassline and drums before the horn enter. So Cool.

Duke Ellingon – Nutcracker Suite, Overture


This reminds so much of the eighties. This was a holiday staple on WLIR, a very hip Long Island, NY radio station that played progressive New Wave music before it became mainstream.

The Waitresses – Christmas Wrapping


This is my wife’s favorite holiday song therefore it must be included.

RUN-DMC – Christmas In Hollis


Vulfpeck, if you don’t know are a band originally from Michigan that models itself after classic studio musician bands like Motown’s Funk Brothers, L.A.’s Wrecking Crew, and the studio musicians of Muscle Shoals.They strike a balance between virtuosity and goofiness.

VULFPECK – Christmas in L.A.


Let’s end with the sublime: Ms. Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald – Christmas Songs (FULL ALBUM)

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A Haiku For The Holidays 2018

Something Different
For The Holidays This Year
Music Is A Gift

The New Jazz Spasms – Tradition (Fiddler On The Roof)

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“May All Your Dreams “. . . : Brian May’s Star Licks Guitar Video

Continuing with the Queen theme from my previous post, the video below is from a series of instructional videos fthat were made in the ealy 1980’s called Star Licks. Besides Brian May, the series featured well-known musicians such as Steve Lukather (Toto), Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), Al McKay (Earth, Wind & Fire) and guitarist Albert Lee (Eric Clapton, solo), with the musicians demonstrating their techniques, riffs, etc.. May was approached with the idea for making audio cassettes of guitarists explaining their techniques. That idea was eventually expanded to include film to be marketed as video cassettes. The idea of “cassettes” may be like ancient history to some readers of this post but I remember seeing the ads for these videos in my guitar magazines (I feel so old).

In the video, Brian May discusses his equipment and techniques, and demonstrates a number of his guitar solos. He doesn’t really go into much detail about the solos and without the accompanying booklet, it may take some patience absorb the material but at the 17 minute mark there’s the big payoff when May takes you through his guitar solo in Bohemian Rhapsody.

Brian May – Star Licks (Guitar Tutorial 1983) – Full Version

If being the guitarist in Queen wasn’t awesome enough, May earned a PhD in astrophysics from Imperial College London in 2007, and was Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University from 2008 to 2013. He was a “science team collaborator” with NASA’s New Horizons Pluto mission and has an asteroid named after him (Asteroid 52665 Brianmay). Extra cool bonus points: He is also an animal rights activist who has campaigned against the hunting of foxes and the culling of badgers in the UK.

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