Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Brenda Holloway - LA Weekly

Brenda Holloway Interview - LA Weekly​

Will Sunset Junction happen this weekend? It very well may, and if it does we highly recommend checking out Brenda Holloway, who plays the Hoover Stage on Saturday, August 27th at 6:30.

While still a teenager Holloway, a Watts native, began a promising career as a Motown singer. But despite hits like "Every Little Bit Hurts" and "When I'm Gone," she got lost in the Hitsville USA shuffle and retired from recording at age 25. On Saturday, Holloway will join fellow Motowners Kim Weston and the original Vandellas for a set of classic songs and Diana Ross jokes. Ms. Holloway reminisced with us by phone recently while enjoying an early breakfast.

How did you become a Motown artist?
Hal Davis and Mack Gordon got me an interview with Berry [Gordy] at a disc jockey convention. I was only 16, and singing Mary Wells' "My Guy" from nine in the morning until four o'clock in the afternoon. Eventually I told Hal, "I want to get signed to Motown. That's why we're here right? I've been in the heels for over eight hours." Shortly afterwards a little, short man came in. He said "I'm Berry Gordy, and I like what I see and I like what I hear."

Was the Motown system very competitive?
My problem wasn't with the other girls. It was with me. The ones that were making the money were getting pushed by the label. With me, they were trying to find out, "Is she jazz, gospel? What is she?" Even when I wrote "You've Made Me So Very Happy," Berry wanted to do it one way, I heard it another. So Blood, Sweat & Tears picked it up and did as I would've liked and it's still selling.

Did you tour a lot then?
My one big tour was with the Beatles. 40 days and 40 nights of excitement! Jackie Deshannon was responsible for getting me that tour. I wasn't in awe of them because they were so nice. With the Beatles, they just made you feel like you were a part of them. We used to have pillow fights on the plane. John would come to everybody to ask what they would want to eat. They were crazy wonderful people.

You're first Motown hit "Every Little Bit Hurts" was covered by everyone from The Clash to Aretha Franklin. Why do you think every version sounds just like yours?
The only person that didn't do it justice was a young lady named Alicia Keys. She wouldn't listen to the original. She didn't take time to discuss it. She could have done it a lot better if she had listened to the old school. You have to ask "what's the feel of it?" She never really captured it. You have to know the artist to sing them. I've studied Mary Wells. I've been in her presence. You know what I'm saying? That's the difference. When I sing her songs I can feel her.

You famously retired before the age of 25. Would you recommend it?
I never would recommend for anyone to retire before 25. Try to see the whole picture. Sit down and find out where you are going. Everything isn't going to flow. When people get a hold of you they won't let you go. Work with the moment. Don't just look at the hit value. I recommend retiring at 55. Try every door and facet. Find out where you are going to fit. People like Jimi and Janis were dying. I got afraid of entertainment. I was trying to figure a way to get out. So I retired, but I wouldn't recommend it.

Brenda Holloway @ LA Weekly

Monday, August 22, 2011

Jerry Leiber Remembered - LA Weekly

Jerry Leiber "Hound Dog" songwriter dead at 78 - LA Weekly

For I know just as well as I'm standing here talking to you,
when that final moment comes and I'm breathing my last breath,
I'll be saying to myself,
Is that all there is? Is that all there is?
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball

-"Is That All There Is?"

Lyricist Jerry Leiber passed away earlier today. Alongside his writing partner Mike Stoller, they wrote some of the most enduring hits of the '50s and '60s, including "Jailhouse Rock," "Love Potion #9," "Yakety Yak," and "Stand By Me." He was 78 years old.

Leiber met Stoller in the early '50s when he was a senior at Fairfax high school. Within two years of meeting they had their first hit with Little Willie Littlefield's mid-tempo take on "Kansas City." The song was eventually recorded by over 300 artists ranging from Little Richard to the Beatles to Muddy Waters. They followed that success with "Hound Dog," which sold well for Big Mama Thornton and sold even better for Elvis three years later. "'Hound Dog' took like twelve minutes," Leiber told Rolling Stone magazine. "That's not a complicated piece of work. But the rhyme scheme was difficult. Also the metric structure of the music was not easy. 'Kansas City' was maybe eight minutes, if that. Writing the early blues was spontaneous. You can hear the energy in the work."

Leiber and Stoller quickly grew to become the most successful writing duo in R&B, breaking open the market to white teenagers eager for new 45s. "We lived a black lifestyle as young guys. We had black girlfriends for years," recounted Leiber. "In the general sense, it was extreme. But not in the environment that we moved in. They were amused by us, two white kids doing the blues. They thought it was goofy, a lot of fun." That fun also turned into bundles of royalty checks.

In the mid-'50s, they sold their newly-formed label Spark to Atlantic Records and became hired hands for numerous Atlantic acts like the Drifters, producing "There Goes My Baby" and co-writing "On Broadway" alongside Brill Building songsters Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. "Jerry would write in a much more abstract way, kind of throwing out lines. I was always very linear," recalled Cynthia Weil to " I had to be a good girl and finish verse one before I would allow myself to have the pleasure of verse two. But Jerry said, 'Just loosen up, woman, and let's just write the song. We'll throw out lines that we think are good, and then we'll see where they go and if we can use any of them.' That's the way we kind of approached it. Then it all came together."

Their success continued through the '60s starting with productions for Ben E. King ("Spanish Harlem" and "Stand By Me") and closing with the cabaret-inflected "Is That All There Is?" - a top ten hit for Peggy Lee. The duo's last major hit was as producers of "Stuck in the Middle With You" - the rambling Dylan-esque song performed by Stealers Wheels and immortalized by Quentin Tarantino.

The music industry, from the executives to the consumers, was forever changed because of the contributions of Jerry Leiber. His clever lyrics and straight-forward rhymes were accessible to hundreds of artists and millions of listeners. He broadened the listening base for R&B and helped the lead the charge for countless musical trends for over twenty years, helping to shape the sound of rock and roll. His unparalleled legacy will be revisited for untold generations to come. He will be missed.

Jerry Leiber @ LA Weekly

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Terence Blanchard - LA Weekly

Jazz Trumpeter Terence Blanchard's Five Favorite Film Soundtracks - LA Weekly

Trumpet player and New Orleans native Terence Blanchard is a very busy man, but when he isn't blasting his fiery, post-bop horn on a recording date or scoring the latest Hollywood drama, he always makes time for the stage. From August 19th through the 21st, Blanchard will bring his band to Hollywood's Catalina Bar & Grill for a display of chops and experience only a veteran can provide.

In the early '80s, at the age of 20, Blanchard joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and has been working tirelessly ever since as a performer, educator (over 10 years as head of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz) and, for the last 20 years, film composer. Starting with the soundtrack for Jungle Fever, Blanchard has become Spike Lee's John Williams, composing every score since, as well as composing for over 20 other films (Barbershop,Original Sin, Cadillac Records). We reached Blanchard by phone while he was reclining on his front porch to discuss his 5 favorite soundtracks of the last 25 years.

5. James Horner
Glory (1989)
"That particular score just emotionally captured something very unique. It created a sense of drama that was very heroic. It was a period piece. James Horner's use of choir along with orchestra sometimes that stuff can go a little over the top but that wasn't the case with that score. Very tastefully done."

4. Thomas Newman
Shawshank Redemption (1994)
"One of the things that amazed me about that soundtrack was that Thomas Newman had such a unique ability to create interesting sonic palettes. It's become a staple of the film industry. He is probably the most temped composer in L.A. It's pretty brilliant if you think about it. The harmonic motions he uses can basically be used in anything. I don't mean this to be disrespectful but it might sound like it: his scores create motion without going anywhere. It's so universal and so uniquely beautiful that it really caught my intention. Definitely one of my all-time favorites."

3. Cliff Martinez
Traffic (2000)
"I love that thing. It's mostly synth-based but the approach that he took to action I thought was off the chain. The natural tendency is to go in a totally different direction. I thought his choice was very brilliant. I love that score."

2. Harry Gregson-Williams
Man on Fire (2004)
"Man on Fire is one of those scores where every time I listen to it I hear something new. I'd hate to be a molecule on Harry's brain. That score dips and dives, ducks and turns. How did he even think of that stuff? It makes sense musically on its own but he was very brave in how he would introduce very drastically opposed ideas. In a way the score defines the film."

1. Harry Gregson-Williams
Narnia: The Lion, the With & the Wardrobe (2005)
"Awesome. Awesome. Harry is so versatile. The thing I love about Narnia is that it proves the range of a composer that some people don't get. If you go from Man on Fire to Narniayou see a wide range. We all get typecast for certain kinds of scores. Although we only get offered certain things all composers would like to branch out."

Friday, August 12, 2011

Larry Graham - LA Weekly

Top Five Most Embarassing Early-'80s Soul Sell-Outs - LA Weekly

This Sunday at the Hollywood Bowl you'll be able to catch Larry Graham, wedged between performances by sand-swept Spyro Gyra and saxophone loverboy Dave Koz. But, Graham is a pioneering funk bassist, so why the heck is he a part of the Bowl's Smooth Summer Jazz concert?

Here's the story, in brief: As the original bassist for Sly & the Family Stone -- and the leader of Graham Central Station -- Graham invented an entirely new style of playing. He calls it "thumpin' and pluckin,'" everyone else calls it "slapping," but no matter: it's a percussive technique that defined funk bass for much of the '60s and '70s. Without him there would be no Bootsy Collins, no Flea, no Les Claypool and no Seinfeld theme song.

Unfortunately, during the '80s, Graham became one of many middle-aged music veterans to make some decidedly-unfunky career choices, which led him to Sunday's (now quite appropriate) appearance before the Kenny G-appreciative chardonnay crowd. And so, in remembrance of Graham's transformation from funk master to smooth crooner, we present the top five soul artists who embarrassed themselves trying to cash in.

5. Larry Graham - "One in a Million You"

From: 1980's One in a Million You

Just three years after releasing Graham Central Station's exhilirating album Now Do U Wanta Dance, Graham made his solo debut with a slow, sappy ballad that focused more on his baritone voice and synthesizer collection than on his bass skills. It was also his only #1 chart hit. He spent the rest of the decade trying to match that success, before returning to the funk with Prince's New Power Generation in the '90s.

4. Isley Brothers - "Belly Dancer, Parts I & II"

From: 1980's Go All The Way

Twenty years after "Shout," the Isley brothers seemed to be uncomfortably lusty. Forty-year-old Ronald Isley's breathy moan -- punctuated by his brothers' constant refrain of "dance for me" -- crawls for a creepy six minutes over a chunky guitar and slapped bassline. Michael Jackson's success was clearly having an effect on everyone. It should also be noted that, for some ridiculous reason, every track on the album is labeled "Parts I & II."

3. Billy Preston & Syreeta - "Love"
From: 1981's Billy and Syreeta

Less than ten years after becoming the "Fifth Beatle," keyboard prodigy Billy Preston was already making a last ditch effort on the R&B charts, with help from Stevie Wonder's ex-wife Syreeta. Together they recorded an album of treacly duets that sounded like every bad Disney ballad of the last thirty years. "Love" manages to change key every thirty seconds, taking one cheap gimmick and making an entire song out of it.

2. James Brown - "That's Sweet Music"
From: 1980's People

Sure, Brown is ripping off Arthur Conley's "Sweet Soul Music." But this pseudo-disco track's greater crime is that it features Brown attempting to scat Louis Armstrong-style. There's a reason it was the first and last time he ever tried this. The vapid background vocals and generically-produced instrumental track are a far cry from "Sex Machine." Somehow, he manages to name drop Sinatra, Nat King Cole and new wave rock, to nobody's advantage.

1. Aretha Franklin - "What a Fool Believes"
From: 1980's Aretha

Aretha's take on Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins' aesthetic starts off promisingly enough, with multiple keyboards vibrating below her legato introduction. Unfortunately, after the first twenty seconds the track becomes a note-for-note cover of the Doobie Brothers' original, only with less personality and facial hair. The Queen of Soul covering the kings of yacht rock just feels wrong. Five years later Franklin would release another album entitled Aretha, which features a grinding duet with none other than Larry Graham.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Madeleine Peyroux - NYC Jazz Record

Madeleine Peyroux - Standing on the Rooftop

Vocalist Madeleine Peyroux, with her Eleanora Fagan
croon and marquee-ready name, is the perfect
songstress for quiet rooms and even quieter thoughts.
Since her debut 15 years ago Peyroux has built a
comfortable niche that peaked in 2004 with the millionselling
album Careless Love. Peyroux’ fifth album,
Standing on the Rooftop, contains a balance of original
songs and covers that should easily satisfy her fanbase
and record label, with A-list contributions from
guitarist Marc Ribot, drummer Charley Drayton,
pianist Allen Toussaint and violinist Jenny Scheinman.

The album opens with a sedate, countrified cover
of The Beatles’ “Martha My Dear”. The only thing
missing is the sound of crickets to capture that frontporch
feel. Considering that she sold millions of
records by singing other people’s songs it is curious
that the album’s sequencing is set up to put the hit first
and pray that listeners stick around. Should the listener
invest they will be treated to a solid collection of tunes
that rarely raises the blood pressure. “Fickle Dove”,
her first of back-to-back co-writes with Scheinman,
finds Peyroux channeling Santo & Johnny while the
title song and closer “The Way of All Things” adopt an
ethereal boogie that provide the most uptempo
moments of the album. Dylan’s “I Threw It All Away”
gets a choppy reading while the original “Don’t Pick a
Fight with a Poet” has a nice bouncy refrain with Peyroux’ lilting
vibrato carrying the weight.

Looking as barefoot and bemused on the cover of
this record as she was on Careless Love can’t be a
mistake. Although she is often referred to as a jazz
vocalist, Peyroux rarely swings on this record and the
soloing space is fairly limited. She is simply an
excellent vocalist who can be a country singer, a cabaret
chanteuse or a misty-eyed crooner. It is not a wide
range but it is always well done - whether she sells a
million records or not.

Madeleine Peyroux @ NYC Jazz Record

David Gibson - NYC Jazz Record

David Gibson - End of the Tunnel

Any group that employs an organist, regardless of the
bandleader’s instrument, becomes an organ band. In a
way that no other instrument can dominate, except
perhaps for a set of bagpipes, the Hammond B3
possesses the power of a freight train that can be hard
to tone down. On his newest album End of the Tunnel
trombonist David Gibson, along with saxophonist
Julius Tolentino and drummer Quincy Davis, give
ample room to organist Jared Gold, who provides two
of his own tunes and plenty of soul.

The album opens with Herbie Hancock’s “Blind
Man, Blind Man”, quickly setting the tone for a
straightforward blowing date with Gibson taking the
first of several gurgling solos. The following track,
“Wasabi”, one of five Gibson compositions on the
album, takes a stylistic Hancock leap ten years forward
with a more Headhunters-ish feel - punctual horn
unisons ride over Davis’ popping drum line. Davis
also carries Gibson’s title track to its abrupt ending,
which features the horns in fluttering harmonies before
they rocket off into a pair of impassioned solos.
Gibson’s “The In-Whim” is decidedly out. What starts
slow and modal grows as Tolentino wails away over
Gold’s sharp chordal jabs, growing more manic with
each passing measure. “Preachin’”, Gold’s bluesinflected
contribution, finds Gibson loping through a
building solo while the organist does his best to
summon the spirits of the chicken shack. The last track,
a take on Jackie McLean’s “Blue Rondo”, brings the
album back to where Gibson started: Englewood Cliffs,
1963. The horns exchange 12-bar bouts while Davis’
cymbal drives the battle into a solo of his own.

Over nine tunes Gibson and his cohorts display
their love of a solid groove, rarely straying too far from
the center of the pocket. The soloists swing hard with a
dominating organ presence looming just behind them
at all times. Gibson has taken the classic organ quartet
and injected just enough dissonance to create a fingersnapping
dose of 21st century soul-jazz.

David Gibson @ NYC Jazz Record