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I don’t usually do this, but my friend Jack turned me on to this guy, and I swear to gawd I thought I was listening to Enrico Caruso for a minute. The same vocal quality, the same emotional control. Or am I imagining it? You tell me.
His name is Jonathan Wright and he’s a local boy.
I never met Herb but my trumpet teacher had been one of his students, and I went to hear him play whenever I could get to Boston. He was an astounding talent with a combination of technical agility and improvisational originality that was as rare as it was exciting to listen to. I wasn’t particularly surprised to learn that the memorial service held for him yesterday featured the same property of synthesizing opposites that made Herb so special.
Max Roach, one of the giants of modern jazz, a guy who belongs right up there with the greatest of the great but isn’t nearly as well known, died Wednesday at the ripe age of 83. Considering the odds against him, that long life was a signal achievement all its own.
No modern drummer – and maybe no jazz drummer ever – has had such an enormous effect on the future course of his art. Max changed forever the way we think about drummers and to an extent the way we think about rhythm. He was the first to blend traditional African drumming with the quirky time signatures and signature changes of Stravinsky and Bartok, and one of the first (along with Mingus and Monk) to see jazz as the potential equal of the deepest and most complex music being written by modern classical composers.
Miles Davis & John Coltrane
The first time I saw Miles I didn’t really see him. Not to play, I mean.
I was in high school and I heard Miles was coming to Boston again for the first time in a number of years. This was New Hampshire – not exactly a hot bed of jazz lovers, and not a black face inside 50 miles. I was in the band and I managed to talk a couple of other people into bearding the band teacher in his den. He was planning a field trip anyway and we hit him – hard – to make it Miles’ appearance at the War Memorial Auditorium. One of the greatest jazz players in history? How could he say no? I admit I may have gotten in his face a bit.
It was, I think, the last time Miles ever played Boston, and it became his most famous Boston gig because he didn’t play it.
Phaedrus has a new song up at his Fat Poppa site. It’s called ‘Thank George!’ and it’s a honey. Not only is the song great social commentary in the tradition of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan but his voice and harp-playing are right on the money, sort of like if Tom Waits was channeling Little Walter.
He posted the lyrics here if you want to read them, but I’d suggest using your ears before you use your eyes. This guy’s good and getting better all the time.
Whether he intended to or not, Ray had opened fire on two very distinct cultures at one and the same time: the white-bread mass culture that was on its guard against sexuality of any kind (and especially the black kind), and the black religious community, which felt that gospel was the Lord’s music, and thus should be off-limits to the wild secular shenanigans that Ray represented.But here’s the thing. Ray Charles’s music has touched so many people so deeply for so many decades precisely because it is religious. Listen to the way he transforms “America the Beautiful” from an anthem to a hymn. Listen to the joyous call-and-response of “What’d I Say?” or the slow majestic lament of “Drown in My Own Tears.”
Ray’s music envelops the willing listener in a glorious ritualistic expression of the sweet and bitter mysteries of life without the coercion, hypocrisy or intolerance that is so frequently a part of organized religion.
It transcends cultures. It transcends genres — gospel, rhythm and blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, country, pop. At its best, it is raw and beautiful and accessible, a gift from an artist who bravely explored regions of the heart and soul that are important to all of us.