Paul Motian, RIP

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Yep, there goes another one.

Paul Motian was a fantastic drummer. Most famous for his role in the Bill Evans Trio, played with Keith Jarrett, and probably every other person under the sun.

Once at my first job after school, I was digitizing ancient cassettes for a jazz archive. Interviews with jazz legends, and other obscure characters – Mario Bauza, Charles Mingus, Benny Goodman, all sorts. I would work strange hours whenever the studio was vacant, but on this day, I was working a rare daytime shift while the main engineer was out of town. A journalist was doing interviews in a separate studio, and the subjects would occasionally wait on the couch as I worked. I had heard Paul Motian was coming in, I was kind of psyched just to maybe give him a passing hi five.

About an hour before he was supposed to arrive, the doorbell rang. No one else was in the studio, I felt a little uneasy. I was 22, here’s one of the greatest jazz drummers of all time, Oh Hey! It was a terrible snow storm, late December, he came in wearing giant rainboots. “you never know how long the trains take, I wanted to be on time!” Well, from that moment on, he was kosher with me. Tell that to every friend I have gone to dinner with, if I am not there on time, call the search party.

He sat on the couch and just hung out. Casual as could be. Luckily, I had an easy conversation starter – He knew nearly all of the interview subjects on these rapidly decaying cassettes. He would just come right out with these fantastic stories…
“So Max Roach and Charlie Parker were sitting at Max’s house shooting up, Max’s mom suddenly comes in, so bird ditches the junk and picks up a bible! She goes ‘why can’t you be more like charlie!!”

I asked him about Elvin Jones, who had passed about a year before, they lived up in the same neighborhood. I had just acquired Elvin’s kick drum through his wife, but I was hesitant to say so, so I just mentioned I had met her….
“Keiko! Man, She used to break down his drum kit for him! One time I saw him over in europe and said ‘Elvin! Where can I get a girl like that!?’ ‘You can’t, Man! I got the last one!”

He talked about going to the Half Note one night to see Coltrane, and Elvin hadn’t shown up yet. Apparently, he was in Jail… “So I played with him. I really miss John, he was such a gentle guy” How many people on earth can say a sentence like that? How many could refer to Coltrane as John. Not many.

He saw there was a tape of an interview with Kenny Clarke, one of the originators of the jazz drumming style we all know today. “Hey Steve, how can I get a copy of that?? Kenny was a friend of mine. I’d love to hear him” I burnt an extra, he was so psyched. I have rarely felt cooler than I had that day. I went to see him at the Village Vanguard a few weeks later, and got to talk to him for a sec “Hey, I was just telling Sue Mingus about those interviews! Do you think I could get a copy of that one?? I said, sure, I could mail him one. He wrote his address down in a notebook. I never got to mail it to him, but the address is written in the last page of a rapidly crumpling moleskine. I’ll pull it out of a drawer in 20 years, and feel the jazz greatness emanate from that page.

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There was a great piece on him in the NY Times a few years ago, painting a picture of this truly original character. He wouldn’t leave Manhattan in his later years, not even to go to Brooklyn.

The last show I saw Motian perform was at the Vanguard, with Ethan Iverson and Reid Anderson of The Bad Plus.  Motian seemed so relaxed behind the kit.  No need to show off, no need for the spotlight, just playing what was absolutely necessary.  One ballad they performed (I have no idea of the name) might have been one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard.  So right now, in tribute to Motian, I’m going to imagine this nameless and mysterious ballad as a sendoff.  Let’s all go out and see some live music as a tribute.

Some Random Thoughtst

I’ve been thinking about a variety of topics…Science, aging, listening, the eternal Tone vs Talent ratio, its all part of it. Let’s talk about a few.

There’s a guy in the apartment building on the ground floor, who as I write this, is belting out some unintelligible nonsense, singing his lungs out, to his hearts content. For my own sake, I wish his heart could be content with a little less. His loudest notes wind up through the building shaftway, and invade everyone’s personal space. Over the past weeks he has played The Cure’s “Lovesong” and the eternal singer songwriter staple “Hallelujah” It’s 9:52pm, I pray he stops by 10. I find it hard to play louder unless I’m very confident in whatever I’m playing. He does not suffer from this problem. Or maybe he’s just that confident.

I just returned from seeing my friends Sarah Lee and Johnny at the Mercury Lounge. They put on a beautiful performance, in stark contrast to the the shitshow happening 3 floors below me at this moment. Acoustic instruments, upright bass, harmonies, pedal steel, joyful sounds all around. I love vocal harmonies. Maybe it’s because my golden pipes only exist in my mind at the current moment. My girlfriend emailed me the other day “I’m in the greenroom at The View, two old musicians are on the couch, one is British, the other looks like the comedian Gallagher in 20 years, who are they??” Yeah, it was who you guessed too.

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A few day’s ago, I attended a jazz piano masterclass by Ethan Iverson of the Bad Plus. What business did I have being at a jazz piano master class? No business at all, dear reader, but I do not fancy myself a business man, so I went anyway. Watching someone who has obviously mastered their instrument is a unique experience. It makes you reconsider all notes going forward. It’s like they’ve broken down that invisible wall, and there is no filter between brain and instrument. Again, that’s not happening right now on the buildings ground floor.

Have you heard of Cluster Headaches? They’re a strange phenomenon. It’s a “cluster” of incredibly intense headaches that occur in a pattern. They often appear seasonally, around daylight savings time, I’m not making this up. They affect less than 1% of the population…and honestly the Dr. did not even laugh when I said “so I’m finally in the 1%!!” Really? Come on! They show up and leave without warning, can last for hours on a daily basis, then disappear. Very mysterious. They gave me this crazy injection “thing” to carry around that stops the headache instantly, its looks like something out of Total Recall. I like to pretend I’m Keith Richards, carrying around illicit substances, but illicit substances don’t usually get subsidized by your insurance.

In closing, I’d like to discuss Saturday Night Live.  Yes, most of it is tired and not funny, but occasionally they come out with a gem so strange, you could never imagine it.  The final sketch on this weeks show, conveniently watched on Hulu, was about a band called the “Blue Jean Committee”  who recently “Got Signed” and is on their first “National Tour.”  Fred Armisen as the weirdo lyricist, Jason Sudekis as the amazingly creepy 1970’s style drummer, and Jason Segel as the somewhat sensitive keyboard player and backup singer.

They just nailed that mediocre jam-band of dudes feel right on the head.  There’s the cutaway of the conservative frat looking guy rocking out just a bit too hard in the crowd, the local bar atmosphere, and the constant references to Northampton Massachusetts.  Its like they went to every Phish Show before 1999, talked to every guy who plays in a band, went to see that band, and compiled the most ridiculous traits altogether.  The Cinnamon Beer line…too accurate. The only thing that would have made it more amazing, is if it were set at the Wetlands Preserve on Hudson St.

Jealous Guy Revisited

Please forgive my ignorance, but I have no idea who Donny Hathaway is.  I was just looking over this post on Aquarium Drunkard, and came across it.  I respect and admire John Lennon, but I’m not one to proclaim my undying love for him.  I do love the song “Jealous Guy” though.

Covers are tough territory as we all know, there is so much to live up to already.  And on this subject, I was damn near sure The Faces took the cake on that one.  The classic outtake with the band in a full on argument beforehand makes you smile every time.  Its a fantastic groove, even more so than the original.

But all of a sudden, my mind was blown.  It was all over.  In retrospect, who was I to think that any english white guys could out-soul a dude named Donny Hathaway.  I literally heard Rod Stewart, Ronnie Wood, and the ghost of John Lennon, get up, put their coats on, and say “well, nice knowing you, fuckers”

I literally cannot stop listening to it.  That guitar line!!  Holy shit who is playing that!?  The tambourine on the intro has more soul than the collected works of American popular music in the last 40 years.  The piano is slightly out of tune, but it only enhances it.  And it’s LIVE!  I cannot believe this.

Upon closer inspection, its soul legends Willie Weeks on bass, Cody Clayton and Cornell Dupree on guitar, who seem to have played with nearly everyone on the planet.

There’s not much more to say than that. This is the correct way to start a Friday…or Tuesday, or Monday for that matter. Just listen to it.

Jeff Mangum Review, Jersey City, 11/6/2011 ….or In An Aeroplane Over The PATH

Jeff Mangum is a mysterious character. A front man for a band who disappeared just as he was receiving critical acclaim. Vanishing into the woods to hunt the last remaining American Bison while youngins the world over reflect on the beauty of his lyrics. I completely made that up, I think it was moose he went to hunt. But the rest is true.

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How many songwriters have written the elusive perfect album? In The Aeroplane Over The Sea is one of those. It sounds like it could have been a psychedelic concept album in the late 60’s. A mix of “We’re Only In It For The Money” and something by an alternate universe Neil Young. I’ll admit I came very late to the party, only learning about Neutral Milk Hotel a few years ago, but that makes it no less powerful. (Maybe it makes it MORE powerful, ever think of that? Eh?? DID YOU?! Ok, on we go.)

It was announced about 8 months ago that Mangum would do a series of solo acoustic shows, including one at the greatest venue on earth, the Loews Landmark Theater in Journal Square, Jersey City. This blog may be filled with sarcasm, but that statement is 100% sincere. I lived in Journal Square, the cultural center of the known universe, for several years. We had the chance to see Beck, The Magnetic Fields, The Decemberists, and a ton of classic movies at the Loews, and it never disappointed. If Dracula suddenly appeared in one of the dark imposingly giant boxes beside the stage, no one would be surprised.

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Seeing iconic figures after years of absence is always a tricky proposition. Someone who’s songs meant so much to so many, has a lot to live up to. What if he just plain doesn’t have it anymore? There are a lot of long notes in those songs…What if it’s just a money grab and he doesn’t really care? (solo acoustic….you’ve got NO overhead man, rake in the dollars!) Then it gets you thinking about why Mangum backed out of the spotlight in the first place.

It has often been said, that had Vampire Weekend died in a fiery plane crash directly after their first album, they would be remembered as legends. Forget how much you hate them, and imagine if it were not overplayed and there were no backlash. Maybe Mangum realized this, and took a step back. Maybe he figured “Well, there’s 11 perfect songs, many people work their whole lives for much less, I’m goin’ on break.” Who knows, this is not Being John Malkovich, although we were fairly close to the NJ Turnpike.

After a leisurely stroll around the Loews (seriously, the bathroom lounge must have been THE place to hang during the 1930’s) the lobby lights flickered like an opera performance, and it was time to go. Mangum appeared with several acoustic guitars and launched right into it.

His voice seems nearly unchanged.  Yes, there were some almost flubs…but those crazy high sustained notes were all there.  The man has breath control like a fucking dolphin.   All the hits were played, and the crowd was very respectful, at least from where we were sitting.  Yes, it was beautiful, but at times I wished there were a little more sound.  At one point, he brought on some Flugelhorn and Clarinet, and it was fantastic.  If they had played the classic horn lines with him the entire show, I would have been an emotional wreck, collapsed on the ground bawling like an infant.  Imagine the water damage?  There were a LOT of sensitive people in that theater.  Maybe it was a safety issue.

Seeing a songwriter perform solo, often gets you right into the heart of a song.  For some reason, I think Mangum’s songs are pretty wide open to begin with.  Even with all the beautiful noisy arrangements on Aeroplane, the song always comes through, its as if Mangum was the Sinatra in front of the Basie Orchestra of whimsical noises.  So maybe this was just showcasing what we all knew already.  Not to say it wasn’t a great performance, it certainly was, it’s just hard to fill an entire theater with a tiny guitar  (his voice certainly did the job, we’re talking instrumentally here.)

So who knows what will happen.  His last release of new music was many years ago.  What has he been doing since?  If he was sitting in his living room playing “Two Headed Boy” over and over again…no one would blame him, but we’d like to think something new could be on the horizon.  He played a set at  Occupy Wall Street, so there must be some motivation there?  I refuse to speculate.  Let’s just let Jeff be Jeff.  He has a heavy legacy to deal with, he can do whatever he fucking wants, ok?

Foster The Hits. And The Wonders.

I have a friend who loves Foster The People. He loves them like This Guy loves This Band.  Were he to be trapped on a desert island, he would bring the single “Pumped Up Kicks” on vinyl, and nothing else, even if he were allowed 5 complete albums.  What I’m saying is, some people seem to love this band.

This morning I came across a post on Stereogum which shows them performing another song, other than “Pumped Up Kicks”.  Honestly, I watched it twice and can’t remember a single thing about it, other than the fact that the singer seems to remind me of a ferret, and has this foot dance thing happening that makes me want to roll a full barrel of pickles in his direction.

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Sure, “Pumped Up Kicks” is a very catchy tune.  Its unstoppable.  But does anyone truly believe this band will be anything beyond a one hit wonder?  Do people even use that term anymore in this one track at a time world?  Does that make me sound old?  Will I have to face mortality?  Am I having a mid life crisis?  All of these answers may be yes, still others may be no.  What do you want from me, you don’t come here for answers.

It’s no secret that my guilty pleasure in life is watching various morning TV shows.  In my former life a TV was nowhere in sight, but for some reason, I find them comforting.  The pointless chatter, combined with false enthusiasm, and occasional combination of hilarious wild animals is just a great way to start the day.  Besides this, these shows are a breeding ground for bands you will never hear from 5 minutes after their segment airs.

As previously mentioned, LMFAO seems to be all over that shit.  Still, after knowing exactly what the performers look like and hearing their song several times, I could not at all tell you how it sounds.  Any combination of a few good looking people wearing in ear monitors and performing to back up tracks…I have no fucking idea what these groups sound like.  These performers are like the water droplets on a frying pan.

Is this just another step on the road to musical cynicism?  Probably.  But then someone like Reggie Watts comes along and blows your brain right out of its custom molded iPad style flip casing:

So we really can’t be sure. Until then, you better run better runnnn and all of that.