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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bernard "Pretty" Purdie - Great NYT Ink

Bernard "Pretty" Purdie got some well-deserved press today in the New York Times. Here is a link to the article. I had the honor of meeting Pretty Purdie in New York several years back. I was attending a meeting/party that was hosted by Wade Schuman, harmonicist and front man for HazMat Modine; Mr. Purdie was in HazMat Modine at that time if I remember correctly. He was a delightful guy, very warm and cheerful. Of course, he is the grandmaster of funk drumming and he has played on over 4,000 records including some huge hits. Pretty was working the high-hat on "Theme from Shaft" by the late, great Isaac Hayes. He was playing the drums on James Brown's "Cold Sweat." He was adding his incredible syncopation to Steely Dan's "Aja." He helped out Aretha on "RESPECT." And he also backed cats like Lou Donaldson, Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye and Paul Simon.

Yes, I think this is my favorite drummer.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Daryl Coutts Band at the Blue Bayou - 3/27/09

Daryl Coutts is one of my good friends and he often plays keyboards in my band. As an immensely talented musician, singer and keyboardist, he has several projects going on simultaneously. One of his projects is the Daryl Coutts Band, a blues/R&B/rock band that plays around the Chicago area. I trekked over to the north side of Chicago to the Blue Bayou (a New Orleans-themed joint across from the Music Box Theater on Southport) to catch his gig last night.

Daryl had his 88-key Nord keyboard, a big, red monster with lots of buttons and such on the console above the keys. He also had his Leslie speaker cranking last night, so the Nord could sound like a big ol' Hammond B3. This unit also has a clavinet feature, phlanges and lots of other bells and whistles. Daryl knows how to use all of them, but he also went with an unadorned piano sound on many tunes. Daryl will always choose to play an acoustic piano if he has a choice.

The band hit some of the classic Chicago blues standards (Killing Floor Blues, Feel So Bad, Shake Your Moneymaker, etc.) but also played some very tasty funk (Out-a-Space - a great instrumental). Daryl's band was full of killers and everyone was right in the pocket all night.

Scott Tipping was handling the guitar - this was my first chance to hear Scott play. He has lots of chops, but he doesn't over-play (most Chicago guitar players with technical prowess feel compelled to shred all night). I especially liked the way Scott threw in horn-like riffs behind Daryl's solos. This guitarist also adds an interesting visual dimension to the band - he is solidly-built, bearded and looks like he just stepped out of a tractor-trailer rig. Scott also has a great voice and sang several tunes.

Roger Femali was handling the percussion duties and his time was impeccable. He has mastered a broad range of beats and was tightly attuned to his bandmates - never stepped on anyone. Roger is also an interesting-looking person - shaved head, an earing in each ear - sort of a "Mr. Clean" persona.

Roberto Agosto plays a 5-string bass and can lay down some very tricky, yet tasty, bass lines. He really was impressive when the band shifted into funk mode. Roberto and Roger are joined at the hip - a terrifc rhythm section.

This is an outstanding band worthy of support. They had a very small crowd at the Blue Bayou last night - I was surprised. Wrigleyville/Lakeview is full of party people. I guess they are pinching pennies along with the rest of us in the crappy economy. The Blue Bayou is a nice venue, and they don't even charge a cover, so it seems like a pretty inexpensive entertainment option to me. Get out there and support your local musicians, folks!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Fun Facts to Know and Tell

As a semi-dedicated oenophile, this day marks an important anniversary for me. On this day in 1860, a device which, officially, was called a “covered gimlet screw with a ‘T' handle” (aka "a corkscrew"),was patented by M. L. Byrn of New York City.

Today is also the birthday of Sarah Vaughn, aka The Sassy One, aka The Divine One. She was and is my favorite female jazz vocalist, and she would have been 85 years old today if she was still alive. Sarah started here professional career after winning an amateur contest at New York's Apollo Theater in 1943.

And here is the most incedible Fun Fact of all - In the past six years, according to the Bank for International Settlements, the global financial derivatives market exploded as a global haven for speculative investment - growing from $127 Trillion in 2002 to $684 Trillion in 2008! And the Fun Fact about this - in 2008, financial obligations amounting to 12 times the ENTIRE WORLD'S GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT were written and traded and re-traded among financial institutions. When the music stops (like now), that is a whole lotta leverage that needs to come out of the system. No wonder the world is shakin' and bakin'!!

This last Fun Fact makes me want a nice tall glass of Bordeaux.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Some days buzz by due to frenetic activities and excitement. Other days remind me of the old country song, "If the Phone Don't Ring, You'll Know Its Me." This has been a no-connection day. Every call I made failed to connect with the intended party; the incoming calls were not helpful. I turned to the backlog of reading and such; made a dent in the pile. The best news of the day was an incoming wire transfer - a client paid his bill (something that can't be taken for granted in this stinking economy).

So I learned a new trendy term today - "pessimism porn." This phrase refers to the dire predictions put forth by seemingly credible people, usually on the Internet, about the coming meltdown/apocolypse/end of western civilization. Reading these accounts can generate a guilty thrill for the reader - and it can become addicting. The media amplifies pessimism porn; half-baked theories get repeated until they enter the nation's collection of accepted wisdom. And pessimism porn also fuels the mob psychology - "the media and the government said that bankers are evil, so I think I will through a rock through the local banker's window." It is hard to see this as a path forward.

In its effort to connect with the majority, the new administration seems to be willing to add to the supply of bile and anger that has built up over this whole "Ponzie economy." A few powerful executives didn't create the problem, in spite of what Congress has been saying. It was a massive shared delusion that led to this, amplified by financial institutions and fueled by the human desire of many Americans to satisfy short-term gratification. If you want the big house, you were able to borrow 100% of the price at a "teaser" rate. "I will worry about the increase in rate and payments later - hey, I can always sell the house for more than I paid for it, right?" This was crazy thinking.

So the thing to do is to start working again. Stop searching for people to tar and feather. Get on the phone and make things happen. Look forward. This, too, shall pass.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Another Living Musician I Love- Shuggie Otis

Shuggie Otis is one of those musicians that other musicians know about. He hit the scene at fifteen years of age. His background was quite unusual. His father is Johnny Otis, a Greek-American musician who decided to live in the African-American community. Johnny made this decision in the 1940's when it was definitely an unusual path for a white guy to take - and he married a black woman (illegal in many states at that time). I can (and will) spill about Johnny Otis because his story is crazy and amazing. But let's stick to his boy, Shuggie, for now.

As a teenager, Shuggie was acknowledged as a guitar phenom, mentioned by some in the same breath as Jimi Hendrix and B.B. King. But he wasn't satisfied to be just a guitarist - he mastered bass, keyboards, drums and vibraphone. He also became a gifted writer and arranger. Shuggie started playing professionally at the age of 12, using disguises to appear older (phony beards & moustaches, dark glasses, hats, elevator shoes, etc.) so he could get into nightclubs. When he was 15, he was drafted by Al Kooper to be part of the second "Super Session" album (this was Kooper's project after he founded Blood Sweat & Tears and completed the first album). Shuggie released his first album as a leader in 1970, called Here Comes Shuggie Otis - he was around 17 at the time. In 1971, he released "Freedon Flight," an album that was way ahead of its time - and in 1974, he released "Inspiration Information," his masterpiece. And that was really it - he started to fade as a bandleader/solo artist and and basically disapeared by 1980. He is still alive and well, hip hop artists and others are covering his fanastic tunes (remember Strawberry Letter 23 by Brothers Johnson? That is Shuggie's tune).

Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, Prince and other trippy/funky/soulful genre-mixers owe a lot to Shuggie Otis. I often think that Prince deliberately copped all of Shuggie's shit. The Rolling Stones tried to hire this guy in the mid-70's, but he said "no, thanks" because he figured he was going to rock the world on his own. Things didn't turn out that way, but his music stands the test of time - still sounding exciting and fresh 35 years after it was recorded. Shuggie used drum machines in the early 1970's; he played almost all of the instruments on his albums, he incorporated jazz, blues, rock and R&B. It still is wickedly great stuff.
I think Shuggie Otis is still living in Northern California. He records on occassion and has played a few concerts. While he missed stardom and celebrity, he also missed the drugged-out evil scene, so he is alive when many other pop stars died before they reached 50.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lester Davenport - Another Harp Man Done Gone

Lester "Mad Dog" Davenport died last Tuesday - I missed the news because I was in New York. Lester was one of the best harmonica cats in Chicago, and he had brushes with fame. None of those brushes led to riches, unfortunately, but he did play on some of Bo Diddley's hit records when he was a young man. Bob Corritorre sent out this remembrance of Lester last night:

March 23, 2009
RIP Lester Davenport 1/16/1932-3/17/2009: Word has just come in from Kevin Johnson of
Delmark Records that Chicago blues harmonica great Lester "Mad Dog" Davenport passed away on Tuesday, March 17, 2009, after a long battle with prostate cancer. He was a respected figure in Chicago blues, best known for his stunning harp work on Bo Diddley's 1955 recordings of "Pretty Thing" and "Bring It To Jerome". Lester Davenport was born in Tchula, Mississippi on January 16, 1932, and moved to Chicago at age 14. Lester soon found work as a blues harmonica player working with Arthur "Big Boy" Spires and Homesick James before landing a gig with Bo Diddley that led to the famous recording session and a gig at the Apollo Theater. In addition to harmonica, Lester also played bass, drums, and guitar, which ensured him lots of work in the active Chicago blues scene. During the 1970s, he worked with W.W. Williams, Kansas City Red, Illinois Slim, Steve Cushing, Tchula childhood friend Jimmy Dawkins, and many others. In the 1980s he toured extensively with Big Daddy Kinsey & The Kinsey Report. Lester Davenport's career yielded 2 beautiful CDs: When The Blues Hit You on Earwig Music (1993) and I Smell A Rat on Delmark (2002). He also had a couple songs released on an anthology called It's Great To Be Rich on the Red Lightnin' label, and a song on Chicago Blues Harmonica, an anthology on the Wolf Record label. Lester's recording credits as a sideman are extensive: Bo Diddley for Chess records, Big Smokey Smothers for Red Lightnin', Willie Johnson, Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis, Johnny B. Moore for Wolf Records, Big Smokey Smothers, Big John Trice for Red Lightnin', Aron Burton on Earwig, and Bonnie Lee and Willie Kent for Delmark. Aside from all of these great credentials, Lester was just a wonderful man who was eager to welcome new friends and share his harmonica secrets to aspiring players. He had a warm smile and the ability to add humor to any situation. His harmonica playing will be remembered for its glorious, sweet tone and perfect phrasing. Though he never achieved great fame, he will always be remembered as one of the greats. Funeral services will be this Saturday, March 28, 2009, 10am to 12pm, at A.R. Leak Funeral Home, 5000 W. Madison, Chicago, IL 60644.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Hard Times = Music Lessons

The recession is deepening. Pink slips are abundant. Unemployment levels are headed north. This year is gonna suck, and 2010 might suck, too. What ever shall we do?

I know - take a music class!

I heard that the March 1 class session at the Old Town School of Folk Music (which isn't just about folk music, by the way) had record enrollment. I guess this is one of those "hard times" activities - learn how to play guitar, join a singing group, find an artistic outlet with like-minded folks. I also suspect that unemployed people with time on their hands are using a piece of their unemployment checks for musical education. Joining a community and picking up a new skill helps the psyche that is bruised and battered by a nasty economy. The world might end up a little more musical. Downturns do have upsides.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Rebel Alliance Jazz Ensemble in Dallas - Follow Up

Sounds like tonights show at Pearl at Commerce is going to be very HOT! Wish I could be there. If any of my readers are in Dallas, you should head down to the Pearl tonight.

I just got this message from the leader of the Rebel Alliance Jazz Ensemble in Dallas:

Hey Mr. G,

Thanks for the kind words in your blog! We do appreciate that--wish you were here with us tonight. We're doing an unofficial Maynard Ferguson tribute with the big band. Even have Maynard's lead trumpet and drummer sitting in with us! Plus Jaco Pastorius' tenor sax!

Pretty awesome!

Until next time,

Chris Evetts

Monday, March 16, 2009

Rebel Alliance Jazz Ensemble - Dallas TX

I was in Dallas early last week and was at loose ends after dinner. After a little research, I discovered that there is now a music bar (blues and jazz) in downtown Dallas. Well! This is very good news! It is called the Pearl At Commerce (because it is on Pearl St. at its intersection with Commerce). And it was walking distance from my hotel! Yay!
I strolled on over and had a seat in a very attractive space - great bar, decent stage and sound system. I ordered a "Bail-out beer" (The $1.00 special, a local brew called Pearl Lite) and settled in for some tunes. The entertainment was the Rebel Alliance Jazz Ensemble (see picture above). This group has two versions - the full big band ,which is the subject of the above picture, and an octet. I caught the octet - trumpet, trombone, two saxes and a four-man rhythm section. Every musician in the band was a monster. Many were grads of North Texas University (the school in Denton TX known for its outstanding jazz program). Two of the musicians are band leaders at local high schools, the trumpet player is a locksmith. I am always amazed at the talent that lurks among us in almost every big city.
The RAJE was laying down standards - "In a Mellow Tone," "Two-o'clock Jump," "New York, New York" and so forth. The crowd was sparse during the first set, but grew during the second set - it wasn't horrible for a Tuesday night. The guys in the band obviously weren't going to make any money - this was all about love of music. They were very tight and in tune; the solos ranged from good to mind-boggling. The locksmith trumpeter had impressive range and was nailing those high notes clearly and with great authority. The leader of the group played alto sax, baritone sax and clarinet. He was the master of all three instruments.
Yes, a very nice club and an excellent band. It was a great surprise for a weary traveler.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tower of Power - I am just a fan...

Here is a great picture of the early 1970's version of Tower of Power. This band had a huge impact on me when I was an impressionable young trombone player. They are still very active - as a matter of fact, they will be playing at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond IN next month (Hell, I might go see 'em even though it is on a Thursday night).

TOP took James Brown grooves and added a little more melody and complexity. The famous TOP horn section invented a new approach to funk licks - staccato, man! They would just spit that shit out. BATTA BOP. And the Funky Doctor on that bari sax was (and is) a force of nature. Out of the folks that passed through the band, the most famous might be Lenny Pickett, the sax freak that leads the Saturday Night Live band in New York. I can remember seeing the guys live in 1974 at the Keystone in Berkeley. This was not a huge venue - it could hold 200 or so comfortably - but the night I was there I think there were 400 people jammed in. Folks were smashed together and bopped up and down in a mass to the acid funk of TOP. Stunning experience. Lenny Pickett was wearing a white tuxedo and was dancing frenetically the entire night (he danced while he was playing, he danced even harder when he wasn't playing). I still listen to their classic tunes - "Down to the Night Club," "What is Hip," "Soul Vaccination," "Sparkling in the Sand," "The Skunk, the Goose and the Fly."

I last heard TOP at a concert in the Chicago area several years ago - they were the opening act for Ray Charles. The horn section was still kicking it, but the lead vocalist had more of an arena rock style - I wanted Rick Stevens and Lenny Williams. I still enjoyed the show, but it wasn't quite the same.

Some people might say that TOP hasn't done a thing that James Brown didn't do first (and did better). That is a defensible position. But TOP at its best is a crazy tight outfit that knows how to bring the funk. I am, and always be, a fan.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Morse Theater - Paris DeLane does the "last show"

So the Morse Theater's current management team managed their last show last Saturday night. I stopped by to check it out. There was a definite "wake" feeling among the staff, but the folks that showed up to hear Paris Delane seemed mostly oblivious to the sub-text. Paris was full of energy, and he does have a most impressive voice - basso profundo, but with a very wide range (his falsetto is excellent). Paris also can do many parlor tricks - he can do a spot-on Macy Gray impression that is pretty funny. I have been hearing about Paris for years and I have enjoyed some of Sonia Dada's stuff (Paris was a member of this jam band for some time). I was really excited to see the man perform, at last. But I have to say, I wasn't feeling the show on Saturday. The rhythm section sounded a little mushy, the arrangements were a little sloppy and the guest artists broke the flow of the set. It was a pretty big band - four horns, three percussionists, three guitarists (including Paris) and bass. Maybe there were just too many folks. Paris is awesome and he has a huge personality - and crowd was in fanboy heaven. I think there must be something wrong with me - I couldn't catch the love thing at all.

There have been news reports that the Morse will re-open soon under new management. I learned that the "silent partner" that put up the bucks to re-build the old theater is a member of one of the wealthiest families in the world. Andy McGhee, his son and his partner will get bought out, I suppose, and the money folks will bring in their own team. It is a shame, but it would be a bigger shame if the place shut down for good.