St. James Infirmary

So a couple of weeks ago I was searching Spotify for a good version of “St. James Infirmary”, a fun blues song I was introduced to a few years ago. I have heard a few versions of this song by artists such as Louis Armstrong and Preservation Hall Jazz Band, but I was immediately impressed by Allen Toussaint’s version when I stumbled across it. The simple instrumentation combined with the minor key and well-placed subtlety made it a very nice arrangement.

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The only problem here is I had never heard of Allen Toussaint and I knew nothing about him. The solution? Listen to all of his music! And I gotta tell you, he has a lot of it; this guy was making and producing music from the ’50’s up until his death in 2015.

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Not all of his music is jazz. In fact, he has done quite a bit of R&B, Soul, Funk, and Blues. Apparently he has been an extremely influential figure to New Orleans R&B and composed a number of well-known songs such as “Fortune Teller” “Ride Your Pony” “Southern Nights” (this one was featured in the recent movie Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) and the frequently covered “Working In The Coal Mine” He also helped produce hundreds of fantastic songs such as “Right Place, Wrong Time” by Dr. John (one of my favorites for road trips) and the famous “Lady Marmalade” by Labelle.

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I am so glad I know all of this now! This guy has been a major player in 60’s and 70’s funk and R&B music, I can hardly believe I didn’t know him.

Of course, this does not mean I love everything he’s done. There was one particular album I listened to called Mr. Mardi Gras – I Love A Carnival Ball that was truly hard for me to sit through. Almost painful, really. I can’t even tell you exactly what I didn’t like about it, but I think it was probably a combination of musical style and instrumentation. It just sounded cheap to me, and I was glad when it was over.

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We all know I am a sucker for jazz and all of its varied forms. Jazz is at least a little bit present in or was an inspiration for many of today’s genres anyway, and I enjoy those for what they are, but there is still something special to me about listening to a small combo band playing bluesy or jazzy tunes like I would expect to find in some smoky underground bar downtown in a big city in the 50’s. Thus, the albums I enjoyed most on this journey were the ones that reflected style.

So if you are looking for a relaxing jazz album to listen to, check one of these out: The Bright Mississippi and American Tunes. There are some great tracks on those two albums such as “Singin The Blues” “Delores’ Boyfriend” “Viper’s Drag” and “Long, Long Journey”

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If you prefer to stick with R&B and Funk, check out the albums Southern Nights (really good) and Sweet Touch Of Love. As far as recommended tracks, I would have to go with “Last Train” “Victim Of The Darkness” “Sweet Touch Of Love” and “Southern Nights”

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I may have found Allen Toussaint for his jazz albums, but every time I listen to his Soul, R&B, and Funk I love it just a little bit more. He was truly a gifted composer, and I am so glad I got the chance to explore his music like this. After everything I have learned I am almost ashamed I didn’t know who he was, but then I suppose that’s kind of the point of this project, isn’t it?

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Success!

Águas de Março

Oh, how I have been looking forward to this post!

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As an avid music listener and an amateur musician I have opinions on many aspects of music, and the one we will discuss now is rhythm. Drum beats have a vast variety across the many genres. From driving and steady quarter note rhythms found in many rock and pop songs, to tripping little triplets in jazz, to alternate beats accenting reggae, to heavy half-time dubstep, rhythm is a huge indicator of not only the genre of a song but mood and emotion.

I have personally always enjoyed the subtle and intricate rhythms found in Bossa Nova music. Here is some sheet music of such rhythm for those of you that can read it.

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Bossa Nova emerged in the 50’s and 60’s from Brazil and is possibly the most well-known genre to have emerged from that country. It’s a very smooth sounding music, with gentle melodies and subtle instrumentation which typically consists of an acoustic guitar and drums with perhaps a few other instruments thrown in such as organ, piano, saxophone, flute, etc. It is in fact a jazz subgenre, and is a kind of combination of jazz and samba, making for a relaxed romantic music.

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But enough of me expounding the virtues of Bossa Nova, let’s talk about the artist of the day. Antônio Carlos Jobim, also known as Tom Jobim, was a Brazillian composer and musician and one of the more prominent factors in the emergence of Bossa Nova along with artists such as João Gilberto, Astrud Gilberto, and Stan Getz. As a jazz subgenre, and also true to its time period, these songs were often performed by multiple artists. As such, many of the songs I love by Tom Jobim have also been recorded by other Bossa Nova artists.

The songs composed and arranged by Tom Jobim are beautiful and relaxing, the kind of thing you would expect to hear in an upscale restaurant or at some fancy garden party, but I like to listen to it when I’m relaxing. Its a great way to let stress leave you and take life as it comes.

Even if you don’t think you have ever heard a Bossa Nova song before, I can almost guarantee you have at least in passing heard the song “Garota de Ipanema” or “The Girl From Ipanema” This song seems to be the most popular elevator/waiting room song in Hollywood, and I can think of a few movies off the top of my head that have used it. Indeed, Bossa Nova seems to be the quitessential elevator music.

For example, this scene in The Emperors New Groove. It’s hard to hear, but it is there in most of the scene.

Or in The Blues Brothers for this elevator scene.

Or how about this scene from Scrubs.

It really is just about everywhere. In fact, one of my older sisters once made a mixed CD with nothing but different versions of that very song on it, all of them very good. It’s an excellent song. Since I included all those clips above, I figure I might as well include the whole song, so here’s my favorite version:

But let’s not stray too far from the original point of this post. Bossa Nova is in my opinion, as you no doubt have figured out, a fantastic genre of music. I love the way Portuguese sounds when sung in this way (enough that I decided to start learning the language myself so I could sing it). Truly beautiful.

If I were to make a Bossa Nova basics playlist for you to listen to, it would likely include the following tracks: “The Girl From Ipanema” “Corcovado” “Wave” One Note Samba” “Agua De Beber” and of course my long time favorite, “Águas de Março” These are all amazing songs, but if you only listened to one of these songs, I recommend that last one. Here’s another video link for you. I especially enjoy hearing the smile in their voices at the end.

Well, you’ve probably had enough of the video links, so I think I’ll end this here. If you end up loving Boss Nova just as I do, happy listening! If not, well at least you tried something new, right?

So long, and thanks for the beautiful music, Tom!

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Anyone who knows me well knows I have a deep and unending love of jazz music, and I have since I was a kid. So it comes as no surprise that the next artist on my list is a group that was a huge hit in the swing and boogie-woogie era, the Andrews Sisters. I’m pretty sure anyone who was around during the peak of their career understands what a sensation they were. They are likely most famous for their work during WWII, recording a number of hits and singing to troops on a USO tour.  They also sang on many very popular radio shows as well as in a number of movies.

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The Andrews Sisters started singing together as children and continued for years, together for most of it. They have fantastic harmonies, as is common for close relatives, and the arrangements they sang were popular across the country. You might be familiar with such hits as “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön (Means That You’re Grand)” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Rum and Coca-Cola” but they had many more hits than that.

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Here is a list of tunes I recommend you check out if you have any interest: “Show Me The Way To Go Home” “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)” “Hold Tight (Want Some Seafood Mama)” “Beat Me Daddy, Eight To The Bar” and of course the three I listed above. “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” is a personal favorite of mine. 

Honestly, that’s just scratching the surface. If you ever listen to music from that era you’ve probably heard at least of few of their songs before. If you like tight harmonies, you’ll love them. If you like swing beats, jazz orchestras, and anything related to that, you’ll love them. They set the standard for a specific type of song that has brought about countless other acts doing the same thing. So many artists, from then to now, have taken inspiration from the Andrews Sisters and the type of music they produced.

Here’s a pic from a Christina Agulera video where she draws directly from their legacy, going so far as to have 3 women (a redhead a brunette and a blonde, just like the Andrews Sisters) singing together in uniform. Compare it to the pic of the Andrews Sisters below it.

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The Andrews Sisters are a fantastic group. I am so glad to have them in my music library, not only is it great music, it’s a part of our countries history. They are iconic, and I will always enjoy their music. I love a good three part harmony.

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Love Is A Losing Game

So many people have written about Amy Winehouse that I have been really hesitant to get into this post. After all, her story is one that is frequently told: a highly revered singer and writer suffered and ultimately met her demise from things that frequently come with sudden fame: alcohol and drug addiction.

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I figure that’s not what this blog is about. This is about music. If you want to know about the tragedy of Amy Winehouse, check out one of the many articles/movies/etc. that have been made about her life. I watched the one called Amy and it was fairly informative.

One thing I did learn from the documentary that I want to share, however, is what influenced her. Amy Winehouse was a jazz singer, though her music is not what people typically think of as jazz. She said that she was influenced by the typical jazz singers you can think of, Tony Bennet, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and the like, but she also listened and sang to a lot of instrumental jazz. One name she mentioned that stuck out to me was Thelonious Monk, and as soon as she said that my reaction was “Of course!” Go listen to some Monk and then listen to some Amy, and you’ll hear it. A great talent, and an excellent source of inspiration.

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Amy’s first Album was a big hit in the UK where she is from. It really got her career going, and it’s not hard to understand why. That first album is full of raw talent. For me, I really enjoyed “Stronger Than Me” though most of the great of the album blended together quite a bit. Her talent is obvious throughout the album, and for that, I am suitably impressed.

Her sophomore release is what brought her fame to the US, as well as where I heard of her the first time. Back To Black is an amazing, yet heartbreaking, album. Like I said, I won’t get into her sordid life (though I will say a number of those songs are autobiographical), but purely on a musical consideration, it is a fantastic album. Amy’s vocals and writing were truly on point for this album, the songs have been extremely well arranged and produced, and it shows. It won multiple awards at the Grammy’s and has left a lasting legacy, inspiring dozens of artists.

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Back To Black had 5 singles, and most people have heard of at least three: “Back To Black” “Rehab” and “You Know I’m No Good” All three of those are great songs; powerful and haunting, they leave a lasting impression. As far as tracks you may not have heard, I recommend “Love Is A Losing Game” “Tears Dry On Their Own” and “He Can Only Hold Her”

Here’s a video of “Tears Dry On Their Own” for your listening pleasure

As for other tracks, there are a few tracks released on a deluxe version of Frank and what I believe is a posthumous compilation album as well as a few other bits and pieces here and there. Tracks I recommend: “Body and Soul” – a duet with Tony Bennet, “Valerie” which is actually a Mark Ronson song she was featured on, the Sam Cooke classic “Cupid”, and a truly fantastic version of “Someone To Watch Over Me” All of those are great, and a couple of them showcase her jazz influences very well.

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Amy Winehouse was a truly gifted artist. She may not have had a long career, but I feel that her music will continue to influence musicians around the world for years to come.

Rest in peace Amy.