Sabotage

Buckle up, I have a lot to say about the Beastie Boys.

And about Jazz music.

They’re related, just read the post. Or don’t, this is a long and wordy monologue full of many opinions and few facts, so I don’t blame anyone for wanting to skip it.

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To be totally honest, I hated the Beastie Boys for a long time. Most of the songs I had heard by them were not something I could appreciate, and I just couldn’t listen past the nasal voice of Ad-rock or what I considered stupid lyrics to get to the good musicianship and instrumentation which is remarkably quite excellent. Also, I wasn’t a fan of the repetitive phrase-shout-phrase-shout style of many of their songs (I’m looking at you, “Intergalactic Planetary”, even if it is a good song)

I specifically remember when I was very young and hearing the song “Girls” which, now that I’ve heard all their music, is likely the worst representation of them that I could possibly get. That one song, which I still hate today and will probably always hate, stained my opinion of them for nearly all my life. “Brass Monkey”, while not bad in general, also gets annoying really fast.

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Keep in mind I was a little girl growing up in Seattle at the time, and the a-tonal dissonant stylings of a white boy rap band from New York called the Beastie Boys was not going to impress me. Imagine tiny me, hearing her older cousins (boys) music which was by a group called the Beastie Boys? No thanks. I was predisposed to dislike it.

I remember as a child my first love in life was jazz music. I remember fourth grade me, allowed to join the elementary school orchestra for the first time (I’m sure we were awful, kudos to all parents of elementary-aged musicians for sticking around at those screechy concerts) and I knew then that I wanted to learn to play the big bass so I could one day be the bass player in a jazz band. For reasons I can’t quite remember, I picked up the violin instead and didn’t get onto the bass for 3 years after that.

But Jazz has many intricate syncopated rhythms and moving or jumping melodies. It’s a genre of music that fares just as well with singing as it does instrumental. And I loved it. No wonder I disliked the Beastie Boys with their quarter note rhythms and shouted lyrics that I didn’t really understand, right? They’re completely different. Right?

Wrong.

But back to jazz for a minute; what is it? In the words of something I heard on my favorite Jazz podcast, Riffin On Jazz, “Jazz music is sounds that are pleasing to the ears”. And in the words of Robert Glasper, noted pianist and producer,

“Jazz is the mother and father of Hip Hop. They’re both musics that were born out of oppression, they’re both kind of like protest music, you know, going against the grain. If you’re a hip-hop producer that wants a lot of melodic stuff happening, you’re probably going to go to jazz first.”

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In fact, Jazz as a quintessentially American art form was the progenitor of most popular music since it’s incorporation into our mainstream culture. Especially music such as R&B and hip-hop. If you listen to a lot of hip-hop there is a ton of Jazz sampled into it. You might hear it in such songs as “Jesus Walks” by Kanye West, which samples “Ode To Billie Joe” by Lou Donaldson, or Mary J. Blige’s “My Life” which sampled “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” by Roy Ayers.

It’s also in the Beastie Boys. As you might know, the Beastie Boys are master samplers. Their album “Paul’s Boutique” was critically acclaimed for its intense sampling. It really is masterful the way they assembled it all together.  It has some really interesting bits added from all sorts of other bands. The Eagles, The Beatles,  Curtis Mayfield, The Commodores, even the soundtracks for Jaws and (if my ears don’t deceive me) Psycho. The first track samples an amazing Jazz tune called “Loran’s Dance” by Idris Muhammad, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

If you are interested in more detail about everything sampled in Paul’s Boutique, definitely check out this complete radio show by Seattle radio station KEXP. This is a seriously in-depth look at the history behind that album as well as most of the identifiable songs sampled into the entire album, track by track. They literally spent an hour on “Johnny Ryall” alone. I really recommend it, it’s got some amazing insight and great tracks played. Turns out the Beastie Boys have great taste.

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Aside from vocals, the album is almost entirely sampled. In fact, I heard someone counted up to anywhere between 100 and 300 individual samples. That’s absolutely crazy, especially at the time. In 1989, when the album came out, sampling was a far different beast than it is today when we have much simpler digital methods. Here’s a little article on the history of sampling if you’d like to know more.

Paul’s Boutique saved the Beastie Boys from being one-hit wonders or frat boy hip-hop. Most of the stuff on their first album, Licensed to Ill, is firmly in that camp with songs like “Fight For Your Right” “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” “Girls” and “Brass Monkey”. But like many things, The Beastie Boys got better with age. Paul’s Boutique was so different in its content it really cemented them as a quality group and changed the face of Hip-hop at the time. Impressive for three guys that were originally punk.

After Paul’s Boutique came Check Your Head which had a few tracks I especially liked such as “Pass The Mic” and “Lighten Up” as well as “So What’cha Want” which I knew before I started in on this. Thank you, RockBand

Next came my favorite* (more on that later) album by the Beastie Boys. Ill Communication has so many great tracks, I’ll just list my top picks from that album: “Sure Shot” along with the European B-Boy mix on disc 2 of the deluxe version, “Root Down” also with the Free Zone mix in the deluxe version, “Get It Together” again the Buck-Wild remix from the deluxe set, “Sabotage” which has always been amazing and is maybe the sole reason I ever gave them a chance, “Alright Hear This”, “Flute Loop”, and a bunch of instrumental tracks that are kind of transitionary, which I will be addressing later.

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Hello Nasty came out next with more innovation from the band. Seriously, I feel like these guys never let themselves get pinned down, I can’t believe I used to think they were one-dimensional musicians. Hello Nasty includes a song called “I Don’t Know” which is vastly different from the rest of their stuff; the main instrumentation is an acoustic guitar for crying out loud and it doesn’t have any rap in it, it’s much more melodic. The album also features some great instrumental tracks. Again, I’ll touch on those later.

To The 5 Boroughs called back to some of what made people love them in the first place. The only tracks that really stuck out to me were “Check It Out” and “Rhyme The Rhyme Well” which for me gets a little old after a couple listens.

Their final album, Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, was again full of fantastic music. They really knocked it out of the park right from track one, “Make Some Noise” and the rest of the album is pretty great as well. However, I consider it more of an album that you listen to all at once without paying too much attention. This album had a lot of publicity surrounding it I’m not gonna get into. Suffice to say there was originally a part 1 that never got released and the group disbanded with the death of MCA aka Adam Yauch, so it never will be released.

Here’s the video for “Make Some Noise” it’s pretty fun and has a lot of celebrity cameos.

And now we’ll start to get into those things I mentioned I’d come back to.

In 2007 the Beastie Boys released an all-instrumental album called The Mix-Up. This is what really caught my attention when I was listening through their music. It finally pulled my attention to the absolute mastery these guys have over music.

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I mentioned to someone how this album really helped me see their musicianship, and their response was to point out that much of it is likely sampled. I stand by my statement. These guys show just as much musicianship with their skill at playing music as with arranging all of those samples into amazing and intriguing songs. It’s just as good as any skilled jazz trio I’ve ever heard.

And on that note. The reason I brought up Jazz music earlier was this: I believe this music is the natural evolution of Jazz.

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Now, a lot of people who don’t know Jazz say they don’t like it. And that’s fair; everyone has different tastes, though I wish they’d give it a shot. A lot of people who love Jazz are purists, and those people need to open their minds. For me and many others, Jazz has always been about experimentation and creating music that makes you feel something. It doesn’t have just one definable shape as it’s ever-changing.

Is “Jazz” always the Big band style? Or always the smokey bar lounge singer? How about Bebop? No. Don’t work in absolutes if you can help it, especially in music. And what about sub-genres? There are too many Jazz sub-genres to count. From acid to electro swing to gypsy to straight-ahead to fusion, there’s just too much music in too many different styles.

One analogy I heard once was that music genres are like family reunions. You have a ton of different people/songs who are all related, but maybe they aren’t all that similar. One person has Great Uncle Stan’s wide nose and Aunt Crissy’s curly hair, but someone else might have grandma’s button nose and Uncle Vic’s receding hairline and so they look nothing alike. And some people go from one reunion right to another one on the other side of their family. Make sense? Maybe not, but I tried.

So did the Beastie Boys write jazz music for their album The Mix-Up? No. It’s instrumental hip-hop. But it’s one thing among many that Jazz has evolved into and been incorporated into, and I love it. It’s intricate and intriguing, and it makes me happy to listen to it. It inspires the same kind of feelings in me that listening to Jazz does.

And it’s not their only instrumental albums either. Many Beastie Boys albums contain a bunch of tracks that may be transitionary in nature, but I find them all to be fantastic on their own. And I must not be the only one, because there was a compilation album released comprising entirely of those tracks.

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The In Sound From Way Out! is my true favorite album by this group, but since it’s a compilation I included my love for Ill Communication earlier. It kind of sounds like the soundtrack to an Ocean’s 11 type movie.

So to conclude my rambles about the Beastie Boys and Jazz I want to leave you with this. I created a Spotify playlist of the Beastie Boys instrumental tracks (and a few select others). If you like “lo-fi hip-hop beats” you’ll probably like this. If you like the Beastie Boys for more than “Fight For Your Right” or “Sure Shot” then you might like this. If you like jazz and aren’t a purist, you’ll probably like this. If your main jam is top 40 you might want to stay away. I was told by one person it gets boring and repetitive. I don’t think so at all, but we all have different tastes.

Here’s my favorite track if you just want an example. Check out that funky bass line mixed with precision drums and killer guitar tones. Beautiful. I couldn’t find a good Youtube video, so here’s the Spotify song link.

I know this has been a bit of a weird post, I probably should have formatted it more like an essay with a thesis and conclusion and a nice linear thought process, but I’ve been out of school for years now and I’ve already spent so much time on this one. I’m ready for the next artist.

So give the Beastie Boys a shot if you haven’t yet. And if you have, try out their instrumental tracks. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I certainly was, and now I have 70 tracks by them in my music library.

Enjoy!

Rest in peace, Adam Yauch aka MCA 1964-2012

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A Rose Is Still A Rose

First off, let it be said there is no shortage of Aretha Franklin music out there. I mean, holy crap, there are more than 40 albums on Spotify alone and that’s not counting the singles and compilations. Actually that’s why it took so long for me to post again; I was busy listening to that massive library of Aretha Franklin music.

And she’s still going, by the way. Her most recent album was in 2014, and she still tours and performs.

It was interesting listening to the different styles and recording qualities as I listened backwards through time. Current era Aretha’s voice shows her age just a little bit. If you want an example, listen to her cover album Sings the Great Diva Classics.

00’s and 90’s era Aretha left me a little tickled. It sounds just like the rest of the R&B/soul music of that time that I remember. Recommendation: listen to the songs “Wonderful” and “A Rose Is Still A Rose”

80’s Aretha was par for the course (but don’t be fooled, par on this course is fantastic) though I would note she recorded a jazz album in 1984 that stood out. It’s called Aretha’s Jazz, and it shows off her voice in a beautiful way.

Classic 60’s and 70’s Aretha will probably always be my favorite. Her voice is and always has been incredibly beautiful and strong. There are so many amazing songs from this period, I would recommend all of it. Really, just check it out. If you want specific recommendations, I will include a list of some of my all time Aretha favorites at the end of this post.

When you get back into the early 60’s she was mostly recording Gospel tunes. As with many famous soul and gospel artists, religion was a huge part of her upbringing. Her father was a well known pastor and she had been singing in churches since she was a little girl. There are some excellent tunes there as well, a good collection of which can be found on the album Amazing Grace.

All in all, Aretha Franklin has earned her title as Queen of Soul ten times over. She is extremely talented and skilled. If you like soul music at all, you are probably already quite familiar with much of her music, but I would suggest checking out some of the deeper cuts.

However; if you want to just listen to a good sampling, there are many great compilation albums available that have the best of the best of her music.

Fun fact! She famously stepped in at the Grammys one year for an ill Luciano Pavarotti, singing the famous opera tenor piece “Nessun Dorma” and absolutely nailed it. Here’s a video clip: https://youtu.be/5PONptwUo-Y

She shaped a genre, her music moves people, and her legacy will last for a long time to come.

Happy Listening!

As promised, here is a short list of some of my favorite Aretha tunes:

“Today I Sing the Blues”

“Think” *

“See Saw” *

“I Say a Little Prayer”

“Chain Of Fools” *

“The Weight” *

“Fool On The Hill”

“Respect”

“I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You” *

“(You Made Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”

“A Song For You”

“A Rose Is Still A Rose”

“Wonderful”

“Rock With Me”

“Son of a Preacher Man”

“Love For Sale”

Well, that turned out to be longer than I intended. I starred my top 5, if you want a shorter list. They are all great songs, though. And there are many more! Go check it out!

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.