Category Archives: music

Sonny Rollins Talks John Coltrane

It’s Newk’s birthday – number 81. Today it was announced that he’s part of the next Kennedy Center Honors. Next week, the second edition of his Road Shows disc will be released. It contains a chunk of last year’s 80th birthday show at the Beacon, the one that had him connecting with Ornette Coleman. You can hear it right now on NPR. I wrote a DownBeat piece on that night and the following days. But to celebrate Rollins’ current birthday, I dug into an personal archive that found musicians speaking on Coltrane. It was for a mid-80s piece published in Musician magazine. Here’s Newk talking about his pal:

John came into the “Tenor Madness” session by accident; he just happened to be at the date. He had his horn and someone suggested it. In those days, guys just kind of hung out together. I first met him in Miles Davis’ band. He had a big reputation preceding him around New York. The idea of two tenors tangling was a media hype – it always is. It goes back to the big band horn battles. But it was overdone; John and I were close personal friends, and the music was paramount. Saxophone battles and all that didn’t add up to much. We were into developing ideas and finding applications for them.

I first heard him in a band with Kenny Clarke. I remember very well. John and Kenny – it was fantastic. And I recall thinking that John was a puzzle. I could never figure out how he arrived at, or how he came up with, what he played. It was one of the things that made him unique. I never got a better fix on it through the years. Like any genius, it’s hard to get a handle on how they come up with their ideas.

His influence was pervasive. It’s inevitable to have influences. Any guy who’s that much into music is bound to be listening heavily to someone before them…like I did with Coleman Hawkins. The individuality will come out if it’s there. It depends whether the player can transcend the influence. To play what we call modern music, you’d have to have some antecedents.

A musician like Trane shouldn’t be judged in terms of his “early” or “late” work; there was value in all of it. I liked it all. It was all Trane. The best band was with McCoy and Elvin. He went through a lot of musicians to get that band together. He’d compare notes with others, talk about different players. I liked a piece called “I’ll Wait And Pray,” and of course I felt very happy about “Like Sonny.”  A Love Supreme was important because it came at a time when the group was crystalizing its extended works. It had certain spiritual implications, ideas Trane was interested in. I heard it said he was a “political” saxophonist, but it would be impossible to know what was in his mind at the time, politics or no. If anything, his playing was making a statement about religious ideas. But there’s no question the ’60s were full of turmoil. If you wanted to take some of his music and say, “Well, this shows he was angry,” I guess you could. But they called me that, too. How much of it was really true is open for debate. Did he consciously say, “I want to be a political player”? Can’t say for sure. To me he was just a musician playing. But remember, every black musician is automatically political. You can’t help being political if you’re black in the United States; it’s a fait accompli.

Lockjaw Davis recommended John to play tenor. He had been playing alto beforehand. When he went to soprano, I wasn’t surprised. Steve Lacy was the only one who was doing it at the time. John had that sound on tenor, though. You could tell it was him instantly. When you were around him you felt like you were with a genius. A genius and a serious, energetic player. He had a sense of humor, but he was serious. His humor wasn’t about cracking jokes. He was more droll, or wry. Almost like a minister, a minister of music.

Ted Panken has a couple wonderful interviews with Sonny.

Lloyd Sachs has some great quotes, too. 

Maybe Fergie Will Take A Shot At “Heavy Metal Drummer”

Choosing cool covers is what a hootenanny is all about, and Jeff Tweedy recently weighed in on will.i.am’s party anthem (which I happen to love on a non-ironic level). Can’t tell if Mr. Wilco’s contempt for the tune mars his reading – it still sounds sweet in his folk-guitar hands.

Did you listen to The Whole Love while it was streaming the other day? Thoughts? Here’s the clip for “Born Alone,” newly dropped in cyberville this morn. The Atlantic has the backstory on the song’s creation, and its flecked with swiping Emily Dickinson verbs and rerouting William Burroughs’ cut-up processes.  Have you read Tweedy’s thoughts on dissonance?

PJ Harvey Now Owns the 2011 Mercury Prize

Polly Jean Harvey and her band beat out James Blake, Elbow, Katie B, Tinie Tempah, and an artist by the name of Adele to win a Mercury Prize for their work on Let England Shake (Vagrant).  Here are a couple of interviews around the disc.

Pitchfork: More than in any of your other records, there’s imagery of violence that really just sticks in your gut on this one. Like the line about seeing soldiers fall like lumps of meat. What led you to write about this stuff in this way, right now?

PJH: The world that we live in is very brutal, and these things actually happen. I wanted to use language that was being honest about that.

Pitchfork: Musically, it’s not a rough album the way that something like Rid of Me was. It has this really pretty float to it that contrasts with some of the imagery.

PJH: I knew that I wanted the music to offset the weight of the words. That was very important. I wanted the music to be full of energy and to be very uplifting and unifying, almost insightful in its creation of energy. It took me a long time to find out how to sing such words because to sing it in the wrong voice would have given it the wrong feeling– maybe too self-important and dogmatic. I wanted the songs to be much more ambiguous than that. This was the way that the language was best moved from lip to ear.  MORE BREIHAN/HARVEY CHAT

Spin review. 

You recall she won in 2001 for Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea

Google’s Freddie Mercury: Housewife With Mustache Makes It Great

Jack & The Juggalos: Roll Over, Baby

It’s a big stretch between Loretta Lynn and the Insane Clown Posse, but you know Jack White – he’s a guy who can ape Son House while singing a tune called “I Fought Pirhanas.” So maybe, just maybe, he can convince us that Mozart’s ode to the back door, as rapped by Thing 1 and Thing 2 below, will be fun for a few moments. Mr. White produced. “Leck Mich Im Arsch” doesn’t need much explanation, but with Sinead O’Connor reveling in the needs of the be-hind this week as well, I’m wondering about upcoming trend pieces. Oh well, your body is a wonderland said that other young blues man.

Summer Song 2011: Devilish Flow, Like Draino

Sales figures don’t determine a song’s popularity at our house. It’s all about usefulness ’round here. Can the track provide a fun background for various parts of the day? In other words, is it versatile? There’s no question about this summer’s numero uno: LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” was the consensus choice because it worked in myriad situations. Chopping onions for backyard burgers, taking a shower before date night, bumping and grinding during date night, morning clean-up, evening dance bash – I even caught my kid vacuuming to the damn thing.

The season’s most ubiquitous track has generated several spin-offs as well. Tired of the original? How about a few remixes to mess with your head? Everyday I’m (re)shuffling…

What, you say the “Anthem” isn’t the song of the summer? Well, go ahead, tell everyone which track you chopped your backyard onions to!

Wave Your Wild Flag A Week Early

“Sound is the blood between me and you,” sings Carrie Brownstein on the lead track from Wild Flag’s debut disc. As the words spill from her throat a classic rock parallel crops up. The famed indie rock queen from the Great Northwest is talking about the depth of a friendship and the elements that bind two pals. It’s not unlike Springsteen’s “we like the same music, we like the same bands, we like the same clothes,” line from “Bobby Jean.”

Brownstein and her old Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss do share lots of ideas, and they are back together again, along with Helium’s Mary Timony and The Minders’ Rebecca Cole. After just a listen or three, Wild Flag sounds and raucous and wise and playful – always playful. I like the way it can blow barbed one moment, dreamy the next.  NPR is streaming it all week. It arrives via Merge next week. Go ahead, take some time to absorb.

Brownstein speaks about life at the SXSW fest in the spring. 

It’s The Man In The Mirror’s Birthday

More than a few allusions to Michael on last night’s VMAs, so let’s roll through a micro history. And never, never leave “Dancing Machine” off of your playlist.

Need a sharp cultural overview of MJ’s impact? Greg Tate summarized it well in the Village Voice a week after he passed.

“Motown saved Michael from Gary, Indiana: no small feat. Michael and his family remain among the few Negroes of note to escape from the now century-old city, which today has a Black American population of 84 percent. These numbers would mean nothing if we were talking about a small Caribbean nation, but they tend to represent a sign of the apocalypse where urban America is concerned. The Gary of 2009 is considered the 17th most dangerous city in America, which may be an improvement. The real question of the hour is, How many other Black American men born in Gary in 1958 lived to see their 24th birthday in 1982, the year Thriller broke the world open louder than a cobalt bomb and remade Black American success in Michael’s before-and-after image? Where Black modernity is concerned, Michael is the real missing link: the “bridge of sighs” between the Way We Were and What We’ve Become in what Nelson George has astutely dubbed the “Post-Soul Era”—the only race-coded “post” neologism grounded in actual history and not puffery. “

Take A Bow, Bruno Mars

VMAs Collapsed By Popdust

Nice job. I like Brit-Madge smooch better than MJ-LM smooch.