Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Legendary ?

Ok, so I admit that when I first dove into the music of the Duke I was totally confused, befuddled and not quite sure what was going on. Most of the first disc was instrumental..which was fine..I kinda knew the Duke was a jazz legend so I kinda figured he was playing the trumpet. Of all the instruments in the music it was the strongest and usually the center of most pieces. Then I hit a run of songs with lyrics....was that a lady singing? yeah and then a string of songs each with a different male voice..then a few with no trumpet at all. I had no idea what the hell was going on. As is my habit each month I go in blind to get the music at face value and then after my first impression is formed I back it up with research and digging around about the artist. That left me woefully unprepared this time and set me up for a cool surprise. You see, after my initial bout of cluelessness I did what I always do when I know less then I need to; I Googled it!!!
   What I found was a bit of a shock for a brain that has a certain set of expectations set by a modern understanding of music and how the industry works. You see, Duke Ellington wasn't any of the singers, nor did he play the trumpet and while he did in fact play the piano in most of his works it was usually a tempo setter to show off the stylings of his musicians. You see the Duke was a composer and a conductor. His legendary status is as a band leader. I mean sure I heard of Big band but I never gave it much thought as being anything but an outdated, has been genre that was never that cool to begin with. Man, was I wrong. the Duke IS jazz music and he and his orchestra defined the genre from their pit in Harlem's legendary Cotton Club.
  As a modern music lover I can't say I give much thought to composers. They are all moldy dead guys who used to wear white wigs and say guvner alot, right? Sure, we have a few today but they mostly score our movies or run in tight insular circles that don't really affect pop culture all that much.And conductors? really? Last one I saw was on a train! Goes to show how little I know about music history. It turns out back in the day the composer/conducter was THE man. You could be the best trumpet player in the world, Scott Joplin on the ivory or have a set of pipes like Ella Fitzgerald but if a band leader didn't invite you into his pit then you weren't making music...at least not on a national stage. Of course that changed as the singer/song writer dynamic we know today came to life but the cool thing is that the Duke never sold out. He stuck with his orchestra and led it for 53 years!! he took the hit in popularity and loss of audience in the 60's and kept on going until he came out the other side a living legend.
  Not only are the tunes cool but I also had the chance to question my conception of music and stretch my understanding of the world. If that isn't what this project is all about then I don't know what is.

Monday, April 11, 2011

David and the Duke

First, let me apologize for the lateness of this post. A nasty reoccurring flu\sore throat/coughy thing has been taking the household by storm and even when I haven't been down for the count myself Mandy and I have been trying to keep these little kiddos safe despite their coughs and fevers.
 Now we're mostly healthy and I'm back on track. Even though I haven't been posting I have been listening intently to the great Duke Ellington over the last week and a half. It's kind of taken me by surprise but we'll talk about that in our next post. Before we get into the dealings of the Duke I need to talk about how he got on my plate in the first place.
   When I started the project my good friend Katrina contacted me and suggested that I might consider Duke Ellington. Her father David, who is sadly no longer with us, was a huge fan and she even offered to let me borrow his collection of Duke Ellington recordings. How could I say no? Not only was my friend offering me an idea for my blog but she was also offering to share her heart and her dad with me so I could share it with you. I'm thrilled to explore the music of Duke Ellington, not only because he's a legend and one of the all time greats but because David Smith loved him and frankly I can't think of a better reference. I remember David Smith well even though it was over twenty years ago(Really? Yikes!) that I first met him while dating his daughter. He was always laughing and making the worst puns you could imagine. If the joke was bad he loved it, if it was terrible he'd laugh like hell and find a way to make it even worse and afterwards you'd be laughing so hard you wouldn't even know where it started and what you were laughing at. He was a kind, gentle man who always had his nose in a book and his arms around his children. Along with my step father David is one of the templates I aspire to now that I'm a dad.
Through Katrina Duke Ellington is a gift that he's giving to me and I'm honored this month to share it with you. Now go call your dad, tell him you love him and asking him what music he's listening to.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Dogg Gone; My Month With Snoop

So March pretty good for me...I'm kinda digging the whole Gangster Rap thing and Snoop was a great showcase, I think, for the genre. Even better then that Snoop isn't a one trick pony. Sure the gritty street level gangsta play is his bread and butter and the foundation for everything else but he also makes a point to slip in all kinds of other goodies that hint at a deeper level beneath his already apparent genius. There are some songs where he sings straight up and I just know if he ever followed it he could do a decent run at modern pop hip-hop or even R&B. His country themed tribute songs are pretty damn cool too and if he ever decided to shelve the same old same old and take a risk he just might be able to create a new genre of Hick Hop Country Rap. He'll always be the D O G and the Big Boss, Uncle Snoop of the rap world. He's great at what he does and I know, I know, you don't go to Pizza Hut for a hamburger but he's shown enough versatility and interest in stretching that I wish instead of a few songs tacked on the back of solid rap we could get a whole album of his alternative, for the rap world, stylings.
  Also, and this is really my only criticism of an artist I hope it's apparent that I like very much, he just plays it safe and sticks with image centric and sometimes superficial topics. Now look, I love me some songs about pimping, banging, puffing and being OG but after twenty albums I feel like that's not enough for me. Don't let his proclivity for herbal recreation fool, this is an intelligent man, a savvy business person and someone whose lived through some shit. I'd give up one track about representing the street if I meant I could have one about what "The Man" on the street thinks about what's going on in the world today. I'd love to hear him blast both the GOP and the Dems and call them on their bullshit. Or what does he think about the wars in the middle east or the obvious war on the poor that's about to happen with all these institutionalized budget cuts about to ravage this countries infra structure. I'd even be interested to hear about things closer to home, the man has several kids including a daughter...pimpin ain't easy but it has to be harder when you have a little angel of your own growing up in the big bad world. I suppose I shouldn't bitch..I love what I heard so far and Snoop will stay in my car for later listening but I just get this itch to see deeper and hope we eventually will.