Sunday, August 26, 2007

Jazz Giants and Skyscrapers

Jazz Giants and Skyscrapers

I was looking forward to an afternoon of jazz sponsored by J&R Music World featuring the trio of Bruce Hornsby, Jack DeJohnette and Christian Mc Bride, that is, until I arrived. I emerged from the fowl smelling soot- laden subway tunnel at City Hall around 3:30, only to be confronted by a ghastly scene of human suffering. About 100 people where scattered around City Hall Park listening to a jazz band as they melted away underneath a blazing sun that was imposing its mighty wrath upon them. As the heat index reached 105 degrees, these folks were flogging improvised hand fans in an attempt to bring some relief, but their attempts were in vain. Each tortured face produced a pool of free-flowing sweat that was creating funky looking stains on their shirts. Summertime in “The City” can be as grueling as any dessert.

After a night of debauchery and two hours sleep, I was no match for the elements, so I beat a hasty retreat to the Beekman Pub around the corner for some attitude adjustment. A shrimp cocktail and three glasses of chardonnay later, I was all smiles as I made my way back to City Hall Park where the crowd had swelled to about 200 people. My timing was perfect; as I was making my way to the front of the stage, Hornsby and company were taking up their positions. Before blast-off, I heard a young lady howl “Catfish (one of my aliases).” It was my friend Elyce, who is to hippy dancing as John Travolta is to disco dancing.

Hornsby and company got off to a fine start as they seemed to be pacing themselves a little during the first two songs. But who can blame them? Even Elyce wasn’t dancing yet due to the sauna-like conditions. The second song of the night, “Charles, Woody and You,” from their new album, sounded Grateful Dead influenced. It reminded me of the Dead’s performance of “Close Encounters” from Eugene, Oregon on 1-22-78. Hornsby’s hit album from the late 80’s and his association with the Grateful Dead in the 90’s are probably the two things he’s best known for, but during this performance he avoided that part of his musical past. Based on this concert, if you don’t know better, you would have thought he was just a jazz legend. His style seemed to be a cross between Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock with a touch of psychedelic madness thrown in. I think his sound might have fit in well with one of Miles Davis’ 1970 fusion configurations.

On the third song of the evening things took off when Jack DeJohnette began to unload on his drums laying down that muscular, full-sounding groove that caught Miles’ attention and landed him a spot on the most visionary album in jazz history, 1969’s Bitches Brew. From the late 70’s through the mid-80’s, Jack use to stop by my house a couple of times a year to visit my father who was his accountant. Other jazz luminaries like Dave Holland and Larry Coryell were his clients as well. My dad wasn’t much of a music fan, but he was familiar with my obsession with music and tried tipping me off to how big these guys were. I was going through a progression that took me from Led Zeppelin to the Grateful Dead at that time. If I only knew, I could have been chatting with them about what it was like to create Bitches Brew with Miles Davis.

Though beads of perspiration were rolling down my back, the incredible music that was bouncing off the skyscrapers took our minds off the pure heat and humidity. Aesthetically and acoustically, there’s nothing like a free outdoors concert in Lower Manhattan. To my right was the Woolworth Building which reigned as the world’s tallest building from 1913 through 1930. Its classy neo-Gothic style architecture makes it one of my favorites. And the way the sound ricochets off these incredible buildings and rolls on down the Canyon of Heroes is magical.
I have a predilection for hearing horn players in the mix when I listen to jazz, but this trio had as satisfying a sound as one could hope for. Christian Mc Bride was unbelievable on bass; at times he sounded like a lead guitarist. The performers ripped through an eight song set lasting about eighty minutes featuring mostly numbers from their latest release Camp Meeting. The CD and the concert both have a classic 50’s/ 60’s jazz feel which I dig, yet there was enough weirdness to stoke the flames and make it sound innovative. I still can’t believe only 250 or so people were on hand for this amazing free event, oh well, it was more elbow room and better photos opportunities for me.
Elyce and I headed over to J&R Music World for a little post concert meet and greet with the musicians. She pointed out a picture of her dancing on the cover of Bruce Hornsby’s live album, Here Comes the Noise Makers – that’s a nice feather in her cap. The highlight of my night was when I went over to Jack to introduce myself and see if he remembered his visits to my house many years earlier. After realizing who I was, Jack's face lit up and he said, “Oh wow, your Lenny’s son, he was a great guy.” Hearing that reminded me of one the last great memories I have of spending quality time with my father. It was the only concert we ever saw together featuring Jack, Dave Holland, Herbie Hancock and Pat Matheny at the Beacon Theatre back around 1990.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Scooter 1917-2007

............................................................RIP Phil Rizzuto

The Scooter accomplished so much during his baseball career:

He won seven World Series Championships with the New York Yankees…Elected to Baseball Hall of Fame 1994…His number 10 was retired by the Yankees…Five time All-Star…AL MVP 1950…Served in the U.S Navy 1942-1946

Rizzuto tried out with the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants when he was 16, but because of his size was dismissed by Dodgers manager Casey Stengel, who told him to "Go get a shoeshine box.'' He went on to become one of Stengel's most dependable players.

My Last thoughts on Phil Rizzuto:

Rizzuto’s last year in broadcasting was 1996; the year the Yankees won perhaps their most miraculous championship ever…I’ll never forget the excitement in his voice when Don Mattingly did something special…Here’s a guy who played Joe D. and the Mick, and he was in awe of Mattingly just like any teenager who loved the Yanks…I heard him broadcast games for twenty years – the man never spoke a bitter or phony word…He was terrified of insects, loved a good cannoli and his wife…He’s probably the most loveable man ever to don the pinstripes…I’ll never forget him, baseball was never the same for me after he retired in 1996…He’s the only sports announcer I’ve ever heard that didn’t develop a persona – the man and the announcer were one and the same…Phil Rizzutto – funny, humble, kind, gracious – a great man!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Jerry Garcia Week: Part 2

I was going to write a piece about Jerry’s influence on Dylan on the anniversary of Jerry’s passing, but I got sidetracked. I think I’ll just let Dylan’s words do the talking.

“There’s no way to measure his greatness or magnitude as a person or a player. I don’t think any eulogizing will do him justice. He was that great, much more than a superb musician, with an uncanny ear and dexterity. He’s the very spirit personified of whatever is Muddy River country at its core and screams up into the spheres. He really had no equal. To me, he wasn’t only a musician and friend, he was more like a big brother who taught and showed me more than he’ll ever know. There’s a lot of spaces and advances between The Carter Family, Buddy Holly and say Ornette Coleman, a lot of universes, but he filled them all without being a member of any school. His playing was moody, awesome, sophisticated, hypnotic and subtle. There’s no way to convey the loss. It just digs down really deep”
1995 Dylan press release on the passing of Jerry Garcia

“You’re either a player, or you’re not a player. It didn’t occur to me until we did those shows with the Grateful Dead. If you just go out every three years or so like I was doing for a while, that’s when you lose touch. If you’re going to be a performer, you, you’ve gotta give it your all.”
1991 Interview with Robert Hiburn

“To me, that’s a great song (Joey). Yeah. And it never loses its appeal……That’s a tremendous song. And you’d only know it singing it night after night. You know who got me singing that song? Garcia. Yeah. He got me singing that song again. He said that’s one of the best songs ever written. Coming from him, it was hard to know which way to take that. [Laughs] He got me singing that song with them again. It was amazing how it would, right from the get-go, it had a life of its own, it just ran out of the gate and it just kept getting better and better and better and better and keeps on getting better… But to me, Joey has a Homeric quality to it that you don’t hear every day. Especially in popular music.”
1991 Interview with Paul Zollo

"The Dead did a lot of my songs, and we'd just take the whole arrangement, because they did it better than me. Jerry Garcia could hear the song in all my bad recordings, the song that was buried there. So if I want to bring out something different, I just bring out one of them Dead records and see which one I wanna do. I never do that with my records."
2006 interview with Jonathan Lethem

“Thank you. Well, I don't know exactly what to say here. Different peoples been coming down to the theater every night so far. And this night is no exception I guess. Anyway this is, keep ..., here's a young man I know you know who he is. I've played with him a few times before. I'm a great admirer and fan of his and support his group all the way, Jerry Garcia. He's gonna play with us, key of C.” – before “To Ramona”
10-16-80 Fox Warfield, San Francisco

“Thank you Grateful Dead!” – before “The Times They Are A-Changin’” …These were the only words Dylan spoke in concert during his 36 performances of 1987!
7-12-87 Giants Stadium, East Rutherford…Dylan and Dead concert

Friday, August 3, 2007

Jerry Garcia Week: Part 1

Tribute to the immortal Jerry Garcia: Born August 1, 1942…Deceased August 9, 1995

My first installment, which was part of a larger essay, looks back at my first road trip to see the Grateful Dead. My final post during Jerry Week will be a look at how Garcia influenced Bob Dylan.


In Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road, he sets the stage for his great American journey by stating, “And this was really the way that my whole road experience began, and the things that were to come are too fantastic not to tell.” My fantastic road escapades began on the morning of April 6th 1982. We had tickets to see the Grateful Dead at the Philadelphia Spectrum that evening, but a freak 18 inch snowstorm blanketed the town of Nanuet, New York, as well as most of the Hudson Valley. Though my friend Seymour had already taken the snow tires of his tiny white Honda, not going to Philadelphia was never an option. Our hearts were set on joining the wild scene that awaited us. After navigating through a treacherous 15 mile stretch of the Palisades Parkway, all roads were clear as the storm had spared New York City and points south. We were hooting and hollering as we made our way down the New Jersey Turnpike until we reached our destination, “The City of Brotherly Love.”

Once we arrived in the Philadelphia Spectrum parking lot, we were greeted by a swarm of tie-dyed vagabonds who were aimlessly making the rounds either looking for or selling anything from window pain acid to veggie sandwiches. An intoxicating aroma that consisted of marijuana, hash and opium smoke, patchouli oil, incense and burnt pretzels filled the air. A pretty, braless hippy girl was spinning around while flashing her finger in the air and repeatedly chanting, “Who’s got my miracle ticket?” Two young men wearing psychedelic-colored knit beanie hats were smoking a joint while leaning against the famous statue of Rocky Balboa. In back of them, a circle of long-haired screwballs were kicking around a hacky-sack and dancing to the funky rhythms courtesy of two Deadheads furiously banging bongos. Admidst the arcane madness, bootleg recordings of the psychedelic guitar wizardry of our hero, Jerry Garcia, was cranking out of every vehicle from pristine Cadillacs to rusty dilapidated Volkswagen Bugs. The “Summer of Love” was alive and kicking fifteen years later, in a parking lot in South Philly,on a blustery spring day.

Inside the Philly Spectrum, the carefree mingling of Deadheads instantly exploded into howls of ecstasy as the lights went out. Everybody broke out their matches and lighters; not for the band, but to spark a bowl or joint. Our fearless leader, Garcia, was armed with his trademark “Tiger” guitar and was wearing his customary black t-shirt and jeans. With his gold-rimmed glasses barely hanging on to the tip of his nose, he greeted us with a heart-warming smile and a traditional blues number in honor of the weather, “Cold Rain and Snow.” The band proceeded to whip through a 12-song first set that ended with “Might as Well,” during which Garcia bellowed, “Never had such a good time, in my life before.” The lights came back on, everybody was psyched. We knew the boys were on their game as everybody kept getting higher during the 35 minute intermission. It was impossible to avoid getting high, if you weren’t voluntarily partaking in mind-altering substances, you couldn’t escape the contact high or the musical ecstasy. It was palpable that something intense was looming before the lights went out and the band returned; it was like we were in the thick of it before it happened.

As if they were manipulated like puppets on a string, the crowd was up and dancing once Phil Lesh hit the thunderous bass note signaling the onset of the Dead’s funkiest dance song, “Shakedown Street.” During the final instrumental, Garcia traded rapid fire improvisational leads with keyboardist Brent Mydland before thrilling the crowd with a rousing display of electric guitar playing virtuosity. A couple of songs later, in his most angelic voice, Garcia sang the Dead’s epic literary masterpiece “Terrapin Station.” The ensuing drum solo was thrilling to percussion enthusiasts, but it gave the rest of us a chance to take care of whatever business needed attending: for some of us, this meant pit stops for beer or personal relief, for others it was an opportunity to recharge their buzz. The band returned for the grand finale as we experienced them segue from the psychedelic forays of the “Other One,” into their most vaunted spiritual “Morning Dew.” Garcia’s hands were a blur on his axe as he smoked our minds with the final climatic jam. The Dead proceeded to rock the faithful to the bone with a sparkling version of “Sugar Magnolia” as streams and splashes of hippy sweat came raining down on the Spectrum’s concrete floor. Bob Dylan’s, “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue,” was the soothing encore that safely landed us back on planet Earth. The concert was the most thrilling spectacle I’d ever witnessed.

We felt like conquering heroes on the ride home – we had found paradise. In varies states of elation, the ride breezed by, until suddenly, Seymour’s Honda hit a Palisades’ Parkway ice patch sending us a spinning round and round,like a pair of panties in a wash cycle. The very weather conditions that nearly caused our deaths saved our lives as we ended up lodged in a snow bank a few feet from the imposing pines that line the parkway. Though tragedy was narrowly averted, I couldn't wait to go back, Jack, and do it again.

Three days later, on the way back from a Dead show in Rochester which featured an entirely different musical performance than the one we saw in Philadelphia, I plowed into a deer at a 70 MPH clip. After accidentally killing one of God's innocent creatures, I got my car patched-up and we were off to see our heroes in Alpine Valley, Wisconsin. Fueled up on coffee and weed, I crossed the country with three of my best friends by my side. We saw places and things we’d only heard and dreamt about as Jerry’s guitar rang out from the speakers of my Chevy Caprice the entire journey. Once we reached Alpine Valley we were blown away by her lush green fields and crystal blue lakes as the intoxicatingly clean, crisp country air filled our lungs. We had the comfort of knowing that tens of thousands of our brethren were making the same pilgrimage. After our dazzling journey, the Dead rewarded us with a pair of scintillating performances that were distinctive; unlike anything they had ever done before or would do again. Not only were we experiencing America like Jack Kerouac had, but we were witnesses to musical history.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Tales of a Cowboy Band 2007 Part II


How I sucked the milk out of 1000 cows

Dylan was as animated as I’d ever seen him. He was twisting like a corkscrew as his grey top hat almost went flying off. His eyes were afire with passion as he sang about his lust for Alicia Keys. The initial jam was crackling with energy – brother was helping brother – the “Cowboy Band” was rocking. Then with the most peculiar diction, in slow-motion, the maestro sang, “I sucked the milk out of 1000 cows.” Looking right at me in the front row, Dylan broke out into sinister laughter. I noticed George, Tony, Stu, Donnie and Denny were all cracking-up as well. I too, began to lose it as the music came to a crashing halt. I was sweating profusely and clutching on to a white linen sheet. Good Lord, it was just a dream. The red light of the alarm clock said 4:30; where the hell was I? Oh yeah, Montreal. The summer that “begs for love” was over. There would be no more pork chops and pie, or Albert and Frankie and their graveyard shenanigans. Montreal was my final destination; the Cowboy Band had left me behind, their tour buses were on their way to Ottawa. Still laughing though, I loaded up disc 2 from the soundtrack of No Direction Home into my CD player and went for a long, long walk through the streets of Montreal.

............................................................6-29-07 Jones Beach

The second half of my summer escapade kicked off in Robert Moses’ playground, Jones Beach. You can still feel the draconian grip of Moses’ presence, though he is long deceased. There are no decent places to eat, no electrical outlets to plug in a computer, yet there’s an abundance of garbage cans in place to prevent liter, but their obscene presence pollutes the landscape. It gets worse, at the venue they cut off beer sales two hours before the concert. What’s the point of even selling the beer in the first place? If you’re going to invoke prohibition, be honest about it. And that concludes my anti-Jones Beach screed.

Inside the adequate venue which looks like a clam shell, Dylan’s concert had some highlights, but it never really established any momentum. Catching Visions of Johanna made the night worthwhile. Dylan has had a recent predilection for playing Visions on Long Island as he’s played it here during his previous two stops: Jones Beach 1999 and Nassau Coliseum 11-13-06. The perpetually evolving Shelter From the Storm sparkled on this night as well.
If you want to read more in depth reviews of this concert and others; knock yourselves out:;f=3

I had anticipated the evening of June 30, 2007 ever since that Tuesday morning I purchased my dead center second row ticket on-line, during the presale, for Dylan’s first appearance at the site of the original Woodstock Festival that he eluded like a bad case of gonorrhea back in '69. The first leg of my journey to the “garden” was made on an Adirondacks Trailways bus bound for the picturesque artsy town of New Paltz, where I had masqueraded as a college student for six years. I hooked up with two cats from Woodstock named King and Blaze, who have seen Dylan with me several times over the last twenty years. We had a most pleasant journey making our way through the scenic nothingness of Sullivan County. As we closed in on Max Yasgur’s old stomping grounds, we passed White Lake – the world’s biggest hippie bathtub on a balmy weekend in August ’69. I could taste the magic.

6-30-07 Thunder on the Mountain

This new venue they built on this hallowed ground called the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, is an exquisite example of human ingenuity, though the beer lines were pretty long. During the opening Leopard-Skin Pill Box-Hat, I made my way to my rightful place up in the second row where I was greeted by a fine looking young dancing gypsy maiden in a white dress who was in possession of the ticket for the seat next to mine, and she was enthralled by the fact that I was willing to hold my ground and boogie to the music. There was a delegation of up-tight folks seated behind us that were horrified by our non-conformist dancing to Dylan’s music. One of these masterminds decided that the thing to do was write the words “SIT DOWN” on a post-it and hand it to me. I took the note, put it in my pocket, thanked him and continued to sway and shuffle to the Maestro. The whole point of Dylan’s people making these great tickets available to his fans, is so that he, and the band, can look out and feed off the energy of people who are vibrant and soaking in the mojo. Do you think Dylan wants to look out and see a bunch of sad-faced folks who don't get it, falling asleep in their chairs, or me and that young brunette hippy girl to my left ecstatically absorbing every second of a performance that was sassy and truculent, yet pious.

Yes, yes…I was there conducting the “Cowboy Band” in my Sly & the Family Stone t-shirt…I can still feel the heat of the concrete and smell the burn of the rubber from my sneakers as I was twisting away to the greatest performance of Blind Willie Mc Tell.
Well, I’ll let it speak for itself, but check out jam #2 from Austin Texas’ own Denny Freeman:

And to put a big smile on your face, dig Dylan’s phrasing on Thunder on the Mountain:

Next thing I know, I’m in Montreal on July 3rd and it’s Jazz Fest. The only problem was, if you wanted to see anyone worthwhile, you had to shell out top dollar. Otherwise it was schwag-city as you milled around with the relaxed French speaking population who came out in droves to passively observe mediocre entertainment. I scored a ticket to see Van “the MAN” Morrison at the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, which was where Mr. Dylan was playing the next night. The place was state-of-the-art venue perfection. Van’s performance was enjoyable at the time, though, when I saw his set lists from the rest of the tour, I was pretty, pretty, pretty, pissed. His Montreal song presentation was inferior. Oh well, buy the ticket - take the ride, but I shelled out $175 on this occasion.

..................................................................Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier

Then there was Bob’s July 4th red white and blue extravaganza which I have glowingly reviewed on I caught Bela & the Flecktones the following night and was extremely disappointed. What a bunch of over-indulgent bores. Their music lacked any soul or real connection to anything; it was just a strange mix of meandering solos by talented musicians that added up to nothing. Bela and his blowhards had to twice inform the audience about the Grammy Awards they have won and been nominated for, as if they couldn't quite belive it.

I saw Branford Marsalis on my last night in Montreal as his brazing quartet kicked ass and took names. His drummer, I think his name is Jeffery Watts, pounded out some of the most savage drum solos I ever heard. In addition, the drummer scored big points with me for wearing a Miles t-shirt. The show was so intense. I think it was out of the comfort level of the mostly senior citizen crowd. Branford’s the man, the coolest of the Marsalis brothers.

So it was, another” Cowboy Band” extravaganza is in the books

Gonna raise me an army, some tough sons of bitches
I’ll recruit my army from the orphanages
I been to St. Herman’s church; said my religious vows
I’ve sucked the milk out of a thousand cows

I got the pork chops, she got the pie
She ain’t no angel and neither am I
Shame on your greed, shame on your wicked schemes
I’ll say this, I don’t give a damn about your dreams

Thunder on the Mountain: words and music by Bob Dylan


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