Why Not Be Sick?

By Doc Wendell

 

I’m settling into the fourth day of a blistering, nail biting and merciless migraine cycle. My ribs ache. Too much sugar, fatty foods, irregular sleep patterns and knock-off Tylenol have me stumbling around my dank and smelly office like some impish narcoleptic bodega chimp with Saint Vitus Dance. I’m out of the game for now like Steph Curry but I get a kick out of betraying my listless little ambitions for some poor excuse of a “sick leave”. Fats Navarro and Charlie Rouse are burning sweetly on my $50.00 boom box covered in skanky Los Angeles soot colored dust. My vision has turned to shit too, but it’s all working for me in perfect symbiosis. Even the nearly dead and whimpering bus-stop ghouls are hip in the iridescent gutters of Docville USA. I hate to think of what’s out that window below. Olympic Boulevard with that fat, ugly, brightly lit yellow Koreatown liquor store sign humming loudly and the discount Crenshaw “Got No Money Blues” Car Wash that looks like it’s barely survived some of this town’s worst apocalypses; the epitome of nothing. I won’t look.  So, why no be sick?

Maybe I’ll take up painting again while my body eats away at itself. Nah, I was fucking terrible. Every picture came out looking like a poor shlub’s imitation of Jasper Johns’ “The Seasons”; a level of depraved and lazy pathos that I don’t have the energy to repeat at 41. Mum thought it was cute when I was 9 but she don’t know from modern art no how. I’ve read all of the hate mail and the emails from old school chums suggesting that I take up yoga and even those usually jovial rituals disappointed from all angles. Maybe there’s something on TV? Shit, I’ll pretend I didn’t think or say that. My mind and body must be telling me something and I’ve never been one to listen. You’d just have to look at me once with blurred vision to see that. Not many read my piece on Ellington; oh those rotten goo- sucking heathens. It’s getting very quiet in the rabid ghettos of Docville USA now. So, why not be sick?

 

 

 

 

Prince-A Tribute To The Purple Master

 

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

 

I’m sitting here at my filthy desk staring at my most cherished electric guitars and basses, wondering how Prince could be dead. I still haven’t processed it. Prince was the reason that I became a multi-instrumentalist. His magnetic, empowering confidence was so wonderfully infectious.

PRINCE PIC

Whenever I’ve been faced with moments of self doubt as a musician, all I’ve needed to do was to listen to or watch Prince perform and it reminded me that anything is possible if you believe and work at it with everything you’ve got.

Like when Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson passed away, millions of people will forever remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they learned that Prince had left this planet. I know I shall never forget. I was in Carmel California with my girlfriend, contemplating my future. I decided to check my cell phone and there it was. It was all over social media. Like many, I thought and was hoping it was a hoax. No such luck. I suddenly felt as if I had been hit in the head with a brick. I went numb and still feel numb as I write this.

I never imagined Prince dying. He seemed immortal. He was this endlessly flowing life-force. There will never be another Prince. Not even close.

Nowadays, most tepid, American Idolized pop performers can’t play a single instrument. And if they’re caught on TV accompanying their auto-tuned created vocals on a guitar or piano with 3 overly simplified chords, their settle-for-less fans react defensively with “See, he/she can play an instrument; how amazing! I told you they’re talented!”. In all fairness, Prince did set the bar extremely high, to say the least.

Prince mastered over 20 plus instruments. He was the last true musical genius who possessed the skills of a top jazz or classical musician and was able to market high-art to a massive pop audience that reached all nationalities and demographics.  How did he do it? Prince made music that was sophisticated yet accessible. Music that was fly, sexy, spiritual and sincere.

As a musician, producer and conceptualist, Prince’s contributions to American black culture can never be underestimated. No matter how freaky and sexually ambiguous his image would get, he always tapped into and supported the most powerfully significant elements of American black music from James Brown, Parliament/Funkadelic, and Sly Stone, to Earth Wind & Fire, Miles Davis and Al Green, to name only a few.

Comedian Dave Chappelle performed a tribute to “The Purple One” in San Francisco, several hours after it was announced that he had died. Chappelle referred to Prince’s death as being the “black 9/11”. Like his mentor George Clinton, Prince celebrated American black music with a poetic flamboyance, a knowledge of its history, and an unbridled love and affection that can never be overlooked. Although rock n’ roll is an African American art form, it has been co-opted by white musicians who have shamelessly colonized an entire industry out of the true roots of the music. Because of this, most viewed a black man with a guitar as being “strange” or “out of place” while holding onto some nasty ingrained stereotypes, especially since the death of Jimi Hendrix. But along came Prince who reminded much of the world where those wonderfully bent notes, screaming, fast runs and earth shattering power chords truly came from. Hopefully the world will never forget again.

Prince didn’t merely copy James Brown, Hendrix, Little Richard, P-Funk and Sly Stone. He channeled them. He was a vessel of the divinely spiritual and sublimely sexual. And he understood that they were both one in the same as did Marvin Gaye and Jimi Hendrix. He was able to convey those all-powerful and beautifully transcendent experiences without flying too close to the sun as Jimi and Marvin did. Prince appeared to be in command at all times but there was a higher and more divine spirit feeding him that seemingly endless energy. Prince not only saw the mountain top, he grabbed it with both hands without an ounce of doubt or self loathing.

I recall having had some lengthy and profound conversations with B.B. King and Eric Clapton on how much Prince influenced them. Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, George Clinton, and Larry Graham all loved and worked with him. And he fostered some of their careers during some very tough times. No other artist of his or any other generation reached those trailblazers who had come before because his music encompassed everything they had done and much more. He was able to play R&B, funk, classical music, jazz, rock, gospel and blues. And he could fuse it all together effortlessly while creating something original and timeless. He held the key to that universal song. If Prince couldn’t do it, it couldn’t be done.

And now he’s gone at the age of 57. As much as I want to play his music as loud as possible for the rest of the day, part of me wants to hunker down in my bed and sleep until the awful year of 2016 has faded into the mist. Goodbye, Prince. Thanks for showing me and a countless number of other musicians that we could achieve so much more than we had ever dared to dream.

 

 

 

The First Time I Heard Duke

 

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

 

The first time I heard Duke Ellington I was in junior high-school. It was on some cheaply made compilation disc put together in no true chronological order and with no liner notes. It started with some selections from Duke’s legendary “comeback” live performance at Newport in ’56. It then jumped to a few songs from Duke’s Washintonian days of the late ’20s and then onto Duke’s Orchestras of the ’30s and ’40s. I had no other reference point for this amazing music so the disorganization of the CD meant nothing to me. But the music changed my life forever.

Those overwhelming crescendos by trumpeters Bubber Miley, Arthur Whetsol, Cootie Williams; saxophonists Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Ben Webster and trombonists Joe “Tricky Sam” Nanton, Lawrence Brown and Juan Tizol (to name only a few) grabbed my rapidly transforming mind and body and shot them way up into the stratosphere where they still remain.

The first thing I thought was “this is bigger than the Cyclone in Coney Island!” It was the largest sound I had ever witnessed. I had become accustomed to smaller bebop groups and thought that was what jazz was. Many of my peers snickered at the idea of big band jazz and thought of it as “old people’s music” but the first time I heard Duke, their obtuse opinions didn’t mean a damn thing.

Duke Pic

This is what swinging was all about. I couldn’t focus on anything else when I first heard Duke. It was all encompassing. Duke’s piano style was so sly, elegant and dynamic. It was this beautiful driving force at the center of these mad master reeds-men. I heard poetry within every phrase and chorus to “Mood Indigo”, “Black And Tan Fantasy”, “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”, “Satin Doll”, “Caravan”, and “Take The A Train”.

The music said more to me than the poetry Baudelaire, Rimbaud and William Blake with whom I was obsessed with at the time. Every human emotion possible was conveyed in each perfectly crafted hook and verse. Love, joy, anger, lust, confusion, frustration, bewilderment, and profound sadness were present at all times.

I said very little the first time I heard Duke. I went silent for days on in. What could I possibly say in the presence of this enormous life force? Duke and his trusted but rebellious men were saying it all. I had never seen the Grand Canyon or The Great Wall Of China but I heard Duke for the very first time and I took it all in. It was wonderfully overwhelming to the senses. I tried to imagine the excitement felt by the patrons of The Cotton Club in New York of the early ’20s before one of Duke’s shows. Many present then had already experienced the power and magic that was Duke on record but being there live; the scope of it defied my overly active preteen imagination. Those people also got to dance to Duke. Imagine a time when people understood and felt what truly swung and reacted to it physically. Could that happen today? I doubt it. Not like that.

Jimmy Blantan’s bass changed the way I heard the instrument in every way. “Cotton Tail” grabbed a hold of me more than any other composition when I first heard Duke. Ben Webster’s tone was so thick and rick that I imagined its sheer force unapologetically   cutting through bridges and highways. Sonny Greer’s drums pushed Ben to burn harder and harder within each verse. I could see Duke smiling at what he had created.

My childhood was wrought with misery and numbness until the first time I heard Duke. It was like discovering that third eye which allows one to see and understand the Universe on more spiritual and visceral terms. Duke did this to me and I guarantee he will do the same to you, if he hasn’t already. And don’t we need something larger than cheap, recycled  political rhetoric and vapid celebrities with no talent right now?

I hope those who read this piece will share with me their feelings of when they first heard Duke and maybe set aside political, religious and all other differences and remember that art is so much more transformative than all of the bullshit created to separate us.

 

 

Lafayette Harris Jr.- Hangin’ with The Big Boys(Airmen Records)

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

 

There truly is nothing like the real thing in jazz and in life in general. There’s plenty of the fake, lazy, and misleading but when a true jazz record comes across my desk, I’m truly grateful.  Lafayette Harris Jr’s Hangin’ With The Big Boys is one such album. Baltimore native Harris is a veteran pianist and composer of the New York City jazz scene. He’s worked with such greats as Max Roach, Sheila Jordan, Roswell Rudd, Ernestine Anderson, Frank Wess, Cindy Blackman, and Don Braden to name a few.

Harris’ previous album Bend To Light was a delightful trio recording. Hangin’ With The Big Boys explores a bigger band sound. Harris is joined by the legendary Houston Person, tenor saxophone, Antoine Drye, trumpet, George Delancey, bass, Will Terrill, drums, Caleb Curtis, alto & soprano sax, Jazzmeia Horn, vocals, and Noel Simone Whippler on vocals.

The album kicks off with a hard swinging and pure rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies” with fantastic vocals by both Jazzmeia Horn and Noel Simone Wippler and the most perfect tenor sax lines by the incomparable  Houston Person. The rhythm section of Delancey and Terrill  cooks. Harris’s piano work is slightly inspired by Thelonious Monk in its tonality and by Oscar Peterson in its attack and melodic sensibilities. But even with such strong influences, Harris has a unique style that is witty, soulful and most of all, sincere.

LAFAYETTE HARRIS PIC

The reading of Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood” is so exquisite and tender and features some of Houston Person’s most heartfelt ballad work ever recorded. Harris’ piano comping is subtle and tasteful. This performance alone makes this recording a must for all music lovers.

Harris’s originals such as the title track, “We’re In The House”, and “The Zombie Blues” bring to mind the dynamically funky ultra- precision of Ahmad Jamal’s late ’50s recordings; especially Will Terrill’s drumming which adds that sweet Vernell Fournier swing to the mix. Caleb Curtis’ thematic soprano sax lines deliver these beautifully poignant brush strokes while creating lush harmonic textures with trumpeter Antoine Drye.

Harris’ own compositions delve into that post-bebop mode with imagination and dedication. “Little Kevin’s Embrace” and “Drinking Wine Blues” are exploratory blues based numbers featuring delicately haunting vocals by Jazzmeia Horn. On the first, trumpeter Antoine Drye shows off his tremendously diverse chops and on the second, that trademark Houston Person soul makes every nuance that much greater. The melody lines are syncopated, complex yet very catchy. Harris’ solos are stellar on all levels.

Caleb Curtis’ upbeat original “The Wheelhouse” is the perfect vehicle to let everyone strut their stuff. Curtis, Drye and Harris sound as if the are pushing themselves to greater heights and not just sticking with the easy and overly familiar.

Just take a listen to Houston Person conjuring up the ghost of Gene Ammons while blowing over the changes of the Ray Noble standard “The Very Thought Of You”. If this doesn’t give you goose bumps, there’s something wrong with you. This is such an inspired performance. Harris’ piano playing is so thoughtful and complimentary of every soulful twist and turn by Person. This sounds like something recorded in 1957.  The production quality is so pure that it makes you feel as if you’re witnessing a live performance.

The album closes with a loving reading of George and Ira Gershwin’s “They All Laughed”.  Here Harris demonstrates why he’s one of the most talented pianists on the scene today. You rarely hear such dynamics and versatility by a pianist like this these days.  Harris isn’t trying to imitate Herbie Hancock or Chic Corea which in itself is most refreshing.

If you’re looking for a pure, “straight ahead” jazz recording with some of the greatest players in the world, then you must purchase Lafayette Harris Jr’s Hangin’ With The Big Boys which will be released on May, 6, 2016 on Airmen Records. This is essential listening.