Music Musings: All That Jazz

A Quartet In The StudioI found myself in an interesting mood this morning. Feeling tired and sleepy, I decided to skip the usual morning podcast-listening session in favor of the recently purchased Mulligan Meets Monk record, a Thelonious Monk disc that found the master pianist teaming up with saxophonist Gerry Mulligan. 

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The experience got me thinking about jazz and my relationship with that musical art form. Growing up, I didn’t hear much of it aside from pieces in commercials, TV shows and movies here and there. It wasn’t until high school that I had my first real exposure to one of the few, truly American art forms.

At the time I had a website — I was very intent on calling it a site and not a blog because I thought the word was silly (it is) — where I would trade bootleg recordings with people. Actually, it’s still up because apparently Angelfire is still a thing. Anyway, out of nowhere I got an email asking if I would be interested in putting a banner ad up on the bootleg trading page in exchange for some swag. I said sure, popped in some code and eventually got a package in the mail from this company I’d never heard of.

It was Blue Note, the biggest jazz label around. I had no idea. Anyway, this happened twice and I wound up getting some records that might not have made it into my regular rotation, but definitely primed the pump for my later love of the genre. I remember getting Soulive’s Doin’ Something, Karl Denson’s Dance Lesson #2 and Charlie Hunter’s Songs From An Analog Playground.

I still listen to these records and am glad that they were the first ones I came across because they opened me up to the idea of new jazz. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, it’s a genre of music that is perceived to be mostly ruled by dead musicians. This is still a vast, evolving art form that new people are doing amazing things with.

I remember being blown away by the way Denson incorporated a DJ (DJ Logic to be specific) into his compositions, Soulive kept things fun and funky and Hunter brought in singers like Mos Def and a pre-fame Norah Jones to help bring his songs to life. There’s a vibrancy to those records that make them worth listening to and also built an interesting foundation for what jazz could be in my mind. This is not a stagnant form and it should not stay static. Art doesn’t work that way, museums do.miles davis bitches brew

The first classic jazz record I ever picked up was Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. That jazz/rock fusion album probably wasn’t the best place to dip my toe in for either the genre or Davis’ fantastic catalog, but one of my favorite magazines at the time Guitar World, did a huge feature on it and I was interested. Unfortunately, the acid washed improvisation wasn’t something I was quite ready for yet so I only listened to the full double album a few times before shelving it.

It wasn’t until my senior year of college at Ohio Wesleyan that I really continued my jazz journey. I’d pretty much nailed down all my required classes to graduate and decided to take it easy on myself both class and schedule wise. That translated into a very relaxed schedule that included Jazz 110 at the music building, a place I’d only been a handful of times in my college career (it was in a completely part of the campus).

The class seemed split between people like myself looking to get an easy credit and others who were legitimately into this kind of music. And, honestly, it was a pretty easy class. The hardest part came when we were played various instruments and had to write down what they were. That’s not my strong suit and I think I bombed that quiz pretty hard. But the rest of it was pretty basic stuff with a mix of history — tracing the music back to New Orleans — and memorization. For the final I remember listening to a long list of songs because we’d have to name them on the test after hearing a snippet. I’ve always been bad at remembering non-obvious song names, so that was tough too.

The songs themselves all came from the Ken Burns Jazz box set, which we had to buy for class. A lot of kids burned or downloaded it, but I got one (well, my parents got me one along with my other text books which I did feel a bit bad about because I was actually excited about the purchase. Still, I got a good deal on a used one). If you’re even remotely interested in jazz, that box is a great place to start because it takes a chronological look at the form going from old school New Orleans brass band stuff all the way up through Weather Report. In other words, it’s a great sampler.jazz the first 100 years

One of the big things I learned from that class were the different subgeneres of jazz. You’ve got everything from New Orleans and bop to blue, swing, acid, fusion and even jazz-rap. There is a ridiculous amount of music out there that, but the nice thing about the Ken Burns set and the Jazz: The First 100 Years textbook we used is that I got an idea of the form’s spectrum. From there I was able to zero in on the elements and subgenres that interested me most. For instance, I remember reading about Cecil Taylor’s crazy piano playing and then gave him a listen on the box set and realized I wanted to listen to more of that. You can do a lot of this with various websites and YouTube these days, but that’s not where my musical journey took me.

From there, I started exploring the greats. I picked up a couple Benny Goodman records — including one that’s a two disc full concert — got more into the biggies like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderly and Charles Mingus. I’ve also branched out into some of the odder stuff like Us3, a hip hop group that only sang over sampled jazz licks.

One aspect of jazz that I fell in love with pretty quickly was  how dramatic and comic book-like the whole scene was for a while. When I got into comics, I just dove in and started learning all I could about these characters. Eventually I built up a pretty solid mental database of who did what and when various characters teamed up. There’s a lot of that in jazz too. All of these people had these big personalities and crazy backstories. They were part of a band (team) for a period of time and then either moved on to another one or started their own. There’s also all kinds of team-ups all over the place. There’s a drama to the whole thing that sparked my imagination and helped me get interested in not just the music, but the people as well. Projects like The Quintet or Duke Ellington recording with Louis Armstrong hold a lot of appeal for me.

Another aspect of the form — at least the stuff I seem to be drawn to — is that it can be listened to on various levels. I can put something like Monk’s Alone In San Francisco and flow in and out of it while I do work or get some writing done. But, I can also sit and really explore these records, noting how they twist, turn and play with the form. I’m not nearly musical enough to get too in depth with this stuff, but I like a record that you could potentially sit in a dark room with and just experience. A lot of the jazz records I’ve listened to can be that.

While I still check out the jazz section of any used record store I find myself at, the main source of recently purchased records comes from Amazon’s MP3 store. Every month they put 100 albums on sale for $5 each and there’s usually a jazz album or two in there. That’s where I got Mulligan Meets Monk and a few others like Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers’ Moanin’, Cannonaball’s Bossa Nova, Miles Davis’ seminal Kind Of Blue and even the Willie Nelson, Winton Marsalis and Norah Jones Ray Charles tribute called Here We Go Again.

It’s kind of wild to think that I’ve only been into this form of music for 8 years or so. Sure there were those first few Blue Note records, but those could have easily turned into outliers in the statistical equation of my music collection, a funny story to tell from my online past. What’s even stranger to think about is how separated this kind of music tends to be in the world of pop culture. Jazz just isn’t out there in the pop world as much as other forms, so it’s possible to completely miss it if you’re not looking for something new and different. Now that I think about it, that’s another common theme between jazz and comic books. Anyway, I’m hoping to remedy that a bit with my kid and expose her to this stuff at an early age. I hope she digs that swing!

Casting Internets

Every morning I go through my RSS feeds for my day job. My main goal is to figure out what will make for good stories over on Spinoff, but I also keep an eye on toy news and look for fun stories to read later. I have a ridiculous backlog right now that I’m slowly going through, so you’ll see a few older interviews and news bites here, but I’m still jazzed about them.raid-2_42098472

The Raid 2 is getting a US release! We don’t know when yet, but that’s awesome! (via Variety)

how i met your mother season 9

TVLine put together a list of 15 questions they’d like to see How I Met Your Mother answer before ending this year. I agree with about 10 of them, but still a fun rundown.

I’m a big fan of the Ramones anthology that Rhino put out several years back, but I’ve got to say, this box set that Rolling Stone talks about bringing their first six records into one package for under $40 is awfully appealing.

I’m a big fan of the National Treasure movies, so when I read this brief interview on Collider with director Jon Turteltaub about one filming in the next few years, I got pretty stoked.led zeppelin

New Led Zeppelin tracks? That’s not enough for me to re-buy all the records, but I’m definitely intrigued by this Rolling Stone story about songs with John Paul Jones vocals.duplassbros-group

I’ve become a big fan of the Duplass Bros. in the past few years, so I enjoyed this interview with them about what they’re up to these days over on Variety.

It would have been pretty cool to be at that small, career-spanning Blink-182 concert they talked about in this Rolling Stone interview.bootlegsupes1

I’ve always enjoyed reading about wacky bootleg action figures like the one I found above. The Fwoosh contributor TheManInTheAntHill did a pretty great one recently that’s worth a look.

Dave Grohl opened up to Rolling Stone about the waning days of Nirvana. I’m alway up for a Nirvana interview, you guys.Halloween blu-ray

Halloween is one of those movies where you’re never quite sure which version to buy, so I’m glad that HMAD got around to not only reviewing the latest offering, but saying that it’s the one to buy. Much appreciated!mister-rogers

Little Ms. Sunshine was a really emotionally honest film, so I think it’s directors are great choices to make a Mister Rogers biopic. (via TheWrap)

I discovered this old Mental Floss article about the 10 coolest Disney park attractions that never got made while doing some research for a story. Fun stuff!foreverly

Whoa, Rolling Stone is reporting that Norah Jones and Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day have joined forces to cover an Everly Brothers record. It’s called Foreverly and I’m incredibly intrigued.beach party

The CW sounds like the perfect place to set a drama revolving around California’s emerging surf scene in the 60s. Scheduling conflicts aside, I’m…on board. (via Deadline)

Casting Internets

This is from before the season finale, but I think it still holds true. Courtney Enlow over at Pajiba completely nails the problem with How I Met Your Mother: the creators seem as obsessed with Ted and Robin as Ted is. Also, I completely agree with her inability to really let the show go because we both love these characters so much. Sigh.

This is also pretty old at this point, but I finally got around to reading Robin Williams’ tribute to Jonathan Winters from The New York Times is a really great read.

Brian Collins’ Horror Movie A Day review of Rob Zombie’s Lords Of Salem actually makes me kinda want to watch that movie, something I’ve never said in my life.

Do yourself a favor and read my buddy Alex Kropinak‘s look back at the very first What The-?! he did for Marvel.com.

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I like Fall Out Boy and I like artist Dave Perillo, so the two coming together in the form of this Perillo-created FOB poster is fun.

While on the subject of FOB, Andy Greene’s Rolling Stone article about what went on between their last album and Save Rock And Roll was pretty fascinating.

Ron Marz is a whole heckuva lot busier than I am and on a completely different level as a writer, but there’s a lot I can relate to in his “day in the life” piece for CBR as a comic writer.

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Man, I have got to see Miami Connection. Not sure if I want to buy the film from Drafthouse without seeing it, but these packs are awfully tempting.

Mental Floss took a walk down memory lane by digging up memories of the Nickelodeon time capsule buried back in 1992 supposed to be dug up in 50 years. I wonder what comic book is in there.

I’ve often wondered what the collaboration between Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis would have sounded like. Rolling Stone says Paul McCartney was also possibly going to be involved. That might not sound super exciting, but then think about how Paul’s weirdness would have bounced off and been morphed by those guys. Epic.

Bloody Disgusting says a new Gremlins movie might be in the works. I like this news quite a bit.

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Hey, speaking of Chris Columbus (he wrote Gremlins) has anyone read his House Of Secrets book? He says it’s the thematic cousin of Goonies in this THR interview which definitely sounds intriguing.

I just read that Alton Brown‘s going to have a podcast on Nerdist Network. This is very good news.

Finally, this is pretty heavy, but if you’ve ever felt depressed, you can probably relate to the most recent Hyperbole And A Half post. It’s long, but it’s really well done too.

Casting Internets

I haven’t read the Panels on Pages Wizard Alumni Where Are They Now interviews featuring Ben Morse, Chris Ward, Jim Gibbons, Brian Cunningham and Rick Marshall just yet because it looks pretty long, but I did skim it and yes, I did get mentioned and do appear in a photo or two, so it’s worth looking at.

Speaking of Wizard buddies, Josh Wigler has loosed himself upon the world of freelance again! I assume this will mean fewer jobs for myself, but he’s a good dude, so that’s okay.

One last plug for my friends, but world renowned toy animator and my number one walking-around-NYC-post-NYCC companion Alex Kropinak now has a blog. Go read it, fool!

There’s an “Avengers of horror” in the works starring Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, Mr. Hyde and  seven other horror icons. Could be interesting. (via THR)

Justin Timberlake’s records have never been as appealing to me as his SNL hosting gigs, but Jody Rosen’s Rolling Stone review of his new album The 20/20 Experience sounds more up my alley.

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I love me some eboy. His cityscapes are amazing and somewhere in the depths of my ToyFare-acquired toy collection I have a Hugh Hefner figure based on his artwork as well as a poster. I literally said, “Whoooaaaa,” when I saw this cruise ship image of his. Super neat!

Jack White talked to Rolling Stone about new solo tracks, new Dead Weather and the rad sounding blue Reissue series from Third Man Records. Give it a look.

THR says that Kurt Sutter of Sons of Anarchy fame is creating a horror/timetravel series at FX called Lucas Stand. I haven’t seen SOA yet, but have only heard good things. This sounds like an interesting concept and FX hasn’t steered my wrong yet, so I’ll give it a watch if it actually happens.

THR also made a list of 15 interesting bits of information discussed by the Big Bang Theory cast and creators at Paley Fest. There’s some fun stuff in there for fans.

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I’m actually kind of happy these days when I see Mondo posters I’m not into because I know I probably wouldn’t be able to get one and don’t have the scratch to spend on one anyway. However, this Beetlejuice one by Ken Taylor as shown over on Bad Ass Digest is spectacular.

Sylvester Stallone tweeted that he wants more humor in Expendables 3. Not sure how I feel about that considering the hackie jokes were the worst part of 2. I’m still in, though, even more so if Jackie Chan’s involved. (via Collider)

Have you tried Nicolas Cage Roulette? It’s a website you can go to with many Nic Cage faces. You click whether you want it to chose any movie from the actor’s filmography (at least what’s on Netflix Instant) or just the action movies. I tried “All” four times and got Face/Off twice, Season of the Witch and  Adaptation. Fun stuff!

An album of Elvis Costello recording with The Roots sounds rad. Maybe THAT record will get me to finally get back to writing Supergroup Showcases. (via Rolling Stone)

superman silver age dailies

IDW’s collection of Silver Age Superman comic strips looks pretty neat. Looks like they’re also doing Batman and Wonder Woman strips. I didn’t even know there WAS a WW comic strip! (via Robot 6)

I’ve had this Boing Boing link about 22 Pixar storytelling rules saved for a while, but only recently read through them. It’s interesting how many of them I wound up following in my recent comic script.

This Toledo Blade article about some of the fancier restaurants from my home town’s past was incredibly interesting.

Esquire‘s right, Dubai’s weird you guys.

Ron Marz’s latest Shelf Life column over on CBR is about his one experience with comic writing stage fright, but he also talks about some behind the scenes stuff when it came to DC Versus Marvel and Amalgam, two ideas that captured my imagination when I was kid.

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My buddy Jim Gibbons reposted this rad piece of Star Wars Mike Mignola art over on his Pizza Party! Tumblr. So rad.

Casting Internets

My pal Jim McCann was on The freaking Price is Right! It was so cool watching him, unfortunately he got robbed. Dude gives great face, though, doesn’t he?

Reading my buddy Sean Collins‘ review of Contagion makes me want to get it from Netflix again and hope for a copy that isn’t scratched to crap.

I feel strangely proud that Dan Trachtenberg is going to direct a Y: The Last Man movie. I was a big fan of The Totally Rad show and miss the podcast more than I thought, but am happy those guys are getting out there and doing their respective things. Also, that’s just a great book that I know he gets. (via THR)scott c showdowns the stuff

I love Scott C’s Showdowns, I also love when I happen to have seen one of the more obscure movies he does for the first time a few months before he draws things like this one based on The Stuff.

Crank and Gamer in 3D? I would love to see that. Don’t know if my brain could handle it, thought. (via THR)

Rolling Stone reports that Jack White found a recording of his pre-White Stripes band Jack White and the Bricks from 1999 recorded in a Detroit bowling alley. It’s going to be presented on white vinyl but is exclusive to TMR Vault members. Anyone have an extra $240 I can just have to get all their releases this year, that’d be rad. mike mignola catwoman

Gah, Mike Mignola drew Catwoman! Don’t know if I’ve seen this before, but I’m glad The Mary Sue posted it cause it’s radtacular. Much as I love Hellboy, I’d love to see him get back into the Big Two every now and then.

There’s going to be a Doctor Who audio drama starring Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann called “The Light at the End.” I very much want to hear this. (via Hero Complex)

I really enjoyed Charles P. Pierce’s “The Chris Christie Conundrum” on Esquire.com. This opening sentence is fantastic: Ever since it realized that the entire Republican nominating process was a competition between grifters and fools that only made sense if it produced the one man in the field whom nobody really liked, America’s courtier press has been turning itself into a pretzel trying to avoid the obvious fact that the Republican party has become demented.”

Sean Lennon’s noise rock duo Mystical Weapons sounds pretty interesting. I have no idea what noise rock means, by the way. (via Rolling Stone)

Disney’s Infinity game sounds pretty interesting. I like the concept of trying to recreate playing with a bunch of toys from different lines in video game form. Not excited about having to buy actual toys to play in the game I assume you’ll have to pay for, though. (via THR)

I love seeing trailers for Jason Statham movies on TV and have therefore had a great time seeing all the Parker ads. Anyway, while he talked to Collider about that movie, they also got updates on Homeland and Expendables 3. I think it’s rad how he’s gotten in with the old guard of action guys to the point where Stallone is rewriting scripts that he intended to star in for Statham. That’s got to feel awesome.

Whoa, Tom Morello’s filling in for Stevie Van Zandt on Bruce Springsteen’s Australian tour? I would like those shows recorded, someone make it happen. (via Rolling Stone)

Lastly, I’m excited that DC‘s reprinting Jack Kirby’s In The Days Of The Mob! I wonder how much more of his material there is to reprint, anyone know?

Supergroup Showcase: Paul McCartney & Nirvana

There’s nothing about any of this that should work. Paul McCartney playing with the surviving members of Nirvana (including touring guitarist, and Foo Fighter Pat Smear) and playing a full on rock and roll song? My brain tells me that should not be a thing that works and rocks. Oh, Sir Paul’s also playing a cigar box guitar (or is it a ukelele, I really have no idea)? Oh heavens no. And yet, when I first saw them perform “Cut Me Some Slack,” I was blown away.

I heard about this collaboration first for the 12/12/12 concert, but didn’t actually watch the clip until today, after seeing them blaze through the rollicking track on Saturday Night Live. i was so unbelievably pumped up after hearing this performance not only because McCartney’s singles output lately has been…not the best, but also because this felt like a viable supergroup. I don’t expect them to tour or anything — though that would be pretty incredible — but there’s potential there for a really cool record. I say let’s make it happen!

My 12 Favorite New-To-Me Records Of 2011

Okay, as promised, I’m finally getting around to writing about my favorite new-to-me records of 2011, just like I did last year. Of course, I’m not counting new old record by my favorite bands of the year, because that would just be redundant. As it happened there were a clean dozen records that really sparked my imagination and pleased my ears in various ways this year. I’m going to try and keep these short and sweet, but you never know when it comes to me. As you probably know, I can get a bit wordy. If you want to see all those words, hit the jump. Continue reading My 12 Favorite New-To-Me Records Of 2011