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Louie sings Dinah

Louis Armstrong the Great Jazz Singer – Really?

As a kid, I heard a bit of Louis Armstrong on his trumpet and he sounded just fine to my ear, but then came “Hello Dolly” and as far as I know that is the first time I ever heard Louie sing. My reaction to Armstrong’s singing was basically why in the world would anyone want to hear a gravelly sounding voice like that and why do they have to play this song on the radio every 15 minutes.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only person that wasn’t impressed by Louis or the song “Hello Dolly.” But, one thing has changed over the years. I’m not just a fan of Louis’ horn playing, but also his singing.

So, why has my view of Louis Armstrong so different than when I was a kid? I think it started when I was reading about someone that I actually loved immediately and that was Billie Holiday. The article I read about Billie said that she learned much of her phrasing from listening to Louis Armstrong; the article went on and said that in turn Frank Sinatra learned much of his phrasing by listening to Billie. No, that can’t be I thought, but I was willing to give ‘Pops’ (as Armstrong was often called) another try.

I found a few songs where Louis and Billie sang together and sure enough you can hear it is all in the phrasing and now the music pops, it is really easy to hear that connection between the two of them.

But what about Frank Sinatra? Well, here is Frank Sinatra singing "All of Me " After listening to this version, listen to Billie's slower version. You will hear the connection between the three singers.

But, besides Armstrong's great phrasing, this man took the straight rhythm that rigid and made it swing. Ken Burn's made a point in his documentary on Jazz that Louis really changed the way music was both played and sang.

Louie can be heard lagging on the beat and then double-timing and making things just flow in free form, but making everything come together, because he never lost the original timing or melody. A really great example of that is the song Dinah - have a listen:

Yes, I'm glad that I didn't shut my ears, because I came to love the music of Louis Armstrong!

One day in December I was taking a walk through Central Park and I came to walking through some snow near by Tavern on the Green; playing through the outdoor speakers was one of the most beautiful songs you could ever hear and it was Armstrong's version of "What a Wonderful World" - Hope you enjoy it!
lisa fischer singing at Super Bowl

Lisa Fischer as close to stardom as she wants to be

Stephen Sonheim said “If I cannot fly, let me sing” Interestingly enough on March 2nd, the Oscars awarded the honors to the documentary “20 Feet From Stardom”, which is a overdue tribute to the incredibly gifted backup singers that may not be able to fly, but their voices sure soar and make all the music they’re involved with so much better.

One of those amazing talents is Lisa Fischer, who is known in the industry and in demand, having an enviable resume that includes Billy Ocean, Melba Moore, Teddy Pendergrass, Roberta Flack, and Chris Botti as well as being together with Luther Vandross and his regular group for a number of years

Lisa never let herself be locked into one style of music and for this reason she’s been a powerhouse vocalist joining forces with rockers like Sting, Chaka Khan, The Rolling Stones and recently Nine Inch Nails.

Lisa’s schedule is jam packed, but I was able to ask her just a few questions that she let me share here.

(Q) Jazzipedia: I know that you grew up having classical training, so was singing R&B, Soul and Rock a definitive choice over singing opera or did circumstances lead you down that path?

(A) Lisa: Singing in different styles was just me following the path laid before me and doing them to the best of my ability at the time.

(Q) Jazzipedia: Was your family surprised at your choice?

(A) Lisa: I don’t think so. They were supportive in my path.

There was one artist in particular that I wanted to talk to Lisa about and that is Luther Vandross. It so happens that I went to Junior High School with Wayne Garfield who wrote Luther’s first huge hit entitled “The Glow of Love”

When Wayne wrote this song, he was close friends with a group named Change and Wayne took it upon himself to ask Change if they would have Luther sing this one song that he had written on their album; the result was phenomenal, the song itself was one of the greatest club hits for a very long time and people just fell in love with Luther’s voice, which secured Luther with a solo career.

(Q) Jazzipedia: I’ve seen it mentioned in a few places, even in the movie “20 Feet from Stardom” that you considered Luther Vandross a mentor. What things would define what you learned from Luther?

(A) Lisa Subtleties and listening were the most important gifts he gave me

Although this was a brief answer, I believe that it speaks volumes, because many of the vocal talent displayed on TV programs aimed at competition, present so many aspiring artists who riff every chance they get and often beat a note into being unimpressive. Rather than an embellishment, it can often be a barrage of notes that may have the right note in there somewhere, but poorly reflect the melody of the original song.

Lisa, much like her mentor Luther, plays with a note with tremendous expressiveness and yes it is those little things that mean so much.

I had one last question for Lisa and that was in regard to the newest member of those celebrated in the movie “20 Feet from Stardom”

(Q) Jazzipedia: Since you’ve worked with Chaka Khan and Judith Hill’s mom worked for her as well, did you ever know Judith as a kid or work with her mom?

(A) Lisa I met Judith and her Mom at Sundance in 2012, her Dad as well. His name is PeeWee, and he’s an amazing bass player.

Lisa also told me that Judith was just the sweetest person and when I met Judith here in Portland back in October, I found out that she was right.

So, did the movie provide a boost to Lisa’s and the other members featured in “20 Feet from Stardom?” In a recent interview Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer and Judith Hill all felt that they were exactly where they should be in their careers and that they are accepting their paths as it carves itself out for them.

That all of those featured in the documentary are being greatly appreciated is easily proved by the fact that “20 Feet From Stardom” is still playing; Portland, Oregon started playing the movie one week after its release and has been playing it ever since.

In addition to the wonderful support (what Lisa refers to as ‘blanket support’) for the artists she accompanies, you can see her perform her own hit single “How Can I Ease The Pain”

As a final note, Lisa has made it a point that she loves what she does and will not sacrifice everything and anything just to have her name on a billboard; her facebook page sums up her feelings simply by saying “Some people will do anything to be famous… I just want to sing.”

Victor Wooten Music Lesson

The Music Lesson

Victor Wooten's Guide to All

Victor Wooten’s fresh way of viewing music.

Every new artist is a reflection of those before them as well as a development out of their own unique experiences. Although every post on here has been about an individual, it would be amiss if we didn’t at times tell you about something we feel is worthwhile reading and learning, so here it is –  we would like to point to one book that is so hard to put down, it is simply called “The Music Lesson.” This book was written by Victor L. Wooten, a bass player virtuoso. But, note, this book isn’t addressed to bass players, it is addressed to everyone. Notice I didn’t say to every musician, but really anyone, as long as they want to reach within themselves and find the musician inside.

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Mel Torme

Mel Torme – Working Right Out of the Sandbox

youngmelTIn a comedy skit years ago, Steve Martin was saying that he had been in college studying the great artists of the past, like Leonardo da Vinci and Michael Angelo. These men were so brilliant, they sculpted, painted, invented and Steve Martin felt so humbled learning about these men. He too wanted to do something amazing and worthwhile and that’s why he explained “I took up juggling.” Of course this is inane humor, but there are some people in jazz that make everyone else feel just so average and left wondering what they’ve done with their life; Such a man to make everyone wonder was Mel Tormé. Continue reading

Art Tatum Pianist

Art Tatum – Even Bird Washed Dishes to Listen

tatum_artArt Tatum was born was born on Oct 13, 1909 and died Nov 5, 1956. Teddy Wilson said: “Maybe this will explain Art Tatum. If you put a piano in a room, just a bare piano. Then you get all the finest jazz pianists in the world and let them play in the presence of Art Tatum. Then let Art Tatum playeveryone there will sound like an amateur.

Pianists with regular styles will sound like beginners. Art Tatum played with such superiority that he was above style. It is almost like a golfer who can hit a hole in one every time he picks up the iron. It was a special kind of ability he had. If I had to choose an all ‘round instrumentalist’, in a classical vein, or in a more modern vein, I’d choose Art Tatum.”

Art had so many ways to harmonize in his head that Charlie Parker worked in a club for two weeks washing dishes just so he could listen to Art. Some say that it was after listening to Art, that Parker was able to connect some of the dots that improved his harmonic ideas. Art’s jazz solos were so brilliant, he was able take a simple song like “Tea for Two” and turn it into a jazz standard that was challenging.
Art’s abilities were legendary, so much so that it was not unusual to see Vladamir Horowitz, Leopold Stokowski or George Gershwin in the audience.

Art would readily credit that he learned a great deal from Fats Waller; but even Waller himself once alerted his audience to Tatum’s presence by saying, “I just play the piano, but God is in the house tonight.”
There are many musicians that would hesitate to share their knowledge, but Art was generous. Other fine musicians such as Les Paul and Eddie Durham took advantage of Tatum’s willingness to share his ideas. Art was willing to teach anyone, he just asked that they supply the beer.

front row to greatness

My Front Row Seat To Greatness

pass_joe_1As a kid, there was always some great music playing on the radio and I got to appreciate a lot of jazz and commit those melodies to memory even more than my parents. I followed the trends in music and became interested in only rock music for a number of years, but when someone played for me Coltrane’s “Favorite Things”, it rekindled an appreciation for Jazz music. It also helped that one of my favorite singers, Joni Mitchell stopped just singing folk and light rock and entered the
world of jazz.

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Gunshot, Arrest, Then Stardom

armstrong_louisSome roads to success are stranger and more twisted than others. Some artists start out in such poor conditions that they become so determined to improve their lives nothing can stop them; but Louis Armstrong’s story is a bit different. His opportunities for success opened up only after he committed a misdemeanor.

In 1913, specifically December 31, New Year’s Eve, a young Louis Armstrong was celebrating that evening and fired a gun in the air. He was a kid that got into trouble there and again, and this was one time it was felt that Louis should stay in the Colored Waif’s Home For Boys and he was there for 2 years. Continue reading

Martin Taylor and His Guitar

Martin Taylor Steps Out

Taylor_MartinIn 1998 about 30 of jazz’s premier guitarists gathered together to pay tribute to jazz legend Herb Ellis. Throughout the evening guitarists stepped out accompanied by either another guitarist, or as part of a trio to play one or two tunes. Everyone playing that night was an excellent player, not a clunker in the bunch, but only one person chose to play alone and that was Martin Taylor.

Throughout the audience as people were looking at the schedule of players, many were saying “Who’s this guy, Martin Taylor, did you ever hear of him?” Martin a Scottish guitarist that had grown up in England was not as well known as many of the guitarists there that night.  So, for many in attendance, this was going to be a first impression. Continue reading