Archive for the Keith Richards Category

EARS WIDE OPEN #3

Posted in Derek Bailey, Fred Frith, Guy Segers, Keith Richards, Rova Saxophone Quartet, The Residents, Univers Zero, Victo Festival with tags , , , , , , on January 26, 2011 by candymachine

 I used to subscribe to an on-line subscription site called ‘Rock’s Back Pages.’ It endeavors to make available (eventually) all articles published in rock music magazines since the dawn of time (or at least since the  70s). In addition to the articles, they also make available a hefty number of taped interviews with all manner of rock music notables. I listened to a lot of the interviews, which I found of some interest, and remember one in particular that was conducted with Sir Mick Jagger, (long before he became a Sir). This took place in the early or mid 70s, before Prog Music fell into disfavour with establishment critics, and the interviewer was probing Jagger on his knowledge of the day’s current crop of music heavyweights. The tone of the questioning suggested that perhaps the interviewer thought that the Stones had become yesterday’s news placed against the new Prog rock caped crusaders. In particular, the interviewer asked Jagger if he knew of the band Yes. This was followed by asking him if he knew who the keyboardist in Yes was. To which Jagger responded, rather incredulously, that of course he knew who the keyboardist of Yes was. Jagger displayed his indignation quite nicely by not actually naming the musician in question, which would have thereby condoned the line of questioning. (It was Rick Wakeman at the time, if anyone cares).

 I remember this exchange vividly because it’s an illuminating example of something that drives me crazy. Namely, there is a widespread assumption that because a musician or band releases records which occupy a particular place on the musical spectrum, they are probably not interested in, or may know nothing about, any music that goes on elsewhere in the musical spectrum. Jagger admitted that he was not very interested in Yes, and that his interests were elsewhere, but the suggestion that he would be unaware of them is, frankly, ridiculous. I don’t know if Keith Richards enjoys the guitar work of Fred Frith or Derek Bailey, but I’m quite certain that he’s at least familiar with their playing. I would wager that he at least finds it of interest. Richards is well known as a vast repository of knowledge of the Blues tradition, in all it’s variations, but I’m sure he has sought out anyone who approaches the guitar in a new way.

 Why should we think otherwise?  Large swaths of the general listening public may seek out cozy cubby holes to listen in, hardly straying from the familiar and known, but musicians are generally speaking cut from a different cloth. I recently came across a brief note in a popular music magazine, possibly Uncut or Mojo, reporting that Alicia Keys (of all people!) had come across some old Emerson, Lake & Palmer material (of all people!) and thought that Keith Emerson was positively wild and that she thought she might like to implement something of that into her own work. The fact that it showed up in the magazine in the way that it did suggests that the very notion that these two worlds would cross paths is newsworthy enough to report. The fact, however, that Alicia Keys would find something interesting enough in Emerson to draw from just shows that the borderlines dividing those worlds are less of a concern for musicians.

 I’ve been a frequent concert-goer at the Victo festival (Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville) since 1989. One of my fondest memories from Victo dates to the Univers Zero performance back in 1997. The group had left the stage after an encore and the chant went up for another. After a few moments, the band returned to the stage, and with them came the Rova Saxophone Quartet. “It’s a surprise, even for us,” said bass player Guy Segers. It was indelibly etched into my mind not because the music they ended up performing together was particularly brilliant, but rather because of the juxtaposition with abandon of these two seemingly disparate musical animals. Brilliant!

 Remember the classic era Residents performing with Conway Twitty on David Sanborn’s Night Music TV show? Those were the days, or could be one day.

EARS WIDE OPEN 2

Posted in Bill Laswell, David Bowie, Evan Parker, Fred Frith, George Lewis, Keith Richards, Lester Bowie, Robert Wyatt, Rolling Stones on November 25, 2010 by candymachine

In my previous post,  I suggested that musicians tend to be wide open to the musical universe while listeners en masse are inclined toward a narrower focus. Today, I’d like to offer a follow-up illustration.

In the previous post, I used three references to three musicians to suggest this openness. Those musicians were Keith Richards, George Lewis and Robert Wyatt.  At first glance, these three musicians – titans in their respective fields – might seem like a wildly incongruous mix of musical characters. In a sense, they are. And yet, even though they are at home in  different genres, they turn out to be close neighbours.

I like the notion of ‘six degrees of separation;’ that any 2 individuals can be linked together via 6 other individual contacts. I think we can take this notion and map it onto the world of musicians and indeed link any 2 individuals through 6 (or 5 or 4 or 3) others.  Let’s take a closer look at our seemingly incongruous three musicians above. Keith Richards might seem light years away from Robert Wyatt to some, but Richards’ Rolling Stone bandmate Charlie Watts also runs the Charlie Watts Big Band, which lets Watts indulge his love of jazz.  Radical saxophonist Evan Parker has been a part of Watts’ band, and Parker has also appeared on record with Wyatt, most notably on Wyatt’s great ‘Shleep.’  That makes for a separation of merely 2 musicians between Richards and Wyatt. In fact, I’m sure there is an even more direct connection between the two musicians that I’m not aware of.

How about George Lewis?  Lewis has played with Evan Parker too, so he is situated on the same line we just traced. I know Lewis has also played with Fred Frith and Chris Cutler, who in turn have both enjoyed a long, friendly history with Wyatt.  As for connecting him up to Richards, off the top of my head I know that Lewis has worked with bass maverick Bill Laswell, who also produced one of Mick Jagger’s solo outings. Jagger has, of course, an acquaintance with Richards.

We could do this all night.  How about George Lewis and late 60s/ early 70s teen idol David Cassidy of Partridge Family fame? The AACM seems light years from old schlocky TV sitcoms.  However, David Cassidy once tried to shake off his candy floss idol image and stake a claim for himself as a reputable musician by hooking up with Mick Ronson to produce a solo album. Ronson, of course, had been a guitarist with David Bowie’s band, circa Ziggy Stardust, and Bowie had invited his namesake Lester Bowie (of the Art Ensemble of Chicago) to bring his trumpet along to Bowie’s ‘Black Tie, White Noise’ sessions. In 2006, Lewis released a recording, titled Sequel, which was dedicated to the late, great Lester. So, that’s just 3 musicians separating George Lewis and David Cassidy.

We could do this all night.

EARS WIDE OPEN / EARS WIDE NOT

Posted in George Lewis, Keith Richards, NOW Orchestra, Robert Wyatt, Spool with tags , on November 22, 2010 by candymachine

1st vignette:

 In his newly released memoir, titled “Life,” Keith Richards writes:

 “They [schoolmates at art school] sometimes got at me because I still liked Elvis at the time, and Buddy Holly, and they didn’t understand how I could possibly be an art student and be into blues and jazz and have anything to do with that. There was a certain “Don’t go there” with rock n’ roll, glossy photographs and silly suits. But it was just music to me.”

 2nd vignette:

Up until a few short years ago, I was involved with the CD label Spool. We were in the midst of putting together a CD with trombone great George Lewis and the NOW Orchestra (The Shadowgraph Series: Compositions for Creative Orchestra). At the time, Spool was running three different music series, loosely divided into improvisation, contemporary composition, and the rather vague new media / new form series. I was explaining to George the differences between the three series with respect to where the Shadowgraph CD was going to end up. I remember vividly the questioning stare I  was getting from George as I broke down the classifications. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand what each series was about. Rather, he couldn’t get why all the music would warrant three different series. To borrow from the Richards reference above, it was all just music to George Lewis.

 3rd vignette:

Robert Wyatt, one of the greatest vocalists singing in the English language, was asked what kinds of music he liked, to which he replied –in true Wyattesque fashion –  that he only knew of two kinds of music: good music and bad music. He liked the former. For Wyatt too, it was all just music.

What these vignettes point to, I hope, is the general tendency on the part of musicians to be wide open to the musical spectrum. It’s a big musical universe out there, and musicians find it friendly. Sure, there are some musicians who don’t follow this tendency, but generally I find it to be true.

But here’s the rub, I would suggest that the opposite tendency holds sway among  music fans / listeners. Most listeners insulate themselves into niches and pigeon holes. They carry the torch for specific genres in contraposition to other genres. We all know the jazz or classical snob, the head banger, the folkie, the punk, the Prog Rocker, Hip Hop heads, etc. Here too, I am generalizing; there are listeners out there who have a voracious appetite for a wide range of music, but they are vastly outnumbered by the listeners who plow a narrow field.

 Why should this be the case? What makes listeners, generally speaking, narrowly focused on music? I think a lot of it comes down to self-identity formation. I think a lot of people use music as a way of stating who they are, what they are about. In its worst form, it’s part of an exercise in  prefab ‘life-style choice.’  Music becomes an accessory, a constituent element of personal brand.

 Which actually just begs the next question, why do we need to do this? Why do we use music in this way? Is this music’s primary use value? It’s true that the music one likes and gravitates to says something of who one is, but at worst music also becomes a commodity used to articulate the persona we want others to see us as.  A lot of this ‘need’ to ‘self-identify’ –  the need to be ‘me’ through a barrage of commodities, including music, is driven by commercial interests through media, of course.  If we could get past the music-as-image and music-as-me aspects, perhaps we could get to Robert Wyatt’s place and be left with just choosing between good music and bad music.