Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Long Live Jackie McLean

I just found out tonight that Jackie McLean - alto saxophonist extraordinaire and one of the last living hard boppers - is dead. And has been since March 31. Not sure how he died, but I just read about it tonight. It kind of crushes me and touches me on a few different levels.

First of all, as stated, he's one of the few big guys that was still left from a particular era. He came up playing with Monk, Miles, Hank Mobley, Mingus (to name few)...none of those guys are still around. In fact the only person left of that stature is Sonny Rollins. Those guys encapsulated all aspects of an era: guys who grew up in a segrated time but didn't let that (and, I suppose it should be mentioned, a narcotics habit) get in the way of creating a powerful artform. I'm sure those guys were pretty hardline about getting paid at the end of the night, but it's nothing like the way it is now, where people of their stature won't get up onstage unless the money is there.

Jackie came out of Charlie Parker's influence and was still accepting of the "new thing," the free jazz players. He even did an album that had Ornette Coleman playing trumpet ("Old and New Gospel") at a time when everyone thought Ornette had REALLY gone off his rocker by trying to play trumpet and violin in addition to alto sax. Jackie kept his ears open and knew that the music had to keep evolving, and got some valuable ideas out of the freer forms. His albums "One Step Beyond" and "Destination: Out," both made with Grachan Moncur III, bear this out.

And furthermore, I interviewed Jackie a couple years ago and even though he was 10 minutes from a ride to the airport, he still managed to take the time to give me some thoughtful answers to his questions. Nice guy. Not everyone is like that. Even in later years, he seemed to have this desire to get an idea across about the music and the people who play it.

I might listen to nothing but Jackie McLean albums for the next 24 hours or so. I'm listening to the "Jack Knife" twofer on Blue Note right now. Man, this is a hot album. Charles Tolliver and Lee Morgan split trumpet duties; Larry Willis on piano, Larry Ridley on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums. "On the Nile" is a totally brilliant song. I bought this album around 1990 when I was in college and played the hell out of it.

Two nights ago I had a dream that Phantom Tollbooth's last album "Power Toy" had been reissued and that I was asked to write a review of it. I was really excited because I don't often get to write rock reviews anymore - at least not on assignment (more on that later). Anyway, the review was really flowing. I was really inspired, had a good handle on the historical context, the connection to Robert Pollard (ol' Bob took the original backing tracks and added different vocals a couple years ago; it was kind of lackluster) and the overall quality of the album. Then I woke up. Realizing that there was no review written and no assignment, I was disappointed.

Not sure what made me dream about the album. I still look back fondly on Phantom Tollbooth. They predated the whole math-rock/throwback to art rock style, while still maintaining a link to bands like Husker Du. And their lyrics seems to draw on the surreal, almost Beefheart-but-not-quite aesthetic. A friend of mine once said they were kind of like a cross between Rush and Husker Du.

The Fearnots practiced on Sunday and Monday. David, our drummer, now lives in New York, but he's back in town this week and we're playing a show at Gooski's on Saturday. For those uninitiated, that's the neighborhood bar up the hill and around the corner from my house. I'm excited. The first practice sounded good, like we were dusting ourselves off with minimal effort. But the second day sounded great. When we were playing a lot last year, we were tight as a drum, making all kinds of weird time changes, combining melody with that math rock thing (I couldn't think of that term in the last graph and just went back and changed it) but adding melody and hooks.

Time to either start a new entry and change the subject or to stop altogether for a few hours.

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