Tuesday, October 21, 2008

October update

Geez, I didn't mean to be away for so long. Since I last wrote, saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa came to Pittsburgh for the International Festival of Firsts and premiered a new piece that was spellbinding. I wrote a review for JazzTimes that should be up on their website by the time you read this. (Check out www.jazztimes.com) I picked up a copy of Rudresh's 2004 album Mother Tongue last week, and it has me thinking that this guy is really on the cutting edge of something big. He has amazing technique on his horn and his compositions are really astounding - going to places that haven't been gone before without any cliches or highminded ideas about "this is world music," or anything like that.

Yet again, musicians have left the earth. And while the three I'm thinking of didn't die right around the same time, the old "they always go in threes" adage seems to apply. Guitarist Hiram Bullock died in July as did tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin - something I didn't hear about until last week! - and then arranger Neal Hefti died on October 11.

I grew up hearing Hefti's name because my folks were into big bands and they had a Count Basie album that he arranged. He also composed an obscure but really good ballad called "Falling in Love All Over Again" that Phil Woods did on an album called Woodlore. So the story goes, he was in Pittsburgh with some band and my mom called him at his hotel room to get a chart of that song for some even that she was staging. (I believe because she's not known to tell tall tales.)

But Hefti is probably best known to people my age due to a song for which he was supposedly credited with "word and music": the Batman theme. Like any simple song that became a hit, he said that it was really hard for him to write. It took a lot of time to come up with that 1-4-5 riff. Where would the music world be without it?

Johnny Griffin is one of the last tenor giants of the early 50s era. I know I say that everytime one of those guys dies, but damned if it isn't true. 80 years old, he was. Heart problems were listed as the cause.

Griffin came to Pittsburgh several times for the Pitt Jazz Seminar and was a really gracious guy. Who knows how many times he was asked what it was like playing with Thelonious Monk, but he still was willing to tell me stories about the pianist hiding the written music from Griffin, insisting he learn it by ear. Listening to Monk's Misterioso on Riverside, Griffin is amazing enough playing with the band, but then a few choruses into solos on a couple of tunes, you hear, "I got it, I got it," and the rest of the band drops out. Griffin just blows away without any need for a safety net.

Hiram Bullock's death really came out of left field. He was only 52 but he supposedly was suffering from a throat tumor. He did a lot of slick music, and for a time was best known as the original guitarist on David Letterman's NBC show. But he also played on many of Carla Bley's albums, so he had pretty diverse qualities.


timarimba@hotmail.com said...

Hi Mike- I just wanted to thank your for writing the review of "Fade" in JazzTimes, even if it wasn't your favorite record. Not sure if you know this, but the saxophone player Matt Blostein (who plays on a few tracks) is a Pittsburgh native...we played once at the James Street Tavern if I remember correctly? Anyway, have a good day. - Tim

shanleymusic said...

Tim, I didn't know that about Matt. When did he grow up here? James Street Tavern is the right name and, sadly like many (most?) Pgh jazz clubs, it's gone.
Glad you appreciated the review. I like your approach to the instrument, what you do with it.

timarimba@hotmail.com said...

He's from Butler, actually. I think he probably graduated HS around 98 or 99 maybe? He's a few years younger than me. Cheers,


Anonymous said...

Hey Mike, enjoying reading your blog. Im a big fan of Rudresh also. My fav cd of his is Black Water, and the on with Kadri Gopalnath is good too!

I graduated in 98 and was playing around the burgh then , and i also lived in pittsburgh from 2001-02 and played around town a bit. If you're interested in hearing some music, send me an email and I'll send you our cd. We will hopefully be in Pittsburgh for some gigs in April.

Matt Blostein

shanleymusic said...

Matt, don't know if you'll see this now. It's been long since you wrote. I saw your message in an email from blogspot but didn't realize the connect w/Tim's message. Sorry about that. Send info to my "writing" email address: shanleywriter@Hotmail.com. When you were in Pgh, I was writing for InPgh and then Pulp, after InPgh was bought by City Paper and then dissolved. But time heals some wounds and I"m freelancing for CP. So if you head this way, let me know.