Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How Sesame Street shaped me, installment #46

Playing right now: Liverball - Bullet Burn (a CD comp of two EPs released in the early '90s by a band that features Buck Knauer, who plays in the Love Letters with me).

Youtube is stocked with a surprising number of ultra-obscure clips from the early days of Sesame Street. I'm not sure exactly when I started watching the show, but I was two when it premiered and it's always been there as far as I know, so chances are I watched it from the get-go. That show is probably the singlemost reason I connect music with specific images. It so frequently presented nature films or other educational films with hip music in the background. When those clips were repeated often, it made it easy for an impressionable young kid who dug music to retain the melodies and think of certain images with it.

A few weeks ago, I decided to see if anyone had posted an early Sesame Street film and song about what happens to garbage, with a rousing coda where the singer bellows "Goodbye garrrrbage, goodbye garrrbage," as a barge floats down the river loaded with everything we just saw the trucks compacting as they made their way through the city. (Let's avoid the message the clip sends. I don't approve of it and the conclusion it drew in my young mind back then was that the garbage was going to be dumped in the river. Not cool. But I was smart enough to both realize that wasn't the case and that recycling is good. Just had to include that caveat.)

Lo and behold I found the clip:

Most of the catchy songs with vocals from SS's early days featured Joe Raposo singing them. (Confession: I found his voice kind of annoying back then, though now I know better. My mother once thought he sounded like he was trying to be Mel Torme but was more annoying. Maybe that's what soured me.) "What About Garbage," the above song, actually comes from the mind of Peter Schickele, who is probably best known as the creator of P.D.Q. Bach, a character or ongoing performance that spoofs classical music and is considered HI-larious by many people. (I've never seen it.) To me, Schickele's claim to fame is being the father of Karla Schickele, the amazing songwriter and member of Ida. She used to play in the band Beekeeper with her brother Matthew and she also had a solo project called k., which was also amazing.

If any conclusion can be drawn from this clip, it is that great songwriting is hereditary in that family. Maybe lyrically this song doesn't have much, but if you consider its audience, it has all it needs. Besides, when I heard it again, the "ba ba dup ba da da da" chorus came back to me immediately, like a long lost grade school friend. And the piano part has all the trappings of a classic pop song. His voice reminds me of either Mark Volman or Howard Kaylan of the Turtles - pure pop magic. Never has garbage sounded so beautiful.

10 years ago, I was completely enamored with Karla Schickele's songs. I pressed her a couple times, trying to find out what her influences were. Surely there had to be some jazz in her past. Nope, not by a long shot, she politely explained. Hearing this video, I can see that it was something in the genes.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Playing on the radio and a new old Monk album

Playing right now: Thelonious Monk - Monk in Europe
I never knew that this was an album that Riverside released while Monk was still under contract with them. I saw the title once or twice and figured it was just another in the unending pile of live recordings of Monk + Charlie Rouse + whatever rhythm section that came out years later. It popped up on eBay and after it was relisted in an auction for the third time I made sure I didn't forget to place a bid on it. I figured I'd buy it to be a completist with regard to all the Riverside albums. I still don't have Monk in Italy or Two Hours with Thelonious Monk the latter which I always swore was just a compilation, but I might get them someday.

This finally arrived in the mail last week and it turns out that it's pretty good. John Ore is the bassist and despite the fact that he went on to play with Sun Ra, he's usually considered pretty unadventurous with Monk, playing solos that are basically continuations of what he does behind the soloists. That's pretty true here, but he throws in some nice double-stops during the solos to offer a little variety. Frankie Dunlop is the drummer and he swings pretty hard during his solos.

As for Monk and Rouse, they both throw down some of their classic licks, but they both sound pretty inspired. Finally, a lot of these albums are intriguing because they include a tune or two that Monk rarely played beyond a studio session or two. On this album, the song in question is "Off Minor," which is one of my favorites. Wonderful melody and some great soloing here.

Once again, it's taken me five days to dispatch a report on the Love Letters' most recent performance. But with all the snow here (21" over the weekend and more falling as I type) and the cancelled daycare days and the subsequent baby wrangling - plus a bit of anxiety that I feel over dealing with the snow as a driver - only now am I able to fire off an entry on the show. (I changed my work schedule, so I have tomorrow off and I'm enjoying a second drink for the evening in celebration.)

So the Love Letters played on WRCT-FM last Thursday for the Live Show performance. I listened back to the recording and overall I suppose it went pretty well. But there were some things working against us. One of them was the monitor which proceeded to feedback anytime we weren't playing music and then a few times while we were playing. It kind of baffles me that these folks - nice as they are - can't use all their experience to figure out a way to give us a halfway decent vocal mix in the monitor without feedback. I've played in that studio several times and it never works.

Then there's my voice. I thought I could hear myself alright but I still veer off pitch quite a bit. I think I go sharp, but I'm not sure. If I was flat at least it might sound like I was going for a flat-seventh sound, I think. And I just sound warbly. One or two songs made me wince. Thankfully the songs that work at the higher part of my register came off pretty well. The ones where I barked a little more, not so cool.

We're practicing on Friday for our Rock and Bowl show next week at Arsenal Lanes. I think we'll have more time than usual to practice which will be cool. Or at least we will if we're able to get through the streets and get to Aimee's house.