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The WILT Archive
Since I like to write, quite a few people have suggested I write a blog. But I’m not especially interested in writing about myself. I did enough of that in my book (A Cure For Gravity) and even that is as much about music as it is about me.
Writing about music is difficult, but I still find it interesting to try. So, once a month, I’m going to write a few words about a few things I’ve been listening to. It can’t hurt, and who knows, it might even do some good.
Being in the middle of a tour is not the ideal time to be writing about what I'm listening to. But I do listen to music on the tour bus, after a show, partly because it clears my own stuff out of my head. It's rarely concentrated listening, though. More like this:
VARIOUS ARTISTS: Thriller Jazz
A couple of years ago I was asked to contribute to a magazine article in which various musicians would talk about their musical 'guilty pleasures'. I thought about this a lot, but the more I thought about it, the less comfortable I felt. The idea of being ironically clever by saying you liked something un-cool, bothered me. Who's to say it's un-cool? Why shouldn't I like it? Finally I decided that I don't have any guilty pleasures, musical or otherwise, because I don't think pleasure is anything to be guilty about. I offered this as my contribution to the article, but the editors were not impressed. I imagined them rolling their eyes: can't this guy be cool enough to be ironically un-cool for a minute?
However . . . if I'm ever tied up and tortured and really have to name some music I like, but which is not exactly in the Beethoven's Ninth league – then I might have to confess that I've always had a thing for theme tunes from TV cop and crime shows.
Meanwhile, the Verve record label has been recycling its enormous jazz catalogue ad infinitum with compilations for every possible taste and occasion: Piano Jazz, Trumpet Jazz, Cool Jazz, Hot Jazz, Late Night Jazz, Jazz For A Rainy Day, Cocktail Jazz, Bossa Nova Jazz, Jazz For Lovers, Jazz For Swingers, Jazz For Plumbers, Jazz For Your Root Canal Treatment . . . and now Thriller Jazz.
These are not the original TV (and movie) versions, mind you, but very good covers, mostly by jazz stars. So you get, for instance, Jimmy Smith riffing on Mission: Impossible, the Count Basie Orchestra roaring though M Squad, and my favourite, a surprising vocal version of the Big Daddy of all crime themes: Peter Gunn, performed by no less a jazz diva than Sarah Vaughan, who gives it a touch of real class. I like this version so much that I occasionally perform it with my band. Though without the class.
LOUIS JORDAN: Saturday Night Fish Fry
I discovered Louis Jordan thanks to something the Americans call Mononucleosis, and the Brits call Glandular Fever. Either way, it's awful, like catching the flu and then being run over by a steamroller. There's not a lot you can do about it, but I swear that listening to Louis Jordan shortened my suffering by a week or two. By the time I was fully recovered, all I wanted to do was put a little jump blues band together and play Louis Jordan tunes, maybe even do a couple of pub gigs with it. A completely mad idea, which soon spiraled out of control, spawning an album called Jumpin' Jive and a UK and US tour.
I'd always known that in the 1940s, Jordan was known as the King of the Jukeboxes. I just discovered, though, thanks to the Almighty Oracle (aka Wikipedia) that he is, to this day, the most successful black artist of all time in terms of total number of weeks at No.1 in the charts: a staggering 113 (Stevie Wonder comes in a distant second with 70). So maybe it's not so surprising that he's had so many posthumous comebacks. Personally I find it hard to imagine anyone not enjoying Louis Jordan, but he did fall out of favour in the 50s and 60s. As jazz became cooler, or angrier, or more cerebral – and as those who'd lost interest in jazz embraced rock'n'roll – Jordan's good humour was seen as corny. Ironic, since he was both a very good jazz musician, and arguably one of the founding fathers of rock'n'roll.
I find Jordan's humour to be actually quite clever, and refreshing. I mean this sort of thing, from Choo Choo Ch'Boogie:
You reach your destination but alas and alack
You need some compensation to get back in the black
So you take a morning paper from the top of the stack
And read the situations from the front to the back
The only job that's open needs a man with a knack
So put it right back in the rack
I was going to contrast that with some very un-corny lyrics by one of the biggest hip-hop acts of the moment. My idea was to illustrate how black American music, with rare exceptions, seems to have lost its sense of humour. But I was advised that I might run into anything from copyright difficulties to a bullet in the head.
What happened? I know, I know, it's a big question . . .
ARETHA FRANKLIN: Lady Soul
1968. Chain Of Fools. People Get Ready. (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman. Niki Hoeky. Since You've Been Gone. Groovin'. Played loud. With a beer and a shot of bourbon. What can I say? If you don't like this, then (as Louis Jordan would say) Jack, you dead.