Archive for August, 2016

Sweet Baby James

I’ve referenced it before on this blog, but when I was a wee little boy mi madre had this big wood paneled console stereo that had a turntable, an 8-track player, and a radio.  And I used to love to stand and watch the records spin for hours at a time.  But I also loved the 8-track player because it had these red lights that would indicate which track was playing, and there was always this big mechanical thunk every time it switched tracks.  Sometimes that big thunk even happened mid-song.  Well, most of mi madre’s albums were on vinyl, but JT was on 8-track.  And I remember hearing “Fire and Rain” at a very young age, and realizing it was a great song even then.

Fast forward several years to my high school days, and scamming BMG for as many free CDs as possible.  JT’s Greatest Hits package was one of those free CDs, and it made the trip with me down to Olde Columbus Towne when I started college.  The Artistic One and I were rooming together in Lincoln Tower, and despite the fact that we were trying to be tragically hipster and listening to lots of Nine Inch Nails mixed with heavy doses of The Doors and the Beastie Boys, we would frequently put JT on the stereo when we wanted to hear something soothing.  I think the Artistic One’s parents had exposed him to JT in his youth as well, and it was something that took us both back to simpler times when all hell was breaking loose around us in the dorm.

Fast forward a few more years, and in my first year of teaching in Newark, Ohio (pronounced Nerk by the locals) and there was a large section of 70s pop tunes in the choral music library.  So I found an SATB arrangement of “Fire and Rain” and I started to teach it to the 8th grade choir.  Well, it had taken awhile to win these kids over, but they had genuinely grown to like me.  But they hated this song at first.  Like truly hated it.  But then I tried to explain to them that it had meant something to me when I was younger and they gave it a shot.  And then some urban legend developed that this song reminded me of an ex-girlfriend who had died, which was totally untrue, but it motivated the kids so I never completely denied it, and the kids got real good at it and it wound up on our spring concert.  Hey, whatever works, right?

So yeah, I make fun of JT a bit for being about the only dude in the whole California folk-singer/songwriter movement of the early 70s.  And it does seem like he shoes up for guest vocals on a lot of his ex-girlfriends records from that era (and apparently Carole King wrote “You’ve Got a Friend” as a response to “Fire and Rain”).  But the truth is I dig JT, and especially this album of his, quite a bit.  He was discovered by the Beatles and was one of their first signings to the Apple music label, and if the Beatles dug it, it gots to be good, right?  I picked this album up at the Half Price Books on Lane Avenue for $4.99.  The case was broken, which is a pet peeve of mine, so I switched it out, and now it sits proudly on my CD shelf.  If only I could find an 8-track copy…

Other lists: “Fire and Rain” is ranked #227 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs.  JT is ranked #74 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers and #84 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped one spot from its initial ranking of #103 (we are still feeling the aftershocks of the meteoric rise of Kid A).

My favorite track: “Fire and Rain”

Honorable mention: “Sweet Baby James”

Quote: “People live from day to day, but they do not count the time.  They don’t see their days slippin’ by…and neither do I.”


Giant Steps

The last time John Coltrane showed up on this list, way back at #47 with A Love Supreme, I talked about how I played saxophone all the way through my senior year of high school and how it was kind of an important thing for me when I was growing up.  Well, there is a continuation to that story, and I’ll tell it here.  Back in the fall of ’94, I packed up my beat-up blue Grand Am and drove three hours south to the ‘Bus to start college at The Ohio State University.  I brought my saxophone with me, and even though I was enrolled in a pretty rigorous pre-med track of courses, I had it in my head that I was going to major in music.  I was also completely mind-fucked at the time, as bad as I’ve ever been, but that’s another story (see entry #37 Hotel California).  At any rate, the first thing they told me at the School O’ Music was that I had entirely missed the audition process and I would have to wait until next quarter to audition.  So I said fine and auditioned for the university wind bands, and I was pretty surprised when I was placed in the lowest band possible.  I thought I was a pretty decent player…I had been first chair in my high school and second chair all-county.  But this was the big time: the giant university in the big city, and it was a completely different ballgame…I just didn’t realize it yet.

So my time finally came to audition three months later, and the powers that be said “Sure kid, we will let you in provisionally: you have two quarters to prove you can hack it.” And that was my introduction to traditional saxophone studio (I was certainly not a jazz player).  And the people were cool, as you would expect saxophone players to be, and some of them I still talk with to this day.  And they were all immensely talented.  Like out of this world talented.  And honestly, I just didn’t have the chops to keep up.  And my heart just wasn’t in it either.  And by the time my jury came up (music major juries are probably the most intense and scariest thing I have ever experienced and survived in my lifetime), the panel knew it too.  Fortunately, by then I had begun to do more than just dabble in singing, and I was able to audition on voice and get into the program as a vocal music major.  And that is how I eventually wound up as a choir director for sixteen years before going the administrative route.

But enough about me.  Let’s talk about the album a bit.  I think this set is much more accessible to the typical listener than A Love Supreme was.  This is more of your standard collection of jazz tunes…like what you would hear in a smoky jazz club on the weekend in a major city.  Coltrane is at the top of his game here, and his manic runs are balanced by his more lyrical moments.  The backing band does more than just keep up…they add character to the tunes, along with an occasional piano solo.  Overall, it’s a fun set of songs that gets better with repeated listenings.  I picked this up at the Half Price Books by me on Bethel Road for $4.99, and it was worth every penny.

Other lists: n/a

Ch-ch-changes: This album dropped one spot from its rank of #102 on the original list.

My favorite track: “Syeeda’s Song Flute”

Honorable mention: “Naima”

Quote: n/a