Saturday, December 8, 2012

The 32nd Anniversary of John Lennon's Death

It was on 8 December 1980 that John Lennon died. I have written many times about the impact that Mr. Lennon had on my life, probably more than other artist. Rather reiterating what I have already said many times, I will simply leave you with some of his music.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Dave Brubeck Passes On

Legendary jazz pianist Dave Brubeck died on 5 December 2012 at the age of 91. It was the day before his birthday (6 December).

Dave Brubeck was born in Concord, California on 6 December 1920. His father was a cattle rancher, while his mother was an English expatriate who had planned to become a concert pianist. Mr. Brubeck then not only learned to play piano, but various other instruments as well. He first performed publicly when he was only 14. He attended the College of the Pacific in Stockton, California with the intention of becoming a veterinarian, but within a year switched to music.  In 1942, following his graduation, Mr. Brubeck joined the United States Army. He played in the Army band at Camp Haan, North Carolina for two years before he was made a rifleman and eventually sent to Metz, France, in the expectation that he would serve in combat. He was saved in combat when his commanding officer heard him playing piano with a Red Cross travelling show one day. His commanding officer made certain he was assigned to a band that would entertain the troops.

Following World War II he attended Mills College where he studied under French composer Darius Milhaud. It was in 1946 that Mr. Brubeck formed his first jazz group, an octet. It was in 1951 that he formed The Dave Brubeck Quartet. The group toured colleges and had success with their recordings. In 1954 Mr. Brubeck became only the second jazz musician to appear on the cover of Time (the first had been Louis Armstrong). It was in 1954 that he signed with Columbia Records. His most legendary album, Time Out, was released in 1959. The album featured what may be Dave Brubeck's best known piece, "Take Five." The album also featured  another hit, "Blue Rondo à la Turk." Time Out was followed by the similar albums  Time Further Out: Miro Reflections (1961), Countdown: Time in Outer Space  (1962), Time Changes (1963), and Time In (1966).  In 1967 The Dave Brubeck Quartet disbanded.

Following the disbanding of The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Mr. Brubeck began concentrating on longer, orchestral pieces. He formed another quartet in 1968. He would both record and perform with them often. Dave Brubeck continued to work into 2011.

Dave Brubeck was easily one of the most successful jazz musicians of all time, one of the few who saw success on the pop charts in the Fifties and Sixties. "Take Five" would be ubiquitous in those decades, even serving for a time as the them to the Today show. He was very innovative, incorporating ideas from European composition into American jazz. He was also exceedingly versatile. He not only composed shorter jazz pieces, but oratorios, concertos, and musicals as well. What makes all of this even more remarkable is that Mr. Brubeck never made a big deal of his success. His reaction to Time featuring on their cover was that Duke Ellington should have had a cover before he did. He led a relatively quiet life. He never drank nor did drugs. and he was married to the same woman for years. A man of great modesty, he was also a man of great talent.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Mickey Baker Passes On

Legendary rhythm and blues guitarist Mickey Baker died 27 November 2012 at the age of 87.

Mickey Baker was born on 15 October 1925 in Louisville, Kentucky. He was only eleven when he was placed in an orphanage. He ran away from the orphanage often, being retrieved in each case. When he was 16 he moved to New York City and worked menial jobs before becoming a pool hustler. At 19 he enrolled in the New York City School of Music to study guitar, but eventually dropped out. Instead he taught himself guitar and by 1949 he had formed his own jazz combo. It was not long before he switched to rhythm and blues.

Starting in the early Fifties he served as a session musician on many recordings. He played guitar on hits produced by such artists as The Drifters, Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, Big Maybelle, Little Willie John, and others. He also released a few singles under his own name. In the mid-Sixties he formed Mickey & Sylvia with his student Sylvia Vanderpool. The two would have a top twenty hit with the song "Love is Strange"  in 1956. The duo would break up in the early Sixties, although they would continue to record together on and off for years to come.

In the mid-Sixties Mickey Baker moved to France, where he recorded for such French performers as Francoise Hardy, Sylvie Vartan, and Ronnie Bird.  He would also write a number of instruction books on playing guitar.

Although not as well known, Mickey Baker can be counted alongside such greats as Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry as having an influence on guitar in both rhythm and blues and rock 'n' roll. His influence would be felt not only on rhythm and blues acts of the Sixties, but even the British Invasion bands of the same era. His book Jazz Guitar has remained in print since it was first published over fifty years ago.