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Jazz legend Earl “Fatha” Hines had a little to say with this oddball single, released during the California gubernatorial campaign of 1966. His parody of “Mack the Knife,” a jazz standard taken from The Threepenny Opera, responds to the candidacy of Ronald Reagan, who at the time promised to “get the welfare bums back to work, and to “clean up the mess at Berkeley” (in the Gipper’s own words).

Hines speculated on the effects of Reagan’s budget proposals, which in fact did freeze and then cut funding to both the University of California, and Medi-Cal, the state’s medical assistance program. The flip side was an instrumental (“The Medi-Cal Blues”).

DSC06750Earl “Fatha” Hines was sixty-three the year he cast his vote for Governor Pat Brown, and had only recently come out of a lengthy retirement from jazz, during which he ran a tobacco shop in Oakland. Just a couple years earlier his friend and oftentimes manager, jazz writer Stanley Dance, had pushed the pianist to perform again, leading to a surge of recordings in the mid-60s which were highly praised by jazz critics all over the country (Downbeat named him the “#1 jazz pianist” in 1966 — the first of six times he would receive their venerated award). Dance is one of our favorite writers, and we last referred to his amazing contributions to the history of jazz in this post about Johnny Hodges pet monkey, Shuma. For his part “Fatha” became an essential link between early jazz and it’s modern children, performing with musicians from several generations extensively until he passed away in 1983 at the age of seventy-nine.

Highlights from Hines’ post-retirement career include a session of duets with Jaki Byard which is one of the most interesting explorations of jazz piano ever recorded, and a fun appearance on Ry Cooder’s Paradise and Lunch where the two perform Blind Blake’s “Ditty wa Ditty” [sic]. Hines’ other duets from this period include duets with Marian MacPartland, Oscar Peterson and Teddy Wilson. He also joined legendary bassists Charles Mingus and Richard Davis, drummer Elvin Jones and singers Peggy Lee and Dinah Washington on sessions in his seventies. “Fatha” was so important to the history of jazz that no less an authority than Count Basie called him “the greatest piano player in the world.”

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“Ron the Knife (The Ballad of Governor MacHealth”

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“The Medi-Cal Blues”

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“Ron the Knife (The Ballad of Governor MacHealth”

The Spider’s Banquet is the first and the most ingenious of Albert Roussel’s three ballets. It is brief and seeped in the impressionistic style of Debussy and Ravel, although unique in its simplicity of melody. Roussel completed the ballet in a few months in 1912 for the Teatre des Arts in Paris, where it was debuted by conductor Gabriel Grovlez.

The story

In the beginning, the Spider is interrupted by a group of ants, who attempt to carry a rose petal. In order the worms and the butterfly appear, the latter quickly caught by the spider. While the spider celebrates his catch with a lively dance, the ants battle a cadre of praying mantises over a slice of apple. The spider snares the praying mantises in his web, and the next appearance is of a waltzing may fly who is captured with ease.

Having assembled his feast, the spider chooses to eat the butterfly first, only to find a praying mantis has beat him to the tasty snack. The other insects escape and prepare a funeral for the may fly, one by one leaving the scene.

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The premiere of The Spider’s Banquet preceded the famously controversial premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring by only a few months. Both would achieve widespread fame for the ballets, although for very different reasons. Roussel was seen by critics as an exemplar of the French tradition, while Stravinsky became known as an iconoclast, pushing boundaries until he, like Roussel, embraced neoclassicism.

Roussel’s two additional ballets were of far greater scale, taking for their subject stories from classical mythology. The second of these, Aeneas, was one of his last works, completed in 1935. For Aeneas, Roussel augmented the orchestra with a large choir, much as Ravel had done with Daphis and Chloe. although he retained the compunctual time-keeping and functional tonality that distinguishes him in the French tradition. Roussel would never become as famous as Debussy and Ravel, and his later works are today performed and recorded far less often than The Spider’s Banquet.

The notes to a 1971 recording on France’s Erato Records report that Roussel was hesitant to take the commission to compose the ballet for the Teatre des Arts, and did so only at the urging of his wife, Blanche. Jacques Rouche, the Theatre’s director, had been inspired by the popular work of Jean Henri Fabre, today considered the father of modern entomology — which, of course, is the study of insects.

It often bothered the composer that the popularity of The Spider’s Banquet eclipsed that of his symphonies in the neoclassical style, but it did not prevent him from conducting a performance of the ballet for record, the only recording he would make, in 1928.

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The Spider’s Banquet by Albert Roussel, performed by L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and conducted by Ernest Ansermet.

A positive message today, written by Joe Sample. It’s from 2nd Crusade, one of the forty or so awesome albums by the Crusaders and one of our favorites.

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“Don’t Let It Get You Down”

2nd crusade

The Hunt

The hunt is half the fun of collecting. Records are not, after all, always easy to find. There may be as many as a quarter of a million records in the shop, but that’s only a drop in the ocean, Several friends have sent us this news story about a guy in Brazil who literally buys records by the boatload and has filled a warehouse will millions of them. There are almost certainly others like him all over the world, and hidden in those vast storehouses are probably several of the albums that you’ve been trying to find for years.

We recognize that one could quickly, if expensively, collect everything they’re looking for by shopping online. Fortunately for us, and for record stores everywhere, doing that isn’t very much fun. It’s pretty unlikely you’re going to find an original Vertigo press of the first Black Sabbath album in a neighborhood record shop like ours, but you might find a couple nice clean first US pressings of their first four albums (as folks did here yesterday). You might also find something you’d never even knew existed, but which caught your eye and at the listening station caught your ear. That’s part of what makes record stores magical.

The day before Record Store Day this year we tried to answer the question “Why do people still buy records?” (posted here) but it’s something that’s just about impossible to explain to a person who’s never felt that magic. When asked what record we’re looking for, we’ve always replied we don’t even know what it is yet — we’ll just know it when we find it. Sometimes it’s a record that hasn’t even been made yet (we’re thinking of your, Whiskey Jeff). That day we posted a cover of “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” by Joe Bonsall and the Orange Playboys:

This is why we’ve never had a good answer when asked about the records we wish we might find — who knew a cajun cover of Jim Croce existed? Some collectors may be looking for a big score, but most of us are looking for something no one has heard in years. A lost treasure. Every one of us wants to be Harry Smith in one way or another. When you put a record on your turntable you are, after all, bringing to life a frozen moment of the past through a nineteenth-century technology that, while easily explains, is endowed with an enduring magical aura.

And as soon as you find that album you’ve been looking for, it will start showing up everywhere. Folks bring records into a shop like ours in all quantities, a handful, a stack, a crate, a whole collection. Sometimes two people with similar taste unload their entire collection on the same shop in the same week, and for someone else it’s a welcome surprise.

We’ve been listening to the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in the shop a lot lately, because two different people brought in a few of their albums. It’s good workin’ music, which helps us get things in order around here. Most of the time what we’re in the mood to listen to in the shop is what has arrived recently — that’s a big part of what makes it fun.

It’s been one hell of a summer with lots of great live music in the shop and all kinds of cool records passing through. Thanks for visiting us as often as you have, even if it’s just to say hello and hear what’s on the turntable.

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“Blind Leading the Blind” by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band

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Here’s a record that captures the long tradition of performing New Orleans jazz way up here in Minneapolis. Butch Thompson is, of course, most known for his long association with A Prairie Home Companion, but began a career seeped in New Orleans jazz at nineteen when he joined Minneapolis’ Hall Brothers Jazz Band as a clarinetist.

Lots of folks wouldn’t think of Minneapolis as a hotbed of traditional jazz, but in fact our city has a direct link to New Orleans through riverboats and the bands that played them. The Hall Brothers were just a couple of many local musicians who worked to bring traditional jazz performers to Minneapolis — one of their great successes was a 1966 concert by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at the old Guthrie Theater, with Sweet Emma Barrett playing the piano.

butch thompsonThompson didn’t stay long with the Hall Brothers’ band, but brought something of their sense of arrangement to his piano playing, making his style a perfect match for the piano solos of jazz’s first great arranger, Jelly Roll Morton. From his debut album in 1966 (pictured here is a reissue), here is Butch Thompson performing one of our favorite Jelly Roll compositions, “Tiger Rag”:

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“Tiger Rag”

Thompson was born in Marine on St. Croix, and discovered the music of New Orleans by collecting records. From his brief online autobiography:

By now I was collecting 12-inch LPs, and had a multi-speed “high fidelity” record player. I bought everything I could find by Louis Armstrong, including his wonderful tribute LPs to W.C. Handy and Fats Waller, reissues of his Hot Fives and Sevens from the ’20s, and even an album of his earliest work, the 1923 acoustic recordings with King Oliver and His Creole Jazz Band.

And if you think traditional jazz is not alive and well here in our hometown, we encourage you to check out the Southside Aces. You can hear this exceptional band on the second Thursday of every month at the Eagles Club right here in our neighborhood. You won’t be disappointed!

A friend sent us this link to a story about Bhutanese stamps that play just like records, and we got to thinking, ‘Why stop with just the national anthem?’ Think of all the songs you could put on a postage stamp…

“Please Mr Postman”

“The Letter”

“Mail Myself to You”

“Box Full of Letters”…

Bhutan+Talking+Stamp+Record+Series+1973The tiny nation only began issuing stamps in the sixties, but their innovative designs have become very popular with philatelists, who will spend as much as five hundred dollars for a complete set of the 1973 series of “talking stamps.” We of all people understand the collector impulse, we’re just jealous that us record collectors don’t get a cool word like “philatelists.”

The University of North Texas College of Music was the first school in the world to offer an accredited degree in jazz studies. It is also home to one of the largest music libraries in the country, an excellent symphony orchestra and a world class jazz band.

In fact, it’s One O’Clock Lab Band has performed all around the world, as well as once backing both Duke Ellington and Stan Getz at a White House performance in 1967. The school had a full stage band as early as the mid-20s, but it was not until 1947 that the school’s “dance music” program was codified into its current state, providing an accredited degree and establishing the school’s band into the “Laboratory Dance Band.” It’s first director, Gene Hall, was an associate of Stan Kenton.

“One O’Clock” was added to the band’s name in the early sixties, referring not to the Count Basie standard but to the band’s rehearsal time (the school also had at the time “Two O’Clock” and “Three O’Clock” bands and so on). Every year since 1966, the school has produced an album presenting original compositions, arrangements of standards, and exceptional performances. Several over the years have been nominated for Grammys.

This past winter we purchased the collection of a music educator, which included several of the Lab LPs (each is simply titled Lab 66, Lab 67, and so on). Record collectors are usually dismissive of records produced by colleges and universities, and of so-called “amateur” albums in general — the Lab albums are prized by jazz collectors. Several offer the first recorded performances of well-known jazz musicians, and all of them stand in contrast to the slow decline of the big band. If ever you happen across one of their albums, give it a listen. Here are some favorite tracks from a few that came through the shop this year.

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“Codify”

Two alumni heard on Lab 68 are best known as members of the Blues Brothers Band — both Lou Marini and Tom “Bones” Malone appeared in the 1980 film. We have always thought Marini was especially hilarious in the scene set inside the Soul Food Diner, and he’s also highly regarded by jazz musicians, although most of his work as a session man has been on rock and pop albums. Marini performed on albums as varied as Lou Reed’s Sally Can’t Dance and Peter Tosh’s Mystic Man. along the way performing jazz with Deodato, the Brecker Brothers and Bobby Humphrey.

He wrote and arranged three songs on Lab 68 which hint at the influence of diverse composers like Oliver Nelson and Gil Evans. He does not play the tenor solo on the first of these (that’s performed by Ray Loeckle) but it’s a great composition.

lab69

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“Three Freaks”

You’ll be amazed by the credits on the Wikipedia page for Dean Parks, the guitarist and horn player who wrote this song from Lab 69. He is one of the many “behind the scenes” session men who got their start at the University of North Texas.

lab75

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“Overture to the Royal Mongolian Suma Foosball Festival”

Lab 75 features a shift into heavier, more groove oriented arrangments. Unlike previous Lab LPs, this one features the work of a single composer, keyboardist Lyle Mays (who is from nearby Wausaukee, Wisconsin, by the way). Most people know Mays for his work with Pat Methany through their long collaboration. Lab 75 is one of the best album in the ongoing series, and was nominated for a Grammy.

lab83

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“Self Help is Needed”

The Lab albums also visit the work of prominent jazz composers, such as this arrangement of a rarely-performed Oliver Nelson piece on Lab 83 which features Bill Brown on alto. This is the most-recent album we’ve found, but this video shows the band recording the well-reviewed Lab 2009.

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