Wednesday, December 31, 2008

RIP Freddie Hubbard

Freddie Hubbard, energetic jazz trumpeter, dies at 70
By Peter Keepnews
Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Freddie Hubbard, a jazz trumpeter who dazzled audiences and critics alike with his virtuosity, his melodicism and his infectious energy, died Monday in Sherman Oaks, California. He was 70.

The cause was complications of a heart attack he had Nov. 26, said his spokesman, Don Lucoff of DL Media.

Over a career that began in the late 1950s, Hubbard earned both critical praise and commercial success - although rarely for the same projects.

He attracted attention in the 1960s for his bravura work as a member of the Jazz Messengers, the valuable training ground for young musicians led by the veteran drummer Art Blakey, and on albums by Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and many others. He also recorded several well-regarded albums as a leader. And although he was not an avant-gardist by temperament, he participated in three of the seminal recordings of the 1960s jazz avant-garde: Ornette Coleman's "Free Jazz" (1960), Eric Dolphy's "Out to Lunch" (1964) and John Coltrane's "Ascension" (1965).

In the 1970s Hubbard, like many other jazz musicians of his generation, began courting a larger audience, with albums that featured electric instruments, rock and funk rhythms, string arrangements and repertory sprinkled with pop and R&B songs like Paul McCartney's "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" and the Stylistics' "Betcha by Golly, Wow." His audience did indeed grow, but his standing in the jazz world diminished.

By the start of the next decade he had largely abandoned his more commercial approach and returned to his jazz roots. But his career came to a virtual halt in 1992 when he damaged his lip, and although he resumed performing and recording after an extended hiatus, he was never again as powerful a player as he had been in his prime.

Frederick Dewayne Hubbard was born on April 7, 1938, in Indianapolis. His first instrument was the alto-brass mellophone, and in high school he studied French horn and tuba as well as trumpet.

After taking lessons with Max Woodbury, the first trumpeter of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, at the Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Music, he performed locally with, among others, the guitarist Wes Montgomery and his brothers.

Hubbard moved to New York in 1958 and almost immediately began working with groups led by the saxophonist Sonny Rollins, the drummer Philly Joe Jones and others. His profile rose in 1960 when he joined the roster of Blue Note, a leading jazz label; it rose further the next year when he was hired by Blakey, widely regarded as the music's premier talent scout.

Adding his own spin to a style informed by Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Clifford Brown, Hubbard played trumpet with an unusual mix of melodic inventiveness and technical razzle-dazzle. The critics took notice. Leonard Feather called him "one of the most skilled, original and forceful trumpeters of the '60s."

After leaving Blakey's band in 1964, Hubbard worked for a while with another drummer-bandleader, Max Roach, before forming his own group in 1966. Four years later he began recording for CTI, a record company that would soon become known for its aggressive efforts to market jazz musicians beyond the confines of the jazz audience.

Hubbard won a Grammy Award for the album "First Light" in 1972 and was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2006.

He is survived by his wife of 35 years, Briggie Hubbard, and his son, Duane.

Hubbard was once known as the brashest of jazzmen, but his personality as well as his music mellowed in the wake of his lip problems. In a 1995 interview with Fred Shuster of Down Beat, Hubbard offered some sober advice to younger musicians: "Don't make the mistake I made of not taking care of myself. Please, keep your chops cool and don't overblow."

Monday, December 29, 2008

Kingston Trio - M. T. A.

The Kingston Trio and the Red Scare

The death of Nick Reynolds, one of the Kingston Trio, on October 1 at age 75, provoked fond memories of one era and painful reminders of another.

The fond memories are of the folk music revival that began in the late 1950s with the clean-cut, college-boy Kingston Trio and within a few years was closely linked to crusades for justice. The painful ones come from remembering that the period was accompanied by the cold war and the McCarthy era, when what you sang-- as much as what you said--could get you in trouble.

Reynolds, Bob Shane and Dave Guard formed the Kingston Trio in 1957, originally as calypso group. The next year, their first hit, a rendition of the traditional folk song "Tom Dooley," earned a gold record and a Grammy. Thirteen of the group's albums, which included such hit songs as "A Worried Man" and "Tijuana Jail," reached the Top Ten. In 1959 alone, they had four albums at the same time among the ten top-selling albums.

Purists often derided the Kingston Trio for watering down folk songs in order to make them commercially popular and for remaining on the political sidelines during the protest movements of the 1960s. But the group deserves credit for helping to launch the folk boom that brought recognition to older folkies and radicals like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, and for paving the way for newcomers like Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs, who were well-known for their progressive political views and topical songs. By the time these younger folk singers arrived on the scene, the political climate had changed enough to provide a wide audience for protest music.

Reynolds was candid about the difficult position that the Kingston Trio took to navigate their way through those interlocking eras. In an interview last year, he told us that the members of his group were "big fans of the Weavers," the folk group with Pete Seeger that had a number-one hit in 1950 with "Goodnight Irene" but were blacklisted for their left-wing sympathies and forced to break up in 1952.

Reynolds, who was friends with Weaver member Fred Hellerman, acknowledged that what happened to the Weavers caused the Kingston Trio to choose a different course.

"We decided that if we wanted to have our songs played on the airwaves, we'd better stay in the middle of the road politically," he explained. "We'd just got out of school. We didn't want to get blacklisted." Asked if the Weavers had warned the trio to avoid controversy, he replied: "They didn't have to."

Even after they'd made it big, the group never aligned itself with protest causes, said Reynolds, who described himself as a "very liberal Democrat." Onstage, "the most we ever did was give a plug for John Kennedy" during his 1960 campaign against Richard Nixon.

Reynolds recalled that despite their personal support for the civil rights movement, the Kingston Trio didn't performed songs like "We Shall Overcome" at their concerts.

Reynolds also admitted that the Kingston Trio even resorted to changing the lyrics of one of their biggest hits in order to avoid controversy. It happened when they recorded "M.T.A.," the ballad about a man named Charlie doomed to "ride forever 'neath the streets of Boston" for want of a nickel to pay the fare to get off. (Watch the YouTube video of the Trio performing the "M.T.A." song)

The lyrics to "M.T.A." had been written as a campaign song for Walter A. O'Brien Jr., the Progressive Party candidate for mayor of Boston in 1949. (The tune was taken from "The Ship That Never Returned" by Henry Clay Work, written in 1865, and later transformed into "The Wreck of the Old 97" by Vernon Dalhart in 1924, then "The Train that Never Returned" by the radical Almanac Singers in 1941.)

An admitted long shot, O'Brien recruited Bess Lomax Hawes, daughter of folk song collector John Lomax, and Jackie Steiner to write the song for him. Although the story told in the song is humorous, it was meant to dramatize O'Brien's call for a rollback of the subway fare increase in Boston and protest the recent bailout of the privately owned Boston Elevated Railway Company by the Massachusetts legislature through creation of the publicly owned Massachusetts Transit Authority (MTA). Hawes and Steiner ended the song with a verse that made sure Boston voters knew which of the mayoral candidate was on their side: "Vote for Walter A. O'Brien/and fight the fare increase/Get poor Charlie off that MTA!"

The song didn't help O'Brien much, since he finished dead last in the election. He continued to practice progressive politics until he was caught up in Massachusetts's own version of the Red Scare. After refusing to answer questions when called before the Massachusetts Committee on Communism, O'Brien and eighty-four others were branded "Communists or Communist sympathizers." They had their names, addresses and places of employment published in the newspapers. Unable to find work, O'Brien returned to his native Maine, gave up politics, became a school librarian and tried to stay out of the glare of the Red Scare headlines.

The song endured. In 1957, folk singer Will Holt recorded it for Coral Records and it seemed well on its way to becoming a hit. Radio stations played it, record stores sold it and Life magazine even planned a feature story on Holt and the song, including photographs of him at the various subway stops mentioned in the song. Suddenly, though, radio stations stopped playing the song, stores stopped selling the record, and Life abruptly pulled its story--after protesters objected to the song for including the name of Walter O'Brien, and thus "glorifying" a radical.

The Kingston Trio later learned the song from Holt, whom Reynolds recalled meeting through Bay Area folk music circles. They decided to record it, but knowing what had happened to Holt, they made a slight change in the lyrics--dropping the name of Walter O'Brien and replacing it with the name of a fictional character, "George O'Brien."

Reynolds did not deny why they did it. "We changed the name so we wouldn't get into political trouble," he recalled last year. "Everything in those days was controversial. This was the McCarthy era. Who knows who would come knocking on your door?"

With Reynolds singing the lead, "M.T.A." was released on the Kingston Trio's second album on June 1, 1959, and as a single a week later. The single made it to number fifteen on the Billboard chart that year, and the album reached number one on the pop charts. Life, which had dropped the story on Will Holt and his Walter O'Brien version of the song, ran a cover story featuring the Kingston Trio and their George O'Brien version. Later that year, group won a Grammy as best folk performers of the year.

Fifty years ago, Nick Reynolds and the Kingston Trio were folk music pioneers. Since then, "M.T.A." has become a part of American folklore, reprinted in myriad songbooks, a staple at summer camps and recorded by many different performers--but only after the name of the man for whom it was written was removed from the lyrics.

In the 1950s world of folk music, there were places that even pioneers feared to go.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

RIP Delaney Bramlett

Delaney Bramlett: 1939-2008
Sunday December 28, 2008
Sadly, there's another name to add to the list of those we've lost in 2008. Singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer, Delaney Bramlett has died of complications from gall bladder surgery. He was 69.

With his then-wife, Bonnie, he performed as Delaney and Bonnie & Friends in the late '60s and early '70s. Those "friends" included, at various times, George Harrison, Duane and Gregg Allman, Dave Mason, Leon Russell and Eric Clapton. Clapton credits Bramlett with encouraging and mentoring him as a vocalist. Bramlett co-wrote wrote several of the songs on Clapton's first solo album.

After the breakup (professionally and personally) of Delaney and Bonnie, he continued writing songs and producing albums for artists like Elvin Bishop and Etta James. Among the best known songs Bramlett co-wrote are "Superstar" (with Leon Russell); "Let It Rain" (with Clapton); and "Never Ending Song Of Love" which was Delaney & Bonnie's highest charting single.

Bramlett's daughter (with Bonnie) Bekka is a successful backup singer who also did a stint as vocalist for Fleetwood Mac in the late '90s.

Bramlett's most recent solo album, A New Kind Of Blues, was released earlier this year.

RIP Page Cavanaugh

Jazz Pianist, Singer Page Cavanaugh Dies
December 26, 2008 - Jazz

By Associated Press

Jazz pianist and singer Page Cavanaugh, whose popular trio in the 1940s and 1950s played in motion pictures and on Frank Sinatra's radio show, has died at 86.

Cavanaugh died of kidney failure Dec. 19 at a nursing home in San Fernando Valley, said Phil Mallory, his bass player of 18 years.

The Page Cavanaugh Trio was one of Southern California's most popular nightclub acts from the 1940s to the 1990s, performing at Ciro's, the Trocadero, the Captain's Table, the Money Tree and the Balboa Bay Club.

The group played in the film "Romance on the High Seas" with Jack Carson and Doris Day. The trio showed up in movies such as "A Song Is Born," "Big City" and "Lullaby of Broadway."

Cavanaugh's trio also appeared with Frank Sinatra on his "Songs By Sinatra" radio show and played for NBC Radio's "The Jack Paar Show."

Their hits included "The Three Bears" and "She Had to Go and Lose It At the Astor."

Cavanaugh never married and had no surviving relatives.

Friday, December 19, 2008