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Randall Grass
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Posted Sep 14, 2019 at Great Spirits
As 2014 draws to a close it is natural to reflect, to look back over the year or even back many years. This past year saw a continuation of a long-running trend—the demise of record stores. Among the casualties this year were two big-city mainstays: J & R Record World in New York City and Sound Of Market Street, also known as Jazz Sound in Philadelphia. I have been a patron of both for many years though I must confess less frequently these days as I am not often in Lower Manhattan before 7PM nor in Center City Philadelphia in... Continue reading
Posted Dec 29, 2014 at Great Spirits
New Orleans may have the greatest tradition of piano playing in America, if not the world. There were the “piano professors” of the Storyville and pre-Storyville era, the bridge between parade bands, ragtime and jazz, entertaining brothel patrons with a notably eclectic and unique repertoire. There were seminal players such as Jelly Roll Morton (who once claimed to have invented jazz). There has been a long line of great piano players such as Tuts Washington, Professor Longhair, Little Brother Montgomery, Champion Jack Dupree, Roosevelt Sykes, Archibald, Fats Domino, Huey Piano Smith, Edward Frank, James Booker, Allen Toussaint, Huey Piano Smith,... Continue reading
Posted Sep 1, 2014 at Great Spirits
BOBBY WOMACK: THE STREET PHILOSOPHER Hearing over the weekend that Bobby Womack had passed away was a shock. Though I knew he had been experiencing various health problems in recent years, I knew he was still performing. In fact, I had narrowly missed seeing him at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival this year. He went at on 3PM the final Sunday of the Fest and our plane landed around 1:30PM. If I had known, I would have scheduled an earlier flight; I never saw Bobby perform. And now he’s gone. What is strange to me is that so... Continue reading
Posted Jun 30, 2014 at Great Spirits
WALKIN’ TO NEW ORLEANS…. Well, I’m not going to walk, I’m going to fly. But the idea is the same. Seems like started thinking about going to New Orleans at a young age. My father’s family on one side was from there originally; my grandfather was born there (he was forbidden to speak French as a boy—his family was of French background) and one of my father’s aunts according to family lore had been an entertainer there. My father spoke of visiting there with his parents and having dinner at Antoine’s. So family roots were strong. And when I was... Continue reading
Posted May 1, 2014 at Great Spirits
RESCUING TREASURES FROM MOROCCO AND YEMEN! The Sixties and Seventies were exciting times for popular music in America and Europe. But what most people don’t realize is that those decades were incredibly exciting times for music in many parts of the world. Mass movements of people from the countryside to cities brought traditional music in collision with pop music—both of the particular country and from around the world. The proliferation of records, radio and cassettes meant that musicians were being exposed to a dizzying array of sounds and rhythms and, as a result, creating all sorts of new music. And... Continue reading
Posted Mar 31, 2014 at Great Spirits
ETHIO-JAZZ: THE NEXT WAVE Ethiopia is an ancient land, a fabled land, home of one of the oldest Christian sects as well as an early branch of Judaism. There are churches there carved out of solid rock hills and Ethiopians say the Ark Of The Covenant is there. The last reigning monarch, Haile Selassie, who was overthrown in 1974, could trace his linage back to ancient times, some say to Solomon and Sheba and was considered a manifestation of God on earth by Rastafarians. Huge and mountainous, Ethiopian has its own unique musical traditions. Until Francis Falceto launched his exemplary... Continue reading
Posted Feb 28, 2014 at Great Spirits
Sometimes you run into an artist who is clearly talented, clearly intelligent, is interesting and takes chances….and yet doesn’t necessarily create great music. On one end of this spectrum are artists such as Prince, Frank Zappa, and George Clinton who are all of the above and sometimes create something great but often fall short of that, maybe partly because all of them have been wildly prolific. At the other end of the spectrum are people who fit this description but almost never create anything great. You keep waiting for them to do it. Often the root cause with those folks... Continue reading
Posted Oct 28, 2013 at Great Spirits
ROCKING IN THE SAVANNAH Some folks trace the origin of the blues—and, by extension, rock ‘n’ roll-- to the West African savannah or Sahel region, which stretches from Chad through Northern Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, northern Ghana and into Guinea and Senegal. This is a crossroad area, the nexus between North Africa and “sub-Saharan” Africa, the meeting place between the heavily Islamic and the notably Christianized, the mixing trough of Arab and African cultures. The ancestor of the banjo originated here as did a call-and-response style of music-making between singer and instrument, that sounds very familiar to blues lovers.... Continue reading
Posted Sep 30, 2013 at Great Spirits
so it is not a stretch to image a high-octane dance variant of soca producing an international hit Continue reading
Posted Aug 30, 2013 at Great Spirits
I remember the exact momentI first heard Afrobeat. It was in 1974 in Kano, Nigeria, at an outdoor cafe', sitting drinking beer with a couple of Nigerian friends. Over the speaker system came a sound...funky, driving, kind of ominous, edgy, with jazzy keyboard and horn solos and a stentorian male voice declaiming: "open...open and close." It was unlike any African music I had heard previously. I asked my friends who it was; they chuckled and said "that's Fela!" I describe all this in detail in the chapter on Fela in my book Great Spirits: Portraits Of Life-Changing World Music Artists.... Continue reading
Posted Jul 31, 2013 at Great Spirits
Some people blame the decline in popular music quality on the decline of gradual disappearance of A & R in the music business. Yet most folks outside the music business—and even quite a few within it—don’t have a clear idea of what A &R is. It is a hoary term in the business. Literally, A & R stands for “artist and repertoire” and in the early days of the record business an A & R man—and the most always were (and largely still are) males—was responsible for signing commercially viable artists to record, arranging sessions and selecting appropriate, commercially viable... Continue reading
Posted Jun 30, 2013 at Great Spirits
A few weeks back I was at BB King's in New York City to catch the seminal acid-jazz group Incognito, led for a quarter century by guitarist/leader/songwriter Bluey. The stage was packed with musicians--drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, a three-piece horn section and four--count 'em!--four lead vocalists, who also sang back-ups along with Bluey and others in the band. These days it is, sadly,rare to see an R & B, rock or pop act with a real horn section, rather than a keyboard player replicating horn parts on a synth. From the very first tune, Incognito was grooving, creating that vibrant,... Continue reading
Posted Apr 30, 2013 at Great Spirits
JOSE JAMES: A JAZZ SAVIOR? The sad truth is that jazz has been in a dead-end of sorts for at least thirty years….arguably the last new, viable development was fusion, following on the so-called “free jazz” movement, beginning in the late Sixties and through the Seventies led by such artists as Miles Davis, Larry Coryell, Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchetra, Chick Corea etc. Most of the artists operating under “jazz” banner since that time—especially in the Eighties “young lions” resurgence led by Wynton Marsalis-- have largely been replicating or trying to replicate past glories. In short, music labeled as jazz"" since... Continue reading
Posted Feb 27, 2013 at Great Spirits
FETSUM: A PAN-AFRICAN REVELATION There really are no borders now. It’s a concept that has been talked about for a long time but with the advent of the internet and the widespread access of smartphones all over the world, virtually everyone on the planet is at least potentially in touch. Virtually the entire history of recorded music is available and most of it is accessible on YouTube to anyone with an internet connection. So people are absorbing sounds, melodies and rhythms as never before, and being influenced by them. All of which makes someone like Fetsum—an Ethiopian making music in... Continue reading
Posted Jan 30, 2013 at Great Spirits
TWO GREAT AFRICAN DIVAS As a collector of music with vast quantities of CD’s, LP’s, 45’s and cassettes, I realize that I cannot possibly listen to most of the music that I possess. Nonetheless it is a pleasure going through the stacks, through numberless CD’s that I haven’t listened to in years—if ever. I almost always stumble upon forgotten gems and sometimes items that I never realized were gems. Browsing a shelf of CD’s by African artists recently, I came upon recordings by two female artists—Setona and Manou Gallo. I could recall nothing about their music. So I pulled them... Continue reading
Posted Dec 31, 2012 at Great Spirits
THE JAMAICAN JAZZ GENIUS OF ERNEST RANGLIN: One of the great pleasures in life for me is to be listening to the radio and suddenly hearing a song that electrifies me, makes me stop talking or doing anything. At that moment the music compels me to listen. As soon as the song is over I pray that the dj says what the song and artist is, something that tends not to happen very often on commercial radio but does most of the time on non-commercial radio. Thank God! Well, a few Saturdays ago my lady and I were cruising back... Continue reading
Posted Nov 28, 2012 at Great Spirits
THE WEST AFRICAN AFRO-FUNK REVIVAL The Seventies was quite a decade for music; it gave rise to the classic reggae sound in Jamaica, the progressive funk scene in the States and the punk rock scene in the UK; you could probably throw in the rise of disco and the beginning of rap. Less well recognized but just as vital was the vibrant Afro-pop scene in West Africa during that decade. There Fela created Afrobeat, Sunny Ade and Ebenezer Obey brought juju music to a height, Senegalese bands created the mbalax style, Malian groups such as Les Ambassadeurs broke new ground... Continue reading
Posted Oct 31, 2012 at Great Spirits
the greatest unrecognized soul singer of the past forty years! Continue reading
Posted Sep 26, 2012 at Great Spirits
BOBBY WOMACK: THE LAST SOUL MAN STANDING Bobby Womack is many things: great songwriter, wonderful guitarist, deeply expressive singer, compelling street philosopher and a moving performer. For those who are familiar with the breadth and depth of his work over the past fifty years, he is a monumental figure, an artist who has done a lot to define soul music with his own unique style, melodically lyrical but punctuated by his trademark monologues, what used to be called “raps” before "rap" as a genre existed. He’s scored dozens of hits, written dozens of others yet it is fair to say... Continue reading
Posted Jul 29, 2012 at Great Spirits
GREAT AFRO SOUNDS FROM SWEET TALKS The term “highlife” conjures up many things. For someone in their sixties or seventies from Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone or Liberia, it may well inspire primarily nostalgia, because highlife music was THE West African popular music of the 40’s and 50’s, continuing on through the Sixties until its popularity began to fade in the 70’s, though there were still vibrant highlife scenes in Nigeria and Ghana into the 80’s The style has never really died out and I saw recently that a new generation of highlife artists is emerging in Eastern Nigeria. Yet highlife... Continue reading
Posted Jun 29, 2012 at Great Spirits
I REMEMBER MANDRAKE MEMORIAL: THE BEST BAND YOU NEVER HEARD OF Over the years I have had a tendency to become highly enamored of some very obscure artists. There are quite a number that I either saw many times live or listened to on record extensively. The fact that they never achieved a wider following might mean that I simply have a taste for things that lack mainstream appeal or it could mean the artists weren't as good as I thought they were. Or it could mean that I have been a perceptive champion of artists who really deserve wider... Continue reading
Posted May 30, 2012 at Great Spirits
When I was in Nigeria from 1974 - 1977, I was lucky enough to be in West African during a golden age of music. The West African music scene during the Seventies rivaled San Fransisco during the 1960's, Kingston, Jamaica during Seventies, Detroit during the 1960's, New Orleans during the 50's and early Sixties, the UK during the Sixties and so. The amount and variety of music was staggering. In a Nigerian city you could walk down the street and hear Afrobeat, reggae, juju, highlife, Congo sounds, funk, R & B, Indian film music, and myriad traditional styles blaring out... Continue reading
Posted Apr 30, 2012 at Great Spirits
If it seems that more often than not I'm writing about female artists, especially female world music artists, lately, that is no illusion. Maybe I'm drawn to female artrists for some reason; or maybe because opportunities for female artists have tended to be more limited those who manage to attain some sort of prominence are just at a higher level than the general run of male artists, or perhaps a higher percentage of them are at a higher level because only the best of them can succeed. In any case, the most exciting new artist I've encountered lately is Hindi... Continue reading
Posted Mar 28, 2012 at Great Spirits
I'm writing the evening after the annual Grammy Award show. I don't usually watch the telecast. Like so many others I have too often found the proceedings to be superficial, hypocritical, wildly inappropriate or often in simply bad taste...with a few moments of genuine feeling or notability interspersed. So in recent years I just glimpsed portions when other members of my household turned the show on. This time, spurred I think by Whitney Houston's untimely death, I did tune in from the beginning of the broadcase, curious and hopeful, to see if this event, which in appearance anyway, is a... Continue reading
Posted Feb 13, 2012 at Great Spirits