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Sunday, 23 December 2012

Otis Redding

Otis Redding
After talking about Sam Cooke and Solomon Burke, here’s another Soul giant. Otis Redding was one of the pioneers of Soul music and was truly amazing. He had a signature raspy voice and amazing ability to convey raw emotion. There are three words that apply perfectly to what Otis was all about: Passion, Energy and Emotion. He’s considered to be one of the greatest singers of all time and his singing style influenced many singers. To name only a few - Al Green, Joe Cocker, Bill Withers, Janis Joplin, Van Morrison and many others. In fact he’s number 8 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 100 Singers of all time. He was also highly respected by The Rolling Stones, who covered his That’s How Strong My Love Is and Pain In My Heart and in return he covered their (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. So anyway, if you know who he was, you know exactly what I’m talking about and if you don’t, then please, read on, because you’re missing out.
Otis Redding’s first big hit was These Arms Of Mine but the hits really started flying about three years later, when he recorded stuff like Mr Pitiful, I’ve Been Loving You Too Long, I Can’t Turn You Loose, Satisfaction, Respect (out of which Aretha Franklin later made a huge hit), Shake and others. He mostly sang just ballads and party tunes and I’m not a big fan of the latter. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s all great stuff, this is just me being very picky. What I don’t like about those tunes (like Shake, Hard To Handle...) is that they sound quite simple, they’re done in the same brassy style every time, so after a while it all sounds a bit repetitive. It wasn’t like this by chance of course, it was simply because Otis really appreciated the beauty in simplicity. On the other hand, I’m crazy about his ballads. Songs like Pain In My Heart, Try A Little Tenderness, Amen and others are just too good to pass on. To me, songs like these showcase his singing and his abilities to convey emotions powerfully. Listen to Pain in My Heart and listen to how he sings ‘Love me’ or ‘Come back’. It’s so compelling.

In 1967, he recorded (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay. At the time he was already very successful and he was already considered to be a great singer, musician and a song-writer but this song took all of that to a whole new level. It was a breakthrough for him as a musician and it pointed to new heights that his music might go to. But, just days after it was recorded, one of the biggest tragedies in the music history happened when he died in a plane crash. He was 26. I’ll leave you with the song and the enticing question “What if”.

P.S. I wrote this post after a friend requested it. If anyone else has any requests, I would love to hear from you!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Christmas special, part 2

Snowy Snow by Žan Anderle
Here’s a follow-up on the post I did a few days ago. This time around, I’ll mention a few Christmas albums that are a bit different from the usual stuff. A kind of change that is very welcomed among Christmas music, that otherwise sounds the same most of the time.

First off, it’s the Godfather of Soul - James Brown and his album James Brown's Funky Christmas. The title pretty much sums it up and it’s quite an unusual combination, at least for my ears, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. If you ask me, it’s actually great. There are a few misses along the way, but overall it’s a great Christmas album, with amazing, powerful, energetic James’ singing. I definitely recommend it, if you’re in the mood for something different. Listen to Sweet Little Baby Boy or Let’s Make Christmas Mean Something This Year to get a taste of it. Do you know the song Please Come Home For Christmas? Here’s James Brown’s surprising rendition. It’s very different from other versions which is exactly why I love it.

The First Lady of The Song recorded Christmas albums too. And good thing she did. Listen to Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas to hear how classic Christmas songs were supposed to be sung. Here’s my favourite on the album, ‘What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?’.

Last, but not least is one of my favourite musicians of all time, Ray Charles. In 1985, he recorded The Spirit of Christmas. Before this year, I didn’t even know he recorded a Christmas album. I think I know, which album I’ll have on repeat this Christmas. The warm, soulful sounds Ray managed to create time and again, fit perfectly with the Christmas spirit and the result can be heard on this album. I wouldn't listen to this album outside the Christmas season though, for it sounds cheesy at times. But since it is Christmas, I love it!
Here’s my favourite on the album, ‘All I Want For Christmas’, and don’t let the title scare you, it’s not Mariah Carey...

What are your favourites? What do you think of my humble selection? Comments from anyone are, as always, welcome.
Next time, since a good friend requested it, it’s Otis Redding (if anyone else has any requests, you should never hesitate!). I’m Looking forward to this one! I’ll leave you off with a great song, which connects this post and the next.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Christmas Special

Christmas Spirit by ŽAnderle
There are many reasons why I decided to do a Christmas Special. For one, I LOVE Christmas. As a little kid, I used to count down days till Christmas and my birthday (which is near Christmas) one month in advance. I don’t do that anymore, but not much has changed since then. I’m still a little kid who gets giddy with excitement over Christmas. I can easily get into the Christmas spirit and I love it! For example a couple of days ago, the first snow of this winter inspired me to put on Christmas music and prepare some roasted nuts and mulled wine for my parents and my girlfriend, even though it was just the beginning of December.
And the reason I’m doing a Christmas special more than two weeks before Christmas, is because I’m sure there are plenty more people like me out there. Also, I want to give anyone interested in the albums I’ll be talking about some time to get them (getting them on Christmas Eve is too late).

I’ve been a fan of Christmas music for some time, but I was never able to find something good. Most of what I listened to, was of bad quality, it all sounded pretty much the same and it seemed like it was made in a hurry and with just money in mind. I guess that’s the sad part of Christmas music - it’s easy and cheap to make and everyone will try making it, which means there’s so much crap out there. But fortunately there’s also a lot of great heartwarming Christmas music, you just have to find it. Last year, as a combination of luck and frustration, I found a couple of Christmas albums which I just love and today, I wanted to share them with you. Hopefully you’ll enjoy them as much as I do and they will bring you some Christmas cheer.

The first one is my favourite Christmas album ever. Most of you will know it, but whoever doesn’t, should listen to it as soon as possible. Vince Guaraldi and his A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’s a perfect combination of holiday playfulness, jazz, warm sounds and of course - Christmas spirit. It tastes exactly like those roasted nuts and mulled wine did. It’s on top of my ‘most played albums during holidays’ list. Below is a little taste of it. Now go and get it!


If we’re already at the more jazzy side of Christmas, I have to mention Wynton Marsalis’ Christmas Jazz Jam. This one’s a bit more demanding than A Charlie Brown Christmas, so it may not be to everyone’s liking, but it’s a great album. It has many wonderful moments like Good King Wenceslas and O Little Town Of Bethlehem to name just two. Whenever I listen to this album I feel like it’s putting together two of my favourite things. Jazz and Christmas. Does it get any better than jazzy Christmas?

Still on Christmas with jazz, here’s Louis Armstrong & Friends doing What a Wonderful Christmas. When I first heard it, I was a bit disappointed to hear there are only 6 out of 14 songs by Louis. This makes it more of a compilation with a focus on Satchmo than an album done by him. Nevertheless it’s a wonderful album that’s easy to enjoy. It features names like Dinah Washington, Duke Ellington, Peggy Lee, Louis Jordan and Lena Horne. All in all, it’s an even better combination than Christmas Jazz Jam - Jazz and Christmas AND Louis Armstrong! Just thinking about it, makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. The only thing that leaves you sad after listening to the album is that Louis Armstrong didn’t record more Christmas songs, because he’s so incredibly good at it. Here’s Winter Wonderland done by him. Listen and see what I’m talking about.

(Here’s a post about it in Ricky Riccardi’s blog)

That’s it for now but I’m not done yet. Next time I’ll continue with other great, maybe a bit unexpected but great Christmas albums. Until then, tell me, is there anyone else out there who gets excited over Christmas and Christmas music? What are your favourites?

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Dave Brubeck

I had something different in mind for today’s post, but something happened that is just too important not to write about. An American piano legend, Dave Brubeck, passed away today. He would turn 92 tomorrow. He was known for his unusual time signatures and poly-rhythms. During his 60 year career, he toured with names like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. He was featured on Time magazine’s cover - at the time, the second jazz musician ever to be featured on its cover, with only Louis Armstrong preceding him.
Most people will know him through songs like Take Five or Blue Rondo A La Turk. Maybe you don’t even know you know him, but most likely you’ve heard these songs before.
I think he’s very easy to listen to, but he also has so much to offer. I recommend him to anyone, to long time jazz lovers as well as to people who are just getting into jazz. He wasn’t being praised so much for nothing...

His renown, in part, comes from his great album Time Out, which is something you have to hear at least once in your life, but the reason I love Dave Brubeck is The Real Ambassadors, a project with his wife Iola, created specifically with Louis Armstrong in mind. Regarding the project much can be found in Ricky Riccardi’s blog and book What a Wonderful World. I won’t go into detail about it (I will come back about this as this is material for a post on its own) but I will say it’s a masterpiece ahead of its time and it’s one of my favourite Louis Armstrong’s albums.
Here’s a song out of the album. Iola wrote the lyrics and she meant them to be light and humorous, especially the part

They say I look like God.
Could God be black? My God!
If all are made in the image of thee,
Could thou perchance a zebra be?

was meant as a joke, but Louis sang them with such seriousness it brings the song to a whole new level.
Anyway, I’ll talk about the album some other time, I had to at least mention it. If you want to listen to some great music and hear Louis Armstrong do something atypical for him, give this album a listen. It’s well worth it!

A musical legend left us today and left a great legacy. Do the right thing and go enjoy some of it.

Come back for more reading as I’ll do a Christmas special later this week!

EDIT 7. December 2012: Here's a great article on The Real Ambassadors by Ricky Riccardi. Check it out!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Nina Strnad, a Slovenian gem

Nina Strnad by Žan Anderle

This women in jazz series has come to an end and for the last post I decided to do something different, something special. Today I’ll write about a young Slovenian jazz singer. Most of the musicians I listen to are from abroad and are unfortunately not alive anymore, so writing about a young Slovenian singer is something quite different.
I still remember the day I first heard Nina Strnad singing. I was watching television to kill some time and I was rushing through the channels to find something entertaining. All of a sudden I realized I passed something which was completely different than all the soap operas, commercials and low-budget movies on other channels. It felt like a snowball hit me. I stopped browsing, thinking “what was that?!”. I backed up a few channels and started listening to some kind of a concert. I turned on the volume and this beautiful, clear voice started coming out of the speakers. I was mesmerized by this girl’s singing and shocked that we have this voice in Slovenia and that I hadn’t heard about her. Immediately I wanted to find out who she was and I got so excited that I found some new music to listen to (I explained why I get so excited over new music in this post). After that, I started paying attention to her name and whenever I heard she’s playing somewhere, I’d try to go and listen. She was (and still is) just too good to pass on.
After a couple of concerts and jam sessions this year, I really got into her singing and now I always make sure I don’t miss her gigs, and I always recommend her to my friends - if you ever have a chance to hear her sing, take it! You won’t be sorry. At the moment, Nina is studying jazz singing in USA, so any readers from that area, pay attention to her name, and try to catch her gigs if she’ll have any.
This year she started performing some known popular, although older, Slovenian songs, but with a jazzy twist, which is just wonderful. I knew most of these songs before, but I feel like I’m hearing them for the first time when she does them. I really appreciate that she’s doing her own thing with these Slovenian songs instead of doing just jazz standards.
Nina's gig by Žan Anderle

Last week, she came home because of Thanksgiving in the States and had a concert at Ljubljana’s castle, which was the inspiration for this post (and it just so happened that it coincided with my writing about women). Surprisingly, she sang a lot of songs she had never sung before and it was just spectacular. Unfortunately, none of these songs are online yet, but I’ll do another post as soon as they are. The whole concert was amazing but three of my favourite songs were Four Brothers with its nerve-wrecking tempo (for anyone who knows the song - she actually sang all the lyrics!), Chaplin’s Smile with a beautiful Slovene translation (which she did by herself) and most of all Thelonious Monk’s In Walked Bud. I love Thelonious Monk and I love this song and I feel like she sang it exactly the way it was supposed to be sung. I was trying to find a version which would resemble her performance, but without any luck. The closest, I would say, is Carmen McRea’s version, but even that’s not close enough. She was just that good.
I genuinely appreciate the things she’s doing with the Slovenian songs, but I hope she’ll also continue with the stuff she was doing at this concert, because it was phenomenal.

I apologize I can’t supply more musical material with the post, but I wanted to write about her regardless of that, because I think she’s a Slovenian gem and because she’s actually my favourite female singer, who is still alive.

Thoughts, anyone?