Tag Archives: Sly and the Family Stone

“THANK YOU” AND A PLUMP AND PERKY TURKEY

A real fun book about a real crafty turkey named Pete that I read to the kindergarteners the other day; written by Teresa Bateman and illustrated by Jeff Shelly.

Hello all, and Happy Thanksgiving! I’ve been too preoccupied with other projects and responsibilities to devote much time to these pages as of late, however, I wanted to pop in today to try and sweeten up our modern slant on a harvest feast with some thematically appropriate sounds. This holiday, as we Americans have come to celebrate it, has been an official tradition since 1863, when, in the midst of the divisive horrors of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln responded to a 74-year-old magazine editor, Sarah Josepha Hale, who urged the president in a letter dated September 28, 1863, to unite the states through custom by having the “day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.” On October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the following proclamation written by Secretary of State William Seward:

Detail from “First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation” by Francis Bicknell Carpenter shows President Abraham Lincoln seated at left and Secretary of State William Seward seated at right.

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,

Secretary of State

Nearly eighty years later, On December 26, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress changing the national Thanksgiving Day from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday.

Otis with the Johnny Otis Orchestra in 1957. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images).

Now with that little history lesson out of the way, I’d like to first present to you The Robins backed by the exceptional Johnny Otis (“the blackest white man in America”) and his Johnny Otis Orchestra, who in 1950 laid down these swinging rhythm and blues instructions to dance the “Turkey Hop.”

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Eddie Jefferson playing at Half Moon Bay California, October 10, 1978 (Photo by Brian McMillen).

From Turkey to Thanks, up next is Eddie Jefferson, the innovator of Vocalese: a style of jazz singing wherein words are sung to melodies that were originally part of an instrumental composition or improvisation; basically, it’s like scat singing with a lexicon. Tragically, while exiting Baker’s Keyboard Lounge on May 8, 1979 at approximately 1:35 a.m, Eddie Jefferson was shot and killed by a disgruntled dancer who once worked for him. Jefferson was 60-years-old. However, a few years prior in 1974, Jefferson released the album Things Are Getting Better, which featured a freewheeling and funky rendition of Sly and the Family Stone’s 1969 hit, “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” Here in this song, Stone gives thanks for perhaps the greatest gift one can receive, being permitted to just be who you are.

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Eddie Jefferson – Vocals

Sam Jones – Bass

Billy Mitchell – Flute, Clarinet (Bass), Sax (Tenor)

Joe Newman – Trumpet

Mickey Tucker – Organ, Piano, Piano (Electric), Saw

Conrad Buckman – Vocals

Eddie Gladden – Drums

Mildred Weston – Vocals

—Alright, I’ve given you the gravy, and now it’s time for some dry turkey meat—

First published in the 1989 chapbook Tornado Alley, “Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, 1986” features William S. Burroughs giving thanks as only he could. Two years later, director Gus Van Sant created this short film of Burroughs reading the poem over a montage.

For John Dillinger

In hope he is still alive

“Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1986″

Thanks for the wild turkey and the Passenger Pigeons, destined to be shit out through wholesome American guts

Thanks for a Continent to despoil and poison

Thanks for Indians to provide a modicum of challenge and danger

Thanks for vast herds of bison to kill and skin, leaving the carcass to rot

Thanks for bounties on wolves and coyotes

Thanks for the American Dream to vulgarize and falsify until the bare lies shine through

Thanks for the KKK, for nigger-killing lawmen feeling their notches, for decent church-going women with their mean, pinched, bitter, evil faces

Thanks for Kill a Queer for Christ stickers

Thanks for laboratory AIDS

Thanks for Prohibition and the War Against Drugs

Thanks for a country where nobody is allowed to mind his own business

Thanks for a nation of finks—yes,

Thanks for all the memories all right, lets see your arms

You always were a headache and you always were a bore

Thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.

Now, as a bit of a palette cleanse, I’d like to conclude with what was a radio-wave tradition in my youth and what must be the most epic of Thanksgiving songs, a twenty-year-old Arlo Guthrie’s hilarious and poignant true story, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.” With a runtime of 18 minutes and 34 seconds, this song served as the opening track (and took up the entire A-side) of Guthrie’s 1967 debut album, Alice’s Restaurant, which later inspired an amusing and underrated 1969 movie of the same name co-written and directed by Arthur Penn.

Yet, before I leave you with the song I’d like to say that we need to remember—to paraphrase colonist William Bradford’s words of 1621, in “Of Plymouth Plantation”—Thanksgiving is the time for the people to “fit up their houses and dwellings against winter,” and to celebrate both “being all well recovered in health and strength.” and having “all things in good plenty.” However, more importantly, if you find yourself fit up and with all things in good plenty, Thanksgiving should serve as a reminder of a fundamental principle for humanity, perhaps best expressed as a succinct maxim in Bob Dylan’s 1967 song “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest”:

When you see your neighbor carryin’ somethin’

Help him with his load

And don’t go mistaking Paradise

For that home across the road

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THANK YOU———————————BOBBY CALERO—————————

THE BIRTH OF COOL

—Although these pages are filled with who I consider to be tremendously talented artists, musicians, and performers, I might call someone brilliant but it is rare that I’ll actually label someone a genius. The subject of my last post, Bob Dylan is one, and today I bring you another post on another genius in the field of music.—

(Photo: Aaron Rapoport/Corbis)

If he had not died on September 28, 1991—May 26 would have marked the 86th birthday of Miles Davis. To my mind, Miles is single-handedly more responsible for the evolution of modern Jazz than any other artist; and he was so goddamn cool while he did so too! So, in tribute I present four of my favorite tracks by this brilliant trumpeter and eccentric bandleader:

Miles Davis plays the trumpet during a recording session for Cannonball Adderley’s Somethin’ Else album in 1958. (Photo by Francis Wolff.)

Julian “Cannonball” Adderly

On March 9th of 1958 Miles Davis would enter Van Gelder Studio in Hackensack, New Jersey—with a talented ensemble of musicians that included pianist Hank Jones, “hard-bop” drummer Art Blakey, and bassist Sam Jones—to record alto sax player Julian “Cannonball” Adderly’s debut album for the Blue Note label: Somethin’ Else. Although Davis here is billed as a sideman in Cannonball’s quintet (a rarity for the man who notoriously refused to play second-fiddle for anyone) many debate that Miles in fact creatively helmed this record. Miles himself stated that he “did it as a favor” for the man who had already been playing as a member of his own sextet for the past several months. Regardless of who here truly deserves the title of “band leader,” each musician’s dexterity for improvisational expression just shines; particularly on my personal favorite, album opener: “Autumn Leaves.”

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A languid treatment of a standard (of French origin, “Les Feuilles Mortes” was made popular in 1946 by actor, singer, and one of my grandmother’s favorites—Yves Montand),

Yves Montand chatting up Marilyn Monroe in 1960

this composition’s inherent melodic potentialities are explored on a spacious framework that allows each member of the quintet to elaborate, some with a more stately and straight approach than others. I’ve always loved how Hank Jones’ brooding piano intro tows in the rhythm section accompanied by the ominous horns before Miles and Adderly trade sweet solos, with the trumpeter leaping from shrill, metallic notes down into deep, sonorous melodies and back again to create an emotional mood evocative of sensuality and the odd comfort to be found in sadness.

(Photo by Francis Wolff, 1958)

Miles Davis would further explore this emphasis on mood a year later for his masterpiece of “modal jazz,” Kind of Blue, from which comes our second track for today.

Nearly everyone has put in their two cents on this best-selling album, so I won’t pitch in more than a penny.

Miles, pensive while creating Kind of Blue

Creating only a series of sketches for each composition, which served as scale parameters for each performer to improvise within, Miles assembled some of the finest musicians of his day (and brilliant producer Teo Macero) to participate in this exploration of musical possibility: Cannonball Adderly, alto saxophone; Paul Chambers, double bass; Jimmy Cobb, drums; John Coltrane, tenor saxophone; Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, piano.

From left to right, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, Miles Davis, and Bill Evans

With this work Miles fully abandoned bebop’s foundations, placing the music’s focus on melody, economy, and mood rather than on rhythm, speed, and chord progressions. One fine example of this is the cerulean vapor that is the Bill Evans co-written ballad: “Blue in Green.”

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Ten years ago at the age of twenty-one, wallowing in post-break-up anguish in the weeks that followed 9/11, I once spent an entire weekend (AM-PM) listening to this album on loop while writing a long-form poem that I’ve always considered my essential “break-through,” in terms of my creativity. Kind of Blue contained the only music that could match frequencies with the sullen, yet reticent emotions that I had roiling inside me. I would end up entitling the book-length poem The Cartoon Menace, while as a subtitle in parenthesis (Blue-in-Green). Although I’ve never needed that album in quite that way since, I cant help but feel that some furtive spasm in Miles’ psyche had me and my predicament in mind when creating this astonishing work. That’s the thing, Miles music lends itself to a belief in things unseen, a belief in that there is more than just all this.

Miles Davis. Photo by Don Hunstein

From his “Blue Period” we jump on to the era when Miles burst through the last remaining formal barriers of what was commonly considered jazz, and birthed a new musical expression that at times can be described as sublime, and at others, could only be described as sounding like pure fucking evil; not malicious, not devious or angry, but the sound of voodoo evoked evil. The best example of the latter is certainly the 1970 2xLP masterpiece Bitches Brew.

Cover art by Mati Klarwein

It’s as if during those three days in August of 1969, he and his crew of musicians (regular sidemen Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette augmented with Bennie Maupin, Larry Young, Harvey Brooks, Lenny White, Don Alias, Airto Moreira, and Jim Riley) had opened a portal to some Lovecraftian dimension, however, instead of being inhabited by tentacled elder-gods it was a realm filled with music to make you tap your foot, bob your head, and slowly lose your mind.

Miles and Betty Davis in 1969 (photo by Baron Wolman)

Influenced by the sonic territories opened up by the bombastic blues and acid rock of Jimi Hendrix and the intelligent funk of Sly Stone, as well the being introduced to the cultural milieu of the late-sixties by his new wife Betty (herself a musician, releasing some heavy lascivious funk records that you definitely should pick up) Miles’ was both creatively and stylistically electrified.

The innovative intensity of the jazz-rock fusion first explored on Bitches Brew would carry over to his live concerts and would help propel him on a creative edge through a decade marred by massive depression, cocaine and sex addictions, osteoarthritis, bursitis, and sickle-cell anemia.

Miles Davis circa 1970

Our third cut for today, however, comes from a recording session Miles held just a few months after the ones that produced Bitches Brew. Returning to the studio with a similar cast of musicians, Miles further explored his new approach of gnarled phrasing and warped effects twisting over polyrhythmic textures by introducing elements of Indian music, such as Khalil Balakrishna’s sitar and Bihari Sharima’s tabla and tamboura. The results would exhibit a much mellower mood that nevertheless retained an assertive “dark magus” edge.

Dark Magus: Live (photo: Anthony Barboza, 1971)

Dark Magus: Evil (photo: Anthony Barboza, 1971)

The majority of these recordings would not be released until 1974’s Big Fun.

But one track, “Guinnevere,” would not see light until the end of the decade on the outtake collection: Circle in the Round. “Guinnevere” is a David Crosby song first released on super-group Crosby, Stills & Nash’s eponymous debut album of 1969.

(photo: Henry Diltz, 1969)

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The song is essentially in the “Albion folk” tradition but is rendered with a mystic hippy serenity through Crosby’s talent for strange time signatures and peculiar tuning; and it is these elements that Miles and company delve into on their lush, extended rendition:

Miles Davis at Tanglewood, August 18, 1970, (photo by Amalie R. Rothschild)

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Over the next couple of years Miles’ music would place an emphasis on the more electric funk elements hinted at in his earlier work, and it is from this era I present the final song for today’s tribute.

1973

In June and July of 1972 Miles recorded the landmark (but critically derided at the time) album On the Corner. Incorporating the psychedelic-funk styles of Sly and the Family Stone with Karlheinz Stockhausen’s electronic music, and inspirations taken from classic composer Paul Buckmaster, and “free-jazz” visionary Ornette Coleman—all filtered through a musique concrète approach pioneered by Miles and producer Teo Macero—On The Corner is a jazz album that you can just almost dance to, if you didn’t find yourself missing a few too many of the appendages required to maintain the groove. With its wah-wah and echoplex trumpet, afro-centric rhythms alternately sinuous and convulsive, and tape manipulations (the album was created by cutting and pasting recordings made of extended improvisational jam sessions) Miles had this to say regarding his intentions with this music:

            The music was about spacing, about free association

            Of musical ideas to a core kind of rhythm and vamps

            And bass line. A music where you could tap your feet

            to get another bass line (Belden, 2000).

The concise centerpiece for this album is the mysterious and cyclical gem of condensed funk: “Black Satin.” This slice of “street” jazz is simply captivating:

Cover art by Cortez “Corky” McCoy

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Personnel:

Miles Davis – electric trumpet with wah-wah

Dave Liebman – soprano saxophone

Herbie Hancock – electric piano, synthesizer

Harold I. Williams – organ, synthesizer

David Creamer – electric guitar

Michael Henderson – electric bass with Wah Wah

Khalil Balakrishna – electric sitar

Badal Roy – tabla

Jack DeJohnette, Al Foster – drums

Jabali Billy Hart – drums, bongos

James “Mtume” Foreman, Don Alias – percussion

Paul Buckmaster – cello, arrangements

Well, there you have it; four of my favorite tracks from the hundreds produced by this genius over his lifetime. —The man played it cool right up to the end and it’s a shame he’s not here today to celebrate his 86th birthday.

Miles Davis Group – Jazz Fest, New Orleans, 27 April 1991

[I have to mention, the most entertaining biography I’ve ever read is Miles’ autobiography: Miles: The Autobiography by Miles Davis and Quincy Troupe.

Written in his distinct cadence, you get to hear him—whether in praise or disgust—call absolutely everyone a “mother fucker.” Highly, highly recommended.

—————-Bobby Calero———–