Music can be a form of perfection - with nothing added or subtracted, flawless just the way it is.

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!

5. December 2012
Dave Brubeck Jazz Louis Armstrong

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?

3. December 2012
Jazz Nina Strnad Women

I’ve put this women in jazz series on hold for now, as I want to prepare something different and special for the last one. For now, I wanted to write about something unrelated to that, so I decided to write about Stevie Wonder.
I’m sure he doesn’t need much introduction, since pretty much everyone knows of him. He was born Steveland Hardaway Judkins in 1950 and was blind almost from the day he was born. He began singing in a church choir and began learning piano, drums and harmonica at the age of nine. Today, Wonder plays the piano, synthesizer, harmonica, congas, drums, bass guitar, bongos, organ, melodica, and clavinet. He began his musical career in 1962, when he was only 12, which makes his career span over a respectful 50 years.

I don’t enjoy all of his music (I Just Called To Say I Love You, for example), but there are three albums that are perfection and that make me love and respect Stevie Wonder and call him a living legend. They are, as he has always been, optimistic and cheerful. Website allmusic.com describes it so well: “His best records were a richly eclectic brew of soul, funk, rock & roll, sophisticated Broadway/Tin Pan Alley-style pop, jazz, reggae, and African elements – and they weren’t just stylistic exercises; Wonder took it all and forged it into his own personal form of expression”. Whenever I need a dose of optimism and energy, I put on one of these albums and it works like a charm every time. I don’t know about you, but I personally cannot stand still while listening to Superstition. I believe it’s physically impossible. These three albums I love are Talking Book, Innervisions and Songs In The Key Of Life. Listen to at least one of them (or preferably all three) to hear the genius of Stevie Wonder firsthand.

As I’ve said, I recommend all three of them, but Talking Book might be the best place to start - it’s the easiest to get your head around. It has beautiful love songs like I Believe and it also has one of his best songs ever (if you ask me); Superstition. What I find interesting is that the album is recorded almost solely by Stevie Wonder. He didn’t have any help on some songs, while others feature some great names in music, like for example Jeff Beck on Looking For Another Pure Love.
Innervisions is a bit more socially and politically oriented and might be a bit harder to listen to, if you’re not used to these sounds, but nevertheless a great album. My favourite from this album is definitely Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing, with its great rhythm and groove.
Last but absolutely not the least is Songs In The Key Of Life. Many say it’s the pinnacle of Stevie Wonder’s career. I’m not going to talk about how amazingly good the album is (which it is, and if you’re interested, you can read a good review of the album here), but I’d rather just name two of my favourites songs on the album. Isn’t She Lovely, one of his most known songs is just a pure pleasure to listen to. The whole song is wonderful, but his harmonica solo is incredible. He wrote the song for his daughter, which gives it slightly melancholic undertones - just listen to the lyrics and think about the fact that he’s blind and will never be able to see his daughter. The interesting part though, is that he probably doesn’t think of it this way, seeing as he’s generally so optimistic and cheerful and never considered being blind as a disadvantage. In any case, Isn’t She Lovely is a typical Stevie Wonder song and I love it.
The next favourite from the album is Sir Duke, a song written as a tribute to the great Duke Ellington (I will be talking about him in the future) and music in general. No words here, just listen.

I’m sure everyone has a favourite Stevie Wonder song, so please share!

29. November 2012
R'n'B Soul Stevie Wonder

Nina Simone

I don’t know as much about Nina Simone and her music as I would like to, but I enjoy her music very much so I decided to do a quick mention of her anyway. I mean, it is my women in jazz series and she definitely deserves a spot! I will do another post on her, once I get to know her a bit more, which will happen soon, because I’m quite intrigued by her. The way she takes on some of the songs is very interesting and her voice takes a bit of getting used to, I think, but after that, it becomes great. It is puzzling but is also rewarding because of that. Another thing I like about her music is that she fills it with raw emotion. Sometimes you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you can just feel something strong.
Here are a few examples of my favourite Nina Simone songs. I love her version of ‘I Put a Spell On You’, I feel it’s the best one (and there are many versions of the song out there). I enjoy the genius irony in ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free’ - the music is so cheerful, but there’s absolutely nothing cheerful about the lyrics. And because I didn’t want to put too many examples in this post I decided for only one more song. I feel ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ is a good example of what I was saying about raw emotion. The singing and the backing piano (which she plays by herself of course) just gets to you. I’ve listened to the song so many times, but it still grabs me every time, because I can’t quite get to the bottom of it.

I can’t wait to do a longer post on Nina Simone. Until then, any thoughts on her or her music?

26. November 2012
Blues Jazz Nina Simone Soul Women

Yesterday, I did a post on Etta James and I promised I would write about Dinah today, and that led me to start a series of posts about women in music I listen to. Up next are Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and some others. So if you’re into that, make sure you check the blog every now and then. Let’s get right to it.

Born Ruth Lee Jones in 1924, Dinah Washington was discovered at a talent show at the age of 15, by Louis Armstrong’s manager Joe Glaser. Since then, she has been praised greatly as a singer of both blues and jazz and critics have given her as much credit as they have given Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Listen to her for half an hour and you’ll know what they were talking about.
She sang a lot of torch songs - songs about unrequited love, about loving someone even after they’ve found someone else, songs filled with sorrow and pain. In a way she could relate to those songs, since she had plenty of experiences to draw from. She was married 7 times, and after writing about Etta James and Billie Holiday, it almost sounds like I’m repeating myself. It’s the same story all over again.
In 1959, she hit the pop market with the hit song What a Difference a Day Makes and while the sound of her music changed quite a bit, her singing stayed as strong as ever.
In 1963, she died of a combination of diet pills and alcohol. She was 39 years old.

I love her singing and I listen to Mad About The Boy - The Best Of Dinah Washington at least twice a month (in addition to other Dinah’s albums). I definitely recommend it, and I think it’s actually a nice way to start getting into jazz, for anyone out there, who might be interested. Her singing is nothing short of phenomenal. Her smoky, raspy, salty, rich voice, full of vibrato is just a joy to listen to. Even though she sounds completely different to Billie Holiday, I think you can actually hear a lot of Billie in Dinah’s singing.
The best album Dinah Washington ever recorded though, is, in my opinion, Dinah Jams. It’s a jam session recorded in a studio in Los Angeles with big jazz cats like Clifford Brown and Max Roach. Here are two songs which perfectly show her amazing talent (the album itself sounds a bit different than these two songs, but I wanted to post them, because they represent Dinah better). In the second song, pay attention to lovely piano backing and the perfect saxophone accompaniment.

I love the lyrics of Crazy He Calls me, a song made popular by Billie Holiday. Although Billie Holiday is my favourite female singer of all time, I think Dinah delivers this song better.

I say I’ll move the mountains
And I’ll move the mountains
If he wants them out of the way
Crazy he calls me
Sure, I’m crazy
Crazy in love, I say

I say I’ll go through fire
And I’ll go through fire
As he wants it, so it will be
Crazy he calls me
Sure, I’m crazy
Crazy in love, you see

Like the wind that shakes the bough
He moves me with a smile
The difficult I’ll do right now
The impossible will take a little while
I say I’ll care forever
And I mean forever
If I have to hold up the sky
Crazy he calls me
Sure, I’m crazy
Crazy in love am I

I love the witty contrast in the song. I feel like when she sings ‘Crazy he calls me, sure I’m crazy, crazy in love’ he and she are talking about the same thing, but seeing it differently. They’re both talking about the same relationship, they’re both using the same word, yet they don’t have the same view on it. He sees crazy as are-you-out-of-your-mind crazy, it’s not good to be this way crazy and she understands it as ‘I’m so deeply in love, it makes me a bit crazy’, but a good kind of crazy. And anyone can understand it that way actually.** You could see ‘I say I’ll go through fire and I’ll go through fire, as he wants it, so it will be’ as something only a person _not thinking straight _would do, and it’s _not sane_. Or you could be more romantic and see it as a_n inspirational_ thing and admire her deep love for him.**
In the end, both kinds of crazy are actually the same thing, it just depends on how you look at it and what you have to gain from your perspective; if you see this crazy as something wonderful as she does, then you can do the impossible_ ‘_The difficult I’ll do right now, the impossible will take a little while’, otherwise it’s likely that the impossible will stay impossible. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be a romantic _and do the impossible.
_

What do you think about the two songs? What are your favourite Dinah Washington songs? Comment away.

Next time, I’ll write about another wonderful female musician. Until then, everyone.

20. November 2012
Billie Holiday Blues Dinah Washington Jazz Women