Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane Play “Monk’s Mood”

Listen to this track by jazz piano innovator and famous eccentric Thelonious Monk along with his equally celebrated musical partner by the time this was recorded, John Coltrane. It’s “Monk’s Mood”, a cut that would appear on the bona fide buried treasure Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane Live At Carnegie Hall.

This rendition of the song was cut live at the famous venue (how do you get there? Practice, man, practice …) at the tail end of 1957 in two sets on the same night. During several months that same year, Monk and Coltrane collaborated in a quartet along with bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik and drummer Shadow Wilson. Monk had cut this tune in trio form in the studio with Coltrane (along with bassist Wilbur Ware) on his otherwise-solo piano album Thelonious Himself earlier that same year in April.

By the time they recorded the Carnegie Hall date, the band had Monk’s famously idiosyncratic composition style down pat, with amazing clarity and precise musical alignment particularly between him and Coltrane. This piece is like a dance between sax and piano, with steps that may be odd in places, but are always elegant. The most amazing part of all of this was that this music was almost not heard at all outside of the live audience who attended the date, and certainly not because the music isn’t absolutely sublime. Before a wider audience could hear it, it needed to be found –  literally. Read more

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Connie Converse Sings “One By One”

Connie Converse How Sad How LovelyListen to this track by New Hampshire native transplanted to New York City and singer-songwriter progenitor Connie Converse. It’s “One By One” one of seventeen home-taped songs she  recorded sometime at the end of the 1950s. After many years of awaiting discovery, this song and Converse’s other material was commercially released in 2015 on the album How Sad, How Lovely.

Converse’s songs and her general approach to making music — by writing, singing, and playing it herself — have become cited as the earliest example of the singer-songwriter genre. Now, that claim is perhaps tenuous if you want to take it apart on a musical level. Lots of people were writing their own songs and singing them by the fifties. But, when connected to the scenes in the late sixties and into the seventies, maybe you can see why this claim has been made, so common are the threads found in her music when compared to, say, Judee Sill, Tim Hardin, Bridget St. John, or Nick Drake. Like those writers, Connie Converse dealt in contemporary themes while referencing traditions of the past, along with a love of imagery and wordplay that goes beyond the confines of pop music of her times. In Converse’s case, it was early twentieth century parlour songs, folk ballads, hymns, and cowboy songs.

But, like some of those examples given earlier of singer-songwriters, Converse had a limited body of work due to its lack of commerciality. And in addition to that,  there’s a certain amount of mystery surrounding the fate of Connie Converse. Read more

Duke Ellington Plays “Diminuendo” and “Crescendo in Blue” At Newport 1956

Ellington At NewportListen to this track by great American composer and supreme jazz immortal Duke Ellington. It’s “Diminuendo” and “Crescendo in Blue”, two compositions dating back to 1937 and re-positioned here from the band’s book (aka their catalogue of songs) on the 1956 “live” release Ellington At Newport

This was a game-changing date for Ellington and his guys, and I put the quotation marks around the word live because it was pieced together after the fact, supplemented  by studio recordings and with audience applause. Duke felt that the band wasn’t properly prepared for their appearance to the point that he felt it might not make for a good recording. He made the suggestion of a studio album and live album hybrid to paper over what he felt were some of the cracks. But, that’s not the big story here.

The big story is what happened to the real audience, and how it became a vital chapter in the career of one of the greatest American composers of all-time, actually ensuring his success for the remainder of his life – including a cover shot in Time Magazine.

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10 Musical Acts That Define The History Of The Apollo Theatre

The Apollo Theater, Harlem New York City (Source: Paul Lowry)
The Apollo Theater, Harlem New York City (Source: Paul Lowry)

There have been many vital legendary musical venues that have helped to shape the destiny of pop music. But, few have the pedigree of the immortal Apollo Theatre in Harlem, New York City.

Since it was founded in 1934, several of the musical acts that now stand as pioneers in jazz, blues, soul, funk, rock, and hip hop got their start in this otherwise humble theatre located at 253 West 125th Street. And while these artists developed from beginners, to practicioners, to exemplars, and onto immortality, the world changed as a result.

Their work helped in breaking down barriers between musical styles, and also between groups of people who had been separated by the oppressive social norms of their times. As these norms were torn down (and good riddance), the music they made has endured, and the lives of music fans everywhere have been enriched.

Listing every artist that came out of the Apollo Theatre, or had career-defining shows there, would make for a very long read, indeed. So, as is my custom here at the Delete Bin, here is a list of 10 that I hope will suggest the wide spectrum of talent they represent. Take a look!

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10 Cover Songs By The Beatles That Helped Define Them

The Beatles established the idea for British beat groups that if you wanted to make your mark, you had to write your own songs.

But, before they were writers, they were music fans and record collectors – just like us! They had influences, like any other band. In their earliest days, The Beatles considered themselves primarily as a rock ‘n’ roll band. But, they pulled in a number of influences that allowed them to define their sound even early on; soul music, rockabilly, traditional pop, movie soundtrack music, Latin music, and more.

The Beatles 1964

A lot of the time, their choice in material was made so as to distinguish their sets from those of other bands working the same clubs as they did. And it also served them as a live act when they were a bar band in Hamburg, playing eight-hour shows. To play sets that long, you’ve got to cover a lot of ground, and make sure you’re ready to play anything for the sometimes volatile audiences. More material is better than less in those situations; better to know it and not have to play it, than having to play it, and not knowing it.

What this anything goes approach also helped them to do of course is to create a template for how wide their reach would be as songwriters on their own. So, which songs did they cover that helped them to do this best? Well, in the tradition of the Delete Bin, here are 10 to consider as great Beatle-starters, and as prime cuts of pure pop magic all on their own. Take a look! Read more

10 Side Musicians Who Aren’t Famous But Should Be

During the history of modern pop music and jazz, there have been those with the ability to take music that is potentially great and make it great by sheer force of talent. A lot of these people are names that we recognize today, because along with sterling musicianship and songwriting, fame often follows. But, they don’t get there on their own. The stars of the show have the advantage of side musicians, who are in the role of support, adding texture and personality to any material put in front of them.

Yet, often the people in these supporting roles don’t often have a proportionate share in the fame that often comes out of the fruits of their labours. Sure, liner notes-reading music obsessives might know them. And maybe in certain professional circles their names are known. But, for the most part it’s their playing, their signature sound, or their use of specialized instruments that make the material more well-known than they themselves are. And maybe that’s just indicative of how well they’ve done their job.

But, who are these people? Well, there are a lot of them over fifty years in the modern pop era to account for; the unsung heroes that have raised songwriters and performers with whom they’ve worked up from the level of mere mortals, and into the upper echelons of cultural avatars. Here’s 10 (well, technically 12!) such names, with some of the songs for which they are (not always) known, submitted here for your pleasure.

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Huey ‘Piano’ Smith and the Clowns Play “Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu”

Listen to this track by 88-fingered New Orleans R&B icon Huey “Piano” Smith. It’s his 1958 hit “Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie-Woogie Flu”, his smash signature hit that sold over a million copies when it was released as a single, and eventually featured on the compilation LP Having a Good Time.

In the end, it’s this type of fun loving, light-spirited playing that nearly everyone associates with the sound of New Orleans R&B, and with the city itself. This song, and Smith as a musician, influenced a legion of players both contemporary of him, as well as the musical acolytes that followed him.

In the ’50s, Smith was an active songwriter, sessioner, and recording artist, knocking out a number of singles in quick succession for himself as well as for other artists including Guitar Slim, Earl King, Little Richard,  Lloyd Price, and Smiley Lewis, among others. In 1957, he formed his own band, the Clowns and began a career which would finish the decade, and then into the ’60s too, with hits on the R&B charts as well as the pop charts.  But, this one would be his trademark; a joyous, life-affirming thing, brimming with glee and sexiness.

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Elvis Presley Sings ‘I Got Stung’

elvis_gold_records_vol-_2_original_lp_coverListen to this track, a rollicking number from the King, Elvis Presley, who on this coming Saturday January 8th would have been 76 had he survived his battles with bad food, prescription drugs, and the Colonel. It’s one of my favourites of his pre-Army RCA days, “I Got Stung”, a double A-side to his 1958 single “One Night”, and a feature on the compilation record 50 000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong: Elvis Golden Records, Vol 2.

Only 1:51 long, it packs in the sex and violence just as effectively as any punk rock song, kids. It would be his last recorded song in the ’50s (June 11, 1958 to be exact), the end of an era for him, and perhaps too for everyone. He would be shipped to Germany  as a part of the U.S Army after this, and his early career would be over.

Elvis’ RCA period is often lost in the shuffle, when considering his cooler Sun Records period, and his decidedly un-cooler ’60s movie period.  Where I think the split here is not quite as sharply defined in those terms, some of Elvis’ best singles come out of this middle period, with this one being one of my favorites.  What we’ve got here is all the production sparkle of a bigger operation like RCA, along with Elvis’ still supple, youthful swagger that we hear on the Sun sides locked right in there.  He sounds like a badass on this. And what about that band?

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Little Walter Performs “My Babe”

Listen to this track by primo blues harpist and bad, bad R&B badass Little Walter.  It’s his signature #1 hit and key R&B statement “My Babe”, originally released as a single in 1955 on the Chess Records label, home of many, many R&B hits, and as featured on numerous blues compilations.  Not too many of them put a woman on a pedestal like this and still retain its balls, of course.

This tune was one of the first Chess sides I’d ever heard, and what a revelation it was.  Just the sound of it unlocked a whole corridor of musical tradition and allowed me new access to forms I’d always felt separated from.  It was the Chess sound that activated blues-rock in the 60s, and hard rock in the 70s. Understanding where all of that came from allowed me to really appreciate where, say, Led Zeppelin had come from too. Read more

Sonny Rollins Plays ‘St. Thomas’

Listen to this track from post-bop last man standing, jazz giant, and respected saxophone colossus Sonny Rollins. It’s “St. Thomas” his signature song from 1956’s album named, appropriately enough, Saxophone Colossus.  This is a tune for which Rollins is credited for composing, although in actuality it’s derived from  a folk song originating  from the country of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, the birthplace of his parents, and a tune he would have heard as a child.

Like many jazz musicians, Rollins started out his recording career at a very young age. He mixed with a rich talent pool of contemporaries on the scene by the late 40s and early 50s New York City including Thelonius Monk, Bud Powell, Clifford Brown, and Miles Davis.  This was a time when be-bop was winding down to cool jazz and post bop.  The sounds of R&B didn’t  escape his musical ear either, inspired as he was by Louis Jordan’s jump blues, which is a musical strain that led directly to rock n roll by the end of the decade.

But, Rollins’ path remained to be straight stylistically on the jazz road for the most part, but for this little gem of a track on the Prestige label (same as Miles Davis by the mid-50s) that featured on his essential Saxophone Colossus album. The record also features Tommy Flanagan on piano and the incomparable Max Roach on drums.  The album is recognized as his masterpiece, and this tune to be his signature.  And what a tune it is, beaming with sunshiny optimism, helped along by Rollins keen emphasis on melody and roundness of tone that make it a welcoming invitation to jazz fans and newbies all at once.

Still, Rollins would not stop here, but neither would he continue without interruption.  He took a musical sabbatical by the end of the decade (one of a number), simply to re-evaluate his direction (while still maintaining a regimen by practicing regularly on the  Willamsburg Bridge in New York City).  He returned in 1962 with the comeback record, again appropriately enough, The Bridge.  In the meantime, “St Thomas” took on a life of its own, re-entering the vocabulary of island jazz musicians such as the Skatellites, who recorded it in 1964 and helping to usher in ska as an independently defined style. Ska as a musical form of course would later go on to influence new wave and punk.

Rollins would continue to delve into various musical avenues off of the main street of post-bop jazz, including fusion, jazz funk, and continue an exploration of Calypso forms as well.  He is an active musician today an one of the remaining pioneers of post-bop jazz, touring and recording regularly even in his 80s.

For more information about Sonny Rollins, check out SonnyRollins.com.

Enjoy!