Rest in Peace, Mr. Jack Bruce (1943-2014): Your Music Lives On!

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JACK BRUCE (1943-2014)

Artist Biography by Richard Skelly

Songs for a TailorAlthough some may be tempted to call multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and composer Jack Bruce a rock & roll musician, blues and jazz were what this innovative musician really loved. As a result, those two genres were at the base of most of the recorded output from a career that went back to the beginning of London’s blues scene in 1962. In that year, he joined Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated. Throughout the following decades and into the 21st century, Bruce remained a supreme innovator, pushing himself into uncharted waters with his jazz and folk-rock compositions.

Bruce‘s most famous songs were, in essence, blues tunes — “Sunshine of Your Love,” “Strange Brew,” “Politician,” “White Room” — and they were ones he penned for Cream, the legendary blues-rock trio he formed with drummer Ginger Baker and guitarist Eric Clapton in July 1966. Baker and Bruceplayed together for five years before Clapton came along, and although their trio only lasted until November 1968, the group is credited with changing the face of rock & roll and bringing blues to a worldwide audience. Through their creative arrangements of classic blues tunes like Robert Johnson‘s “Crossroads,” Skip James‘ “I’m So Glad,” Willie Dixon‘s “Spoonful,” and Albert King‘s “Born Under a Bad Sign,” the group helped popularize blues-rock and led the way for similar groups that came about later on, like Led Zeppelin.

Bruce was born May 14, 1943, in Lanarkshire, near Glasgow, Scotland. His father was a big jazz fan, and so he included people like Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller among his earliest influences. He grew up listening to jazz and took up bass and cello as a teen. After three months at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, he left, disgusted with the politics of music school. After traveling around Europe for a while, he settled into the early blues scene in 1962 in London, where he eventually met drummerGinger Baker. He played with British blues pioneers Alexis Korner and Graham Bond before leaving in 1965 to join John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, whose guitarist was Eric Clapton. This gave him time to get his chops together without having to practice. With Manfred Mann, who he also played with before forming Cream, Bruce learned about the business of making hit songs.

Shadows in the AirCream‘s reputation for long, extended blues jams began at the Fillmore in San Francisco at a concert organized by impresario Bill Graham. Bruce later realized that Creamgave him a chance to succeed as a musician, and admitted that if it weren’t for that group, he might never have escaped London. After Cream split up in November 1968, Bruceformed Jack Bruce & Friends with drummer Mitch Mitchell and guitarist Larry Coryell. Recording-wise, Bruce took a different tack away from blues and blues-rock, leaning more in a folk-rock direction with his solo albums Songs for a Tailor (1969), Harmony Row (1971), and Out of the Storm(1974).

Live at the MilkywayIn 2010, Bruce joined the Tony Williams Lifetime Tribute Band with Reid, organist John Medeski, and drummer Cindy Blackman, and toured in the late part of that year and in early 2011 to sold-out performances and rave reviews. Also in 2011, Pledge Music, a company that pairs fans and artists to fund projects, released Jack Bruce and the Cuicoland Express Live at the Milky Way, from a 2001 concert in Amsterdam. The high-quality recording was provided by Bruce‘s daughters, who designed the cover as well. The Lifetime Tribute Band’s tour had been so successful that the group renamed itself Spectrum Road and entered the studio. They emerged with a self-titled album that featured covers of Lifetime material and originals. In 2013, Bruce reconvened the rhythm section under his name for the album Silver Rails (with Robin Trower, Phil Manzanera, Uli Jon Roth, and Bernie Marsdenalternating in the guitar chair). It was released in March of 2014. Just seven months later, however, he died at his Suffolk home from liver disease.”






 

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Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)

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On Being: He bestowed the title “Mahatma” on Gandhi. He debated the deepest nature of reality with Einstein. He was championed by Yeats and Pound to become the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. Rabindranath Tagore was a polymath — a writer and a painter, a philosopher and a musician, and a social innovator — but much of his poetry and prose is virtually untranslatable (or inaccessibly translated) for modern minds. We pull back the “dusty veils” that have hidden his memory from history.

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Sadhana: The Realisation of Life
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Wattstax Documents the “Black Woodstock” Concert Held 7 Years After the Watts Riots (1973)

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By Josh Jones. Reblogged from Open Culture.

Recent events in Missouri have brought back painful memories for many of the brutal treatment of protestors by police during the Civil Rights Movement. Others see specters of the riots in cities like Detroit, Washington, DC, and the beleaguered Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder. These are battles we would like to think belong to the past, but in remembering them, we should also remember peaceful expressions of solidarity and nonviolent responses to persistent social injustice. One such response came in the form of a massive concert at the L.A. Coliseum put on by Memphis’ Stax records in 1972, seven years after the Watts riots. Featuring some of Stax’ biggest names— Isaac Hayes, Albert King, The Staples Singers, and more — the Wattstax music festival brought in more than 100,000 attendees and raised thousands of dollars for local causes, becoming known informally as the “black Woodstock.”

The idea came from West Coast Stax exec Forrest Hamilton and future Stax president Al Bell, who hoped, he said, to “put on a small concert to help draw attention to, and to raise funds for the Watts Summer Festival” as well as “to create, motivate, and instill a sense of pride in the citizens of the Watts community.” To make sure everyone could attend, rich or poor, the organizers sold tickets for a dollar each. Rev. Jesse Jackson gave the invocation, leading the thousands of concertgoers in a call-and-response reading of William H. Borders’ poem “I Am – Somebody.” There to film the event was Mel Stuart, director of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The resulting documentary features incredible performances from Stax’ full roster of artists at the time (see a swaggering Isaac Hayes play “Shaft”). Despite security concerns from LA officials, still nervous about a gathering of “more than two black people” in one place, says Bell, the concert was a peaceful and joyously funky occasion: “you saw the Crips and Bloods sitting side by side—no problems.”

The film intercuts concert footage with man-on-the street interviews and “trenchant musings” from a then little-known Richard Pryor, who offers “sharp insight into the realities of life for black Americans, circa 1972.” It’s a moment of “get-down entertainment, raised-fist political rally, and stand-up spiritual revival” characteristic of the post-Civil Rights, Vietnam era movement, writes the PBS description of Wattstax. Unfortunately, the documentary “was considered too racy, political, and black to receive wide theatrical release or television broadcast” despite a “noted” Cannes screening and a 1974 Golden Globe nomination. It’s been a cult favorite for years, but deserves to be more widely seen, as a record of the hope and celebration of black America after the rage and despair of the late-60s. The messages of Wattstax still resonate. As Bell says, “forty years later, I hear African Americans in the audiences reacting the same scenes, the same way they did forty years ago.”

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W. A. Mozart: Clarinet concerto in A major, K.622 with Nadja Drakslar

Geniuses of Jazz: Roland Kirk (1935 – 1977)

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Rahsaan Roland Kirk

Artist Biography by Chris Kelsey

Arguably the most exciting saxophone soloist in jazz history, Kirk was a post-modernist before that term even existed.Kirk played the continuum of jazz tradition as an instrument unto itself; he felt little compunction about mixing and matching elements from the music’s history, and his concoctions usually seemed natural, if not inevitable. When discussing Kirk, a great deal of attention is always paid to his eccentricities — playing several horns at once, making his own instruments, clowning on stage. However, Kirk was an immensely creative artist; perhaps no improvising saxophonist has ever possessed a more comprehensive technique — one that covered every aspect of jazz, from Dixieland to free — and perhaps no other jazz musician has ever been more spontaneously inventive. His skills in constructing a solo are of particular note. Kirk had the ability to pace, shape, and elevate his improvisations to an extraordinary degree. During any given Kirk solo, just at the point in the course of his performance when it appeared he could not raise the intensity level any higher, he always seemed able to turn it up yet another notch.

Kirk was born with sight, but became blind at the age of two. He started playing the bugle and trumpet, then learned the clarinet and C-melody sax. Kirk began playing tenor sax professionally in R&B bands at the age of 15. While a teenager, he discovered the “manzello” and “stritch” — the former, a modified version of the saxello, which was itself a slightly curved variant of the B flat soprano sax; the latter, a modified straight E flat alto. To these and other instruments,Kirk began making his own improvements. He reshaped all three of his saxes so that they could be played simultaneously; he’d play tenor with his left hand, finger the manzello with his right, and sound a drone on the stritch, for instance. Kirk’s self-invented technique was in evidence from his first recording, a 1956 R&B record called Triple Threat. By 1960 he had begun to incorporate a siren whistle into his solos, and by ’63 he had mastered circular breathing, a technique that enabled him to play without pause for breath.

 In his early 20s, Kirk worked in Louisville before moving to Chicago in 1960. That year he made his second album, Introducing Roland Kirk, which featured saxophonist/trumpeter Ira Sullivan. In 1961, Kirk toured Germany and spent three months with Charles Mingus. From that point onward, Kirkmostly led his own group, the Vibration Society, recording prolifically with a range of sidemen. In the early ’70s, Kirk became something of an activist; he led the “Jazz and People’s Movement,” a group devoted to opening up new opportunities for jazz musicians. The group adopted the tactic of interrupting tapings and broadcasts of television and radio programs in protest of the small number of African-American musicians employed by the networks and recording studios. In the course of his career, Kirk brought many hitherto unused instruments to jazz. In addition to the saxes, Kirk played the nose whistle, the piccolo, and the harmonica; instruments of his own design included the “trumpophone” (a trumpet with a soprano sax mouthpiece), and the “slidesophone” (a small trombone or slide trumpet, also with a sax mouthpiece). Kirk suffered a paralyzing stroke in 1975, losing movement on one side of his body, but his homemade saxophone technique allowed him to continue to play; beginning in 1976 and lasting until his death a year later, Kirk played one-handed.

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