11

290: Becca Kristovsky, ‘Bye Bye Baby Blues’

Posted by jeff on Jan 16, 2019 in Personal, Rock, Song Of the week

Becca Kristovsky — ‘Bye Bye Baby Blues’

My good old friend Becca Kristovsky died this week. She was 54, a luminous person, and we made a lot of music together.

Today, the day after her rainy day funeral, I heard her singing this song to me in her most sultry voice, “Ooh, I’m missing you, I got those bye-bye baby blues.” It’s Becca, right here and now, singing my feelings.

I met Becca in about 1984. I was living in Beersheva, Israel, a desert frontier town. I’d heard that among the 8 students in the very first foreign students program at the fledgling Ben Gurion University there was an American girl who played guitar. I knocked on her dorm door and introduced myself. We got to know each other pretty well musically.

When she went back to the US at the end of the year, I wrote her ‘Becca’s Song‘.

But then she came back! To Beersheva! And, boy, was I happy to see her. We spent the next five years or so singing and playing together. She wanted to call us The Beauty and The Beast, but I don’t remember anyone ever asking what we were called. They just called us Becca and that guy, I think. We played here and there, more or less wherever they would have us, but we thought we were making some pretty darned good music. And we were sure having a lot of fun.

And then she got married, and broke up the band. Damned Gil, taking her away to Haifa. I remember when she first started dating him, and was proud to sign their wedding contract as a witness. She called me Jeff the Jew.

‘Bye Bye Baby Blues’ is from some recordings we made in about 1989. There’s a heartbreaking ‘End of the World‘, and a hilarious ‘Squeeze Box‘. There’s ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?‘ and ‘Different Drum’, and ‘All Shook Up‘, and a whole lot of Everly Brothers: ‘(All I Have to Do is) Dream‘, ‘Wake Up Little Suzie‘, ‘Let It Be Me‘, and ‘Devoted to You‘.

One song that I was dying to sing with Becca was John Sebastian’s “You’re a Big Boy Now”. Becca and I both played acoustic guitar, and that song really needs a bass. I was too lazy to learn it myself, so I pestered her and pestered her until she went out and bought herself an acoustic bass guitar, first one I ever saw. Then I pestered her to start learning it. ‘Big Boy’ is, I believe, her very first effort on the instrument which became her trademark.

We kept in touch over all the years from opposite ends of our little country, mostly running into each other at various musical events. She used to read Song of The Week, and sometimes we’d chat about that. Or one of us would call the other to say to we heard one of ‘our songs’ on the radio, and together we’d think back on those old, fading glory days.

After her kids Noga and Itamar grew up a bit, she started playing more and more, with her band Triad and then professionally with Mark Rashkow and Danny Dworsky. I saw her perform once with the former. She was poised, glowing, raunchy and charismatic. Becca, the rock star.

She used to brag to me about Noga’s dancing and about Itamar’s taste in music. I loved it.

Then, in the spring, just about eight months ago, she got sick. The last time I saw her was when Gil died in the summer. I went up for a shiva call. Becca loved to read, and she was from Houston. There’s a Houston author I used to read a lot, Larry McMurtry. She had more time than energy, so I sent her his long, rambling tale of a cattle drive, “Lonesome Dove”. I know she was enjoying it. I don’t think she got to finish it.

On June 1, I retired from my main job and started writing a novel, “Creston Pale”, full-time, full gas. It’s been half a year now, and I’m about two-thirds of the way through. Regular readers of this blog have noticed that I’ve been laggard, recycling old postings. That’s why. All my writing energies have been going into the book. It’s light and fast-paced and entertaining, I think. I’ve been enjoying the process, and I admit to being quite pleased with the results. It’s a story about – well, you’re just going to have to wait to find out.

Some writers need to be left alone. Some, like me, are desperate for an editor. It’s incredibly hard to find someone perceptive and receptive, both critical and nurturing who can accompany you, answer urgent, bizarre questions at odd hours, serve as a sounding board, listen to you ramble incoherently until some sense begins to coalesce. Becca did all that for me with patience, acumen and insight over the last half year. She was the first person to read what I wrote. She’d pick over the previous chapter word by word, and get excited with me about the way the plot was developing, and help me think through my next step.

I understand she would sit in the hospital with my manuscript and her red pen. She gave me comments I still need to implement. It’s that fresh. Towards the end, I asked her repeatedly if I should continue sending her updates. I felt pretty petty, sending her my scribbles while she was fighting for her life. But she insisted I continue, said it kept her mind sharp, gave her something fun to focus on.

I was sending her drafts right up to the day she went into the hospital for the bone marrow transplant. Gosh, I miss her help.

For Noga and Itamar, I have no words of consolation. It sucks, period. Does it help any to know that so many people loved her and cared about her? Does it help to know that even casual acquaintances would describe her as a dazzling rock star?  She’s gone, way too young, and I have no thoughts or words to palliate that.

But just like you say in the song, Becca, “Ain’t much to do, just sing those bye-bye baby blues.” I just have to accept it and let go, because you are gone.

Except you’re singing the song with a glint in your eye. Because we both know you’re not gone. You’re right here, right now, singing those bye bye baby blues.

Ooh, I’m missin’ you
I’ve got those bye-bye, bye-bye baby blues
Ooh ain’t much to do
Just sing those bye-bye, bye-bye baby blues

Havin’ the blues, hatin’ to lose
Guess I got a lot to learn
All of my friends have lost now and then
I guess it’s just my turn

Ooh, I’m missin’ you
I’ve got those bye-bye, bye-bye baby blues
Ooh ain’t much to do
Just sing those bye-bye, bye-bye baby blues

Tell me the first, hurt you the worst
And time is your best friend
But when you’re this sad and hurtin’ this bad
How do you love again?

Ooh, I’m missin’ you
I’ve got those bye-bye, bye-bye baby blues
Ooh ain’t much to do
Just sing those bye-bye, bye-bye baby blues

 

 

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2

140: Randy Newman, ‘Sail Away’

Posted by jeff on Jan 10, 2019 in Rock, Song Of the week

Randy Newman, ‘Sail Away’

All right, sports fans and music lovers! Here’s the SoTW you’ve all been waiting for! I know tensions have been running high (my inbox has been completely clogged with queries for weeks now), waiting to see the results of our First Annual Strangest Setting in a Song from Randy Newman’s First Three Albums (FASSSRNFTA, or SSSRN for short). So without further adieu, Ladies and Gentleman, the–

Just before we start, why Randy’s first three albums? Primarily, because I make the SSSRN rules, and I see the first three studio albums as the core of his career, the songs that you have to look at twice before you get them. Or more.

  1. “More Than a New Discovery” – one of the unappreciated gems of the rock idiom. Brilliant, hilarious, utterly serious satire, stunning songs, composition, orchestral arrangements. He actually has a lot to say about life (Utah politicians, retirement in Florida and Deus Absconditis). A modern masterpiece.
  2. “12 Songs” – kick-ass band, sterling production, dealing more directly in the marginal (a guy who gets off doing it to the fires he sets, a gent calling a girl whose number he found on the wall of a telephone booth, the universality of humankind, even including chinks).
  3. “Sail Away” – a mixed bag of great individual songs, with topics ranging from A Boy and His Bear to the Wright Brothers to Eminent Domain.

The fourth album “Good Old Boys” revolves around Redneck-bashing, which may be fun, but it’s not exactly revelatory material. The fifth album, “Little Criminals” has some gems (‘Sigmund Freud’s Impersonation of Albert Einstein in American’) but is already dumbing down the acerbicity (‘Short People’) because Rand was apparently feeling lonely at the top.

The 2012 Strangest Setting in a Song from Randy Newman awards:

This photo was an insert in “12 Songs”. I’ve loved it dearly all these many years; it was quite innovative for the day. I’m assuming it’s Randy and his family. Unfortunately I had to crop it a little. The grain is in the original. Click to see it full-size.

3rd Place – ‘Lucinda’ (“12 Songs”). I don’t have words for it. Randy has the words for it:

We met one summer evening
As the sun was going down.
She was lying on the beach
In her graduation gown.
She was wrapped up in a blanket
(I could tell she knew her way around),
And as I lay down beside her
You know she never made a sound.
On down the beach came the beach-cleaning man,
Scoopin’ up the papers and flattening down the sand.
“Lucinda, Lucinda, Lucinda – we’ve got to run away
That big white truck is closin’ in, and we’ll get wounded if we stay”

 2nd Place – ‘Davy the Fat Boy’, in which our narrator inherits freakishly fat Davy from his trusting parents, and promptly turns him into a carnival freak-show exhibit (“What do he weigh, folks? Win a teddy bear for the girlfriend!”)

1st Place – Oh, the tension. The envelope, please. And the winner is: ‘Sail Away’, title tune of the third. In which the head honcho on a slave ship gives his wards a motivational chat about the New World awaiting them:

In America you’ll get food to eat.
You won’t have to run through the jungle scuffing up your feet.
You’ll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day –
It’s great to be an American. 

Admittedly, you don’t find a plethora of pop songs on this theme. It sure ain’t ‘I saw you kissing Judy in the back seat of your Chevy’ grist.

Ain’t no lions or tigers, ain’t no mamba snake,
Just the sweet watermelon and the buckwheat cake
Ev’rybody is as happy as a man can be–
Climb aboard, little wog, sail away with me. 

Ah, those mamba snakes. No wonder they’re happy to be setting out on this all-expenses-paid vacation.

Sail away, sail away
We will cross the mighty ocean into Charleston Bay 

And indeed, Randy proved quite the prophet, foreseeing by centuries the domestic tranquility engendered by this humanitarian exodus:

In America every man is free to take care of his home and his family.
You’ll be as happy as a monkey in a monkey tree–
You’re all gonna be an American. 

So congrats, Randy, on winning the prize. Of course, you win the prize every year, because it’s the SSSRN competition. But still. You’re our man.

 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

085: Randy Newman: ‘I Think It’s Going to Rain Today’ (First Album)
053: The Beatles, ‘In My Life’
044: Paul Robeson, ‘Go Down, Moses’

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5

138: Eliane Elias, ‘Baubles, Bangles and Beads’

Posted by jeff on Jan 2, 2019 in Brazilian, Jazz, Song Of the week, Vocalists

Eliane Elias, ‘Baubles, Bangles and Beads’ (studio recording)

Eliane Elias, ‘Baubles, Bangles and Beads‘ (video, poor quality)

Eliane Elias, ‘Falsa Baiana’ (video, excellent quality)

I’m like other people in many ways: I like to be entertained, I like listening to a pretty song, I like looking at a pretty girl. But where normal folk seem to be able to just turn it off and relax, my critical devils just never rest. I can enjoy Mel Brooks as well as Ingmar Bergman, ER as well as John from Cincinnati, Linda Ronstadt as well as Joni Mitchell, but I don’t tolerate insults to my intelligence. And that’s why I listen so much to the mostly-jazz Brazilian-American pianist-singer Eliane Elias – because she is interesting, intelligent, and uncommonly pleasing to look at.

I can’t think of a single reason why Eliane Elias isn’t a household name (in contrast to, for example, Astrud Gilberto, who was asked to sing ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ because she was the only Brazilian in the studio at the moment who knew enough English). EE is outstandingly talented, accessible, commercially savvy, stunningly beautiful, highly esteemed professionally, thoroughly networked. Not that she’s done poorly in her 30-year professional career – she’s recorded with innumerable jazz heavyweights, won a couple of Grammies, recorded 25 albums for major labels in a whole bunch of styles. But you’ve never heard of her, right?

She’s a blond bombshell who plays piano nose-to-nose with Herbie Hancock, wears LBDs memorably, and sings in a sultry alto that pales Diana Krall. The comparison is telling. Eliane Elias isn’t a star, but she’s a natural blond, a serious jazz pianist, and she stays focused on the keyboard rather than the cameras.

Born in 1960 in Sao Paolo, Brazil, she grew up on classical piano. At 21 she began touring as a jazz pianist in South America and Europe. There she met Eddie Gomez, long-time bassist of EE’s guiding light Bill Evans. Gomez brought her to New York, where she became pianist for the jazz/fusion supergroup Steps Ahead, with Gomez and Michael Brecker. After leaving the group, she hooked up with trumpeter Randy Brecker, a collaboration which produced an album and a daughter, both named Amanda (1986).

Eliane Elias (r) with ex-husband, trumpeter Randy Brecker

Since then, EE has called her own shots. She’s had notable collaborations with Bob Brookmeyer and Herbie Hancock (both Grammy-winners), Toots Thieleman and Gilberto Gil. She’s played and recorded extensively with drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassists Gomez and Marc Johnson, all former Evans sidemen. She recorded an album of Evans material, including a posthumous duet. She married Marc Johnson. Now, that’s a dedicated fan.

In the earlier years, she began with fusion-oriented jazz (especially with Steps Ahead), then moved to straight-ahead jazz trios (without singing), but then returned more to her Brazilian roots. She’s been singing more in recent years, from bossa nova classics to Great American Songbook standards, to contemporary pop. Throughout, she maintains her very distinctive style on both piano and vocals.

We had to pick one song for our SoTW, so we went for a favorite Eliane Elias live performance, ‘Baubles, Bangles and Beads’. It doesn’t present the whole picture, but I suppose it’s pretty typical, with her showing off her pianism, her singing, her fine taste, and a couple of other talents.

The song is a charmer of a standard, ‘Baubles, Bangles and Beads’, from the 1953 musical “Kismet”, which presents a Broadway reworking of Borodin’s music. The story is about a wily poet who talks his way out of trouble while his beautiful daughter is busy falling in love with the young Caliph. ‘Kismet’ is a Persian/Turkish word, meaning ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’.  The musical contains a number of very beautiful classic standards, including ‘Stranger in Paradise’ (here in the version I originally encountered by good old Johnny Mathis), ‘And This Is My Beloved’ (here the 1956 hit by Mario Lanza; I wonder how he’d do on American Idol), and ‘Baubles, Bangles and Beads’ (here for contrast by Peggy Lee, no slouch of a sultry chanteuse in her own right). BB&B is based on the second movement of Borodin’s String Quartet No 2 (Scherzo), here played by my favorites, the Emerson Quartet.

I don’t have anything very profound or revelatory to say about Eliane Elias. She’s not a life-changing artist. She’s just intelligent and tasteful and always a pleasure to listen to and look at. No mean feat, huh? I own twenty of her CDs, and I listen to them often. So I think I’ll just shut up now, give you a bunch of links to recordings and videos and photos and hope you enjoy her as much as I do.

‘Light My Fire‘ – She does. It’s the title track of her most recent CD. This must have been what Jim Morrison was thinking.

Waltz for Debby‘ – from “Something for You”, the Bill Evans tribute album. A marriage made in heaven.

Two from “Bossa Nova Stories” (2008) – Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superwoman’, with harmonica by Toots; and a definitive treatment of ‘The Girl from Ipanema’, the bossa nova song that first captivated America.

Peggy’s Blue Skylight‘, a favorite Mingus tune of mine

And here’s the best part, the clips:

Falsa Baiana, 2014. I give it a 100. It’s perfect entertainment.

Having a lot of fun with hubby Marc Johson (bass) on Chega de Saudade (2009), a Jobim song to which I once dedicated an entire SoTW

A little taste of heaven–the sultry ‘Call Me’, which was written by Tony Hatch for Petula Clark and covered by Chris Montez, but has somehow become a bossa nova standard.

A playful bossa tune, ‘Doralice’; I don’t know what she’s saying, but I could listen to her talk all day.

From 1991, in her non-vocal, non-bossa mode; 10 minutes of fine, unadorned jazz piano trio

From 1996, in her most Bill Evansian mode, with Johnson and DeJohnette

And for dessert, a live version of ‘Waltz for Debby’

 

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy:

Bill Evans SoTWs

108: Michael McDonald/Luciana Souza, ‘I Can Let Go Now’

080: Tim Ries w. Norah Jones, ‘Wild Horses’

 

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17

133: Spencer Davis Group (Stevie Winwood), ‘I’m A Man’

Posted by jeff on Dec 28, 2018 in Rock, Song Of the week

Spencer Davis Group, ‘I’m A Man’

I never cease to be amazed at the disparity between what you expect from some ostensibly tasteful people and their ringtones. You know, like the professorial octogenarian on the train, and all of a sudden some crass electronic salsa comes blaring out of his iPhone.

I of course have a metal bell ringtone on my phone. But I’ve often wondered, if I had to pick a pinch of music that would identify me to all those people on the train, and one that I had to hear at least five times a week (I don’t get a lot of calls), what would it be?

I’m not sure how well I could hear a bass guitar above the rumble of the train, but mundane technicalities aside, my runaway choice would be the spooky, funky, dark, glorious introduction to The Spencer Davis Group’s ‘I’m A Man’ – written, played, and sung by the 18-year old Stevie Winwood.

Stevie was a 15-year old Birmingham schoolboy when he formed a band with his brother Muff and their mate Spencer. Muff: “Spencer was the only one who enjoyed doing interviews, so I pointed out that if we called it the Spencer Davis Group, the rest of us could stay in bed and let him do them.” They had two very forgettable hits in 1966 which will remain uncited here. Then in 1966-7 (“Although the recording is said to be late 1966, this date is in fact controversial. In an article and an interview on the “Living Archives” (Elävä arkisto) website of YLE, the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation, the producer of the original live recording, Mr. Tapani Karhu, clearly states that the date of the show was 19 March 1967.”) [SNORE—JM] they recorded two stunning, deep black-and-blue smash hits cut from the same bolt of cloth, “Gimme Some Lovin’” and our SoTW, ‘I’m A Man’.

Both songs are co-written by the adolescent Winwood, ‘I’m A Man’ together with Yankee mega-producer-to-be Jimmy Miller (“Beggar’s Banquet”, “Let It Bleed”, “Blind Faith”). I don’t know what instruments Stevie plays on the recordings. On these very live versions of ‘I’m A Man’ and “Gimme Some Lovin’”, he plays organ. (Why are organists always pushing all those buttons? It almost always sounds like a skating rink anyway. But not in the masterful hands of Stevie Winwood.) For my money, he’s the most talented white multi-instrumentalist in rock (no one’s going to try to compete with that other Stevie W., right?), rivaled only by Stephen Stills. He plays organ, piano, acoustic, rhythm, lead and bass, all brilliantly, all worth the price of admission.

I don’t know who plays bass on the recorded version of ‘I’m A Man’. It might be Stevie’s older brother, but if you watch him fumble through the bass intro on the live version, and then compare it to the memorable recorded version–I’d put my money on the younger Winwood.

And that’s not to mention his voice, one of the most distinctive and soulful ever heard in honky town. Listen to his rendition of ‘Georgia On My Mind’. He admits his debt to Ray Charles, and the surface similarity is obvious. What I find so remarkable is this British kid doing The Genius’s song with such mature respect, without slavish imitation and without competing. His treatment is mature, self-confident, and virtuosic. Stevie Winwood’s voice takes a back seat to absolutely no one, never.

So what about the song ‘I’m A Man’ itself? The bass, the shakers, the Hammond, the little bell, the guitar, the drums, the handclap, the voice, the backing vocals, Jimmy Miller’s percussion embellishments. Ay ay ay, it just doesn’t get any better than that. The lyrics rank with The Rolling Stones of that era (‘Satisfaction’, ‘19th Nervous Breakdown’, ‘Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby’) for indecipherability, but who cares?

Stevie went on to bigger things (Traffic, Blind Faith) but never better ones. There is nothing better than these two songs. The kid is eighteen, his acne clearly showing in the close-ups. But, oh, the voice.

I have a long history with ‘I’m A Man’. Once upon a time I directed a funky, punky ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in a discotheque. The actors occupied the dance floor, the audience the rest of the space. The first two scenes dispense with the young royals in the palace, and with the rustics. Then the third scene gets into the nitty-gritty: the haunted, enchanted wood inhabited by Oberon, Titania, and a whole gaggle of fairies. I like visual (as opposed to verbal) theater, especially Shakespeare (“Would he had blotted a thousand”). So instead of Puck describing the frightful atmosphere of the forest Elizabethan pentameter, I had a lot of luscious lasses in lascivious leather leaping across the disco floor, strobes all a-strobing. And some Winwood thumping that inimitable bass introduction to ‘I’m A Man’.

That’s my ringtone.

Well my pad is very messy and there’s whiskers on my chin
And I’m all hung up on music and I always play to win
I ain’t got no time for lovin’ cause my time is all used up
Just to sit around creatin’ all that groovy kind of stuff.
I’m a man, yes I am, and I can’t help but love you so
I’m a man, yes I am, and I can’t help but love you so

Well if I had my choice of matter I would rather be with cats
All engrossed in mental chatter moving where our minds are at
And relating to each other just how strong our wills can be
I’m resisting all involvement with each groovy chick we see

I got to keep my image while suspended from a throne
That looks out upon a kingdom full of people all unknown
Who imagine I’m not human and my heart is made of stone
I never had no problems and my toilet’s trimmed with chrome

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043: The Left Banke, ‘Pretty Ballerina’

074: Donovan, ‘House of Jansch’

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