Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Serving dog and mammon

I link to the current Ben Ratliff review of a Coleman Hawkins performance which, apparently, sheds new light on the classic "Body and Soul" that's one of Hawk's best known solos. You can look around and see the latest jazz news about William Savory's collection of disc transcriptions. Had they been released in his lifetime, or close to the time of recording (late 1930s and onward) they would be called "bootlegs" like famous recordings by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, etc.--- recorded performances by fans.
The big news is that the Savory survivors have sold the discs to the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. Even bigger is the news that they'll probably digitize and release them commercially, after giving lip service to the various ownership conundrums. The reportage on this topic, at least in the New York Times, includes some strangely annotated excerpts on their website, and a boatload of reader comments predictably bemoaning the belated and perhaps restricted access to this material.
Ben Ratliff, a real asset to the NYTimes for the jazz world, clarifies that "Nobody is yet in any position to assess when, how or what portion of the recordings can be commercially released." Since the National Jazz Museum owns the discs, which can be easily digitized, the Times is echoing Gene Kelly "Gotta Dance!" This newspaper which clearly supports "work for hire" transparently got Ratliff to write a legal disclaimer into his review. The first article, reporting the acquisition, suggests that ownership of the aircheck music on the discs is unclear. It's worth reading the comments to both articles because the ephemera aspect of a jazz solo is well displayed. And so is another chapter in the evolution of copyright practice, using old jazz as a foil.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mitch Miller, oboe player, music exec, host of "Sing Along With Mitch"

Heard of Mitch Miller's passing. Junkers, scouts and collectors know he lives on. His cartoonish visage, on the cover of "Sing Along With Mitch" albums, haunts every thrift store in America where vinyl records can be found. Astute collectors can even find the oboe concerti he recorded with great orchestras. Jazz fans can hear him on the Charlie Parker with strings recordings. Just put a name together with Mitch Miller and there is a story. Mitch Miller/Frank Sinatra. Mitch Miller/Rosemary Clooney. Mitch Miller/Clive Davis. Mitch Miller/Goddard Lieberson. Mitch Miller/Guy Mitchell. Mitch Miller/Columbia Records.
In our store at, his legacy abounds in many wonderful Columbia Records. Mitch Miller made a huge impression, as artist and repertoire chief at Columbia (later, CBS Records) for most of the 1950s til the mid 1960s. Significantly, his employer invented the long playing record. For 3 years, he had a television show version of "Sing Along With Mitch."
He had a career any oboe player might envy. As I listen to his many contributions to popular music, whether it's the keening banjos behind the male choruses of "Sing Along" or the rocking celeste on Rosemary Clooney's hit, "C'mon A My House," I can imagine the sensitive ear of a double reed player in the agonizing quest to make a difficult instrument into a voice-like utterance.
In what I suspect is a more indirect influence, many Columbia Records of Ray Conniff and Percy Faith explore the blends of instruments and wordless vocals which have come back into fashion among some of  today's big band composers.
In the big picture of things, Mitch Miller demonstrated how popular music was created in the corporate environment. It's illustrated in this story from another corporate musical creature at Columbia, Teo Macero. Teo reported to Mitch Miller while creating jazz classics such as "Take Five."
And, while it is quite difficult to gauge the role of artistry in a monolithic corporate environment, there's no mistaking excellence and quality where it appears.
As a baby boomer, born a month after Rosemary Clooney had her breakout hit with Mitch Miller, I had my formative years and ears under the spell of MOR, easy listening music, rife with smooth strings, sparkling tone colors, beautiful voices, songwriting and composing which optimized the America which was an ethnic "melting pot.". By the time Mitch was cajoling everyone to sing along, I like others in my generation were chomping at the bit. Top 40 radio was playing something else. Top 40 radio was advertising freedom from Mitch Miller, who hated rock 'n roll. We may have been rescued by Pat Boone and Marty Robbins, but at least it wasn't our parents' music.