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May 10, 2008

Weekend YouTube Finds

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* Speaking of art that lasts ... Did anyone in 1965 think that "Shotgun" (by Jr. Walker and the All-Stars) would still be enjoyed more than 40 years later?

Read more about Jr. Walker here.

Question: When he was creating "Shotgun," was Jr. Walker aiming for a place in the Western Civ canon? Or was he trying to come up with a way to get an audience dancing? Plus: Sigh, if I only had one-tenth the personal style of Willie Woods, the All-Star's guitar player, I'd do a lot better in life ... Here's another All-Stars track that's bursting with more than its share of funk.

* Did you continue watching the clip above? If you got a kick out of the smooth moves of The Temptations, perhaps you might enjoy learning a bit about Cholly Atkins, the man who was Motown's house choreographer during the label's peak years. Yes, that's right: There was one guy who was responsible for giving Motown's stars their gorgeous and influential moves. Is there any way to argue that Cholly Atkins wasn't a major culture-figure? The man choreographed The Temptations, The Miracles, and The Supremes, for God's sake. Forgive me for thinking that Cholly Atkins deserves a place on the same shelf where Jerome ("West Side Story," NYC Ballet) Robbins has already been placed.

Back here, I raved about a documentary focusing on the guys who played in Motown's house band.

* One of the misleading things that's often said (or unconsciously maintained) about the arts is that they're automatically progressive. To make good art is to be progressive -- that's just how it is.

Few fields are more infected with this loony idea than jazz, whose story is often presented as a series of innovators, one after another doing what they could to move the music in the direction of "freedom." Psychotherapeutic and political overtones have most definitely not been run away from.

What then to make of a phenomenon from more than 50 years ago: the Dixieland Revival? In the midst of all the "progress," one of the most important developments in jazz from 1940 right through the '50s was a revival of the very earliest jazz styles. Here's one of the most prominent of the Dixieland Revival bands, Eddie Condon's:

And don't they swing hard! Though that clip is from 1952, and though that's quality jazz, that most definitely ain't bop. Deal with it, dogmatists. RedHotJazz writes this about Eddie Condon:

In 1938 he led some sessions for the Commodore label and he became a star. He had a nightly gig at Nick's in New York City from 1937 to 1944. From 1944 to 1945 he led a series of recordings at Town Hall that were broadcast weekly on the radio. Condon opened his own club in 1945, and recorded for Columbia in the 1950s.

In other words, during a period when orthodoxy would have us convinced that what was going on in jazz was the transition from swing (popular, accessible) to bop and post-bop (difficult, increasingly esoteric), in actual fact one of the busiest and most popular jazz figures around was a guy who performed jazz in the most traditional of ways.

* People who dislike the usual jazz story might love (as I do) Philip Larkin's collection of reviews and essays, "All What Jazz?" It's cranky genius. This appears to be the currently-available version of the book. Nice passage from an Amazon Reader Review of the book:

One warning for serious Jazz fans -- for Larkin, the downfall of Jazz began with Charlie Parker. He had no interest in Parker, Mingus, Miles Davis, or almost anyone who recorded after the later 40's. In fact, he lumped Charlie Parker with Ezra Pound and Pablo Picasso as person with reputations as great artists, but whom he felt had a terrible effect on their art.

Here's a review of a couple of books about jazz that touches on some of these themes.

* Finally, some punk-era smoking-ness from Chryssie Hynde and the Pretenders:

Chryssie's performance has got me marveling once again at the intensity of '90s feminism. Do you look at Chryssie Hynde -- snarling, having her way, leading a tough and blunt band -- and think, "This poor thing is really being exploited. Women sure do still have a long way to go!" Me, I look at her, think (very briefly) "Wow, Chryssie's really kickin' ass tonight," and then join everyone else out on the dance floor.

Funny thing: We at the time (early '80s) thought feminism had finished its job, much as we took it for granted that gays had achieved liberation.

As Hannah, who gave us an interview about being raped while a college student in the mid- 1970s, said:

I honestly don't remember there being a strong or strident feminist presence on campus. I had grown up with a kind of practical feminism myself. My mom was a pioneer in her field, back in the 40’s. I knew all her stories so I knew what it was like for real groundbreaking women. We had it easy by comparison.

Anyway, there were 20 women out of 200 students in my department at college. I only remember one of them being militantly feminist. She was a lesbian as well, as it happens ...

My friends and I distanced ourselves from "Feminists" with a capital F. We were more intent on proving ourselves by what we did than through politics. I had read "The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan, and I thought, "Well of course, women are going to be more than homemakers." I was surprised that someone needed to read this in a book in order to accept it.

Of course, at the time we also thought that punk rock was bringing a once-and-for-all end to pop music ...

So why did feminism roar back in in the '90s? And why do college kids going on getting worked-up about gay lib? Hmm: Is "liberation" by its nature a quest that can never come to an end? Is it a fantasy as addictive as a drug?

* Oh, OK: a bonus clip. Because more people ought to know about him, here's Jackie Wilson (with Billy Preston on organ and the immortal "Shindig" go-go girls) doing "Lonely Teardrops":

Among his many virtues, Jackie Wilson was certainly the world's best-ever suitcoat stripper-offer and tosser-asider. And I'm tolerating no disagreement about that judgment.



posted by Michael at May 10, 2008


Shotgun is great, no doubt, but I've always been partial to this Jr. Walker song:

Posted by: Bryan on May 10, 2008 6:45 PM

Condon's old troupers were marvellous. And the Larkin book is a splendid read - I suspect it might appeal even to people who don't care about jazz.

Posted by: dearieme on May 11, 2008 8:01 AM

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