Prince – Four Years Gone

April 21st marked the fourth anniversary of the untimely passing of Prince Rogers Nelson.  I’ve been learning a lot about Prince recently, finishing the 2019 book “The Beautiful Ones” and now part way through the biography “Prince, Inside the Music and the Masks”.   To mark the anniversary the Grammy organization aired a tribute concert on network television this week, filmed in January after the Grammy Awards show.

In the same vein as last week’s post on artists who have made covers their own, I did not know till I watched the TV tribute that the Bangles’ hit “Manic Monday” was penned by Prince.  When the Bangles released the song in 1985, it rose to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, just behind Prince’s “Kiss”.  What we wouldn’t give for a Manic Monday right about now.

Here’s the steamy video from “Kiss”.  The guitarist in the video, Wendy Melvoin, was a member of Prince’s band, The Revolution, at the time.  She performed at the Grammy tribute concert: “Mountains”

When Prince’s early promotor and collaborator, Chris Moon, was trying to get Prince his first record deal in 1976, he called Atlantic Records and told the receptionist he represented Stevie Wonder.  When the receptionist put the call through Moon said, “This is Chris Moon, and I’m representing Prince.  If you like Stevie Wonder, you’re gonna love my artist.  He’s only eighteen, he plays all the instruments …”.   Prince got an audition but not the contract.   That came in 1977 with Warner Records, and Prince released his debut For You in 1978 – playing all the instruments, singing all the vocals, and doing pretty much everything else.  Here’s Prince’s first single from his first album, “Soft and Wet”.

If you want even more Prince, check out my blog post from 2016 featuring his guitar shredding skills.

Anderson .Paak – Grammy Bound?

At the 59th Grammy Awards, airing tomorrow night, the Best New Artist category is quite diverse.   There are two new country singers, Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini, a DJ duo, The Chainsmokers, who had a hit called “#SELFIE” that has almost a half-billion YouTube views (don’t add one, I warn you), and two hot hip-hop artists, Chance the Rapper and Anderson .Paak.

While he might be a long shot for the Grammy, .Paak’s music is in the hip hop vein I really like.   Thanks for the introduction to him, Ben!  His arrangements use real instruments, which may owe to .Paak being a very fine drummer himself, melodic vocals, a solid foundation of R&B, and Southern Cali jazz fusion mixed in.

.Paak performed “Am I Wrong” live on French TV about a year ago, and closed the song with an apropos David Bowie tribute.

It didn’t take American TV too long to catch up to the French. Steven Colbert hosted Anderson’s first American TV performance in March of last year.

.Paak produced a video for “Come Down” from his recent album “Malibu” using friends and family from Oxnard, California. And, yes, he apparently honed his drumming skills backing a gospel choir as a kid.

If you want to hear a bit more from .Paak, how many hip hop artists can pull off an NPR Tiny Desk Concert.  Forward about 3-1/2 minutes into the set to hear “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance”.

More Jazz – Esperanza Spalding

Been covering a lot of jazz so far this year, but there’s so much good stuff out there!

Esperanza Spalding won the Grammy for Best New Artist in 2011, an unusual feat for a a singing, songwriting, bass-playing jazz artist.  She beat out Justin Bieber, Drake, Mumford & Sons, and Florence + The Machine that year – gives you a feel for the impression she made to stand out in that decidedly non-jazz company.

Spalding released her fifth album “Emily’s D+Evolution” on March 4th.  It was co-produced by Tony Visconti who also co-produced David Bowie’s “Blackstar” (see our recent post).  The psychedelic visuals for the album’s first track “Good Lava” go with its progressive rock/jazz vibe, and you know you want to see her in concert after watching the live video for the album’s second track “Unconditional Love”.

While the new album shows off her eclectic side, Spalding’s career features plenty of straight jazz sensibility as well, winning her praise from the likes of Gary Burton, Pat Matheny, and Joe Lovano. Here she is playing live at the White House earlier this year, and a couple of years ago with Herbie Hancock at the Kennedy Center Honors, singing Sting’s “Fragile”

2016 Grammys – Jazz Vocals & More

Last week I covered some fine jazz instrumental winners from the 2016 Grammy Awards, and this week I’ll add the winner for Best Jazz Vocal Album. “For One to Love” is the third album by 26-year-old Cécile McLorin Salvant.  Her second album, “WomanChild” was nominated for the same Grammy in 2014.

Half of the songs on “For One to Love” were composed by McLorin Salvant, and the other half are by a raft of famous composers.  First listen to her composition “Look at Me”. Could this become a jazz standard some day?

One of the more interesting covers on the album is “Wives and Lovers”. The lyrics of this Burt Bacharach / Hal David tune are viewed as a bit sexist these days, but in McLorin Salvant’s hands the song gets a fresh feel that is anything but. And the dance moves of Storyboard P make for a super video. By the way, this song won the 1963 Grammy for Best Male Vocal Performance for crooner, Jack Jones. And in the 60’s it was covered by Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne and Dionne Warwick (of course), as well as Frank Sinatra, Billy Eckstine and Vic Damone.

If you are not one of the lucky ones to have seen the hit musical “Hamilton” on Broadway, you got a small taste on the Grammy Awards show. The cast performed the opening number via telecast to celebrate the Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album. To hear a bit more from the show, the a cappella group Range fit in snippets of all 27 of the show’s songs in this 7-minute video. If you’d like to hear more from Range, here is a link to more videos on their website.

2016 Grammys – Instrumental Jazz

As I write, the Grammy results are not all in yet, but winners in a number of jazz categories have been announced. It’s great to know the musical form is still going strong.

Thrilled to report that Snarky Puppy won Best Contemporary Instrumental Album for “Sylva”. I wrote about the band a bit over a year ago, a few months before the April release of “Sylva”. For this album the group teamed up with Holland’s Metropole Orkest. Enjoy this video performance of the album’s first three tracks. It’s 15 minutes long, but well worth it.

A couple of weeks ago you read about young Joey Alexander, who was nominated for two Grammy awards. Well, he didn’t win either, but no shame in that when we look at the winners (and since he’s just 12, Joey will have plenty more chances).

Bassist Christian McBride won Best Improvised Jazz Solo for “Cherokee” from “Live at the Village Vanguard”. It’s hard to find someone in the world of jazz whom McBride hasn’t played with over the years, from Wynton Marsalis to Chick Corea to Herbie Hancock. And he’s played with the likes of Paul McCartney, James Brown and The Roots as well. There is plenty of great soloing by all three musicians on this track by the Christian McBride Trio, but that is some fine base work.

In the category of Best Jazz Instrumental Album, young Joey was bested by legendary guitarist John Schofield for his latest release, “Past Present”. Schofield’s jazz resume may be even more amazing than McBride’s, having played with George Duke, Charles Mingus, and Gary Burton, before a long stint with Miles Davis.  For “Past Present” he teams up with saxophonist Joe Lovano, a bandmate from the 80’s.  Here’s “Get Proud”.