Jazz 98.5  FM WSAX-LP
ed Stories

Jim Meredith
Jazz 98.5 FM Editor
& Contributing Writer

About Jim Meredith

A United Methodist pastor for thirty-five years, Jim Meredith has been
a jazz and Earth, Wind & Fire fan even longer.  Jim has played keyboards
and electric bass in a variety of contexts, including an every-other Monday morning keyboard gig at the local Winchester Place nursing home.

“Hey, on my island, I pick the music!!”
Columbus OH
For almost as long as jazz has existed as an identifiable musical genre, fans have felt compelled to list or rank its most outstanding recorded examples.  Thus, the “ten most essential jazz albums” or “the ten desert island discs” lists are seemingly as numerous on the Internet as the ants at a Sunday afternoon picnic.

Yes, one may claim that all such lists are simply matters of opinion, but veteran jazzers are often indignant when a novice listener’s list of favorites does not include music by Armstrong, Ellington, Basie, or Parker.  Critical consensus or other yardsticks such as album sales, popularity polls, etc., are regarded by many listeners as automatic qualifiers to the elite inner circle.

Personally, I admit that I pay special attention to any music collection deemed worthy of reissue by the Mosaic Records company.  Yet, who can deny a listener the right to pick a ten best or twenty best list of musical examples chosen solely on this basis:  “music that gives me pleasure”? 
In his book The World In Six Songs, Daniel J. Levitin claims that we value music that communicates one or more of the following six things to us:  friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion, or love.  A song that communicates friendship, for example, may remind me of a specific place and time in which I was particularly aware of and grateful for certain friends.  If this is so, then my fondness for a particular piece of music is not based so much upon musical ideas and a performer’s skill as it is upon the circumstances and relationships that I recall when I hear that music in my head.  By the way, many of us are understandably fond of recordings made by groups we have seen and heard in performance.  That’s not an uncommon tendency.

When I was a much younger man, I was much more inclined to be swayed by the five-star ratings that certain records received in their Downbeat Magazine reviews.  I assumed that the opinions of the writers of those reviews were worth more than my own opinions.  Today I am not so eager to dismiss my own opinions of the music I hear. 
When my recorded music collection totaled only ten or twelve LP’s, I recall that I cherished each record much more than I do now that my collection numbers in the thousands.  Yes, at this point in my life I have listened to many more hours of music than I had when I was only in my twenties.  Yet, that fact cannot guarantee that I will enjoy my music with a greater depth of enjoyment.  Inevitably, I close this essay with a list of my desert island recordings.  I add, however, a list of the rules that apply if we insist upon playing this game on my island.
No critic has the right to tell me that any of my choices are “wrong.”
I reserve the right to replace my entire list whenever I feel like it—perhaps even ten minutes from now.
The music on my list is not necessarily “better” than the music on yours.
I reserve the right to enjoy a particular piece of music for no reason at all that I can explain.
I limit my list only to discs or albums issued as sets, not collections of assorted “singles.”
Having established these guidelines, here is my list of top ten desert island albums—at least for the present - Forgive me, I can't forget one of my all time favorite groups, no matter what the musical genre, EWF.  So, make it eleven:                       
Keith Jarrett, The Survivors’ Suite
Herbie Hancock, Mwandishi
Maria Schneider, Concert In The Garden
McCoy Tyner, Trident
Miles Davis, Kind Of Blue
Weather Report, Mysterious Traveler
Woody Shaw, Rosewood
Chick Corea, Sundance
Rare Silk, New Weave
Paul Winter, Road

Earth, Wind & Fire, All n' All

What do you think?
What does your list look like? - END

Article by: Jim Meredith

Casey Abrams - American Idol Alum

Columbus OH

Perhaps the name of Casey Abrams rings a bell.  Casey, born February 12, 1991, was a contestant on the 2011 American Idol series.  Casey was noticeably more jazz-influenced than the typical Idol contestant, having studied the acoustic upright bass and having developed improvisational skill both as an instrumentalist and as a vocalist.  Abrams’ list of his musical influences includes Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Oscar Peterson, and James Taylor, as well as Marshall Hawkins, head of the jazz department at the Idylwild Arts Academy in California..

Because Abrams suffers from ulcerative colitis, a disease that occasionally requires blood transfusions, he had to be hospitalized while on American Idol.  He was the lowest vote receiver on the Top 11 result show, but the contest judges saved from elimination that week by immediately and unanimously choosing to use their only allowable save for that season.  Ultimately he finished in sixth place.

During his time on the show, Casey performed songs written or popularized by Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Hoagy Carmichael, The Temptations, The Beatles, Kansas Joe McCoy, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and Carole King.  He also sang two impressive duets with fellow contestant Haley Reinhart, including the Bobby Timmons tune recorded by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers:  “Moanin.’”  In January 8, 2012 Abrams signed with the Concord Music Group, a well-known jazz label.  His first album, the self-titled Casey Abrams, features Abrams vocals and songwriting.  In some ways he brings to mind Mose Allison.

Casey Abrams was booked for Marion’s Palace Theatre May 3.  A couple of days prior to the concert date, with ticket sales lower than what was expected, the performance was moved from the 1500-seat Palace auditorium to a smaller adjacent hall more suitable for parties or receptions.  Nonetheless, Abrams gave the audience a great show.

Starting with Paul Desmond’s”Take Five” [or that tune’s first cousin], Casey’s trio [Abrams, along with a saxophonist/per-cussionist and a guitarist] kept the energy level high, while providing a comedic touch throughout his mix of familiar tunes [Beatles, Animals, Bobby McFerrin] and Abrams originals.  While it may not have been a jazz concert in the purest sense, the improvisational spirit was certainly present.

After the concert, Casey’s cordiality would have led you to believe that he knew about half of the population of Marion County personally.  When this writer, asked Abrams to name his favorite jazz recording, he quickly responded with the familiar Cannonball Adderley/Miles Davis Blue Note classic, Somethin’ Else.

Next year the American Idol television show will begin its fifteenth—and final—season.  While the show is often targeted by the critics, its popularity for much of that fifteen-year run cannot be denied.  The show has brought us many unintended moments of hilarity [as in, ‘He really thinks he can sing?”] as well as some truly masterful performances.

The show has also demonstrated the unpredictability of the public’s musical tastes.  While some would-be contestants may have hoped that the program would be their easy ticket to fame and fortune, the reality is that such things more often follow those who begin with a measure of musical ability, refine it with hard work and an unassuming attitude, and who present themselves as genuinely likeable people who can facilitate a great musical evening, even if they do not fill the theater in Marion, Ohio.  Casey Abrams?  Check him out on Youtube, but catch him live if you get the chance.  You’ll enjoy the show. - END

Article by: Jim Meredith

The Jazz Fusion Wall

Columbus OH

Young Steve [fictitious person] was visiting his grandfather a few days prior to the recent Superbowl.  At one point the family conversation turned to football.  Since Steve had seldom heard his grandfather discuss any sport, he was impressed by the depth of the older man’s grasp of football strategy.  He was truly a knowledgeable fan.  The conversation brought Steve new insights, and his enjoyment of watching the actual Sunday night game increased dramatically. 

Grandpa is also a jazz fan.  They’d never before talked much about music, so Steve expected the discussion of jazz favorites to be at least as enjoyable as their football conversation had been.  Steve was disappointed.  The music that his grandfather loved was largely unfamiliar to Steve:  names like Art Tatum, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Woody Herman, Zoot Sims, and Milt Jackson.  Grandpa seemingly had never heard anything by the Rippingtons, Marcus Miller, or David Sanborn.  Grandpa and Steve had run into the jazz fusion wall. 

Jazz fusion became popular in the 1970’s.  Fusion players introduced electric basses and keyboards
to jazz.  The electric guitar was not new to jazz,
but fusion uses the instrument in ways that seem more rock-like.  Electric keyboards, especially synthesizers, create new sonic possibilities.  At times the line between progressive rock and jazz fusion is nearly indistinguishable.

Jazz fusion often utilizes, in addition to a drummer, percussionists who play Latin or African instruments such as the cabacas, cuica, agogo, caxixi, congas, bongos, whistles, and the berimbau.  Even though Duke Ellington insists, “It don’t mean a thing if it
ain’t got that swing,” jazz fusion’s backbeat
generally does not “swing” in the usual implied-triplet jazz sense.  Two examples of jazz fusion—Weather Report’s original version of “Birdland” and the
Brecker Brothers’ “A Creature Of Many Faces”—feel more like march music than dance music.

Many jazz fusion musicians enjoy listening to music from the pop, rock, or funk realms.  For example, Cannonball Adderley liked Earth, Wind and Fire; Herbie Hancock was influenced by the Pointer Sisters and Sly and the Family Stone; Pat Metheny once said that he’d enjoy playing with Steely Dan; and Miles Davis, considered by many to be the foremost jazz fusioner, was a fan of James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson, and Prince.  George Benson was not unique in recording an album consisting entirely of Beatles songs. 

Many jazz fusion musicians create images meant
to appeal to the young and the hip.  For visual examples, check out YouTube videos of Don Ellis’ 1977 Montreux Jazz Festival gig or anything by
Miles from the 1970’s or 1980’s.  Unsurprisingly,
jazz fusion groups often choose names that resemble those given to rock bands:  Return To Forever, Passport, the Dixie Dregs, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, the Eleventh House, and Weather Report are some examples.

Much or most of today’s radio jazz is jazz fusion or something closely related to it.  Unfortunately, the use of such labels can divide jazz listeners.  Devout traditionalists dismiss jazz fusion as something of lesser quality than “the real thing.”  “Smooth jazz,” an offshoot of jazz fusion, is often dismissed by the critics.  On the other hand, fusion fans often claim that the older music that shaped their jazz heritage fails to excite them. 

Just as political observers plea for civility in our government, we jazz fans need to get along better than we often do.  Maybe Steve will hear something in Grandpa’s music that rewards focused listening.  Maybe Grandpa can realize that Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter [for the uninitiated, the leaders of Weather Report] were not mere musical lightweights.

If you see a $1.99 jazz cd in a Goodwill store, buy it—even if you’re not sure if it falls within your listening preferences.  Jazz listeners comprise only about four or five percent of the music-buying public.  We are too few in number to be divided by the jazz fusion wall!

We can’t afford to squabble amongst ourselves. There is still too much good music waiting for
us to discover it.

Article by: Jim Meredith

Remembering Tim Hauser
Manhattan Transfer Founder

Columbus OH

Singer Janis Siegel, a member of the vocal quartet The Manhattan Transfer, uses the word “eclectic” to describe the group: “We never said we were a ‘jazz’ group, we never said we were a ‘pop’ group. We just said we were a vocal group exploring different styles of American music.” Tim Hauser, the group’s founder and the acknowledged architect of its sound, died of cardiac arrest while on tour last October 16, 2014 at age 72.

This writer was privileged to interview one of the group members on the air and to meet them after their Marion, Ohio, concert in May of last year. On that occasion all four singers seemed to be genuinely approachable and cordial people. Following Hauser’s death, the three surviving members have said they plan to continue.

Hauser’s professional singing career began at age fifteen with the Criterions, a New Jersey rock 'n' roll quintet. In 1969, after earning a bachelor’s degree from Villanova, after a stint in the Air Force, and after several nonmusical jobs, he formed the first version of the Manhattan Transfer. The group made one record before breaking up. While Hauser drove a taxicab to support himself, his cab was the site of several chance encounters that led to the forming of a 1972 version of the Manhattan Transfer, consisting of Janis Siegel, Laurel Masse, Alan Paul, and Hauser.

Six years later Cheryl Bentyne replaced Masse, and that lineup remained unchanged—apart from members’ illnesses—until the present day. The group performed a wide spectrum of musical styles: jazz, gospel, doo-wop, pop, and rhythm and blues, all with stylish and sophisticated costuming and choreography. Among their most popular recordings were “Tuxedo Junction,” “Birdland,” ‘The Boy From New York City,” “Operator,” and “Java Jive.”

To date, the Manhattan Transfer has won ten Grammy awards, many gold and platinum records, and multiple polls. For three years Hauser served as a member of the original voting committee for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1993 Hauser was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from the Berklee College of Music. Yet, despite these honors and accomplishments, the Manhattan Transfer—either as individuals or as a group--had no recording contract at the time of their Marion performance. Such is the nature of the music recording business these days. Nonetheless, I recall a quote by one Julian “Cannonball” Adderley whose words seem to apply to Tim Hauser’s role with the Manhattan Transfer:

“If you take a whole group of really super-bad dudes and hang them in together, they’ll make some music whether or not somebody else thought it was hip or not. You know, it would be okay—you dig? Somebody’s got to start it.”

Assuming that the term “dudes” is not necessarily gender specific, I believe that Tim was the starter person for a quartet of “super-bad” vocalists, the Manhattan Transfer. He will be missed.

Article by: Jim Meredith

“So you wanna make a living
playing music?”

Columbus OH

According to a
2012 study by Boston’s Berklee College of Music, the average professional musician earns $55,561 per year.  Most of these musicians receive their income from three or more different sources.

Dr. Dre made $110 million in the year 2012:  easily the top income for any rapper, rocker, or pop star in the world.  However, Dr. Dre made the bulk of his money not from performances or recordings but from selling headphones.  As his example illustrates, the ability to become a jack-of-all-trades is a big asset for those doing business in today’s music world.  The average personal gross income of the 5,371 musicians surveyed in the Berklee study was $55,561, of which nearly 38% came from non-musical sources.

Meanwhile, the American Idol television show resumes its nationwide search, the pursuit of a fantasy that seems to be rooted more in the past than in the present.  You know how the contest works:  the winner of the competition wins a recording contract that will presumably earn her or him sufficient wealth so as to be able to insure a life of leisure and comfort for years to come. 

We listen to the heart-tugging stories of some of these contestants, and we hope that a real-life rags-to-riches story will materialize.  Yet, today’s world holds no guarantee of a long-term high-paying record/performing musical career--even for the fortunate winner.  Furthermore, such an outcome is even more unlikely if an American Idol contestant is a jazz musician: that genre represents only about four or five percent of the total sale of musical recordings.  A jazz rags-to-riches story is so unlikely an outcome that we’d consider it a miracle if it ever were to happen.          

Today’s musical success stories are more likely to result from “outside-the-box” thinking.  For example, video game audio is among the fastest-growing areas of employment for musicians.  Salaries start low, but they can rise quickly.  “Sound and audio technology careers around video games are pretty ubiquitously profitable and available at this point,” says Matt McArthur, a Berklee grad.  “A lot of us kind of yearn to be a part of the recording sessions surrounding game audio, because they’re the only ones who have large enough budgets to call in full orchestras.”    25% of musicians in the Berklee study have seen their recording session work diminish over the past five years, as electronic instruments reduce the need for human players.  

Have you ever heard of music therapy?  Music therapy careers are on the rise, especially for persons who complete an academic and clinical training program approved by the American Music Therapy Association.  While it’s not a glamorous image, teaching private music lessons continues to be a solid income source for instrumentalists and vocalists alike.  30% of the Berklee study participants reported an increase in their teaching income, while only 19% saw a decline. 

DJ work is another growth area, as are live instrumental gigs at weddings, corporate retreats, and similar events.  Berklee professor
Christine Fawson says she earns more from playing her trumpet than from teaching.  “You can make $1,000 per weekend playing the top 40 for rich people. We’re not making $1 million, but we’re making a living playing music.  Isn’t that what we’re here for?”  

For the average respondent in the Berklee study, the amount of income derived from making sound recordings in the past 12 months was only 6%.  A musician who thinks he can earn all of his income
from recording dates alone may be demonstrating
just as much short-sightedness as the one who
claims that the eight track cartridge is his or her favorite music medium.  Musically, it’s a new day.
The person who can combine musical skill with innovation and who has a “Why not?” attitude may just be able to make it.

Article by: Jim Meredith