Booker T and the MGs were the spiritual grandparents of Medeski, Martin & Wood.
Happy New Year, y'all! And Happy Birthday, Jackie!
Booker T and the MGs were the spiritual grandparents of Medeski, Martin & Wood.
Happy New Year, y'all! And Happy Birthday, Jackie!
I'm saddened to learn that Freddie Hubbard, the brilliant jazz trumpeter who dazzled audiences and critics alike with his virtuosity, his melodicism, and his infectious energy, died on Monday at the age of 70 in Sherman Oaks, California, due to complications from a November 26 heart attack.
It's been a bad year for musicians, with 2008 marking the loss of Issac Hayes, Bo Diddley, Eartha Kitt, Odetta, Miriam Makeba, Richard Wright (Pink Floyd), Levi Stubbs (The Four Tops), blues guitarist Jeff Healey, country singer Eddy Arnold, two of Jimi Hendrix' former drummers (Mitch Mitchell and Buddy Miles), and producer Teo Macero. I never took the time to eulogize any of them, but I refuse to let the passing of Freddie Hubbard go without paying my respects.
One of the great jazz musicians of all time, Hubbard was part of that pantheon of trumpet players who changed the music permanently, a group that also includes Louis Armstrong, Dr. Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Shaw, and Hubbard's contemporary, Miles Davis. However, his career, while marked by brilliance, was often overshadowed by that of Miles, as well as by an ill-advised foray into the disco-pop-funk music of the 1970s.
Frederick Dewayne Hubbard was born on April 7, 1938, in Indianapolis. In high school, he studied French horn and tuba as well as trumpet, and after taking lessons at the Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Music, he performed locally with, among others, the guitarist Wes Montgomery and his brothers.
Hubbard moved to New York in 1958, rooming with the innovative altoist Eric Dolphy, and almost immediately began working with groups led by the saxophonist Sonny Rollins, the drummer Philly Joe Jones, and Slide Hampton, J.J. Johnson, and others. His profile rose in 1960 when he joined the roster of Blue Note Records, a leading jazz label, and toured Europe with Quincy Jones (1960-1961).
That reputation rose further the next year when he was hired by the veteran drummer Art Blakey, widely regarded as the music’s premier talent scout, to play alongside Wayne Shorter in the Jazz Messengers, a valuable training ground for young musicians. Under Blakey's leadership, Hubbard developed his own spin on a style that was informed by Dizzy Gillespie and Clifford Brown. Critics took notice of his unusual mix of melodic inventiveness and technical razzle-dazzle. Leonard Feather called him “one of the most skilled, original and forceful trumpeters of the ’60s.”
A blazing trumpeter with a beautiful tone on flügelhorn, Hubbard fared well in freer settings but was always essentially a hard-bop stylist. Although he was not an avant-gardist by temperament, he participated in three of the seminal recordings of the 1960s jazz avant-garde: Ornette Coleman’s “Free Jazz” (1960), Eric Dolphy’s “Out to Lunch” (1964) and John Coltrane’s "Ascension” (1965). He also played on Oliver Nelson's classic "Blues and the Abstract Truth," highlighted by the song Stolen Moments, and started recording as a leader for Blue Note that same year. He played on "Maiden Voyage" with Herbie Hancock, as well as albums by Wayne Shorter and many others. However, many of his sidemen, notably Shorter and Hancock, soon left Blue Note to record at Columbia with another trumpeter, forming the classic Miles Davis Quintet of 1964-1968.
After leaving Blakey’s band himself in 1964, Hubbard worked for a while with another drummer-bandleader, Max Roach (1965-1966), himself an alumnus of an earlier Davis quintet. In 1966, as Davis' new quintet were recorded their landmark albums, Hubbard formed his own group, featuring altoist James Spaulding.
Four years later, he began recording for CTI, a record company that would soon become known for its aggressive efforts to market jazz musicians beyond the confines of the jazz audience. In 1970, Hubbard recorded the first of a trio of recordings for the CTI label that would give him his due recognition as one of the great trumpet players of jazz. "Red Clay,” contained some of the best playing of his career and, except for slicker production and the presence of some electric instruments, were not significantly different from his work for Blue Note.
The following album, "Straight Life," is probably my personal favorite Hubbard recording. By this time, Miles Davis had disbanded the classic quintet of the 1960s, going for a more aggressively electronic, funk/rock sound, freeing Herbie Hancock and bassist Ron Carter to join him on this date. Tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, guitarist George Benson, and drummer Jack DeJohnette, all of whom had also played for Miles' at one point or another, rounded out the all-star lineup.
“Straight Life” was primarily a jam session, with the contributors expelling their creative juices freely through two long jams (Straight Life and Mr. Clean) and a more contained ballad in a trio setting (Here's That Rainy Day). The video above is of Hubbard performing the title cut, Straight Life, during the 1975 Downbeat Awards, backed by what is fundametally the fusion band Return To Forever: Chick Corea on keyboards, Stanley Clarke on bass, Lenny White on drums, and the percussionist Airto.
The follow-up album, "First Light" (1971), featured Don Sebesky string arrangements and was Hubbard's most popular recording, winning a Grammy Award in 1972. But after the glory of the CTI years, during which producer Creed Taylor did an expert job of balancing the artistic with the accessible, Hubbard, like many other jazz musicians of his generation, began courting an even larger audience (and greater profits).
It's hard to fathom what Hubbard's precise motivations were for what followed. In the 70s, fusion/funk bands like Return To Forever, Weather Report and Mahavishnu Orchestra (mostly consisting of the alumni from various incarnations of Miles Davis' bands) were filling concert halls and selling gold records. Guitarist George Benson had abandoned jazz, and largely guitar playing, and had become a multi-million-dollar pop crooner and nearly a household name. I can't fault Hubbard for wanting some of that profit. Or perhaps he was under pressure from the labels, from his family, or from his own pride, to keep up with the times and make some more money. Or perhaps after years of exchanging musicians back and forth with Miles Davis and even being perceived as "the other trumpet player," he decided to give up on jazz altogether and just go for the money. In any event and for whatever reason, Freddie Hubbard sold out.
In the mid-1970s, Hubbard signed with Columbia and began recording albums that put less and less emphasis on improvisation and relied more and more on glossy arrangements and pop appeal. His music featured rock and funk rhythms and a repertory sprinkled with pop and R&B songs like Paul McCartney’s Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey and the Stylistics’ Betcha by Golly, Wow. The reference that the announcer makes to "his own brand of Liquid Love" in the above video alludes to an album of this period, marred by a singing performance by Hubbard (a la Benson?) and a cover of Midnight At The Oasis. But as his performance at the Downbeat Awards showed, even during this period, he was still capable of playing with the fire and intensity of the former years - he had just been holding back.
His audience did indeed grow during these years and the records sold well for the most part, but were attacked, or in some cases simply ignored, by jazz critics. His standing in the jazz world diminished as he released one dud after another; "Windjammer" (1976) and "Splash" (a slightly later effort for Fantasy) are low points.
Within a few years, Hubbard was expressing regrets about his career path and largely abandoned his more commercial approach to return to his jazz roots. In 1977, he toured with Herbie Hancock's acoustic V.S.O.P. Quintet, reprising his former role in Maiden Voyage and other Hancock compositions, as well as filling in for the then-ailing Miles Davis on Hancock's contributions to the 60s Quintet. By the 1980s, on recordings for Pablo, Blue Note, and Atlantic, he showed that he could reach still his former heights, even if much of the jazz world had given up on him.
Most of his recordings as a leader from the early 1980s on, for Pablo, Musicmasters and other labels, were small-group sessions emphasizing his gifts as an improviser that helped restore his critical reputation. With the deaths of Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis in the 90s, Hubbard seemed perfectly poised to assume the role of veteran master. However, his career came to an abrupt halt in 1992 when he damaged his lip. By Hubbard’s own account, he seriously injured his upper lip that year by playing too hard, without warming up, once too often. The lip became infected, and for the rest of his life it was a struggle for him to play with his trademark strength and fire. As Howard Mandel explained in a 2008 Down Beat article, “His ability to project and hold a clear tone was damaged, so his fast finger flurries often result in blurts and blurs rather than explosive phrases.”
After an extended hiatus, Hubbard nonetheless resumed recording and performing, primarily on flügelhorn rather than on the more demanding trumpet, although he was never again as powerful a player as he had been in his prime. Hubbard, once known as the brashest of jazzmen, mellowed in the wake of his lip problems. In a 1995 interview with Fred Shuster of Down Beat, he offered some sober advice to younger musicians: “Don’t make the mistake I made of not taking care of myself. Please, keep your chops cool and don’t overblow.”
Hubbard was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2006. I will miss him.
"After the initial meeting with a good teacher we never again need to burn incense, to do prostrations, to recite Buddha's name, to practice confession, or to read sutras. Just sit, and get the state which is free of body and mind."
One of the things I've learned during all of my recent time off is that there's hardly ever anything on television worth watching. An occasional movie or perhaps a football game, but that's about it.
Last week, I was surfing through the chanel guide trying to find something, anything, to watch, when I saw a listing for a documentary film called "The Tao of Gumby" over on the IFC Channel. Okay, I'll bite - I clicked over and dropped in on the movie in progress. I had jumped in just in time to hear Gumby creator Art Clokey discuss how we came up with Gumby's friends Prickle and Goo.
"I was a friend of a psychologist in Hollywood. He invited me to go with him up to San Jose to a convention of psychologists. I was interested in psychology at the time. We were in the lecture hall at San Jose State, and one psychologist would get up and make a speech. It was pretty boring for me. But the MC happened to be Allen Watts, the Zen Philosopher of Sausalito. He would crack us up and tell funny stories and get our blood circulating again. And they would put on another psychologist to bore us again.
"At one of these little humorous intermissions, he said there were two kinds of people in the world, the prickly and the gooey. The prickly are rigid and uptight, analytical, and critical. The gooey are easygoing, flowing in the here and now, friendly and jolly.
"I said I have got to make two characters to symbolize those two types of people. Then people all over the world will be able to identify with them. So we created the little, yellow dinosaur with his spines, and named him Prickle. Goo is a very gooey blue mermaid."
So, it would seem that Prickle and Goo were inspired by - if not outright created by - "the Zen Philosopher of Sausalito," Alan Watts. Curious, I went on line and a Google search quickly led me to the above animation over on YouTube. Even more surprising to me than the Watts-Gumby connection, though, was that the clip was animated by none other than the notorious Trey Parker and Matt Stone of "South Park" fame. And since there were other animations of Watts talks by Parker and Stone, unrelated to Prickle and Goo, one of which I've posted previously, their interest was in Watts, not in Gumby. Go figure. For those of you interested, what I think is the whole of the Parker/Stone animations of Watts has been posted by Mumon over on his web site.
Watts' 1957 book, "The Way of Zen," was one of the first "serious" books on Zen I'd read back in the mid-1970s, after having first read "The Dharma Bums" and some other Kerouac and finding that wanting, and various hippie books on Buddhism that were equally uninformative. As I've mentioned before, this early interest in Zen was effectively squashed when I read Janwillem van de Wetering's account of his time in a Zen monastery, "The Empty Mirror." Eating nothing but rice, sitting in one position without moving for hours on end, sadistic monks who beat you with sticks? - it all sounded horrible. Oddly, some people I know have told me that the very same book is what got them into Zen. My dharma barrier turns out to be some people's dharma gate. I've purchased a new copy of the book and I'm looking forward to re-reading it to see if it now sounds different to me. I'll get to it just as soon as I get through the other dozen or so books in front of it that I intend on reading.
But back to Alan Watts. He certainly does have a compelling way of speaking, and even if I find his approach to Zen more philosophical than practical (as in the "practice" of zazen) - the term "Zen Philosopher of Sausalito" seems particularly appropriate, in every sense of each term - his contributions to spreading the dharma in America should be noted and appreciated. However, he is not treated very kindly in James Ishmael Ford's "Zen Master Who? A Guide to the People and Stories of Zen." In a first-person account of a meeting with him, Ford notes that Watts "seemed intoxicated" and was accompanied by a "fawning young woman" who "seemed not to be wearing any underwear." Even less kind is the name of a biography written about Watts, "Genuine Fake." The man certainly courted controversy.
As I noted above, I have a few bones myself that I would like to have picked with Watts, but this unkind treatment is unwarranted in my opinion. As a public intellectual, the man did more to champion the cause of Zen in the West than anyone else I can think of, even lecturing stoned hippies on Zen between acts at the Fillmore West back in the 1960s, and if he were also a libertine, well then that was his nature, even if it did offend a few priggish monks.
After all, aren't we all a little bit Prickle and a little bit Goo?
Or, this - Joe the Plumber's Christmas complaint:
However, this year, I have more optimism - you could even say Obama-like hope - so instead of snickering at the traditions and beliefs of others, this year I'm choosing to share this old chestnut from years past:
Speaking of years past, Christmas traditions and the legend of Santa Claus have been celebrated differently in past times, as well as in different parts of the world. The American humorist David Sedaris notes that "In France and Germany gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve, while in the Netherlands the children open their presents on December 5, in celebration of St. Nicholas Day."
The Dutch Saint Nicholas was apparently not the jolly fat man of current American lore. According to Sedaris, Saint Nicholas travelled with "six to eight black men." These six to eight black men were characterized as personal slaves until the mid 1950s, when the political climate changed and it was decided that instead of being slaves they were just his "good friends." Sedaris notes that "history has proven that something usually comes between slavery and friendship, a period of time marked not by cookies and quiet hours beside the fire but by bloodshed and mutual hostility."
Further, if a child was naughty, instead of bestowing presents, the Dutch Saint Nicholas and his six to eight "good friends" would beat him or her with the small branch of a tree. If the youngster was really bad, they'd put him in a sack and take him to, of all places, Spain, which actually doesn't sound all that bad right now (Spain is wonderful this time of year).
Unlike the jolly, obese American Santa, who by the way, is apparently now Canadian, Saint Nicholas was painfully thin and dressed "not unlike the pope, topping his robes with a tall hat resembling an embroidered tea cozy. The outfit, I was told, is a carryover from his former career, when he served as the bishop of Turkey."
Apparently, our perception of Santa Claus was once somewhat more similar to the Dutch version than to our modern vision. While we never went as far as assuming that Santa was the former Bishop of Turkey, kidnapping bad children to Spain with his six to eight personal slaves, as shown in this movie from 1898, Santa Claus wasn't always considered fat - in fact, he once was skinny and dressed something like a Manchurian monk (note the long sleeves):
That's it for this year, folks. My hope is that by providing some videos for you to watch, some pictures that may make you smile, some music and some words, I've made your holiday a little more enjoyable.
Joyeaux Noel, y'all.
Postscript: I decided the 1898 silent movie was perhaps a tad too silent, so I updated it with a soundtrack. The music is by Rahsaan Roland Kirk, "Ruined Castles" from the 1964 album, "I Talk With the Spirits." I thought it had the right lullaby qualities where needed and the right magical elements where needed, and despite the glum title, a holiday sound throughout. Let me know what you think.
"The ingredients in our recipes come from the earth and the oven.Much more inspiring than, say, "king of beers."
They come from interfering and letting be. . .
. . . For us, brewing is not a process of automation, but of imagination and passion.
We wrap our hands around plastic shovels to clean out mash tuns.
We wrap our hands around sticky clumps of whole leaf hops and toss them into the boil kettle.
We wrap our hands around our work because we are proud to make something with our own hands."
"Since being the Buddha's child is following the Buddha's teaching and reaching buddhahood directly, we must devote ourselves to following the teaching and put all our efforts into the practice of the Way. The true practice which is in accordance with the teaching is nothing but shikantaza, which is the essence of the life in this sorin (monastery) today. Think this over deeply."Shikantaza literally means "just sitting." As Arthur once explained to me, the -za is "sitting," as in zazen ("sitting meditation"), and shikan- is "just." The -ta is sort of like an exclamation point, so the translation might be just! sitting, or even JUST! sitting. It is not sitting to experience enlightenment, it is just! sitting. It is not sitting to drop off body and mind, it is just! sitting. It is not even sitting to try and just sit, it is just! sitting. Anything added to "just sitting" is not shikantaza. Shikantaza is simply zazen which is practiced without expecting any reward. It is simply being yourself, right here, right now.
"In the authentic transmission of our religion, it is said that this buddha-dharma, which has been authentically and directly transmitted one-to-one, is supreme among the supreme. After the initial meeting with a good teacher we never again need to burn incense, to do prostrations, to recite Buddha's name, to practice confession, or to read sutras. Just sit, and get the state which is free of body and mind."It can be argued that all the rest of Dogen's teachings and writings are just an amplification of this basic concept. It's no wonder, then, that Bendo-wa is the first chapter of Shobogenzo, as it sets the theme for everything that follows.
There was an initiation ceremony in Chattanooga for two new Zen Buddhists today, and Arthur, my Zen teacher (who's moving to Switzerland soon), and I drove up to officiate. Part of the initiation is the assignment of a dharma name. At my ceremony in 2002, I was given the name Shokai and told that it meant "state of accord." I wasn't told what it was supposed to be in accordance with, but since the -kai in Shokai sounded like the -kai in jukai (receiving of the precepts, part of the initiation ceremony), I assumed my new name meant "state of accordance with the precepts."
A word about the precepts: they sound like commandments - there's even a list of 10 "grave precepts" - but the Buddhist precepts are very different from Judeo-Christian commandments. The precepts aren't considered to be rules handed down from some divine being that must be obeyed in order to please Her, but are instead common-sense guidelines on how to live a life on the spiritual path. First, there are the three "pure precepts:"
So, the term Shokai refers neither to a state in accordance with the precepts nor to a state in accordance with the teachers, but instead to the direct experience of the Buddha's supreme state of wisdom (bodhi). Based on that, there is a big difference between the name and the one who carries the name. But then, dharma names are meant to be aspirational, something to live up to, big shoes to fill.
"Buddhas, without exception, receive the Dharma from buddhas, buddha-to-buddha, and patriarchs, without exception, receive the Dharma from patriarchs, patriarch-to-patriarch; this is experience of the Buddha's state [shokai], this is the one-to-one transmission, and for this reason it is the supreme state of bodhi."
If you're anything like me (although the chances are good that you aren't), you've been listening to The Clash for almost 30 years now, and when you first heard "Paper Planes" by M.I.A., a Tamil hip-hop artist, the sample upended your whole perception of their music. And once you got past the sample and the "bang, bang" hook, you were still impressed by the song and its satire on perceptions of immigrants. Which is a long way of getting around to saying that I like this song.
Re-reading yesterday's post about "A Christmas Tale," I realize that I didn't do a very good job of describing the film - it sounds perfectly dreadful from my brief description. While it does have it's dark side, however, it also has that quintessential French espirit that allows the characters to admit to awful things even while they enjoy a fine wine and go on celebrating a family feast together.
Essentially the movie is about grief and not only the effects it has on a family's life but on how those effects are transmitted. Early on, we're told (by shadow puppets) that the eldest son in the family died at age six from a childhood illness. The only hope they had for him was for a compatible blood donor to appear, and while no one in the family had the right blood, it was hoped that the child the mother was carrying would be a suitable donor and the boy's savior. When that didn't turn out to be the case, the oldest son died, and the mother resented her youngest child for not being the carrier of the right blood type, a grudge she held against him her whole life. That youngest child, then, felt inadequate and grew up to be an irresponsible cad, a burden on the rest of the family, and an agent of harm in his own right. Their daughter held her grief throughout her life, and never allowed herself to experience true happiness, while her own son ultimately became neurotic and a suicide theat. And so on.
When the mother's finally diagnosed with cancer, the irony is that her youngest child, the one she had long scorned for not having the right blood to save her first-born, is the appropriate donor for the bone-marrow transplant she needs, but he has been raised to be so self-centered and cavalier that it is not at all apparent whether he can be relied upon to submit to the procedure. And finally, this whole disfunctional clan reunites for one possibly final Christmas dinner together, where thay all achieve some level of redemption, although not in the corny, Hollywood, "Christmas Miracle" kind of way.
On a related note, my virtual friend Greensmile posted an interesting comment to Friday's entry. I had held that sanskara is memory that is not so-called declarative memory but closer to motor learning, but for the motor of the mind, not the body. Greensmile noted that the one time we have not yet accumulated any sanskara is at birth. We are born as essentailly blank slates, and as we learn to walk and talk, we begin to collect the templates for perception that are stored as sanskara.
Many Buddhists will argue this point and state that sanskara can be carried over from our prior lives into this existence. Our prior karma will determine whether the templates are useful, harmful or merely neutral, they say. I disagree with this traditional view - if the individual is like a clay vessel holding water (sanskara) and the vessel is destroyed, the water spills out and returns to the hydrosphere. If the clay is then fashioned into a new vessel, it cannot be filled again with the exact same water. Now I know there are those of you who want to argue that you can think of ways to store the water first, then pour that exact same water into the new vessel and thus prove me wrong. But first, to suppose that can be done with living beings presupposes some sort of divine intervention, a concept absent in Buddhism, and second, don't stick to this, or any, analogy so literally. Don't confuse the finger pointing at the moon with the moon itself.
There is a sort of divine intervention, though, in a child's accumulation of sanskara, and that is the parents' guidance. "Don't touch that, it's dirty," we're told, and "If you're good, Santa Claus will bring you presents." All of this creates the templates of associations and learned responses that we carry with us for the rest of our lives.
When that youngest child from "A Christmas Tale" was told that he was a failure for not having the right blood to save his older brother, that lesson in his own inadequacy, reinforced by his mother's distance, was carried throughout his life. Our initial sanskara is taught to us, some of it helpful, some of it harmful, and the karma of the parent is thus transferred to the child. And that transferrence, in turn, creates its own karma, and so the never-ending cycle continues.