Ruby Washington / The New York Times
There was plenty of good information, and at least one terrific cosmic gag, that couldn’t make it into today’s feature about Pi Recordings. Some of that material was too granularly, and would have been a drag on the flow of the piece. Some of it was of dubious interest to a civilian readership. But you’re here now, so let’s get into it, after the jump.
That’s me interviewing singer-songwriter Tracy Bonham at the Beacon Riverfest a couple of weekends ago, for this profile in Arts & Leisure. I think it’s the only image of its kind that I’ve seen. (I didn’t know we were even being watched until Tony Cenicola, the excellent New York Times photographer assigned to the piece, sent me a copy.)
A big part of the story here involves life after the majors. Bonham had a monster radio hit in 1996, which sent her debut into gold-album territory (and resulted in “a lot of baseball caps in the crowd” at her concerts). These days she’s running the equivalent of a shoestring operation -- or a sustainable organic farm, if you want to flog a metaphor more suitable to her Hudson Valley homestead. Here she is talking about the adjustment; as a bonus, the clip ends with a Metro-North train whistle (and the voice of the aforementioned Tony):
My column in the July/August JazzTimes (not online, alas), concerns music publishing, an issue of stealth importance today. To parrot a dry but earnest line from my own self: “At a time when most jazz musicians are composers, and other sources of income are dwindling, music publishing may be the one area with growth prospects.” Given the thrust of some recent bloggery, it seems a good notion to revisit.
Jazz musicians have long paid the price for inattention to their publishing. In some cases, it’s a matter of ineffectual policing. You may know, for instance, what happened with Thelonious Monk’s most oft-recorded composition, “’Round Midnight.” After it had been introduced to Cootie Williams, the song was filed for copyright with three names on the certificate: Monk, Williams and lyricist Bernie Hanighen. “Consequently,” writes Robin Kelley, “Hanighen and his estate receive a third of the royalties from every version of ‘’Round Midnight’ produced. And in turn, the original composer and his estate receive only a third of the royalties -- to this very day.” Got that?
But let’s set aside the Big Fish example from a bygone era. Most present-day jazz musicians will never write a “’Round Midnight” -- and that shouldn’t at all diminish their interest in the publishing game. In the column, I seek illumination on that point from Dan Coleman, whose publishing-administration company, “A” Side Music, works with the likes of Maria Schneider, Brad Mehldau and Billy Childs. (More on him in the comments.) I also consult with two publishing-savvy musicians, bassist Ben Allison and keyboardist Larry Goldings.
Brad Mehldau and Jon Brion fit the definition of a mutual admiration society. That much is probably evident in this story, about their new collaboration, Highway Rider. It was certainly evident in the studio last spring, as they were mixing the final tracks of the album.
“There’s nobody else like him,” Mehldau said of Brion then. “Because he’s got those ears on the level of engineering, and detail, and his approach to recording. It’s creative, like a jazz musician.”
And here’s Brion on Mehldau: “For my money he’s the single most influential jazz musician going. If you want to talk about the ripple effect, I don’t see anybody else out there doing anything that is so permeating in its nature on other people playing the instrument. He has certainly to my ears become the de facto standard-bearer.”
Their previous collaboration, Largo, was striking in its calibration of the spontaneous and the meticulous: a balance crudely formulated as jazz + pop. Its influence has been serious (see yesterday’s post), and its legacy enduring. Considering it in light of Highway Rider, though, you come to the issue of the cover tune. (The new album doesn’t have any.) As it happens, the cover tune is one more point of agreement between Mehldau and Brion. Consider this exchange, which is mostly Brion:
A few years ago I had the idea to take a look at the issue of jazz record producers. I made some calls, attended sessions, and wrote several drafts of a big-picture piece. It sat a while, because it was an inside story written for an outside perspective. I just couldn’t make it compelling for a general-interest readership.
Good thing we still have jazz magazines. This month an updated version of the piece appears in Down Beat; here’s the digital edition, for all you non-subscribers. I was happy DB decided to run it, as my byline hasn’t been in those pages since early in the last decade.
I’d be curious to hear thoughts on the piece. My inbox this morning included a note from Marco Valente at the Italian jazz label Auand Records; I won’t quote from it here, because it may be going into the next DB. But the basic point was a philosophical alignment with the Pujol school of producing (or non-producing), rather than the Eicher school. (If those names make no sense to you, read the piece, Jack.)
So what do you think, jazz internets? Is there still a role for the conventional jazz producer? Or have the artists themselves -- like Christian Scott, above -- more than picked up the slack?
Happy Holidays, everybody. I bring you glad tidings of a new Brad Mehldau album, produced by Jon Brion. That’s right: Nonesuch is due to release Highway Rider, a double CD, on Feb. 23 [March 16]. It’ll be the first Mehldau-Brion collaboration since Largo, from 2002:
Last November, when Mehldau and Brion were mixing the album in Los Angeles, I spent about eight hours in the studio with them, taking notes for a forthcoming Arts & Leisure feature. I got a ton of material, some of which I’ll be posting here as we get closer to release date.
Observing Jon Brion at a board is not unlike watching Mehldau at the piano; it’s his chief instrument, and he approaches it with extrasensory focus and an almost surgical precision. (At one point, mixing a track with a drum part by Matt Chamberlain, he rode the controls manually, in real time. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say he functioned as a member of the band.)
So how does Highway Rider sound? Not at all like Largo Part Deux, which may disappoint some fans initially -- that is, until they hear the results. In the years since his first Brion production, Mehldau has delved ever more seriously into orchestration, teasing out the Romantic undercurrent that has always run through his music. The overture to the new album involves a somber piano prelude, a brooding upwelling of strings and, as the clincher, some gorgeous tenor filigree from Joshua Redman. (The Brad Mehldau Trio -- with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard -- holds down the core of the album. Redman and Chamberlain are guests, as is the chamber orchestra, conducted by Dan Coleman.)
Advance music for the record should be going out soon. I’m looking forward to hearing it again, and to tracking the ripples of response. Frankly I’m shocked that word of this collaboration didn’t leak at any point within the last year. There’ll be more on this project, in this space, fairly soon. Service note, meanwhile: Mehldau will be at the Highline Ballroom, playing solo piano in a benefit for Jazz Reach, on Jan. 14.
Update: Hear here.
I haven’t heard much noise around the recent news that Wolfgang’s Vault, the online concert repository, has acquired the rights to recordings from the most glorious years of the Newport Jazz Festival. This surprises me a bit. The initial batch of music, available as a free stream or reasonably priced download, consists of full sets by Dakota Staton, the Count Basie Orchestra (with Joe Williams and Lambert, Hendricks & Ross), and Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, all from 50 years ago. As Ben Ratliff notes in the piece linked above: “There are chillingly good performances in the 1959 crop, from half-inch three-track tapes mixed for stereo, made with stage microphones that pick up the nuances of the drums and the growls of the band members.” And more, much more, is apparently on the way.