“Put another nickel in, in the nickelodeon/ All I want is loving you/ And music, music, music”.
I remember my mother singing this song when I was a child. I think it was a chart song in the 1950’s sung by Teresa Brewer. I include it here not simply out of nostalgia but because it gives me a way into this post which is about my recent adventures in music; this starts with a recording I have been revisiting lately. The album ‘Come On Home’ recorded by Boz Scaggs in 1997. I first heard Boz singing his big hit ‘Lowdown’ which came at the height of his fame and the album it came from (Silk Degrees) led to a series of quite similar recordings for the Columbia label and propelled Boz from relative obscurity to pop stardom.
But to cut a very long story short William Royce Scaggs had a long career before the ‘big time’ (this ‘dues paying’ on various albums is amply demonstrated by the great compilation ‘My Time’ on the Columbia Legacy label). After the fame of the Columbia years he decided on a short hiatus before he was encouraged back into the studio by executives at Virgin Records in the USA who were fans of his music. This led to the recording of the album ‘Some Change’ with ex Beach Boys drummer Ricky Fataar, and this was followed by ‘Come On Home’. It is not really a ‘comeback’ album but its readings of classic blues and soul songs with a crack band really struck a chord with me – and nerd that I am I can even remember the record shop in Poulton in Fylde in Lancashire where I bought the CD!!
These versions could easily be a sort of karaoke but in the hands of this singer and this band they both find a new voice and send the listener back to the originals. For example; the reading of T- Bone Walker’s ‘T- Bone Shuffle’ on this album sent me back to the exemplary 4 CD set of Walker’s early recordings ‘The Original Source’ which was available on Proper Music. But back to Come On Home; there are the understated horns (some arranged by Willie Mitchell), great guitar by the leader himself and the catalogue of songs from ‘Tell Me Nothin’ But The Blues’ and Jimmy Reed’s ‘Found Love’ to a reading of the song ‘Love Letters’ (which I’m sure I remember in a version by Ketty Lester from 1962!). I would recommend anything that Boz has done (his two jazz albums ‘But Beautiful’ and ‘Speak Low’ are also worth seeking out!). He is a fine musician still recording and touring in his own right and with Donald Fagen and Michael McDonald in the Dukes of September touring band.
Now, from a fine American musician to English jazz rock of a particular vintage. I have admired Neil Ardley’s album ‘Kaleidoscope of Rainbows’ ever since I owned a vinyl copy back in the 1970s when it came out. I have recently discovered two of his earlier recordings ‘A Symphony of Amaranths’ and ‘Harmony of the Spheres’. Both recordings are symphonic jazz of a high order, the first featuring the eccentric poet Ivor Cutler reading one of Edward Lear’s ‘nonsense’ poems (‘The Dong with the Luminous Nose’) over a richly textured backing, Norma Winstone’s winsome vocals and fast boppish sections. The novelist Jonathan Coe (also a fan of this record) described it in a recent article in the New Statesman as music that recalls “Vaughan Williams more than Duke Ellington”. The second is a smaller group affair (with Ian Carr’s Nucleus) mixing electronic and acoustic instruments and voices, and featuring John Martyn showing a (for me) undiscovered power as an electric guitarist.
I have always thought that American jazz rock fusion had strong urban roots influenced as it is by musicians like Sly Stone whereas the English variety has a much more classical/ pastoral root. This is shown by Neil Ardley’s music but also by Ian Carr’s recordings both with Nucleus and after – particularly on the album ‘Old Heartland’ where an electric/ acoustic small group is augmented by a string ensemble. In the 1970’s jazz fusion was my way into the riches of jazz in general, there was something about its muscular power and speedy improvisational facility that moved me, and you could dance to it (at a pinch!). It may have turned out to be then, in the words of one critic “a cul de sac on a road that did not need to be resurfaced” but it has remained remarkably durable in terms of musical power and invention. Notable players like John McLaughlin and the excellent Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith have recorded in fusion settings, and there is master drummer Billy Cobham, the Brazilian composer Eumir Deodato, Bob James and David Sanborn – all of whom came to prominence in the jazz rock era and whose recordings have worn really well indeed.
Maybe it is the fate of people of my age that they return to the music they listened to as young people, whilst that may be true I have found that the best music travels with you, constantly renewing itself and revealing fresh insights and enjoyment. This applies equally to Bessie Smith and Blood, Sweat and Tears, to Duke Ellington and Labi Siffre, to Bach, Bruch and The Beatles. Whether in the grooves of a vinyl, or read from a disc or heard from somewhere in the cloud music is a reliable companion. As someone once said a long time ago “let those who have ears, listen”!