Monday, May 9, 2011



Beginning and ending today, I am going to institute a new series on this blog called “MUSIC MONDAYS”. The point of this exercise is to just write some stuffs on the fly about my love of music and how I became mo’ better musically educated. This installment has to do with Jazz and drumming.

I realize now that I screwed up my life; I was meant to become a musician (a Hammond B-3 player in the mold of Brian Auger), but for a variety of reasons, I went in other directions, where I had less talent. Yeah, I made a mess of this life, but to steal a line from Ed Wood Jr., “my next one will be better”.

In 1981, Ralph Bakshi released an animated movie titled “American Pop”. It was the story of a music-loving family of Jews in Russia and how the family eventually emigrates to the United States. The movie’s slogan was: “All those years, all those dreams, all those sons . . . one of them is going to be a star.”

I saw the movie with my buddy Marty – both of us at the time dreaming of someday becoming stars of stage and screen. Years later, Marty was killed by a car thief and I became an unnoteworthy blogger. But Marty and I dug “American Pop” and saw it multiple times in the theatre (because back then one couldn’t own movies and watch them at home any ol’ time they wanted to).

I later made a large oil painting for Marty of the character “Big Pete”, when he is experiencing all that intense emotional pain while the song “Summertime” is being sung.

Below is a video clip showing one of our favorite parts of the movie, when “Little Pete” grows into a seriously cool badass, and takes that dog by the ears and gives it a good yank. Little Pete takes a liability and turns it into an asset and, unexpectedly, he’s the one whose love of music culminates in stardom.

Marty, being Jewish, liked how Little Pete was digging the Hebrew prayer and picked up on its rhythm. I like how Big Pete makes that “See ya” James Dean hand gesture at the 2:50 mark:

I purchased the “American Pop” soundtrack LP in 1981, which was a compilation of songs, most of them of the Rock ‘N’ Roll variety. But included in the track listing was the song “Take Five” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. In a way, this was my introduction to pure Jazz.

In truth, while growing up, there were some Jazz albums in my house, since my Pa loved Nat King Cole and Dinah Washington and my Ma played Cannonball Adderley’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” to death. And although I liked that Cannonball Adderley number, I never really thought of Jazz as a legitimate form of music because, being young and stupid, I believed that music was supposed to be mostly loud and fast with lots of screaming guitars.

I already had a Jazz/Rock fusion album in my collection, having discovered Brian Auger’s live version of the Wes Montgomery tune “Bumpin’ On Sunset” a few years earlier. But in listening to that “American Pop” soundtrack repeatedly something began to happen. I came to discover that there just seemed to be more complexity to the Jazz tune than to any of the Rock songs; it was more textured and more interesting. And then of course there was that indescribably quirky drum solo in the middle of it by a guy I later learned was named Joe Morello.

Over time, “Take Five” became my favorite track on the album and I believe that was probably the point where I first really began contemplating the idea that there existed other genres of music beyond the Rock category which were worth exploring. Furthermore, Joe Morello would eventually become my all-time favorite drummer.

It would take years for it to happen, but I gradually moved away from Rock music and gravitated toward other forms like Blues and Jazz, until now, Jazz is by far my favorite type of music. And I have been known to say that “‘Take Five’ is the ‘Stairway To Heaven’ of Jazz”.

About a month ago I was listening to a Jazz sampler CD that I had purchased specifically for the track “All The Cats Join In” by Buck Clayton, when a song came on and I caught myself thinking: Damn, that drummer is really good! So, I glanced at the cover and wouldn’t you know it? It was the Dave Brubeck Quartet with Morello pounding the skins. I shoulda known.

Then I decided it was time to buy a new Dave Brubeck Quartet CD and I settled on “At Carnegie Hall”. Hokey-Smoke! Is this the best live album ever? I’d always thought Van Morrison’s “It’s Too Late To Stop Now” got that honor, but it might now be de-throwned in my mind.

On the second disc, Joe Morello performs an approximately ten-minute drum solo that Dave Brubeck himself calls “Nothing short of amazing.” And Morello was even suffering from a flu bug at the time. I found the solo at YouTube but the sound quality was not good enough to do the solo justice so I have decided not to post it here. I suggest that you just consider buying the album.

My favorite drummers? Well, Morello’s at the top, of course, because he had such a quirky, creative rhythmic sense, but other names that spring immediately to mind are Gene Krupa, Art Blakey, Tony Brock, and the famous session drummer Steve Gadd (again because of a quirky style).

Something I discovered back in 1981 was that Joe Morello’s odd style of drumming seemed to convey a sense of humor at times. For example, that 4-part drumroll he plays at the 3:05-3:08 point in “Take Five” used to make me literally laugh out loud. Now it only makes me smile because I’ve heard it like eleventy thousand times:

And I find another humorous moment in the live at Carnegie Hall version of “Pennies From Heaven” (does any song “swing” more than this one does?) At the 7:43 mark, Morello begins playing a series of drum fills. Between 8:30 and 8:36 he pauses for two or three seconds right in the middle of a drum fill, as if to say, “You know it’s coming - wait for it . . .” Ha! This guy drums “funny”.

If Joe Morello was this creative on just a basic 1963 drum kit, can you even imagine what he might have done on one of these eleventy-thousand-piece drum kits of today?

Another thing I surprisingly discovered while exploring Jazz is that, although I had previously assumed only Rock music was capable of expressing power and fury due to the screaming electric guitars, in fact some Jazz did the very same thing, only through the use of different instruments. For instance, I once wrote that Benny Goodman’s "SING, SING, SING" combines the energy of Punk Rock with the musicianship of real musicians! Check this out and tell me if you really think it takes a back seat to the Clash or the Sex Pistols in the “Energy” category. [That's the great Gene Krupa on drums]:

I can distinctly remember a Summer night when I was a young teenager, standing on the front porch of the house where I grew up; kids were playing out in the street and my Mom was sitting on the porch listening to Vin Scully announce a Dodger game through a transistor radio, when I had this thought: I don’t want to die anytime soon because I haven’t heard Deep Purple’s “Machine Head” album enough times yet.

A typically silly teenage thought, right? Well, the other day, I thought to myself: I don’t want to die anytime soon because I haven’t heard “The Dave Brubeck Quartet At Carnegie Hall” album enough times yet.

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome. However, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). After all, this isn’t, so I don’t have to put up with that kind of bovine excrement.


DiscConnected said...

Sadly, Bakshi never ascended to the heights he had reached with "Fritz The Cat."

I jest.

Not many people seem to know this film-I'd seen it as part of a three-movie Bakshi festival in the early 80's, and had forgotten all about it until I saw the VHS tape for rent a decade later.

I remember liking it, although the most entrenched memory is how the main character chooses to lower his sunglasses (with the bird finger).

The other films were "Wizards" and either "Lord Of The Rings" or "Heavy Metal."

I'd expect "American Pop" best stands the test of time.


Stephen T. McCarthy said...

I never saw "Fritz", although I've known about it for most of my life and often made (bad) jokes based on it. I'm guessing that it would probably turn up in a Word Search of my blogs. (Heck, maybe I'll give that a try.)

I saw "Wizards" when I was a teenager, and I've seen at least some portions of "Heavy Metal", but neither of those are in my wheelhouse.

Yeah, without doubt, "American Pop" is a more mainstream story than any of those other Bakshi projects. It ought to appeal to a large segment of Popular Music fans.

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

Martín said...

beutiful post!
do you know where i can find the soundtrack of the film?

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Thank you much, MARTIN!

As for the soundtrack... to the best of my knowledge, it was never released on compact disc (at least not in the U.S. anyway). I'm guessing that perhaps over time you might be able to find a used copy of it in the vinyl format selling at eBay or one of those types of sites.

All of the songs on the soundtrack are readily available by the original artists. (For example, one I can recall appearing on it was "Hell Is For Children" by Pat Benatar.) So, a person with an iPod could almost certainly recreate the soundtrack by downloading the songs individually and in order.

If you should ever find that the "American Pop" soundtrack does exist on CD (perhaps as an import or something), I'd appreciate it if you'd return and let me know about it.

Thanks again for the compliment!

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'