Soy Califa! On Dexter Gordon’s Life and Music: a review of Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon by Maxine Gordon (Alex Harvey, December 22, 2023, LA review of Books)

WHEN DEXTER GORDON played the role of Dale Turner, a fictional, self-destructive saxophonist living in Paris, for Bertrand Tavernier’s 1986 film Round Midnight, he drew on his experience as an African American jazz musician exiled to Europe. The emotional intensity of his performance gained Gordon an Oscar nomination, but it wasn’t straight autobiography. In the figure of Turner, Gordon created a composite persona, based on the stories of Black American artists, who had been marginalized in the United States and sought respite from the racism they had experienced. Writers such as James Baldwin and Chester Himes, along with jazz musicians like Sidney Bechet, Ben Webster, and Bud Powell, found not only deep respect for their artistic talent in Europe but also some refuge from white hostility. Gordon knew he had the ability and the chance to embody this experience in Round Midnight, as he acknowledged:

There was a sense of responsibility in this film. […] I felt like I represented all these hundreds of cats. Not that they’d all been to Europe, but they were all jazz musicians who’d paid their dues and got no admiration and got no remuneration. […] [W]e were able to enlarge the character of Dale Turner. There must have been 100 personalities in him. All my heroes.

Round Midnight reads like a valedictory statement, since Gordon died only four years later. But the story of Dexter Gordon isn’t only that of a long career spent exploring jazz’s possibilities, or a matter of honoring an extraordinary generation of musicians. To mark the centenary year of this great Black musician, one who was formed and nurtured in Los Angeles’s thriving African American jazz community of the mid-20th century, it is important to affirm Gordon’s continuing relevance. His story goes to the heart of contemporary America and the way “it embraces and also pushes away brilliant creative Black people,” as Maxine Gordon, scholar and widow of the musician, puts it in her 2018 book Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon.

He also has a turn in the best Crime Story arc–Moulin Rouge–which has one of the greatest endings in tv history.


On Rescuing a “Dead Art Form” — A Landmark Book on Opera in Performance (Joe Horowitz, 8/26/2018, Arts Journal)

During the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, when classical music was a lot more ­robust than nowadays, High Fidelity was the American magazine of choice for lay connoisseurs and not a few profes­sionals. Its opera expert, Conrad L. ­Osborne, stood apart. “C.L.O.” was self-evidently a polymath. His knowledge of singing was encyclopedic. He wrote about operas and their socio-cultural underpinnings with a comprehensive authority. As a prose stylist, he challenged comparisons to such quotable American music journalists as James Huneker and Virgil Thomson—yet was a more responsible, more sagacious ­adjudicator. In fact, his capacity to marry caustic dissidence with an ­inspiring capacity for empathy and high passion was a rare achievement.

Over the course of the 1980s, High Fidelity gradually disappeared, and so did C.L.O. He devoted his professional life to singing, acting and teaching. He also, in 1987, produced a prodigious comic novel, “O Paradiso,” dissecting the world of operatic performance from the inside out.

Then, a year ago, he suddenly ­resurfaced as a blogger, at ­—a voice from the past. Incredibly, the seeming éminence grise of High Fidelity was revealed to have been a lad in his 30s. And now, in his 80s, he has produced his magnum opus, Opera as Opera: The State of the Art—788 large, densely printed pages, festooned with footnotes and end­notes. It is, without question, the most important book ever written in English about opera in performance. It is also a cri de coeur, documenting the devastation of a single precinct of Western high culture in modern and post­modern times.

Essentially, Tom Wolfe on opera.


Interview: Why ‘Opera As Opera’ Author Conrad L. Osborne Asserts That Artform Is In Creative Decline (David Salazar, 12/23/18, OperaWire)

It all starts with the repertoire. Osborne posits that the main staples of the operatic canon start with the major works of Mozart and stretch through until the operas of Richard Strauss; he calls this the Extended 19th Century or “E-19 for short.” Osborne does note that many operas from before and after this period have become part of the repertoire, but in his view, these works are the ones that are part of the “renewable re-affirmability that sustain our operatic institutions.” Moreover, he notes that operas of this period showcase similarity of content in terms of the music, plot and themes they tell, even if there are marked differences of style throughout the period.

In his view, there is a general “flight from E-19” with new operatic creators placing more emphasis on theory and philosophy with regard to how the artform is created, de-emphasizing the narrative roots that were at the core of major staples.

In musical terms, he points to the “atonalists and serialists, creating a whole new language that forbid diatonic melody and sought to express things in different way.”

The idea was taken up by the musical intellectuals, pedagogues, and institutions, leading to the idea that “simple, expressive melodies” were outdated for expressive purposes.

“And if you did [use melodies], then it had to be so harmonically disguised that the listener couldn’t pick up on it anyway,” he added.

“That’s a central problem as far as opera is concerned,” Osborne further opined. “The singing-actor is the center of the operatic experience and characters are expressed through their individual vocal achievements. If you don’t have melody to sing or take advantage of how the voice has been developed over 400 years or so of operatic history, you don’t have much of anything at the center of the form’s expressive possibilities.”

He noted that the result is opera getting built up of other things.

“Modernism is built up of materials and structure. The content is not the subject. The subject is the materials.”

He referenced the idea that in modern art, the subject of the painting is not what is being depicted, but the paint and canvas itself. In music, the harmonic structures, rhythm, and instrumental timbre are given preponderance over melody in modernism.


People have been searching for this song from ‘The X-Files’ for 25 years. Until now (Erika Ryan, DECEMBER 13, 2023, ALL THINGS CONSIDERED)

It was in an episode from 1998 — season 6, episode 5, titled Dreamland II — that was the second part of a storyline where special agent Fox Mulder swaps bodies with an Area 51 employee. The scene in question takes place at a bar in Nevada where a country-western love song plays in the background.

Ancona said the lyrics were what grabbed her attention.

“The lyrics were so specific that, you know, they could obviously be interpreted as if they were singing to or about an alien or some extraterrestrial life or something that isn’t human,” she said.

Ancona tried an app on her phone to identify it. Nothing. When she looked up the lyrics, she came across other X-Files fans who had been searching for the same song – a mystery that had gone unsolved for 25 years.

She posed the question on X (formerly known as Twitter) and it exploded. Within days, Ancona got her answer.

just had the weirdest experience

was watching an X-files episode & there’s this country song playing in the background of the bar they’re in

& it’s so good it jars me out of my idle multitasking to Shazam it


— auntie cistamine (@laurenancona) December 5, 2023

Composer Rob Cairns came across the viral post and reached out to his friend who just so happened to be the co-writer behind that song, Dan Marfisi.

“He said, ‘You might want to check out this Twitter thread, and if you jump in, you will be a hero,'” Marfisi told NPR. “So I went and got my cape, and I logged on, and it was a party.”


Rick Rubin on taking communion with Johnny Cash and why goals can hurt creativity (Rachel Martin, 12/10/23, NPR: Enlighten Me with Rachel Martin)

Martin: Do you believe in God?

Rubin: Yes.

Martin: You do?

Rubin: Yes, yes, yes. Yes. I have a knowingness that there is a power greater than us that seems to animate everything. That’s how I would describe it. However this system works, this world that we’re in, this universe that we’re in, however it works, I don’t think it’s accidental.

I feel like there’s some creative energy behind it. We have help. When we’re making something beautiful, we have help. We’re not working alone.

Martin: I read that when you were producing Johnny Cash, near the end of his life, with his last albums, that you took communion with him. That was something that was important to him and you were enthusiastic about it.

Rubin: From the time he got sick, we did it every day. I said, “I’ve never done communion.” And he’s like, “Oh, it’s a beautiful practice. Let’s do it together.” And then we did it together in person the first time. And then I said, “Well, while you’re sick, should we just continue doing it every day?” And he’s like, “Great, let’s do it.”

So we started doing it every day. And then when we weren’t together, I would call him every day and he would say the words, and I would close my eyes. I didn’t have the wafer physically with me, but I visualized the whole thing. I listened to the words and I experienced it with him every day. And then, when he passed, I could still hear him doing it. And I continued doing it for another six months.

Martin: Wow. I think that would change a person. To do that. Because it’s not like saying a prayer with someone. I mean, it is a highly mystical Christian ritual whereby you imagine the wafer you’re eating is actually the body of Jesus Christ and the grape juice or the wine is the blood.

Rubin: Yes.

Martin: You’re not a Christian.

Rubin: No.

Matin: What effect did that have on you, sharing that with him?

Rubin: I’m a believer. And I got to share it with him, and he was a believer. And this was his way of believing. So I got to experience his way of believing with him. And it was beautiful and I truly believe it enriched my life. It’s not calculable how powerful it felt.


REVIEW: of Play All Night! by Bob Beatty (Charles Caramello, December 3, 2023, Washington Independent Review of Books)

Play All Night! instead weaves a complex story about Allman as a visionary “musician and band leader,” ABB as the vehicle and incarnation of his vision, and ABB’s performances at Fillmore East in March 1971 and the resulting live album At Fillmore East “the truest fulfillment” of it.

Beatty first tracks Duane through his apprenticeship with cover bands on the Southern circuit; his journeyman work with his band Hour Glass; his return to the South after a rough year in California; and his creation of the Allman Brothers Band. Beatty then tracks ABB through two years of fruitful touring and two studio albums (critical successes but commercial failures), to the seminal gig at Fillmore East and Duane’s death, on its heels, in a motorcycle accident. An epilogue traces ABB from its peak in the early 1970s through a low point in the 1980s and revival in 1989, to a second peak, with a fine new line-up, from 2001 to 2014.

In Duane’s vision, as Beatty portrays it, ABB would focus on “musical virtuosity” and on “individual expression through live improvisational music,” not on “chasing pop hits.” It would play countless (often free) concerts, using the stage, rather than the studio, as rehearsal space, and making “audiences an important part of the music.” And it would be egalitarian, each member having license in playing style and access to playing time, with Duane as “leader” but not frontman — “allies working together,” as Duane put it, “sharing a mutual love.”

As time has proven, ABB realized Duane’s vision of profoundly organic and communal music; “six musicians in deep, constant musical conversation in front of an appreciative audience,” in Beatty’s words. As Gregg Allman put it:

“We played for each other, we played to each other, and we played off each other.”

Such demanding, rigorous, and bold improvising, with each musician “staying in the moment while simultaneously anticipating where the music is headed,” when done right, resulted in “hittin’ the note,” the band’s term for the elusive moment, musical and spiritual, when all elements perfectly align.


How Musicians Invented the Antihero: In this section from my new book ‘Music to Raise the Dead’, I probe the hidden musical origins of Hollywood protagonists (TED GIOIA, NOV 29, 2023, Honest Broker)

[T]he musical connections of the antihero are more than just a matter of origins. In a very real sense, musicians stand out as the most powerful representatives of the antihero concept in popular culture. Back in the 1950s, Elvis Presley was a far more influential (and controversial) antihero than James Dean. In the 1960s, Mick Jagger shook up more people with his moral ambivalence than Clint Eastwood. A few years later, Sid Vicious and Kurt Cobain lived the antihero contradictions in ways that make Johnny Depp and Harrison Ford look like pretenders to the throne.

Just listen to the defining songs of these artists, from “Jailhouse Rock” to “Sympathy for the Devil” to “Anarchy in the U.K.,” and all those other antihero tunes still in non-stop rotation on playlists worldwide decades later, and consider their impact on the modern psyche. And it’s not just rock. Every music genre needed to find its own antiheroes to maintain relevance in the marketplace.

Country music fans called them outlaws and although this genre is supposedly a bastion of traditional values, its greatest legends are bad boys like Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash—who famously sang of killing a man in Reno “just to watch him die.” Or what about reggae and Bob Marley, who announced, in a famous song, that “I shot the sheriff.” And you couldn’t even begin to count the songs boasting about murder and violence in hip-hop and blues.

Robert Johnson is an antihero. Tupac Shakur is an antihero. Billie Holiday is an antihero. Even Glenn Gould is an antihero. Their mythos is as big as their music.

As the last example suggests, the songs themselves don’t need to be violent, or even have lyrics, to convey this ethos. If I had to pick the biggest musical antihero of all, I’d opt for trumpeter Miles Davis. Miles may have been famous for cool jazz, but was hot and intemperate in almost every other sphere of his life.

Yet that’s the paradox that drives the whole antihero meme, those simmering, unpredictable interchanges between fire and ice, sympathy and rage, the raw and the cooked. It’s the most potent persona in contemporary narrative, and it’s never lost its ties to music, although on the surface the two concepts—songs and antiheroes—appear to have nothing in common.


Shane MacGowan: a timeless voice for Ireland’s diaspora in England (Sean Campbell, 11/30/23, The Conversation)

MacGowan was born December 25 1957 in Kent, England (where his parents were visiting family), but spent his early years on a farm in County Tipperary. There, the youngster observed regular traditional Irish music sessions, which had – as his late mother Therese explained – “a tremendous influence on him”.

During the early 1960s, MacGowan relocated to London where his father had found work, precipitating what the singer called a “horrific change of life”. During this time, he would, he said, “cry [himself] to sleep” at night while “thinking about Ireland”.
He assuaged his homesickness by attending Irish social clubs and regularly visiting Ireland.

“Because there’s an Irish scene in London,” MacGowan later explained, “you never forget the fact that you originally came from Ireland. There are lots of Irish pubs, so there was always Irish music in bars and on jukeboxes. Then every summer I would spend my school holidays back in Tipperary.”

This experience of being raised in a migrant Irish environment would animate much of MacGowan’s work with The Pogues.

Despite securing a highly competed-for scholarship at Westminster (a prestigious private school), MacGowan was soon expelled for possessing drugs.
After a spell in London’s Bethlem Royal Hospital for alcohol and drug abuse, he took on work as a porter and barman. MacGowan’s interests became increasingly focused, though, on London’s emergent punk scene, at the centre of which was another second-generation Irish singer, John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten), the vocalist and lyricist for the Sex Pistols.

“I probably wouldn’t have been that interested if Johnny Rotten hadn’t been so bloody obviously Irish and made a big noise about it, and made such anti-English records,” Shane later observed.

MacGowan formed his own punk band, The Nips, who achieved moderate success before fragmenting in the early 1980s. During that period, Shane began to observe a turn towards “roots” music (later, “world music”) in London. This prompted him to take a radical change of direction. As the singer later explained: “I just thought … if people are being ‘ethnic’, I might as well be my own ‘ethnic’.”

With this in mind, MacGowan launched The Pogues in 1982, recruiting two other musicians of Irish descent, Cáit O’Riordan (bass) and Andrew Ranken (drums), alongside three non-Irish associates: Jem Finer (banjo), Spider Stacy (tin whistle) and James Fearnley (accordion).

The band forged a remarkable fusion of Irish folk and English punk, becoming what critics called “an unlikely meeting point between The Clancy Brothers and The Clash”.

I’m not singing for the future

I’m not dreaming of the past

I’m not talking of the first times

I never think about the last

The Pogues – A Rainy Night In Soho g via @YouTube


Historic Alliances Between Hip-Hop and Punk (Lemon Wire, 04/24/2017)

The earliest formation of what could be called a genuine punk movement (as opposed to earlier protopunk groups such as the MC5, New York Dolls, and the Stooges) began in Manhattan around 1974/75, revolving around a venue circuit of run-down bars like the CBGB. It came out of a working class movement of young people who were tired of the pretensions of arena rock and disco, a music culture that put music-making out of the hands of regular folk. So, when the Ramones, arguably the most influential punk band of all time, picked up their instruments and leather jackets in 1975, not a single one of them could really play their instruments.

Around the same time, DJ Kool Herc was spinning records at parties in the Bronx. He had been doing this for a bit already, his parties highly popular for his eclectic and niche taste in music- Herc would play the best dance music of the time, putting down records ranging from live James Brown records to Edgar Winter singles. After he started getting gigs DJ’ing Bronx clubs, he made a discovery that was potentially one of the most important in music history- he could set up the same record on two turntables, and loop the break-beat section of records. This process would be refined by Grandmaster Flash, who invented DJ’ing as we know it today, and by 1977, the Bronx had a holy trinity of DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Bambaataa spinning records in the underground. This early hip-hop scene mirrored the rebellious spirit and do-it-yourself attitude of the punk culture across the river.

By the late 70’s/early 80’s, after the Sugar Hill Gang had put out “Rapper’s Delight,” hip-hop groups were looking to expand out of the Bronx and into Manhattan, but the disco clubs wouldn’t have them. This was how first contact was made between the two genres- Grandmaster Flash had a friend who booked shows in Manhattan and was able to get Flash booked in the most unlikely of places- the punk bars. As it turned out, the punks were all about any music that was out of the norm and rebellious. Reportedly, Blondie was at this first show, and told Flash that she was going to write a song about him.

Not long after, in 1981, Blondie put out the single Rapture, which had the first video on MTV to ever feature rapping. One can see the influence on Flash and the Furious 5- in the video for “The Message,” released in 1982, Melle Mel can be seen sporting a very punk-esque outfit, complete with studded leather armbands.

This expansion of Hip-Hop into Manhattan led one punk to fall in love with hip-hop- Rick Rubin, founder of Def Jam records. Rubin produced several of Hip-Hop’s early records, and signed monolithic artists such as LL Cool J and Public Enemy. He was also responsible for pushing the Beastie Boys away from hardcore punk and into the realm of Hip-Hop.