Nov 262013

The wonderful South African jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim tells about the origin of his beautiful, meditative composition “Mannenberg” in the BBC video below. First we get to hear him playing a bit of it in a solo context. Then the camera follows the pianist into the New York jazz club Sweet Basil, where he performs the tune with his band Ekayah. Oh, why couldn’t I have been there that night?

I think if everybody listened to this song once in a while, the world would be a much more peaceful place.

On February 11, 2004–38 years after the the South African government rezoned District Six as a “whites-only” area–former president Nelson Mandela welcomed the first returning residents, Ebrahim Murat (aged 87) and Dan Ndzabela (82), and handed them their keys.

Apartheid Sign, District Six Museum, Capetown, South Africa

photo courtesy of Trip Advisor

District Six Memory Plaque, Capetown, S.A.

photo courtesy of 972 Magazine

Sep 132013
Thelonious Monk Big Band Rehearsing at the Jazz Loft for Historic Town Hall Concert, 1959 (photo by W. Eugene Smith

Thelonious Monk Big Band Rehearsing at the Jazz Loft for Historic Town Hall Concert, 1959 (photo by W. Eugene Smith)

Happy Friday the Thirteenth! I’ve long considered Friday the 13th to be a lucky day — among other things, my youngest son was born on a Friday the 13th. “Friday the Thirteenth” is also the title of one of my favorite Thelonious Monk compositions. I just learned today that saxophonist Steve Lacy, a Monk protege, compiled a list of his words of wisdom. Much food for thought here: Steve Lacy's list of Monkisms

Aug 112013

I was sorry to learn that the prolific pianist George Duke died this past week. I had the pleasure of seeing him live with Frank Zappa in the early ’70s. He played a lot of great music during his 67 ½ years.

Below is a video clip from a French television broadcast featuring a performance—starting at about the 1:14 mark—of “REDUNZL” (aka “RDNZL”) by one of Zappa’s greatest bands, including not only George Duke but also Ian Underwood (woodwinds), Bruce Fowler (trombone), Ralph Humphrey (drums), Tom Fowler (bass), Ruth Underwood (marimba), and Jean-Luc Ponty (violin). Not the best video quality, but it’s a nice taste of what Zappa’s music was like around the time of Studio Tan / Läther.

For a taste of George’s later work, here’s “My Piano” from his 2002 album “Face the Music”

Aug 032013

Denny McLain baseball card

I’ve known for years that Denny McLain, the phenomenal, controversial Detroit Tigers pitcher who won 31 games in 1968, was also an accomplished organist. Only recently have I heard his music, though — thanks to the video below of the fastballer at the keyboard on the Ed Sullivan Show.

As the late Atlanta Braves announcer Skip Caray might say, “Honesty compels me to report” that this video features one of the corniest arrangements of “Girl from Ipanema” ever. (My tastes run more to groove, funk, and jaw-dropping virtuosity.)

Still, though, you’ve got to give McLain credit. Just four days after he’d pitched Game 6 of the World Series on two days’ rest, en route to his team’s seven-game victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, here he is playing with his quartet on national TV — relaxed, confident, and zzzz… what was I saying? Oh yes, McClain’s quartet pulls off a flawless, if tepid, rendition of the bossa nova classic. Not only that, but Cardinals ace Bob Gibson joins McLain’s band toward the end of the video for a generic blues tune, strumming a few rhythm chords on an electric guitar (appropriately, a Gibson hollow-body).

Denny McLain Quartet, Ed Sullivan Show, 1968 - with special guest (

By the way, that same month the Hammond Times ran a nice story about the musical side of Denny McLain.

Today, McLain is apparently devoting most of his time to charitable events and occasionally writing for InPlay Magazine. His most recent book is I Told You I Wasn’t Perfect.

Denny, if you’re reading this, I wish you all the best — and I hope that you (and your lawyers) will take my good-natured ribbing in the playful spirit in which it was intended.

P.S. – Let me add that the autoharp is also a very nice instrument. Just sayin’.