Today’s must-reads from around the Internet.
If you can’t quite put your finger on why things are feeling more wintry on Kempt all of a sudden, we’d like to direct your attention to our left column.
Because we’ve just updated our must-haves with a fresh crop of seasonal necessities. We’ve got you covered on everything for outfitting yourself, your walls and your state of mind (a few might require a little creativity). But most of all, they’re here to serve as inspiration for the colder months to come.
Jazz musicians are known for being a dapper and frequently recorded bunch, which is why becoming one of the most-recorded and best-dressed jazz musicians alive is no mean feat. And Ron Carter managed to do it all while standing behind an upright bass.
He came to fame as part of Miles Davis’s Second Great Quintet (where one Herbie Hancock also got his start)—and went on to record some 2,500 records on the double bass. Along the way, he played with everyone from Eric Dolphy to A Tribe Called Quest, won acclaim as a cellist, composed about 140 songs, taught at CUNY and Juilliard, and—just for good measure—developed a custom blend of pipe tobacco.
They were pillars of the modernist aesthetic (and sound) that’s been experiencing a renaissance lately—from the show Mad Men to that credenza your favorite Tumblr just posted a few minutes ago—Brubeck for creating a new offbeat-but-on-beat sound and Niemeyer for bending concrete into curvaceous monuments. And we’d like to take a moment to salute these visionaries who helped shape styles that still influence our lives to this day. Farewell, gentlemen—it’s been a good-looking run.
We hesitate to spend too much time parroting in and around Margaritaville these days, but we’ll say this for Jimmy Buffett: he knew his mustaches.
We’re thinking of Mr. Buffett’s 1974 “Pencil Thin Mustache,” in which the narrator looks back nostalgically on the suave, caddish heroes he aspired to be as a child. We’ve been fans of the tune for a long time, and yet have always seemed to struggle, like Passat drivers do with “Rocket Man,” to understand some of the references. Buffett assures us this is typical of our generation. “The thing about writing a song like this is that the older you get, the more people there are who need an explanation of the characters in the song.”
So we thought we’d provide just that…
The short-lived Nat King Cole show arrived on iTunes yesterday and, along with a classic example of mid-50s tailoring, it offered us a reminder of one of the great class acts of the era. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Nat King Cole…
If you’re on the shortlist for best guitarist of all time, you’re more or less guaranteed a few style devotees. But in the case of a certain clotheshorse gypsy jazz guitarist, that’s actually good news. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Django Reinhardt…
Count on Tom Waits to dig up both an all-but disappeared species of creole jazz and an all-but-disappeared record player to play it on. Sometimes, you just have to go for the full anachronism.
As part of a benefit for Preservation Hall in New Orleans, Tom Waits teamed up with the house band for a recording of two classic Mardi Gras chants circa 1947, but they’re only being sold as limited edition 78-rpm records, just like back in the day. If you spring for the deluxe package, they’ll even throw in a custom-made 78-rpm phonograph to play it on. It might be the crown jewel of a vinyl culture based on tactile authenticity…or just a really cool party favor.
For the decade or so before rock took off, jazz musicians were the epitome of subculture cool. (Not coincidentally, it was also the heyday of the porkpie hat.) Everyone knows Miles (even if we prefer his later phase), but AskMen’s recent roundup reminded us that his piano man was no slouch either.
The pianist in question is Bill Evans, the subject of a fair amount of recent obsession. The slicked-back hair and buttoned-up polo are both documents of the era, but our favorite part of this particular picture is the shades, which have since popped up on Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen more than a few times. With summer coming up, picking up a similar pair might not be a bad idea.
Piano lessons are optional.
Speaking of American classics, another one is coming up on its 50th anniversary. We’re talking about *Kind of Blue*, Miles Davis’ masterwork and the odds-on favorite for the greatest jazz album of all time. The album saw Davis working with arguably the best band of his career—including Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderly, and John Coltrane, for a start—exploring modal sketches to work out a new kind of downbeat jazz.
We’ve gushed about Miles Davis before, but fifty years down the line, it’s interesting to consider the album as a document of 1959. It was a bestseller on release, even though it cut against the grain of Eisenhower-era culture. The world of the gray flannel suit wasn’t available to Davis and his bandmates, and the new freedoms they were opening up were entirely musical, but they still looked more attractive than life in Connecticut. As mainstream America got less and less happy with the suburban dream, this was the sound of the underground.
While suit-makers look increasingly towards the accountants and ad men of the 50s and 60s, it’s amazing to think they’re overlooking one of the best subcultures of the era. Forget the twenties: the fifties and sixties were the real jazz age.
Miles Davis speaks for himself, but a whole generation of icons stood along with him, ditching the porkpie hats and traditional chord structures in favor of a new kind of music and a new kind of style. Taschen did us a favor rounding up 500 pages worth of album covers for their appropriately named *Jazz Covers*. We can’t think of a better window into the age…other than the albums, that is.
When the great Miles Davis was assembling his quintet in 1955 and chose a troubled young saxophonist named John Coltrane over more established and experienced players, many assumed the partnership wouldn’t last. While Davis was a reserved, dapper aesthete born to achievement, Coltrane was cut from coarser cloth but no less of a musical genius for that. Surely two such outsized talents were bound to clash, especially with the specter of Coltrane’s drug use looming overhead.
There were no pyrotechnics apart from the musical variety however, note Farah Jasmine Griffin and Salim Washington, authors of an illuminating book due out next week, Clawing at the Limits of Cool: Miles Davis, John Coltrane and the Greatest Jazz Collaboration Ever—because “Coltrane was too humble, and Miles was simply too cool.” And thank god for it, or they might never have gotten around to laying down *Kind of Blue*.
Duke Ellington dubbed him the “Maharajah of the Keyboard” and Count Basie said he played “the best ivory box I’ve ever heard,” while Ray Charles simply called him “one motherfucking piano player!” Oscar Peterson, one of the all-time jazz greats, died at the age of 82 over the holidays, and we here at Kempt can’t help but be saddened by the passing of man who provided the soundtrack to some of our most memorable moments.
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