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My collection of jazz essays finally published, and I’m excited for you to read it. It’s an ebook called This Is and includes essays about the talent and tragedy of saxophonist Hank Mobley, the untold story of lost pianist Jutta Hipp, the creative influence of drugs and sobriety as seen through the film The Connection, the on-stage murder of trumpeter Lee Morgan, a close listen to Mile’s Davis’ song “So What” across ten years of its evolution, the scores of unreleased music in the Blue Note vault, as well as other stories of joy, genius and struggle. I designed the cover from William Gottlieb’s archival photographs, and Publishing Genius’ Adam Robinson generously did the layout.

You can buy it here, online.

Cover, final, jpg

Here’s what a few of my favorite writers said about it:

“The richness of the eight essays in Aaron Gilbreath’s This Is is a fitting tribute to the richness of jazz itself. Gilbreath weaves unique insight with a profound understanding of the history of jazz. His crisp prose and diverse range make you want to turn the page and run to the record store in equal measure.” -Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist

“Aaron Gilbreath’s writing about jazz is as friendly and welcoming as any you’ll find.” -Luc Sante, author of Low Life and Kill All Your Darlings

“Aaron Gilbreath writes about Jutta Hipp and Miles Davis and Lee Morgan and Jackie McLean and others long gone with curiosity: he lines up the questionable historical record with what’s knowable and provable, and finds out where the lessons are.” –New York Times jazz and pop critic Ben Ratliff, author of Coltrane: The Story of a Sound and The Jazz Ear: Conversations over Music

“Aaron Gilbreath is an outstanding jazz writer, with a deep appreciation for the music’s tradition and an engaging prose style.” -Ted Gioia, author of The History of Jazz and Delta Blues

“In these vivid, affectionate essays, Aaron Gilbreath moves in pure and distinct prose among stories and histories, moments and decades, mystery and clarity. His account of Jutta Hipp is one of the finest pieces I’ve read on the forgotten fringes of the music industry. This Is is an essential read for anyone who loves mid-century jazz culture and wonders about the dynamics of expression.” -Joe Bonomo author of Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones, America’s Garage Band and Jerry Lee Lewis: Lost and Found

 

 

I hope you dig the book!

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I wrote a longform story about the Sacramento instrumental band the Tiki Men. They came up in the 1990s, during the West Coast surf music revival, and they recorded two of the best 45s in the genre I’ve ever heard, just pure, powerful, catchy. The guitar tone is epic.

Below are the opening graphs. You can read the rest of the story, and see previously unpublished photos, here at Medium.

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In 1958, when guitarist Link Wray poked pencil holes in his amplifier to record the song “Rumble,” he was only trying to muddy his guitar tone. Link’s impromptu modification ended up creating a distortion-heavy brand of rock and roll that not only paved the way for punk rock, heavy metal, the Who, you name it, but also lifted the lowly rock instrumental, or “instro,” into the popular consciousness, fueling a style that thrives to this day. What Coltrane is to jazz and Howlin’ Wolf is to blues, Link is to rock in general, and so-called surf instrumentals in particular.

Bob Dylan knew this when he called “Rumble” “the greatest instrumental ever.” John Lennon went further and said, “Gene Vincent and Link Wray are the two great unknowns of rock and roll.” The irony? “The only reason I was doing instrumentals,” Link once said, “was because I couldn’t sing.” He’d lost a lung to tuberculosis contracted during the Korean War, which made it hard to catch his breath.

In early 1993, Scott Miller, Micah Kennedy, and Pete Husing, three friends in Sacramento, CA, went to see the Phantom Surfers play Old Ironsides, a small down- town club that was also the center of what little garage scene then existed in California’s capital. Pete, a guitar player, had suggested the show. Even though Scott and Micah were longtime music obsessives whose broad tastes included everything from pop to the Kinks, John Fahey to Blue Cheer, Pete was the sole surf music fan of the group. For Scott, a drummer, the show proved revolutionary.

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masthead At The Believer, I talked visual art, music and making things with Shannon Shaw of Shannon and the Clams, Greer McGettrick from The Mallard, and Hannah Lew of Cold Beat. These are smart, talented musicians who offer many fascinating insights into the creativity and creative cycles. You can read it here.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA HANNAH LEW: I think abstracting on our reality and making our own shapes out of our feelings and responses to our world is vital to our understanding. If we don’t include our emotional responses to things into our vocabulary about our temporal existence, we can’t really move forward as a society. You can get away with confronting a lot of taboo subject matter within the realm of abstraction and reproduction that you can’t in normal dialogue. There is a lot of truth telling by way of telling lies, which is all an artist is really ever doing.

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I’m working on another essay involving mid-century jazz and the Blue Note label — this one involving organist Jimmy Smith and record company vaults, for The Threepenny Review — so I wanted to toss out links to some interesting, related video clips. One is an interview with engineer Rudy Van Gelder, one of the most important people in modern music, period. Nearly every jazz session on Blue Note, he was in the room taping it, countless sessions for Verve and Prestige, too. When you hear the warmth and richness of Coltrane’s “Blue Train” and Hank Mobley’s “Soul Station,” it’s because of Rudy. When you hear every fine detail of a jazz drummer’s brushes, or every crystaline note on Kenny Burrell’s guitar — and when Jimmy Smith’s organ sounds neither overdriven or like a chirping circus tent nightmare — we have Rudy to thank. He is, without question, the Coltrane of the control room.

Clip from the Blue Note “Perfect Takes” DVD:

Then there’s this short oddity, about Blue Note in general. Shake what nature gave you:

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To celebrate the publication of the first section of my second novel, “Run Chicken Run,” at storySouth, here are some of the songs that inspired it: Link Wray’s “Vendetta,” “The Fuzz,” “Pancho Villa” and Link’s best vocal track, “Hidden Charms.” Like so many things in my creative life, Link provided the drive and soundtrack to this project, which is still ongoing. Now that there’s an excerpt published, though, I should probably get back to work on this novel; it can’t be the forever forthcoming novel forever. Endless thanks to editors Terry L. Kennedy and Drew Perry for taking a chance on it and for their careful reading and edits. Time for some fuzz:

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To celebrate the release of Mark Yarm‘s epic book, Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge, and my review of it for Paste magazine, here’s The Scientists’ epic swamp dirge blues, a taste of the Australian sound that fueled Mudhoney’s and so many more after:

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