SteelyFan Journals, Vol. 2

Tue 1-Feb-00 14:52

Heh heh heh. The other night I actually bought three CDs that are NOT Steely Dan-related. Well ... at least on the surface, they aren't. But all three of the bop/post-bop jazz classics I bought have Steely tie-ins of various sorts. So -- yeah, my addiction runs on, it's just leading to the harder stuff (so to speak).

Album the first: Horace Silver's "Song for My Father." In addition to it being a really kewl album that I'm liking lots, the title track gives the album the most direct Steely tie-in. Donald and Walter apparently lifted the opening piano riff of "Song For My Father" to be the opening piano riff of "Rikki Don't Lose That Number." [Editorial note: since writing this, I've read a quote from Donald in an interview saying the paraphrase of "Song for My Father" was completely unintentional; they were going for an Afro-Brazilian riff, and that's just what they wound up with. Soooo -- who knows? The riff sure sounds kewl, at any rate -- in both tunes.]

Albums the second and third: Coltrane's "Blue Train" and Davis' "Birth of the Cool." These two giants of jazz were some of Donald and Walter's childhood musical heroes. Growing up in the New York Metro area, both D&W; spend many hours absorbing such portions of the booming 50's and post-50's NYC jazz scene as were accessible to underage adolescents -- staying up late to listen to radio jazz jocks, subscribing to downbeat, sneaking into the Manhattan/Village jazz clubs, buying lotsa vinyl. Jazz was one of D&W;'s major bonding things when they first met at Bard College in '67 -- besides their love for Beat authors, early 60's R'n'B, and smart-ass ironic humor.

As I've been reading up more and more on Donald and Walter's opinions on music, theirs and others, I'd been struck by how very very few white rock performers they care for (basically they seem to have little use for anything out of the 60's other than Bob Dylan and The Band), and how much they trace their roots and inspiration to Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, the other bop/post bop jazzers; and then such pop antecedents as Lieber&Stoller; (two white guys who wrote loads of black R&B; hits for groups like the Coasters and the Drifters--remember "Under the Boardwalk"? "Rose of Spanish Harlem?" "They say the lights are always bright on Broadway?" Those dudes).

Anyhoo, so I'm dying for other music to listen to that pleases me as much as the Dan, and my Dan listening is making it increasingly difficult for me to listen to any other pop music without noticing that there's only three chords in the whole song and they're all built on a triad and it's all in the same key -- in other words, my pop-music brain has been temporarily spoiled. :-) So, my current antidote is to check out some of the music the Guyz have actually recommended in interviews -- including the jazz. At least with Trane and Miles I'm being spared the I-IV-V chord changes.

Sat 26-Feb-00 15:32

The Dan events are beginning to escalate as the 2/29 release date approaches.

This evening (2/26), KMTT will be airing a "World Premiere" broadcast that's apparently been syndicated to a bunch of similar "AAA" (Adult Alternative Album?) stations. This 90-minute special is supposed to feature all sorts of songs from the new album, plus commentary by Don and Walt.

Earlier today I was able to catch the first half of an interview-documentary on the Dan broadcast and webcast by BBC-2 radio. This first show concentrated on their first four albums--plus typical commentary/repartee by the Guyz. (Sample: since Duke Ellington passed away right after they released a cover of his "East St. Louis Toodle-oo," they joked that they were "racked with guilt" because they apparently hastened his demise.) Second half is to be broadcast next Saturday.

The Seattle-area broadcast of the PBS "In the Spotlight" special has finally turned up--on KBTC, Tacoma, Channel 28, of all places. Don't know what ails KCTS that they can't bring themselves to broadcast it. Oh well. KBTC will be showing it March 7 at 8:30 and March 17 at 9:30.

Not to be outdone, NPR's "All Things Considered" featured Don and Walt being interviewed by a chuckling Linda Wertheimer, who seemed to be delighted yet bemused as the Guyz proceeded to do their interview-tagteam thang with her (suggesting renaming their PBS special "Mutually Assured Deconstruction," etc. etc.).

And for awhile it looked like Letterman's surprise heart surgery had put the scheduled Dan appearance on his show into limbo. But as y'all have noticed, Dave has snapped back remarkably quickly, and the Dan have been rescheduled to appear on the March 3 show. Apparently Dave wanted to make for damn sure that it was he and not a guest-host who had the privilege of showcasing the Dan. No idea which song off of 2vN the Guyz will play--I have fan-friends taking bets.

Meanwhile ... I have acquired my very own pre-release copy of the CD (mailed to me under most peculiar circumstances by a friend who swore me to silence). It is faaaaabulous. Direct extension of everything they've done before, and at the same time an order of magnitude even more jazz-influenced. Walter does *lots* of guitar soloing, along with the usual pack of session pros. Donald's singing has continued to mature and develop--he's got some incredible phrasing going on. And the songs ... the songs ... this is some of their most sophisticated songwriting yet, IMO.

But I'm still gonna be cropping up at the CD store on Tuesday, to get an Official Copy of the CD, if for no other reason than to give the Guyz their well-earned royalties. Oh yeah, and to get all the liner notes so I can figure out who the #$*& is playing what on which track. And to decipher some of the more cryptic lyrics. Yes, the Guyz still do cryptic lyrics. Some traditions you don't mess with.

Sun 27-Feb-00 14:08

That syndicated radio special KMTT broadcast last night was definitely a mixed bag--but the good parts of the mix more than redeemed the mediocre parts.

The mediocre parts could all be ascribed to the interviewer--yet another lame-ass hack who plied Don and Walt with unimaginative to purely stoopid questions. The one about whether there was any occult meaning to there being a 20-year gap in their recording career and Walter's birthday being February 20th was a real beaut--even if meant as a joke, it was a lame-ass joke. The Guyz of course gave it short shrift--after she had droned on awhile, Donald broke in and asked if she had been born in California or something.

Don and Walt also took other opportunities to do their usual "running rings around hapless interviewer" routine, so she at least provided them with a foil. But I keep yearning for someone to get them rolling on meaningful topics, because the few times I've seen a good interviewer succeed in this, they've let loose with all kinds of fascinating stuff about music, technique, process--just amazing material.

Anyhow, the show did feature a bunch of cuts from the new album that had not yet been broadcast, so that would have been a major plus for the majority of fans who hadn't lucked into a pre-release copy. But for me, the biggest plus was the inclusion of three live cuts from the yet-to-be-broadcast PBS special. Oh. my. god. The band they have assembled for that show is just incredibly, astonishingly hot. I was astounded and blown away. They played "Black Friday," "Cousin Dupree," and "Kid Charlemagne," and they all cooked at about a zillion degrees. And this is pretty much the band they're going to tour with this summer. I had been definitely looking forward to the tour before, but now I'm anticipating a Major Religious Experience.

Tue 7-Mar-00 16:14

And you can get a preview of said Major Religious Experience tonight--KBTC, Channel 28 (dunno what it is on cable)--8:30 pm, they'll be broadcasting the PBS Special.

The highlight of my Dan-oriented vacation in NYC this past weekend was watching this special (taped off the 3/1 New York broadcast) in the apartment of Pete Fogel, official tour photographer for the Dan, and his partner The Lovely Shari.

Pete and Shari's apartment is fondly known as The Shrine, because over the years Pete has amassed not only a huge amount of beautiful photographs he has taken of Don & Walt and Company in action (some of which have been used as liner art for the live album "Alive in America"), but also audio and video tapes of shows (he's also worked for years as a nightclub booking agent, which is how he first met Donald) and all sorts of other memorabilia. For one example: a hand-written arrangement of "Josie" written out by Donald when he started performing it again in small NYC clubs in the late '80s/early '90s.

So, after a wonderful dinner in a French restaurant in the Village, we congregate at the Shrine, settle down before Pete 'n' Shari's huge honking video/stereo system, and proceed to be blown away for the next 90 minutes.

Okay, so I'd had a little wine and a little herbal enhancement, so I was somewhat more, ahem, vulnerable to stimuli than usual. But that alone would not account for how I found myself sitting there pressed into the sofa as if pinned by a multi-g force, clutching the leather and muttering various imprecations under my breath. I now not only understand why those lucky bastards who got to be in the audience for this show were left nigh speechless with awe -- I find myself wondering how they managed to not spontaneously combust on the spot.

The band the Guys have assembled is so amazingly, incredibly hot and tight. The arrangements, the playing, the groove they were in for that show--they have achieved their apotheosis as the Jazz/Funk/Blues Band of the Universe. The new folks, the old folks--perfection. Loved Jon Herington--he's a peach. Loved Chris Potter--so smooth and fast. LOVED the BG singers--fabulous voices, terrific blend, whole lotta soul, all that and good looks too!

And both Walter and Donald were so on. Walter kept peeling off these fabulous stone-blues type solos, rocking gently back and forth in his kinda zen-trance way (playing an especially gorgeous-looking Sadowsky Strat, by the way). In my eyes his guitar-playing is now fully justified and righteous.

And Donald ... oh. my. god.

What is that transformation that comes over that man when he gets up on stage? The unleashing of the inner Wild Jazz-Hipster Child or something? My friends who got into the live taping described it as "Donald's channeling Ray Charles." That captures some small part of it -- he tends to rock back and forth at the Fender Rhodes while playing in a very Ray Charles-ian way. But there's more to it than that, much more. Whatever it is, it absolutely was knocking me back into that sofa, knocking me back into another damn universe; I could have sat there for five years just watching Donald bopping up to the microphone to croon each new line, rocking at the Rhodes, prowling around with the keytar, punching his fist in the air to conduct the band, takin' care of bidness, gettin' it done ...

I was in ecstasy. I was breaking a sweat. I felt like I needed to smoke a cigarette after the tape was over.

(Whew. Let me catch my breath here ... )

The video, while mainly given over to the performance itself (beautifully shot with lots of moody lighting and oblique-angle camera work), also featured some interesting bits of interviewing. I could have done without the interviews with often-lamebrained persons on the street (one of whom thought the Dan had done "The Year of the Cat"), but there are some interview bits with Don&Walt; that have them in their signature form. And there's one hysterical running bit featuring none other than the aforementioned Pete Fogel. Walter and Donald interview Pete for a change, and Pete, bless his ornery New Yorker heart, dishes out to the Guys a taste of their own medicine, to the point where Walter actually is reduced to stuttering at one juncture. Now that takes some talent.

In sum: you gotta watch this thing. If not tonight, then when they run it again on the 17th. Trust me--you'll be glad you did.

To be continued ...