Saturday, April 30, 2011

Underground Composer Meets King of Vanity Press

This is a survivor from my 2nd record collection - one of the 20 or so I grabbed to take with me when I moved to Brooklyn from Selden. Most of the others had water/mildew damage (half of the ones I salvaged had to come sans jackets). This was perhaps the only one I chose not for sentimental or musical reasons, but for it's possible value: on the back is an autograph by the composer.

I picked this up before I was 20, and did not have an ear for modern composition. I was also presumptuous and narrow-minded, and thought this must have belonged to the composer himself (or his most devoted fan)... since there was all this extra typewritten material inside with press reviews of the album. I was not the pointiest sharpie in the pencil cup back then. All I needed to do was read the autograph.

"To Ed Uhlan - maybe he'll publish me some day?! All my best wishes, Richard Yardumian Dec '66"

While perusing through my modest vinyl collection the other day - I thought I'd give Mr. Yardumian another go, since my tastes and understanding have come a ways in the last 10 years. When I absorbed the autograph, and considered the 11 pages of press and analysis, I became a little alarmed. Had I intercepted this attempt by the composer to get his music to the masses? No - the date clears me of that crime. Also, if Yardumian had any knowledge of what type of publisher Uhlan was, then he might have saved  the press material for a better occasion.

Just who was Ed Uhlan? I had to find out! A quick google revealed him to be owner of Exposition Press, one of the 4 largest vanity publishers in the world. (In case you didn't know - vanity publishers print your book at your expense, and in most cases - that's about it. It seems that Uhlan went the extra mile and promoted it, and also printed it up to industry standards, and put effort into the design and craft). For a classical composer with 13 children, this was no contact at all - but more of a stinging letdown.

Nonetheless - the autograph (I still have no concept of it's value - although the album itself is going for a saucy $60 on ebay) introduced me to a couple of intriguing characters in the arts...and in Uhlan's case - a fascinating life story.

He grew up in Hell's Kitchen, the son of Ukrainian immigrants, becoming a bookbinder. His boss and job went under during the Great Depression. An industrious youth, Uhlan took the knowledge he picked up at the publisher's and went to the NYC Public Library. He found 600 poets who had recently been published and got their addresses. He then contacted them asking if they wanted to be a part of an anthology he was publishing. Inclusion meant they had to purchase a copy at $3. For $5.50 they could get 2 copies and their name on the cover in gold. This brilliance and intrepidity paid off - the poets were very happy with the book, and 6 years later Uhlan had 6 companies running. Pretty cool.

Yardumian, a much mellower man of Armenian descent, was fairly popular for a time, and received much support from Eugene Ormandy. He seems to have slipped into relative obscurity, his music being somewhere between Schoenberg, Bloch and Stravinsky - and at times, very unique. Luckily - I have some fine press material to help us out!

"Yardumian uses a 12-tone idiom that he has created for himself. The system permeates all aspects of his music, so that the result is personal, stylistically unified and formally sturdy. Although there are dissonances in the writing, there is a modal base that gives it a sense of tonality and keeps it free from extreme contemporaneity." - New York Times

That is a very astute summation of his sound. I kind of like it, but I can see where others more entrenched in classical aesthetics would not like it's rhapsodic, neo-romantic aspects. Snobs. lol  His music is more often than not God-centered, not always a popular stance in the 20th century highbrow circles. Yardumian later became involved with and composed for a branch of Christianity which adds (and insists upon) a 3rd testament. I doubt this helped him make headway in popularity (even with me). Still, the critics were raving about this particular album. The Music Journal goes as far to say he "may be the new Bach". Wow. Well, that didn't happen (yet, anyway) but it sure looks nice in your press kit!

There are 2 albums available for download at Amazon, most of his vinyl will fetch a fairly steep sum. Here is an excerpt from my copy of the 1st Symphony. According to Yardumian, the work is inspired by Noah and the Flood, and describes "travails experienced by everyone at some time or other" and that the story of the flood is "something in which we are all involved".

As far as the larger-than-life Ed Uhlan goes, there's plenty on the internet about him. Here is an extremely fascinating interview . He's quite a character and it's very fun reading. - KM

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Drugstore Soul-Jazz

Pickwick SPC-3290

(extracted and updated from an older, deleted blog...)

As a youngster with an insatiable appetite for music and usually less than $5 in his pocket - Woolworths, local drugstores and a store called Masters (now Modells) were indispensable and invaluable destinations. I beefed up my classical collection with Masters' sizable selection of Nonesuch cutouts. On rare occasions they'd have a big washing machine box filled with 45's for 10 cents each.

If I had to guess I'd say this one came from Nichol's Drugstore in Selden (now a hero joint). I'm not sure who dropped the $2.99 - my brother, me or my mom. Either way it became 'mine'. (This is not my original copy, tho' - see this post for explanation.)

Pickwick records made their living putting out knock-offs like "Shaft", and by picking up unwanted budget releases/artists from other labels. The silver label usually meant you were in for iffy performances, a low count on actual audio time, poor vinyl quality, an off center pressing etc.; this album being a major exception in the performance department. I had a collection peppered with Pickwick releases. Here's the pickwick wiki (fun to say!) and here's another site about them - although it's been "under construction" for months (or maybe years); there are links to Pickwick subsidiaries which are very interesting reads if you're into such things.

Haha love the movie mockup artwork by Ken Beckles!

After comparing track by track Mr. Hayes' version with Soul Mann and the Brothers - I'm of the opinion that the Pickwick release is rawer (in part due to a slightly pared down instrumentation), looser and funkier.  There is no banter in the title track. Soul Mann is actually Sy Mann*, and "the brothers" were mostly a bunch of white dudes, including Will Lee on bass. The musicianship is outstanding; track lengths and tempos vary from the Bar-Kays performances, always for the better.

I won't often be posting audio files from other artists - but since this is so tasty (and out of print) here's Bumpy's Blues with a sly flugelhorn solo by one of my favs Lew Soloff. Just so nice! - KM

* - the last sentence on the spaceagepop page about only 2 tracks being from Isaac Hayes' soundtrack is untrue - all of the tracks are from the movie. I've notified the editor.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Limited Edition CD being released! Pre-orders only!

There's a new cd coming out! It's a limited edition (pressing of 500) ep with 6 new tracks. It's a fairly long ep, timing in around 37 minutes, and it's packed with awesome performances by lineups from the last 2 albums (including Shenole Latimer) and one new lineup with Nathan Peck and Chris Higginbottom. In addition the tracks are mixed by grammy-nominated engineer Dan Grigsby. I got the masters back today from Chris Bauer in Germany and they sound great! Because it's a limited pressing and most of them are going out to radio stations (no critics this time :p) it's only going to be for sale for a short time, pre-orders only!! Whatever is left over, if any, will be sold at shows. So if you want a copy - as Charlie Parker said - "Now's the Time". $6.99 does it! Thank you for your support! - KM

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Jazz People of Ormond Beach

I love this new gig at La Crepe en Haut in Ormond Beach. We've been playing there since November, but just took over the 1st Friday spot last month. There's a lot to love - grand piano, plush vibe, friendly staff, delicious food etc. Tina the owner is exceptionally cool and is always going out of her way to make us relaxed and comfortable.

KMT @ La Crepe en Haut 2-18-11 photo by Gloria Mariash

What's really been a blast are the people listening. Ormond Beach seems to have a lot of folks just "passin' through". It was a smaller, intimate crowd last night, but in that select number was a self-taught piano enthusiast from Youngstown OH; a man from Mississipi (forgot the town) who promptly instructed me on where the blues is really from and why, accompanied by his lady friend from Buffalo NY; 2 local psychologists, one who just happens to be a jazz pianist from Philly, and a sweetheart of a guy. I didn't get to everyone, but I'm sure they were interesting.

I tend to give everything of myself on every gig. I'm useless mentally (and otherwise) the day after. I also have mush for brains in between sets. Mixed with my relatively new habit of chatting up the patrons, it makes for some interesting moments. :)

Last night we played some resurrected numbers composed over a decade ago - "Could You Imagine" (formerly called "Nikki", you can hear a recording of it here) and "Moved" - the nascent jazz effort from our  first NYC recording session; (a tune that will appear in a new version on the next release). Both came off without a hitch, thanks to drummer Scott - who drives 90 miles to play this gig, and John on bass - who was nursing a bad cold but played his backside off anyhow.

Scott's wife Gloria shot some good video of us at La Crepe back in February, playing a slinky version of "Chinny Chin Chin". I'll post it soon! Looking forward to the next time. Peace & Love - Kenny