Saturday, May 30, 2009

Happy 100th birthday Benny Goodman: musical innovator and revolutionary

100 years ago today, Benjamin David Goodman was born in Chicago, Illinois, to Jewish Russian immigrant parents with already eight other children. Goodman would later become one of the most transformative musicians and social revolutionaries of jazz history.

He was not only a talented virtuosic clarinetist but also challenged the status quo of civil rights for African Americans by being the first prominent entertainers to lead an integrated band. He hired Teddy Wilson to play in his trio, and later enlisted vibraphonist Lionel Hampton for his quartet. Goodman also brought the popular jazz idiom to a new cultural level by being the first band leader of his genre to play in a "high culture" venue of Carnegie Hall 1938.

Goodman continued performing jazz and classical music until he died at age 77 on June 13, 1986. That same year, he was honored with a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Spamalot will entertain the funny bone in Monty Python know-it-alls as well as newbies

John O'Hurley wants you to eat your Spam

Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries!

There is nothing not silly about Spamalot. It is absolute, hokey fun. Die hard Monty Python fans love it because Python-isms are scattered all over the stage and newbies will love it because Python-ism never get old. If you blink you might miss one. They come at you so fast you're bound to miss one. I missed several, but I was also sitting way up on the side of the second balcony.

Playing King Arthur, John O'Hurley is San Francisco's special Spamalot celebrity. He is best known for his portrayal of Elaine's boss, J. Peterman, on Seinfeld and was also a contestant on Dancing with the Stars. O'Hurley performed in the Las Vegas run of Spamalot for two years but is clearly still enjoying himself.

“It’s the one promise that I make in entertainment right now," O'Hurley said in an interview with The SF Examiner. "You will laugh from the moment you sit down until the moment we do our curtain calls. I regard silliness as the highest form of comedy, and this is silly at the highest level.”

This video doesn't really have anything to do with the musical directly, but it's silly. So bring it on...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Flight of the Conchords: still New Zealand's 4th most popular folk parody duo despite obstacles

Despite faulty fire alarms, bad mics and clogged toilets, Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement left Berkeley in stitches last night.

The Community Berkeley Theater was a bizarre choice for a show like this, considering the duo sold out Davies Hall last year and seemed a tad ill-equipped to handle so many people twice in one night. I wonder how the Berkeley High kids deal. In a voiceover starting the show, Jemaine informed the audience that we were not there for a school assembly, just in case anyone was wondering.

Due to a malfunctioning auditorium fire alarm, the 6pm crowd was still wrapped around the building at 6pm. Warm up act and Bay Area local Arj Barker, who plays Dave on the HBO series, had some quality moments in his act. One punchline was definitely ruined by a shotty mic. Maybe we were spared a rotten joke... we might never find out.

Read More of my review and watch videos...

And by the way, that was my friend Lauren's camera that Jemaine stuffed in his pants at the 9pm show.

Prop 8 the musical: it gets funnier the more you watch it

Dedicated to my fabulously backwards state of California...

The internet is buzzing with clip featuring Jack Black, Margaret Cho, Andy Richter, Maya Rudolph, John C. Reilly, Allison Janney, Kathy Najimy Jennifer Lewis, Neil Patrick Harris and more.

If you've already seen it, watch it again. It's faaaabulous.

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey Orchestras duke it out in a battle of the bands

Musical competition is something that has existed since humans started making music. And if you like traditional big band music from the 1930s and 40s, it doesn't get much better than this. The Glenn Miller Orchestra and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra will return to San Francisco this Sunday night to square off in a battle of the bands at Davies Hall.

Swing and Big Band Examiner Rick Busciglio says that "in the glory days of the Big Bands, many ballrooms promoted a Battle of the Bands. Harlem's Savoy Ballroom, in particular, offered...Basie vs. Chick Webb with Ella Fitzgerald....or Benny Goodman vs. Duke Ellington, etc. They used a revolving stage to present the two bands. Well, the practice continues!" This will be a friendly competition, I'd imagine the "winner" will be determined by each individual listener.

The big difference between the 1930s and 40s and now is that the audience won't have a dance floor to reflect how the music is affecting them. The focus will be on the extraordinary musicianship coming from the stage rather than on lindy hoppers on the dance floor. This kind of big band swing music has, in the last century, morphed from "dance music" into "concert music," which is why we sit and listen in a concert hall like Davies Hall.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra's "In the Mood"

The Tommy Dorsey Orcehstra's "Oh, Look at me Now" with Frank Sinatra, Connie Haines, & The Pied Pipers

Friday, May 22, 2009

BLK JKS and NOMO: take your pick of African rock and afrobeat tonight

If you're in the market for some African grooves tonight, check out BLK JKS from South Africa at the Independent or NOMO from Ann Arbor, Michigan at Bottom of the Hill.

Returning to the United States after a short tour earlier this year BLK JKS (Black Jacks, for those of you, like me, who might be a little slow) has been called the "African TV on the Radio," (who is coincidently playing at the Fox tonight). Judging only from their single "Lakeside" (video below) that's what I thought too. But after seeing them live at the Rickshaw Stop in March, they are way more than that. Add a little prog rock and a jam band vibe and maybe call it: "afro-avant-noise-rock."

NPR has said that their single "Lakeside" "has a drumbeat even Radiohead would be jealous of." I think this might be the way that African music is going, and it's exciting. Read More at Examiner and to watch videos...

Nightlife at the Academy of Sciences celebrates the 60th birthday of the 45 rpm record

Thursday nights at the Academy of Sciences has gotten a buzz as one of the best parties in town in the Bay Area, where the museum is "transformed into a lively venue filled with music, provocative science, mingling, and cocktails." This Thursday, co-sponsored by the Red Bull energy drink, the museum presents Red Bull 45's to celebrate the 60th birthday of the 7-inch 45 rpm record.

The event features 4 DJs, taking turns spinning 45s during the same set. Read more...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Some Liked It Hot": book examining female jazz musicians in film and television 1928-1959

Do you remember that Marilyn Monroe was on tour with an all-girl jazz band (as a ukulele musician!) when she met Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in the 1959 movie "Some Like it Hot"?  These women were not a figment of the movie's imagination, but a real opportunity for woman at the time. This new book by Kristin McGree published by the Wesleyan University Press takes it's name from the film.

Women have been involved with jazz since its inception, but all too often their achievements were not as well known as those of their male counterparts. The book "Some Liked It Hot" looks at all-girl bands and jazz women from the 1920s through the 1950s and how they fit into the nascent mass culture...

Read more of my Examiner article here...

Watch this scene from "Some Like it Hot" with Curtis, Lemmon and Monroe. I believe the boys have dressed up like women to hide from mobsters (who shot holes in Lemmon's upright bass). In this scene Monroe sings the tune "Running Wild."

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Then and Now: American Idol moments and where are they now?

With absolutely no shame, I have defended my fascination with American Idol to friends, colleagues, and family. Sure it's entertaining, but musically it's nothing special. Honestly, how many of the performances and contestants will you really remember a couple of years down the road? Well, here's an account of the handful of ones that I've remembered.

I am fascinated by the post-Idol careers of some of the contestants. It's no secret that you don't need to win the contest to become a wildly successful recording artist: hello, Clay Aiken? And honestly, most people haven't heard from Ruben Studdard or Taylor Hicks lately (although these two particular artists do have successful careers beyond top 40). But the experience of the show and the exposure it brings has done wonders for struggling and budding careers.

My favorite post-Idol success story? Jasmine Trias. Trias was still in high school when she finished third in Season 3. Trias was the Hawaiian girl who always had a flower in her hair...

Read more of my article

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

An exciting musical week coming up including everything from showtunes to Afro-Latino dance music

Martín Perna and Adrian Quesada of Ocote Soul Sounds play in giant straws

I was just updating the show calender down there on the right and I realized that starting tomorrow night, I have a show every day through the weekend and into next week. So I figured I would share these exciting shows with all of you. I will hopefully be at all of them, but we'll see how ye old feet (and eardrums) do.

Wednesday, May 13 Stevie Wonder- James Brown Birthday with Realistic Orchestra. Funky Funky Fun. What else can I say? Bring your dancing shoes. The Independent $15

Thursday, May 14 Theresa Andersson - Singer-songwriter from New Orleans. Performing at the Swedish American Hall, $14 Read my recent story about Andersson and her amazing one woman show here.

Friday, May 15 "Showboat in Concert" The Oakland East Bay Symphony and the Oakland Symphony Chorus. Season Finale Concert! $25-$70 The Paramount Theater.

Saturday, May 16 Mutaytor Burning Man regular circus troupe from Los Angeles brings a multi-media experience blending high energy music with amazing performance art. $20 Mezzanine.

Sunday, May 17 Ocote Soul Sounds, Afro-Latin electronic funky dance music from Austin, Texas. Basically, the afrobeat giant Antibalas and Latin dance band Grupo Fantasma had a funky baby. Again, bring dancing shoes. $8-$10 La Peña Cultural Center

Monday May 18 Doves - dense, brooding gorgeousness from Manchester. Read my review of their last album Kingdom of Rust here. $27.50 the Fillmore

Monday, May 11, 2009

Theresa Andersson's one woman show comes to the Swedish American Hall

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I first saw Theresa Andersson and her one woman band in Austin last March at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas.  But as soon as she started I was a fan. This tiny woman has pipes, she's got creativity and she's got spirit. And I'm excited to again see the Swede now calling New Orleans home this Thursday, May 14th at the Swedish American Hall in San Francisco.

Many artists use audio looping to take their show on the road: it's cheaper than taking along band. I've seen KT TunstallImogen HeapYoav and Magnet do it (click on the links and watch them do it!).  It's always interesting and each artist uses the technology in a different creative way. Some people layer one instrument over and over again like Tunstall, Magnet and Yoav and some, like Andersson are multi-instrumental. You're not watching a regular performance where one note can be played wrong and in a split second it's gone, each musical moment depends on the one before it. It's more of an intricate dance between person and machine.

Continue Reading my article at

Friday, May 8, 2009

Jamie's demo will be played on Austin's KOOP radio on Monday: strean it from the web

My friend Lisa has a show on KOOP 91.7 community radio and on Monday (11AM-12PM Central Coast Time) she will be playing my cover demo of "A Moro na Roca" the Brazilian folk song!

Listen to "What's A Girl to Do" streaming: on the upper left there is a "Listen Now" button

Here's the description of the show:

MONDAYS, 11-NOON (starting 5/4/09)

Host: Lisa Schneider

"What's A Girl To Do" is a free-form Women's Music Show on Austin's KOOP radio, 91.7FM or streaming at Tune in for a wide variety of new, old, local to international music performed and composed by women. MONDAYS, 11-NOON starting May 4, 2009. (Premiered November 1, 2008)

"What's A Girl To Do"celebrates the contribution women have made to the world of music. The show features an incredibly diverse, broad-ranging spectrum of music performed and/or composed by women including vocal and instrumental selections. "What's A Girl To Do" includes a large roots/world music component (ie.African, Balkan, Middle Eastern, Latin, Scandinavian, Klezmer, Greek, Cajun, Celtic, Zydeco, Old-Time, Bluegrass, etc...). But the rest is a mix of singer-songwriters, indie-pop, indie-folk, folk, Americana, jazz, swing, classics, film and theater music, rock, blues, electronic, new age, etc...) "What's A Girl To Do" also hosts many local artists -- performing live on the air occasionally.

Support community radio as well as women in music!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Bay Area Ladies Rock Camp: Day 1

Day 1: Intros, band formation, instrument instruction, songwriting workshop, practice, practice, practice, and play rock band!

So far I am loving this.

I was a little worried going into this about several things: what would the other campers be like? Would I be able to sing? Would my band suck? How terrible would I be at playing the bass? Would my musical background be an advantage or a disadvantage?

Everyone has been so great. I love my band. We have two guitarists and TWO bass players. And you know what? it's perfect.  I can sing and play guitar just fine, but sing and play bass at the same time? I think so! 

Our song is great (it's a little AC/DC-esque) and our band name is going to be nerdy and awesome (let me just say that a certain social networking site is going to get a shout out).  It's so interesting how I can't write a song by myself to save my life, but as soon as I have other people's ideas around me, it becomes so easy.

There are 24 women of all ages signed up: moms, aunts, and girls right out of college.  There are a couple women in from Southern California and even from the East Coast. Everyone is so excited to be there and we are all having a ball. Tomorrow is going to be tiring, but I'm super excited about it. 

I'm very inspired by these women to keep it up after this weekend and maybe try getting a band together. 

Maybe I'll even learn another key.

Our showcase is this Sunday May 3 at the Starry Plough in Berkeley at 3pm. 3101 Shattuck Ave Berkeley, CA 94705