Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

In Memoriam: John Scott

John Scott, one of this era’s most extraordinary and beloved talents in both classical and sacred music, died suddenly on August 12 in Manhattan after suffering a heart attack. He was 59. The iconic organist and choirmaster had just completed a six-week concert tour of Europe and Scandinavia. He leaves behind his wife Lily and her unborn child, as well as two children from a previous marriage.

Scott was the rare artist whose virtuosity was matched by an intuitive, almost supernatural ability to channel a piece of music’s emotional content. If you want to understand Mendelssohn’s relentless drive, Messiaen’s awestruck mysticism or Bach’s neuron-expanding wit, listen to a recording by John Scott. It’s impossible to imagine a better or more emotionally attuned interpretation of Mendelssohn’s organ sonatas than Scott’s 1992 double-cd collection.

A humble, soft-spoken man with a very subtle, distinctly British sense of humor, Scott was happiest when he could share his erudition and insight into the many centuries’ worth of music that he had immersed himself in since childhood. He worked tirelessly and vigorously despite what was often a herculean workload, first at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and from 2004 until his death at St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan where he was organist, music director and led the world-famous choir of men and boys.

Scott’s legacy as a recording artist is vast: he both played and recorded most of the standard repertoire for organ including the major symphonic works of Vierne, Messiaen, Widor and Durufle. He toured and performed tirelessly: his Buxtehude and Messiaen concert cycles are legendary. While gifted with dazzling technique, Scott was not a flamboyant player per se: though he could fire off torrential cascades and volleys of thunderous pedal notes as nimbly as anyone alive, he made those pyrotechnics all the more effective through his meticulous attention to dynamics, and, especially when playing Bach, his imaginative and thoughtful registrations. And every now and then, he’d throw caution to the wind, drop his guard and play entertainer: one of his final recitals at St. Thomas featured a droll Jean Guillou arrangement of the march from Prokofiev’s Love For the Three Oranges (better known to a generation of Americans as the FBI Theme).

Scott’s knowledge of and passion for choral music matched his skill as an organist, beginning in his childhood years as a chorister in Yorkshire. A noted scholar and arranger of plainchant, he served as mentor and inspiration for literally hundreds of singers who passed through St. Thomas’ choir.

A memorial service will be held at 11 AM on September 12, 2015 at St. Thomas Church at Fifth Avenue and 53rd St. A memorial service in the UK will follow.

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August 21, 2015 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, obituary | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Memoriam – Dave Brubeck

Dave Brubeck, the iconic pianist who transformed jazz with his unpredictable rhythms, rich melodic sensibility and paradigm-shifting vision, died today in a hospital in Norwalk, Connecticut, a day before what would have been hs 92nd birthday. Brubeck wrote party music, dance music, makeout music and profoundly intense, stormy themes that resonate as powerfully and magically now as ever.

One of the greatest composers of the last century, Brubeck drew as deeply on classical music as jazz. A student of Darius Milhaud, he wrote orchestral and choral works as memorable as any of his jazz compositions: his longer pieces often served as vehicles for his more serious, dramatic themes. More than any other composer, Brubeck was responsible for popularizing the use of tempos other than a steady 4/4 across all styles of jazz. He was also arguably the most effective proponent of third-stream music, incorporating classical themes, arrangements and architecture in a swinging, improvisational milieu.

Although he was a gifted pianist and a captivating improviser, a fluent player of blues, gospel and classical music in addition to jazz, Brubeck was not an ostentatious musician: he played purposefully, often creating a narrative or driving a theme to which his his bandmates were encouraged to add their distinctive personalities. His skills remained practically undiminished through a performing career that spanned from the 1930s into this year.

Brubeck recorded the best-selling jazz song of all time, Take Five, the title track to the 1959 album written by his Dave Brubeck Quartet bandmate, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond. Over a recording career that spanned parts of seven decades, he sold millions of albums, not counting millions of downloads, a rarity in jazz. One reason for his popularity is his knack for a catchy tune: few composers in any style of music have written such memorable songs as Three to Get Ready, It’s a Raggy Waltz, Unsquare Dance or Blue Rondo a la Turk, to name a few. Another signature trait that won him millions of followers was his sense of humor; his songs are imbued with as much lively, playful fun as classical rigor. His body of work, both live and in the studio, ranks with those of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and any of the classical composers. Considering how vital he was until the very end, one could always hope for another tour and another chance to see this legend in concert: he is greatly and deeply missed. Our thoughts are with all the musicians and individuals lucky enough to know him.

December 5, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, obituary | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Memoriam – Gil Scott-Heron

Songwriter, poet and novelist Gil Scott-Heron, one of the greatest musical artists of the past half-century, died yesterday at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York after returning from Europe, where he had fallen ill. He was 62. Scott-Heron’s signature style combined jazz, soul and funk with wryly literate, often savagely critical, socially conscious lyrics. Tall and charismatic, with a machete wit, he was a consummate live performer who used catchy, anthemic songs to deliver a potent message. Enormously influential on several generations of hip-hop artists, Scott-Heron was considered one of the pioneers of rap. While his relationship with the genre was ambivalent at best, his 1969 debut album, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox is often credited with being one of the earliest hip-hop albums since it features spoken-word pieces (including the iconic The Revolution Will Not Be Televised) set to simple percussion.

Scott-Heron’s biggest hit, The Bottle, chronicled the toll that alcoholism takes on inner city life, though told with characteristic humor from a drunk’s point of view. His most enduring song, We Almost Lost Detroit hauntingly recalls a narrowly averted nuclear disaster caused by a near-meltdown at a Michigan nuclear power plant. Scott-Heron was also one of the first major American artists to address the horrors of apartheid, with the scathing Johannesburg. Throughout his career, he championed progressive causes and lampooned the right wing (most memorably with the scorchingly hilarious 1981 anti-Reagan broadside B Movie). As a recording artist, his peak period was from the mid-70s to the early 80s, notably his collaborations with pianist Brian Jackson and their group the Midnight Band. Many of those albums, including From South Africa to South Carolina as well as the 1988 Live Somewhere in Europe are bonafide classics.

Scott-Heron was also a legendary bon vivant who took that lifestyle to extremes. A heavy cocaine user in the 80s, by the following decade he’d developed a serious crack habit. Throughout that time, he remained an intense, charismatic performer, but he recorded sporadically and erratically, and as his crack use escalated, his performances and career suffered. Persecuted and jailed for cocaine possession multiple times during the zeros, he had recently been on the comeback trail, releasing a new album last year titled I’m New Here, which sets poetry to samples much in the same vein as his earliest work. His recent live shows had been remarkably strong as well, all the more impressive considering that he’d once again become a regular crack user (we reviewed his surprisingly high-spirited, energetic concert at Marcus Garvey Park on August 5 of last year). Our deepest condolences to his wife and daughter. Funeral arrangements are pending.

May 28, 2011 Posted by | funk music, jazz, Music, music, concert, obituary, soul music | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Memoriam – Lucy Cecere

It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Lucy Cecere, this past March 19. She was 87. A warm and gracious lady as well as a tireless advocate for her West Village neighborhood and for senior citizens, she was a kind and friendly presence alongside her husband Lenny at well-loved key-and-mailbox spot Something Special on MacDougal Street. Whether her customers lived in the neighborhood or not, she always treated them as neighbors. Born and raised in the West Village, she co-founded the West Village senior citizen advocacy group Caring Community in 1974 and helped build it into a community institution: in 2010, she received an award from Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation for her work on behalf of the community. In many ways, she was a modern-day Jane Jacobs, a vital and important presence in the effort to protect historic New York buildings and neighborhoods. In her own determined way, Lucy Cecere embodied everything that’s good about New York: the idea that a neighborhood can be a welcoming place for everyone working together for its common good. She was literally a friend to all, the best possible example of a real New Yorker. She is terribly missed. Our condolences to everyone who had the good fortune to know her.

April 2, 2011 Posted by | New York City, obituary | , , | Leave a comment

In Memoriam – Mike Edwards

Mike Edwards, whose work as the original cellist of the Electric Light Orchestra ranks as some of the most memorable in the history of rock, was killed Monday in Devonshire in the UK when a runaway bale of hay rolled down a hill, jumped a hedge and hit the van he was driving head-on. He was 62. A founding member of ELO, Edwards played on most of the band’s classic albums, beginning with No Answer in 1972 through Eldorado in 1975. Perhaps his greatest moment was one of his simplest, providing an eerie, low-register wash of sound that moved a distance of only three notes on the group’s 1972 antiwar epic Kuiama, from the ELO II album. Other notable Edwards contributions include his intense, whiplash lines on the stark, Eleanor Rigby-influenced chamber rock piece Look at Me Now and the equally haunting, elegaic Whisper in the Night, both songs from No Answer.

Edwards was something of a ham: when playing, he would frequently use random objects such as a grapefruit in place of a bow. According to the SF Weekly, he also entertained audiences by rigging his cello to look as if it was exploding. After leaving ELO, he converted to Buddhism, changed his name and taught privately.

September 9, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, obituary, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Memoriam – Billy Cohen

One of New York’s most talented emerging musicians, guitarist and composer Billy Cohen died this past June 29 after a long battle with cancer. He was 23. A founding member of the charismatic rock band the Brooklyn What, Cohen was an integral part of their original three-guitar sonic cauldron, and also served as one of the group’s main songwriters. Both his guitar work and his compositions on the band’s landmark first album, The Brooklyn What for Borough President, offer a cruelly tantalizing glimpse of an already formidable talent that would have only grown, had he lived.

As a guitarist in the band, Cohen played with an edgy, brash intensity that both meshed and contrasted with John-Severin Napolillo’s purposeful powerpop sensibility and Evan O’Donnell’s slashing lead lines. Cohen was extremely adept at abrasive noise, yet was gifted with an uncanny sense of melody that he’d often employ when least expected, as demonstrated by his purist lead work on The In-Crowd and We Are the Only Ones. The shapeshifting, focus-warping song Soviet Guns illustrates another, more abstract side of his compositional skill. Cohen was also responsible for the delectably unhinged scream on the song Sunbeam Sunscream.

A musician’s musician, Cohen listened adventurously and widely throughout his life, immersing himself in styles ranging from garage rock to contemporary classical music, cinematic soundscapes and tongue-in-cheek mashups. At Brooklyn’s Edward R. Murrow High School, Cohen played guitar in the jazz band as well as in the Brooklyn rock band Ellipsis; afterward, he attended the State University of New York at New Paltz, where he majored in Music Therapy and Music Composition. A song from his Ellipsis days as well as two atmospheric keyboard pieces, and a couple of clever, satirical mashup videos – including a direct and very funny one featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger – are all up on his myspace page.

Cohen’s uncompromising originality, creativity, absurdist humor, fondness for the Kinks (he picked out the band’s signature cover song, I’m Not Like Everybody Else) and devotion to his beloved New York Mets lifted the spirits of his bandmates and friends and left an indelible mark. The surviving members of the Brooklyn What are playing a memorial show for Cohen at Bowery Poetry Club on August 13.

July 21, 2010 Posted by | music, concert, New York City, obituary, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

George Steinbrenner – An Appreciation

The individual most responsible for the increase in baseball ticket prices over the last several years, George Steinbrenner died yesterday afternoon of a heart attack in his native Tampa. He was 80. Steinbrenner had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease since at least the early part of the zeros. Convicted felon, full-blown sociopath, on-and-off owner and figurehead of the New York Yankees, Steinbrenner would outbid any other team for free-agent talent – as well as for scores of players who were considerably less talented. Steve Kemp, Rawly Eastwick, Chuck Knoblauch, Bob Shirley and Ed Whitson may only be remembered today by diehard fans, but they cost Steinbrenner millions. To keep pace, other teams joined in the bidding wars, and their team salaries rose – as did ticket prices, since club owners passed those costs on to the fans. Meanwhile, the family firm that Steinbrenner inherited, American Shipbuilding, struggled and eventually filed for bankruptcy in 1993.

As Alzheimers set in, Steinbrenner’s sons Hank and Hal kept with the program: when Yankee third baseman (and admitted steroid cheat) Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract in 2007, the Yankees rewarded the pumped-up slugger with a new $275 million, ten-year deal. The Steinbrenner sons also engineered the construction of a brand-new Yankee Stadium (this time using taxpayer money), to replace the fully functional, architecturally exquisite original ballpark that Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Yogi Berra once called home.

George Steinbrenner’s felony conviction stemmed from illegal campaign contributions to the 1972 Richard Nixon campaign; Steinbrenner copped a guilty plea and was fined. In 1989, he hired a smalltime con artist, Howard Spira, to spy on the Yankees’ future Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, ostensibly to get out of an onerous, multi-year contract with the star. Spira eventually went to jail for extortion; Steinbrenner was not criminally charged, but was banned from baseball for life by then-commissioner Fay Vincent. He was reinstated by Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig after Selig led a cabal of owners to oust Vincent in 1993.

Steinbrenner’s spendthrift ways frequently met with success: the Yankees won several pennants and World Championships under his ownership. But there were just as many lean years where losses outnumbered wins. In good times and bad, Steinbrenner waged war with his players, his front office personnel and pretty much anyone with whom he came in contact. This was best exemplified by his codependent relationship with five-time manager Billy Martin, a favorite verbal punching bag and chronic alcoholic who died drunk behind the wheel. Steinbrenner’s ability to find fault knew no bounds: the most trivial matters, such as the state of a player’s facial hair, would spark tirades that often veered off into incoherence. He went through publicists, general managers, coaches and stadium personnel like he went through players: his employees cursed him even as a relative few of them enjoyed the benefits of his lavish spending. If there is a hell, he can look forward to spending time there with fellow owners like the Cincinnati Reds’ Marge Schott.

July 14, 2010 Posted by | baseball, New York City, obituary | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

In Memoriam – Dave Campbell

Dave Campbell, who pushed the limits of what a drummer could do, died Wednesday in New York after emergency surgery following a battle with a long illness. He was 50. One of the best-loved and most strikingly individualistic players in the New York music scene, Campbell’s outgoing, generous presence as a musician and bandmate is irreplaceable.

Like the other great drummers of his generation, he was involved in many projects, from rock to jazz. A disciple of Elvin Jones, Campbell propelled psychedelic rock band Love Camp 7’s labyrinthine songs with equal parts subtlety and exuberance, contributing harmony and occasional lead vocals as well. While Campbell was instrumental in shaping Love Camp 7’s knottily cerebral creations into more accessible, straight-ahead rock, he took Erica Smith and the 99 Cent Dreams in the opposite direction, from Americana-tinged jangle-rock to jazz complexity. He was also the drummer in upbeat, high-energy New York rockers the K’s.

Originally from Minnesota, Campbell attended the University of Chicago and came to New York in the 1980s, where he joined Love Camp 7 as a replacement and then remained in the band over twenty years, touring Europe and recording several albums. He also handled drum and harmony vocal duties on Erica Smith’s two most recent studio albums, Friend or Foe and Snowblind. He leaves behind a considerable amount of unreleased studio work with both bands.

As a player, Campbell had an encyclopedic knowledge of rhythms and grooves and a special love for Brazilian music. His occasional solos often took the shape of a narrative, imbued with wry humor and unexpected colors. A great raconteur, Campbell’s stream-of-consciousness, machine-gun wit was informed by a curiosity that knew no bounds, combined with an ironclad logic that never failed to find the incongruity in a situation. He reveled in small, clever displays of defiance against authority, yet approached his playing and singing with a perfectionist rigor.

He is survived by his family and the love of his life, the artist and photographer Annie Sommers.

May 20, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, New York City, obituary, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments

In Memoriam: Guru

Guru (an acronym for Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal), the iconic, paradigm-shifting founder and rapper of hip-hop legends Gang Starr and creator of hip-hop jazz died yesterday after spending much of the previous two months in a coma following a heart attack. He was 43. Born Keith Elam in Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1966, Guru founded Gang Starr in 1987 and released a handful of singles that achieved enough regional success to catch the attention of New York DJ Premier. In 1989, Guru and Premier released their landmark first album No More Mr. Nice Guy, followed by five others, the last, The Ownerz, in 2003. One of the originators of the East Coast hardcore style, Guru’s hard-edge, rapidfire, syncopated delivery matched the uncompromising seriousness of his lyrics. Particularly critical of what he felt was a drift in hip-hop toward popstar meaninglessness, Guru remained relevant and true to his origins even as he celebrated his own achievements as a wordsmith on joints like Check the Technique, Take It Personal and Code of the Streets.

In 1993, in the wake of the duo’s finest album Daily Operation, Guru teamed up with a diverse crew of jazz artists including Branford Marsalis, Donald Byrd and Ramsey Lewis to release the first of his four Guru Presents: Jazzmatazz series of albums, showcasing jazz improvisation over a hip-hop beat while taking a somewhat more lighthearted lyrical approach than he took with Gang Starr. The final Jazzmatazz album was released in 2007. Guru also released two solo albums during the decade. He is survived by a son. His longtime collaborator Solar (no relation to the French hip-hop artist MC Solaar, whose career he springboarded here in the US) released a controversial posthumous letter ostensibly written by the rapper distancing himself from DJ Premier, with whom he had split after the duo’s final album together seven years ago.

April 20, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, obituary, rap music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Memoriam – Teddy Pendergrass

Iconic R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass, frontman of seventies soul hitmakers Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes and one of the greatest voices of the twentieth century, died of cancer Wednesday night in a hospital outside Philadelphia. According to his publicist, he was 59.

Originally a drummer, Pendergrass joined Melvin’s group in 1969. Producer Leon Huff, of Gamble and Huff – inventors of the Philly soul sound – takes credit for moving him out from behind the kit and in front of the mic, having ostensibly heard him singing along during a break in the studio. Beginning in 1973, Pendergrass would lead the band on numerous Gamble and Huff-produced, lushly symphonic hits including Wake Up Everybody, The Love I Lost and If You Don’t Know Me By Now. With his fervent, world-weary rasp, Pendergrass conveyed a wisdom and a depth well beyond his years and became a magnet for women fans around the world.

In 1982, Pendergrass was injured in a near-fatal car accident which rendered him a paraplegic. Nonetheless, he continued to record and release numerous urban radio hits and solo albums, many of which reached gold record status, although his voice was never the same. As the years went by, he earned similar acclaim as an advocate for the disabled.

January 15, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, obituary | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment