Case of the Mondays – Focus Artist (s): Lily Allen and BOOTS

Lily Allen is back after a four year hiatus with an album title that is outrageous, yet refreshing: Sheezus. I haven’t taken the time to listen to the album yet, but there are plenty of reviews out already if you’re curious (i.e., The Guardian’s review). For the record, most of them aren’t that great unfortunately.

For this week’s Case of the Monday’s song, we’re focusing on her single “Sheezus.” The lyrics below speak for themselves really. It’s a humorous twist on Kanye West’s egoistical persona, and one that takes a (fearful) stab at some of the leading female artists in the industry.  “now wish me luck, I’m gonna need it I’ll see you on the other side, if I’m still breathing” she sings. Have to give a girl credit for being honest don’t you?

While the idea behind the song is creative though, the execution is a bit poor. The “ha ha” melody is too simple, and it seems like her producers could have taken this to another level. Sadly, even Lily has acknowledged it:

When a fan tweeted that her first new material in five years was “docile pop rubbish”, she agreed, saying her label wouldn’t support “the better stuff” on her third album.
sheezus-lily-allen-cover

So all in – I like this song, but wish she had done more. When basic people realize your song sounds pop-py, that’s bad. “Sheezus” is definitely catchy for our own purposes of Case of the Mondays though!

 

 

 

**Side note**: what do you guys think about this new BOOTS song  feat Beyonce? It’s just ok to me but everyone seems to love it. Let me know your thoughts.

 

 

African Americans in Jazz: A Walk Through the 1800s – Francis Johnson

Here we begin our first leg of learning about jazz and take with a walk through the 1800s.

As most know, jazz became a widespread phenomenon during the 1900s, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist during the 1800s. Over the next week, we’ll take a look at three African American artists who made big strides in music during this time: Francis Johnson, Edmond Dede, and Scott Joplin.

First, we take on Francis Johnson. It’s difficult to find his compositions, but as you read the below, take a listen to some of them here. One of my favorites is “The New Bird Waltz.”

Francis Johnson

Francis_Johnson

Born in 1792 as a free African, Francis Johnson represents one of the most influential African American composer-conductors of the pre-Civil War era. Philadelphia-raised and the child of an interracial union, Johnson quickly made his mark as a musician by performing in local venues and playing for the elite.

By his 15th birthday, he was an expert in flute and piccolo, fiddle, bugle-horn, and pianoforte. And by 1815,  he had become a band leader, teacher and composer for militias, notably composing in rapid succession 4 of the most important pieces in the annals of American martial music.  What we’ll focus on here however is his biggest legacy: his introduction of Promenade concerts in Philadelphia.

In 1837, Frank Johnson made an announcement that he was traveling to Europe to further his knowledge in music.

During his journey, Johnson heard Auguste Pilati and his promenade concerts in Britain. Pilati was a former player in the orchestra of Frenchman Philippe Musard. He tried to capitalize off the success of Musard’s promenade concerts in Paris by introducing them in London, but this attempt was short-lived. Curious about these concerts, in early January 1838, Johnson voyaged to Paris, where he attended a few promenade shows and met with Musard himself .

Johnson’s attraction to the promenade concerts stemmed from his own interests and talents in the creation of cotillions and marches, which were a form of dance music. The difference between this ballroom dance music and the promenade concerts lied in how people perceived them. Audiences went to the ballroom to dance while they went to concerts to listen to dance music. People loved to both listen and dance to Johnson’s music, whether it was outside in Saratoga Springs or inside a hotel in Philadelphia. However, unlike Johnson’s own ballroom performances, Musard’s promenade concerts served as a source of entertainment available to the masses. They attracted “the ordinary man and woman who never went to a concert and could not afford to do so but who wanted a pleasant evening’s entertainment at a low price.”  It was this concept that Johnson found valuable enough to bring back with him to America.

By the time Johnson arrived back in Philadelphia on May 19, 1838, he carried with him a new belief: that all could enjoy music, for it was universal. He also realized that he needed to promote his own music to be successful.  Thus, Johnson became the first American bandmaster to systematically publicize in advance “through newspapers and handbills not only his own band but each composition and composer to be presented in the program as well.”  The thousands of concertgoers who decided to attend his “Musical Soirees” provide evidence of the immense success of his promotions. On December 24, 1838, an advertisement in the Public Ledger stated that a concert by Francis Johnson would be held in the Philadelphia Museum “…on the plan of those held at Musard’s celebrated rooms at Paris…” The ad goes on to state that with the variety of music being offered, and the low admission fee, thousands would be able to assemble nightly and enjoy the intellectual source of amusement. Thus, in this ad Johnson made sure to emphasize his purpose in throwing these promenade concerts, which was to make it affordable and enjoyable for all.

These promotions worked tremendously well for him; the Museum was often obliged to close its doors to crowds of people long before the performances began. In addition, Johnson maintained a wide variety in his programs, rarely carrying one song over to the next night.

Johnson died in 1844 after a sustained illness at the age of 52, but the steps he made in a series of firsts – the first African American to have his works published as sheet music – the first to give public concerts – the first to present concerts abroad – and more – paved the way for those to come. And one of the most important pieces in his career was promoting music as something that could be enjoyed by everyone. As we’ll soon explore in further detail, this became one of jazz’s main attractions.

Note: I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the racial tension that Johnson had to endure during his musical career. But historical works show that it was less of an issue than one might presume: “…with but few unpleasantly memorable exceptions, [Johnson] seemed to have lived and worked relatively free of the racial problems building in the world around him.” He tended to stray away from the social activist and abolitionist movements in Philadelphia. Instead he focused on his music and frequently traveled to New York to perform in front of large crowds.  Thus, as Johnson put his music above all else, we might also try to do so here.

 

Sources

Griscom, Richard. “Francis Johnson: Philadelphia Bandmaster and Composer.”University of Pennsylvania Almanac 58.22 (2012): n. pag. University of Pennsylvania Almanac. Web. 9 May 2013.

Jones, Charles K.. Francis Johnson (1792-1844): chronicle of a black musician in early nineteenth-century Philadelphia. Bethlehem: Lehigh University Press, 2006. Print.

Southern, Eileen. The music of black Americans: a history. 3rd ed. New York: Norton, 1997. Print.

What is Jazz?

“If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.”

― Louis Armstrong

I’ve been meaning to get around to doing a series of posts on jazz artists but unfortunately, life happens.

Ironically though, the recent events surrounding Donald Sterling have reinvigorated my interest in doing so.

Jazz – it is not a genre that one can define. Just check out Mr. Armstrong’s quote above. But it is something that we have been able to identify as a core part of African American culture. True, it has grown into a part of American culture too…but from the King of Ragtime to the Empress of Blues and the inventors of bebop – Blacks have defined jazz, invented jazz, and used it as a means of getting up when they’ve felt the world’s weight pressing down. Frederick Douglass wrote in his biography that “Slaves sing most when they are unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears.”

Negro spirituals, jazz, hip hop, etc. have all sang the sorrows (and the joy) for African Americans.

What better time than now then, to look back in time and reflect on the most influential African Americans that have shaped jazz, used it as a means of expression, and have ultimately led us to where we are today?

But does jazz even exist anymore? It’s a question our generation has to wonder everyday and a question that we may eventually answer on this journey. After all, sometimes we move so fast, that we forget where we even began. By the way, while I hate to acknowledge it, I’m sure I will miss many of the names that jazz enthusiasts hold dear to their hearts. My purpose though is not to identify every single African American that influenced jazz, for we’d be reading these posts for the rest of our lives. Rather, I hope to start a conversation, trigger some intellectual thoughts, and learn about the legends we’ve missed along the way.

 

So check back here on May 3rd**, where we’ll begin our journey in the 1800s, and take a look at some of the ‘pre-jazz’ African American artists who started paving the road.

 

 

Case of the Mondays – Focus Artist: Le P

I blinked, and it was Monday again…depressing, I know.

BUT it was also 70 degrees this weekend in NYC, which meant I saw people I hadn’t seen since winter began, I was able to finally retire my North Face, and I almost wore shorts. yay.

In the spirit of spring and concerts and happiness, this edition’s Case of the Mondays brings you another international artist–Le P. Thanks to technology and our weird, entrepreneurial and amazing generation, DJs have transformed from supporting artists in shows to being the show themselves. Now unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find out much about Le P other than the fact that he is a French DJ housed under Bambousek, a French Digital label (here’s his FB page). No matter though, the song I think you will all enjoy is called History and it features Michael Jackson. Yes, MJ is perfectly blended into this song, which makes it an automatic winner and a song I will be jamming to at the beach–if I ever make it there this summer.

Oh, and as a bonus feature, Le P has a song with Sam Smith…and you all know how much I love Sam Smith.

 

 

Lykke Li and the Power of Change

So I was going to just do a quick post titled Lykke Li releases new music video, but I’ve realized that this isn’t just any video…

To be honest, I had to watch it about five times before I discovered the underlying meaning. After the second time, I almost went to Google and typed Lykke Li music video meaning…which speaks to how lazy I can be at times

About the video: “No Rest for the Wicked is the second song I wrote for I Never Learn,” says Lykke Li. “I wrote it in Sweden when I was packing up my sh**, and I’d just gotten out of a relationship and it was a horrible time. I just had the hurt, shame, sadness, guilt, longing. The vocal track, the take, is the demo. In the verse, I’m referring to myself pleading guilty, but I’m referring to all of us.”

Take a look:

 

Hopefully you’ve figured out that this is about racism (in 1 sitting, unlike myself) – the struggle of an interracial couple to survive through wicked eyes and hate.

My intellectual readers will likely be excited about this one because it brings up a lot of serious questions and issues. Right away, I have to wonder why I didn’t notice what the topic was in the first place? My initial reasoning is that it wasn’t something I was looking for…in reality, it’s told from a white person’s point of view (she’s Swedish, I know, but still). It’s rare to see this type of struggle being told from the other side. Second, perhaps I’ve gotten used to the blood and gore associated with racism and hate told on the big screen…it’s sad, but think about it, all we saw was her boyfriend trying to get up, and then ultimately falling to the ground. Completely different image than i.e., 12 Years a Slave.

Third, the plot seems like it’s more about love than hate…scenes of the couple running through the fields, hugging, going out together always seem to be at the center of the video, interrupted by the flashes of staring eyes. It’s probably why I missed the ‘wicked’ eyes in the first place.

Bottom line, I appreciate Lykke for making this video and bringing the topic to life. We need to address it, not pretend it doesn’t exist. I won’t get into the debate here, but seriously, you have to be glad that we can still use the power of music to catalyze change.

Case of the Mondays – Focus Artist: Banks

I have a case of the Mondays, which usually occurs every Monday to be honest.

And this new artist (new, depending on how you define it) is speaking to my mood right now. Banks—yes, just Banks—was featured in Vogue last year as “Artist of the Week” where the author wrote: Her songs perfectly capture a feeling of being lost and powerless in the world. But the music is powerful, the opposite, as she put it, of helpless.”

banks 2

She has also toured as the opening act for The Weeknd and perhaps strangely, but somewhat unsurprisingly, her sound is being described as ‘dark R&B’

…not sure what the world is coming to but, if you also have a case of the Mondays too, take a listen

 

Sam Smith’s Career is About to Take Off

I never really notice “background” songs playing during TV shows. Obviously, it makes more sense to pay attention to the dialogue more than anything else. BUT as I was watching Grey’s Anatomy this past weekend, I couldn’t help but notice the ballad playing as Owen and Christina went through another one of their ‘I love you and I don’t know why’ scenes.

I noticed it so much so, that I paused the show and got up from my couch to look up the song…and that’s saying a lot.

As it turns out, the song was a cover of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I know” by Sam Smith. It also turns out that it’s not available ANYWHERE yet, which is disappointing, I know.**UPDATE: THE VIDEO IS AVAILABLE HERE** 

For a little background, Sam Smith is a 21-year old singer that was born in the small Cambridgeshire satellite town Linton. He grew up in a household that was full of soul music – the first album that moved him was Whitney Houston’s My Love is Your Love, and one of the first songs he understood was Aretha’s Say A Little Prayer. He was trained by a jazz singer where the first song he learnt the craft and composition of was Frank Sinatra’s Come Fly With Me. For more info see abc’s blog.

Ultimately, you may recognize Sam as the singer on Naughty Boy’s La La La, or Disclosure’s Latch, but interestingly he has yet to release his debut album. What does this mean? It means you can go to his Soundcloud and download his single Money on My Mind for free. You can also download his Nirvana EP, which is incredible.

Most importantly though, you can still get fairly reasonable tickets to one of his live shows. Personally, I’m a little upset that I missed the boat on his Webster Hall performance (tonight at 8 pm), but if you’re one of those with a little extra cash you can go over to Stub Hub and buy a ticket for ~$70 (they were originally $18). If you’re not in NY, check out his upcoming tour dates to see if he’s coming to a city near you: www.samsmithworld.com/live

Sam’s album In the Lonely Hour is set to drop on June 17, but is available for pre-order if you need to feel reassured that you’ll be one of the first on the bandwagon.

Next time he’s in NYC, I’ll let you guys know. Until then, let’s jam to Money on My Mind and Latch…

 

Did Bruno Mars Kill It or What? Now, Let’s Meet the Band

I’m a huge football fan, but after a 22 to ZIP score by halftime and some boring commercials, all I could think about was when dinner would be served so I could go home and lay on my couch.

So it probably comes to no surprise then that my ears perked up when Bruno Mars hit the stage (or should I say the drums). I was already a semi-fan anticipating the halftime performance but I–like countless others I’m sure–subconsciously downplayed the event after hearing numerous “Who’s Bruno Mars?” inquiries heading into the Super Bowl. I was a semi-fan before, because he can actually sing, he’s a talented musician, and his songs are catchy. Still, he reminded me of a kid that was born in the wrong decade.

…well, he still reminds me of a kid born in the wrong decade.

But luckily (or unluckily), I chose a seat next to a fairly old man whose “friend’s son” plays the trumpet in Bruno’s band. He subsequently began to tell the room about the group as if he knew each and every bandmate. While I had to do some fact checking, it turns out that the men in the gold suits – also known as the “Hooligans” – are young, talented, and educated. So let’s meet the band:

Kameron Whalum III – Trombone; Hometown: Memphis, TN

Kameron WKameron Whalum, a Morehouse grad, has been playing the trombone since he was just a kid. He studied music at his high school in Nashville, TN and after graduating from Morehouse eventually went on to further pursue music at the New School for Jazz from 2009 to 2011. He didn’t graduate from The New School however, as it was during this time that he got the call to play for Mars.

Jamareo Artis – Bass Guitar; Hometown: Raleigh, NC

JamareoBorn October 3, 1989, Jamareo is a bass guitarist and is well known for winning Diddy’s MTV Making His Band in 2009. He got his big shot however when he met Mars outside S.I.R. Rehearsal Studios in Los Angeles in 2010, “when he was just a short guy that only produced for others.”

As we witnessed during the Halftime show, it’s pretty remarkable how well the band dances together on stage. According to Jamareo: 

“The most difficult thing is to dance and play in this band. We do some Jackson 5 choreographed stuff on stage, and it’s not as easy as you think. We get down every moment of an hour and forty-five minute set and you have to make sure your dancing is in sync with your playing. I try not to let that effect what I’m playing, because that’s the most important thing.”

Eric Hernandez – Drums; Hometown: Hawaii

Eric HernandezEric was born in 1976 in Brooklyn, NY. He is Bruno Mars’ brother and the son of Brooklyn native “Pete Hernandez”, who was the percussionist for Love & Money and Cecilio & Kapono. His experience is vast as he started playing professionally at the ripe age of 10 years old. He played 6 nights a week for 8 years with “The Lovenote Show” a Variety show paying tribute to the music of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. It was this unrelenting schedule that bred consistency in his playing and made him a master of all styles, including soul, funk, reggae, rock, etc. Commenting on his dad letting him play on the show, Eric says: “After each show the cast would go out to the front and take photos and shake hands. I took a lot of pictures because people were fascinated that I had the ability to play the show. My brother had a knack for singing. He was a young Elvis impersonator at the age of three or four so he took all the limelight, but I didn’t care, I just wanted to play drums.”

Phred Brown – Guitar; Hometown: Lathrup Village, Michigan

Phred Brown is the Musical Director for Bruno Mars and the Hooligans. His mother was a music teacher who gave him private lessons. He soon became fascinated with all types of instruments and ultimately went on to the University of Michigan to study music. The school made music feel too “academic,” however so he left after two months and went back to Detroit to start performing. Prior to becoming an official Hooligan Band member, Phred Brown was in his own jazz/funk band called Phredley. When asked about how he went about playing in local bands to touring with Bruno Mars, Phred answers:

“One of the cornerstones of improvisational comedy is the idea of “Yes, and” meaning I’m going to take whatever you’ve offered to the scene and add to it, so we can build together. It applies beautifully to building a career as well. There were times in Detroit where I played in 6 or bands at once, and through each of those bands I met someone or did something that helped us all grow and get to another level.  I can look back to being a junior in high school and point out every connection I made that took me further or taught me something that allowed me to do more. I guess it’s all about accumulating information and meeting other people who are also gathering info and figuring out how you can help each other.”

John Fossitt – Keyboard; Hometown: New York, NY

John Fossitt

Hailing from Rochester, NY John taught himself how to play the piano at a young age. He’s the ultimate go-getter as just five years ago, he was homeless in Los Angeles chasing his dream.

 

James King – Trumpet; Hometown: Stamford, CT

James king

James has been playing the trumpet since he was 12 years old. He was referred to Bruno through his mutual Morehouse colleague Kameron Whalum. At the very minimum, he practices 1.5 hrs to 3 hrs a day. His advice for young musicians?:

“…submerse yourself with as much music as you can. Be able to not only find your voice in addition to being able to play different genres. Don’t create an unnecessary box for yourself when you can open up doors that will lead you to different opportunities.

Also make sure your personality does not keep you from opportunities. Make sure people not only enjoy your playing abilities in addition to who you are. Don’t let your personality get in the way of your success.”

Dwayne Dugger – Saxophone; Hometown: Queens, NY

Another Morehouse grad, Dwayne Dugger plays the sax in the Hooligans. He formed a band with some colleagues at Morehouse during his freshman year called “JASPECTS.” I was able to dig up the video above.

Philip Lawrence – Background Vocals; Hometown: Evansville, Ind.

Philip Lawrence

Last but certainly not least we have Philip Lawrence. Philip was born into a very musical family, and like so many musicians in this band, never really got along with academia. He went to college and studied communications and theater for a year in Nashville, Tennessee but all he did was write songs. After a year, he left, did some theater and worked at Disney World for six years. Now, he is a solo artist, sings vocal for Bruno Mars, and is a part of Bruno’s production team, called the Smeezington’s (which also includes Ari Levine). He first linked up with Bruno in 2006 when a producer called and said Bruno was going to be the next big thing. Philip was broke at the time “with no money, no car, and it was going to cost me everything I had to get to that studio session. Plus, I was leery at first because everyone in LA says the have the next big thing…I get to the studio, and it was Bruno, and that session was the first time either of us had written and recorded an entire song. From that point on we never stopped working together.” Needless to say, they have written hit after hit.

And there you have it…the men  who made Bruno’s show what it was last night. Congratulations to all of them on an amazing performance.

Will Lorde or Daft Punk Steal the Show at the Grammys? Here are My Predictions

Well folks, the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards are now a part of the past and next up is (the best award show), the Grammy’s! I’ll be posting my predictions and news leading into the event so keep checking back (or subscribe on the home page) for new posts.

First up, my predictions for the top categories:

The nominees for Record of the Year are:

Get Lucky – Daft Punk Featuring Pharrell Williams & Nile Rodgerz

Radioactive – Imagine Dragons

Royals – Lorde

Locked Out Of Heaven – Bruno Mars

Blurred Lines – Robin Thicke Featuring T.I. & Pharrell

And the winner is: Get Lucky by Daft Punk. Sucks for Robin Thicke because his Blurred Lines hit has yet to win an award, but I think this category will be a toss up between “Royals” and “Get Lucky.” Personally, I’d prefer Lorde to steal the show with her breakout song, and pretty much send a middle finger to the stereotypes of the music industry. But, let’s be real, Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” is the quintessential Grammy song of the year.

Daft Punk

The nominees for ALBUM OF THE YEAR are:

The Blessed Unrest – Sara Bareilles

Random Access Memories – Daft Punk

Good Kid, M.A.A.D City – Kendrick Lamar

The Heist – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Red – Taylor Swift

And the winner is: Random Access Memories by Daft Punk. Lots of good contenders in this category but once again, it’s the Grammy’s and Daft Punk did a hell of a job selling their album. It was number one in 20 different countries, and they limited the electronic instrumentation to drum machines a custom-built modular synthesizer, and vintage vocoders. It’s also incredible that the music is live – in an age of EDM and trance music, it’s refreshing to hear an album that gives the genre a bit of a different sound.

daft-punk-random-access-memories

The nominees for SONG OF THE YEAR are: 

Just Give Me A Reason – Jeff Bhasker, Pink & Nate Ruess, songwriters (Pink Featuring Nate Ruess)

Locked Out Of Heaven – Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine & Bruno Mars, songwriters (Bruno Mars)

Roar – Lukasz Gottwald, Max Martin, Bonnie McKee, Katy Perry & Henry Walter, songwriters (Katy Perry)

Royals – Joel Little & Ella Yelich O’Connor, songwriters (Lorde)

Same Love – Ben Haggerty, Mary Lambert & Ryan Lewis, songwriters (Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Featuring Mary Lambert)

And the winner is: Royals, sung by Lorde. Finally! This song gets a Grammy. This one should be self explanatory…the lyrics are quite incredible and the song is still popular. Even old folks like it. Runner up? Macklemore’s “Same Love.” Nothing like a song that questions and changes the way we think as a human race.

Lorde Royals

The nominees for BEST NEW ARTIST are: 

James Blake

Kendrick Lamar

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Kacey Musgraves

Ed Sheeran

And the winner is: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Kendrick Lamar might take this one but I think the odds are in Macklemore and Lewis’ favor. They’ve been a national sensation and it’s quite incredible how they did it. Their song “Thrift Shop” was the first song to reach #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 without the backing of a major label. The Heist meanwhile, reached number 2 on the US Billboard 200 chart. Also, they’ve been nominated for 7 Grammys total, speaking to how much the Grammy voters loveee the duo.

macklemore

The nominees for BEST POP SOLO PERFORMANCE are:

Brave – Sara Bareilles

Royals – Lorde

When I Was Your Man – Bruno Mars

Roar – Katy Perry

Mirrors – Justin Timberlake

And the winner is: Roar by Katy Perry. To be honest… I have no idea who is going to win this one. It wouldn’t make much logical sense that Lorde should win Song of the Year and not Pop Solo Performance BUTTTT I have a feeling Katy might take this one (or Sara Bareilles). That song basically made my ears bleed b/c its been played so many times at events/clubs.

katy_perry_roar

The nominees for BEST POP DUO/GROUP PERFORMANCE are:

Get Lucky – Daft Punk Featuring Pharrell Williams & Nile Rodgers

Just Give Me a Reason – Pink Featuring Nate Reuss

Stay – Rihanna Featuring Mikky Ekko

Blurred Lines – Robin Thicke Featuring T.I. & Pharrell

Suit & Tie – Justin Timberlake & Jay Z

And the winner is: Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke. Again, this one is a toss up too but Pharrell has a pretty nice odds of winning doesn’t he? I think Robin’s going to have to walk away with an award tonight, otherwise the entire world will question why the song was so popular in the first place. Yes, it was controversial but…even Marvin Gaye admitted (albeit through a lawsuit) that the song sounds as great as his.

blurred-lines-cover

 

And those are my predictions for the major categories. Win or lose, I’m sure every nominee knows that they’ve won by merely being on the list…still, it would blow to be nominated multiple times and not walk away with one (*cough* Robin Thicke).