Mundell Lowe

I don’t know what happened in the last 3-4 weeks. For months this blog was getting a few visitors a day and then all of the sudden that number multiplied significantly. Kewl…for sure. I do continue to appreciate anyone and everyone who comes by…Thanks!!

If you’ve read the sidebar you know I like listening to internet radio. Some people don’t and I get that. If you aren’t a subscriber, most of the stations have real lo-fi sound quality and many tend to have a playlist that becomes very familiar after a few listens. One station that really seems to have an endless amount of material at hand is KCEA in California…THE HOME OF THE MENLO-ATHERTON BEARS as they say. It’s a GOLDEN OLDIES station, and I mean, real old…1920s through the 1940s—the Swing Era in Jazz and Popular music. Some of the lyrics are very hokey and the sentiments are so dated compared to how people interact (whether it’s singing, talking, or thinking) today. Interestingly enough, the station had a PSA (public service announcement) on this very subject yesterday while I was listening and they stressed that it’s important to take the presentation in a historical context. Obvious WW II period songs — “Loose Lips Sink Ships” and “My Guy the GI”, as well as some guy singing “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree…” to some gal, were very important and relevant emotions for 70 years ago. People really did appreciate entertainment like this and would probably find a lot of what passes for music today to be either awful or overwhelming. KCEA also features some clips from old-time radio broadcasts and commercials and some of that stuff was pretty funny and maybe a little advanced for it’s day.

Coincidentally, I just finished reading Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand’s book on Louis Zamperini. This is an AMAZING story about a pretty amazing dude. Zamperini went from being a juvenile delinquent to an Olympic runner (competed in the 1936 games in Berlin and met Hitler) to an American bombardier who survived 40+ days on a raft in the Pacific Ocean after his plane crashed and then endured a couple of years in Japanese POW camps. The nature of this guy’s irrepressible character (he was a total prankster), his unbending will to survive and the cyclone of events he was sucked into make the lengthy book a very fast read. It also puts all of this old music in a different context. While it might seem stiff and hokey by today’s standards, many of the people who listened to and enjoyed it suffered through unbelievable experiences and some very trying times.

While I find this historical look back amusing and interesting, what is really cool is that The Swing Era produced some of the best musicians ever. Some people who would go on to be huge players later got their start during this time. If you’ve read this blog you know I’ve listened to tons of Gypsy Jazz players, including Django Reinhardt, but there is also a lot to be learned (and enjoyed) by listening to someone like Coleman Hawkins (who jammed in France with Django many times). “When I heard Hawk, I learned to play ballads,” Miles Davis said many years later. The above pic is Coleman and Miles at the Three Deuces in New York City in 1947. Yesterday KCEA played Hawkins doing If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight and listening to how he navigates the changes is an education for anyone intent on being a good player.

A bit later on in the show came a recording by Ray Mckinley and his band, You Came A Long Way From St. Louis. This song featured some really rippin’ guitar, so I had to go look up who it was. Ray Mckinley was a big bandleader back in the day — associated with The Dorsey Brothers and Glenn Miller — he took over leadership of Miller’s band after Glenn disappeared over Europe during WW II. Here’s a pic of this band with the guitarist I’m talking about, Mundell Lowe, playing at The Hotel Commodore in New York City in 1947. (Both of these photos are from the William P.Gottlieb collection) Mundell, unlike many of his contemporaries, is still alive and has had a long and very prosperous career as a guitar player. He’s got a style that is a little bit jazz, a little bit bop, a little western rhythm and blues and a little bit him.

Over the years Mundell has played with EVERYONE and I mean like EVERYBODY — Billie Holiday, Doc Severinson, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan and Benny Carter. He must have a ZILLION great stories and has gotta be a walking encyclopedia on some incredible times in American music history. In the next clip he and fellow guitar legend Johnny Smith do a live take of the Charlie Christian classic Seven Come Eleven.

Mundell left home at 13 years of age and even after all of these years of writing, playing, scoring movies and television, recording and performing he is still at it. The final clip is from a couple of years ago with the Great Guitars of San Diego. A total master with the longevity of Les Paul. Long may he swing!!

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