The New York Times and Wall Street Journal presented affirmations of music Thursday morning amid the newspapers' reports of human disasters, political stupidity and corporate malfeasance.
Two pieces hallmarked innovative musicians' contributions: a WSJ tribute to sax virtuoso Lester Young , and The Times' look at 12 hit songs defined by the beat of ace session drummer Hal Blaine.
Jazz historian John Edward Haase in the WSJ article looks at Young's ground-breaking career. Friday will be the 60th anniversary of Young's death at age 49. He was one of the many black geniuses who died too young from American racial oppression and inadequate appreciation of his art.
Billie Holiday, who made a series of essential jazz recordings with Young, died a few months later, ravaged from drugs and state harassment. She called Young "Pres," and he bestowed upon her the name, "Lady Day." They are two musical geniuses who deserved much better from their native land.
As Haase notes, Young was one of the many black jazz and blues pioneers who were born in Mississippi, transforming the state's poverty and repression into transcendent music.
He first made his mark with Count Basie's band in Kansas City, and after moving to New York increased his fame playing in clubs and recording with Holiday and others. Hasse says Young's quieter, more refined style contrasted with that of the more raucous Coleman Hawkins, and that his artistry anticipated the emergence of Charlie Parker.
The Times' Christopher R. Weingarten looks at Blaine's drum work on 12 songs recorded by artists ranging from Phil Spector's Crystals and Ronettes to Simon & Garfunkel, Sam Cooke, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, the Monkees, Johnny Rivers, Nancy Sinatra, the Byrds, the Beach Boys and the Fifth Dimension. Blaine, who died this week at age 90, was the mainstay of a group of session artists who played on nearly every recording made in Los Angeles from the 1960s through the early '80s.
Called by Blaine "The Wrecking Crew," the group played on pop recordings by Frank Sinatra, rock and soul top 40 hits, and TV series and commercial themes. They had the versatility and ability to switch from genre to genre during marathon recording sessions.
Blaine is especially remembered for his drum sequence that kicks off the Ronettes' "Be My Baby." But that assertive rat-a-tat-tat annunciation was not common; he most often was a subtle driving force underlying the songs like a steady tide. He is the latest among a group of landmark session musicians who died recently, receiving posthumous recognition for their musical contributions unheralded during their careers.
The saddest part of Blaine's New York Times obituary was the statement that his recording career waned in the 1980s when producers began using drum machines on recordings. A drum machine could never match Blaine's human touch.
For further affirmation of human creativity, the Times had two enthralling reviews of performances at New York City's Carnegie Hall. As mammoth condos and office buildings rise just blocks away, the venerated music hall asserts the best of New York as an arts center.
The great Times classical music critic Anthony Tommasini blesses a performance by the young pianist Beatrice Rana, who sailed through the daunting challenge of Chopin's 24 Etudes, mesmerizing her audience. For years, Tommasini has been among the Times writers whose byline I look for each day. He adds to my limited classical music knowledge, and makes me feel that I was with him at the performance, After his review, I will look forward to exploring Rana's recordings.
The well-known violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter also enthralled a Carnegie Hall audience with a recital based on Mozart, according to Times critic Corinna de Fonseca-Wohlheim. Mutter performed along with her longtime piano accompanist, Lambert Orkis. After their performance, Mutter returned for an encore featuring works by her former husband, Andre Previn, who died recently after a long and varied career that brought joy to millions.
Lester Young. Billie Holiday. Hal Blaine. Beatrice Rana. Anne-Sophie Mutter. Andre Previn. The inexhaustible range of music creativity gives hope for humanity, as the news pages increase our despair.