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“Robert Christgau, Rock n’ Roll Animal”

February 6th, 2011

“Christgau, writing in The [Village] Voice, it just seemed like this weekly bulletin from the front.”  -Anthony DeCurtis, from Paul Lovelace’s 1999 documentary “Robert Christgau, Rock n’ Roll Animal”

Robert Christgau is the kind of inspiring critic and editor (primarily with New York’s The Village Voice) I wish we had in animation. A passionate musical eclectic, reading him in real time (the key might be “real time”) for most of the last 40 years would constantly keep you in a state of imagination and optimism. Even when you disagreed with him (I certainly did a majority of the time), his enthusiasms couldn’t help but infect you with the notion that pop music was worth it, that the very immediacy of popular culture had something to offer all of us. Of course, his definition of “pop” spanned the distance from Ornette Coleman to Patti Smith to Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five.

And that breadth was a lot of his message. Thousands of recordings are released, more thousands all the time, and it seemed like Christgau felt that the very fact they were released at all was cause for attention. He’d you he was inspired and that maybe you could be too. For me, like writer Anthony DeCurtis, Christgau was really a reporter about culture. His radar on punk and disco and hip-hop constantly reminded me to keep my mind open to creative people of all stripes, even though I was applying it in jazz, then television, and eventually, to animation.

My sister’s friend, publisher Russ Smith, opines in the doc that Bob Christgau was emblematic of the decline in The Village Voice’s audience, which is just a rival’s sour grapes. For this reader, certainly, he was the reason (and not just his columns, but the diversity of the other writers he brought to the music section) I regularly bought the paper throughout its ups and downs.

In animation, we appear to have almost no journalists interested enough in our medium to so completely immerse themselves in everything the art has to offer. I’ve posted about my admiration for Chris Robinson’s writing, and Charles Solomon and Michael Barrier write intelligently too. However, the almost purposeful disinterest in anything outside of their subjective parameters “quality” make their work a bit, um, limiting. Amid Amidi is certainly impassioned, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on the confines of his shtick. Jerry Beck (and one of his mentors, Leonard Maltin) are heartfelt writers with perhaps the widest range of public interests in animation and cartoons, then again, I’m not sure I’d really describe them as critics, certainly in the manner of Robert Christgau (or Pauline Kael or Whitney Balliett). I, for one, would love to have a good writer constantly challenging all of us to work beyond our current projects, to aspire to greatness, whether it be greatness dumb or intelligent.

I just stumbled upon this short, enjoyable, 1999 documentary on Christgau by director Paul Lovelace (split into four parts on YouTube). I’d never heard about it and I can’t find much of anything about it (or Lovelace) on the web, but… here it is.

A bluesman.

June 11th, 2010

Frederator Postcards Series 10.1
Frederator Postcards Series 10.2, mailed June 11, 2010 Limited edition of 200
Adapted from
Chuck Berry
Blue Feeling 78rpm
Chess Records
Chicago, Illinois
……
More Frederator postcards

Chess Records was famous in the black community for their blues 78s before Chuck Berry exploded them across America’s consciousness with his mass appeal, seminal rock’n’roll records. But, he was a bluesman first.

Hank Jones R.I.P.

May 18th, 2010

Hank Jones
“…one of the greatest piano players that we’ve ever had. He had a profile as a piano stylist in his own right and could do everything — stride, bebop, swing, serve as a great accompanist. He had such command of all the aspects of jazz piano. He was just remarkable until the very end.” –Dan Morgenstern

My friend Nick Moy pointed out this Washington Post obituary on jazz pianist Hank Jones. Partly because of the two records I produced in the 70s when Nick and I were roommates, but mainly because there were very few talents like Hank.

It must be said that Hank Jones being “produced” by a white kid from the New York suburbs is a complete overstatement, but it was an experience I’ll never forget. As is said about him almost everywhere, Hank was a gentleman to the core, with a soft but purposeful approach to life, which translated into his persuasive musicianship. A few hours spent with him translated into deep life lessons on many fronts.

Check out this half hour radio show, Piano Jazz Session on NPR’s Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz, and you’ll not only get a taste of some great piano, but of a real man in a tough business.

Kevin Lofton & Fab 5 Freddy in the house.

January 26th, 2010

Kevin Lofton & Fab 5 FreddyAnimation director Kevin Lofton was back at Frederator/NY, and this time he brought a special guest star, hip-hop pioneer Fab 5 Freddy. We were all discussing feature projects, and maybe we’ve just about got one. Thanks for coming over guys.

The beast in him.

July 28th, 2009

Sing Beast Sing (excerpt) Directed by Marv Newland from fredseibert on Vimeo.

Regular readers aren’t at all surprised by the affection director Marv Newland inspires in animation fans. Like me. What most people don’t know is how much Marv loves blues and jazz. An affliction we share.It shouldn’t be surprise to close Marv watchers though. In addition to his award winning short Sing Beast Sing (excerpted above) featuring Willie Mabon (it’s actually where I first heard of Mabon), his film Tales from the Far Side (Gary Larson’s another huge jazz fan) is scored by guitarist Bill Frisell.And anyone who’s caught Marv’s Anijam (an early cartoon jam featuring 22 world famous animators) should know that he’s incorporated the lessons of improvisation are woven deeply into the core of his filmmaking ethos.

So, when I started thinking about producing a jazz documentary entirely in animation I immediately thought of Marv. He been incorporating the lessons of improvisation deeply into his filmmaking ethos from the very beginning (front and center in his film Anijam), and his generosity to other animators reminds deeply of the best jazz band leaders I’ve witnessed.

Here’s hoping I can figure out how to get this thing made.

My mentors: Joe Fields

July 27th, 2009

Jazz recording entrepreneur Joe Fields
Joe Fields

I’ve been posting quite a few of the records I produced or engineered at the beginning of my career, and lately in particular, the Muse jazz records. Which has gotten me thinking about the incredibly important role Muse Records founder Joe Fields didn’t mean to play in my work life.

Somehow or other I ended up in Joe’s office (above the West 71st Street Bagel Nosh) in 1976 asking for a gig “producing” records (like I even knew what that was). Joe, in his always enthusiastic way, happily gave me an immediate assignment (I think it was the first Linc Chamberland LP), and for the next three or four years I was a willing student in his unintended record business class.

(For those who won’t read the Wikipedia entry,  Joe started Muse inj the early-70s after a long stint at Buddah Records where he started an in-house jazz label Cobblestone. It was a label of jazz “blowing” sessions, meaning it was primarily mainstream jazz artists who’d come in the studio and in two union sessions –six hours– record enough material for a complete album. Muse Records was among the last of its breed, in a day where the most revered mainstreamers had gone corporate. The result was an unparalleled 20+ year archive of jazz in America from 1972-1995. And Joe continues to add to the legacy with HighNote Records.)

I won’t bore you with all the things I got out of those “lessons,” but suffice it to say that Joe had forgotten more than I would ever know. How to pick an artist? How to promote? What to ignore? How to negotiate? What’s important, what’s not? When’s a good time to take a chance? Who was Juggy Murray? What was ‘producing’ anyhow?

A few of my Muse Records productions
Hank Jones > 'Bop Redux Hank Jones > Groovin' High Willis Jackson - In The Alley Willis Jackson > The Gator Horn Willis Jackson Jaki Byard Linc Chamberland > A Place Within Harold Ousley Walter Bishop Jr. > Hot House Don Patterson > Movin' Up! Dom Salvador Joe Chambers > Double Exposure  Carlos Garnett harvest+2 Junior Cook > Good Cookin' Eric Kloss > Now Together blank square blank square blank square

Joe introduced me to the real world. Without him I never would’ve gotten to work with 24 track recording, or get to meet the legendary Rudy Van Gelder. To say nothing of the artists like Hank Jones, Willis Jackson, Jaki Byard, or the others. And, he didn’t mean to change my musical tastes –I’m sure it was of no consequence to him whatsoever– but I walked in dedicated avant gardist and walked out a lifelong soul jazz devotee. (Soul jazz didn’t only sell better and longer, but was a lot more fun.)

There was a lot of history in Joe that I just soaked up and it was always fun dropping by the office just to listen to him on the telephone, working it with an artist, a studio, or maybe a distributor or radio station. Things that were second nature to him were golden to my uneducated ears, and I just couldn’t get enough. My only complaint is that I wanted more. More projects, more time, and more money. Mainly more projects, because they were just so much fun. But, I was going broke on the $250 a record he was paying me, though I now know if he paid me anything more he would’ve gone out of business. Lesson #1, being a survivor in the independent record business is never easy, and probably requires you to disappoint almost everyone wanting a better payday.

It was at a disastrous Muse session in Brooklyn that I called my friend, Muse liner note writer, and future partner Alan Goodman to come and help me figure out whether to stop trying to make a living at record producing and try my hand in the then revolution of cable television. You know who won.

Working with Muse Records was a once in a lifetime, unforgetable experience. Not all the records I worked on for Joe were wonderful. And some were beyond fantastic, truly world class. But, no matter the project, it was a rare privilege Joe Fields allowed me.

Joe was, and continues to be, a generous man. Thanks guy, I couldn’t be a producer without you.

Muse Records LP label

Isaac Hayes?

March 18th, 2009

Fred & Isaac Hayes (!)
Issac Hayes, on the set of “Me Music. It’s Mine.” New York City, 2000
Sonicnet.com [logo]

When stars are involved in projects we’re producing I usually stay far away.

Except in 1978 when I was working in Los Angeles radio and Marvin Gaye came by to promote his latest release. And in 2000, when I was running MTV Networks Online group, which included Sonicnet.com, we were doing an advertising campaign created by my brilliant mentor, Dale Pon. “Me Music. It’s Mine,” directed by a true star, Tim Newman, featured dozens of amazing musical artists improvising on the famous vocalist’s warm up “Me Me Me Meeeeee.” How could I not want to fist bump one of the great American singer/songwriters Isaac Hayes? (Yes, he really did have a superstar career before South Park.)

(As soon as I locate a tape, I’ll post some of the spots. …:::Update: here they are:::…)

Meet the Composer: Ron Jones

February 21st, 2009

Composer Ron Jones

Ron Jones has led the kind of Hollywood composing life many people would envy. He started in cartoons back in the day (The Smurfs and The New Adventures of Scooby-Doo and, a Seth MacFarlane fave, Duck Tales) but also has a great following from his years on  Star Trek: The New Generation. Seth brought him into my orbit on his Family Guy prequel, Larry & Steve, and he continued on other Frederator shorts like the original The Fairly Oddparents (and it’s great theme song), The Dan Danger Show (I posted a couple of his complete scores here), and A Kid’s Life. But, of course, his great visibility has come from the enormously diverse body of work he’s done with Seth at Family Guy and American Dad. And let’s not forget his own “Influence Jazz Band.”

All the composers we’ve been charmed to work with over the years are talented, versatile, and smart. With Ron I’d have to add thoughtful and articulate. Speaking with him about his music is always enjoyable and a learning experience for me.

And recently in an email Ron was talking about “creativity and fun. That is the heart of what I live for.” What more could you ask for in a collaborator?

Thanks Ron.
Composer Ron Jones

“The Dan Danger Show” soundtracks

February 9th, 2009

Dan Danger 2002
This post has moved here. So sorry for the inconvenience.

Steve Tompkins (and Edward Gorey. And Michael Mantler.)

November 20th, 2008

Steve Tompkins
Steve Tompkins in his Nickelodeon writing office, with The Gashlycrumb Tinies poster

If this gets too complicated, I’m sorry about that…

Last week I was walking by the office of one of Fanboy & Chum Chum’s executive producers, Steve Tomkins*. I noticed his cool poster of Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies, which he was obviously very proud of and it got me to telling him of my unusual, casual run in with Gorey’s work back in the day.

The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey

My soft spot for Gorey comes from a particular circumstance. In 1976, I was working with the composers and musicians Michael Mantler (who I posted about last month) and Carla Bley, when Mike released his LP which used Gorey’s writings as the libretto for his compositions called “The Hapless Child and Other Inscrutable Stories.”

Get your own at Scribd or explore others: Culture Music music poetry

I’d never heard of Gorey (his Amphigorey hadn’t quite crashed into the mainstream), and Mike had always had a taste for interesting authors he liked to compose to (like Harold Pinter or Samuel Beckett.  And Mike’s always unique casting had me quadruply intriqued (Robert Wyatt for the prog-rockers, Mike (on trumpet), Carla, Steve Swallow, & Jack DeJohnette for the jazzbos, and Terje Rypdal all of them). Check out a track, and pick up some MP3s.Michael Mantler > The Sinking Spell

So, while it’s always fun saying hi to Steve*, I got an extra cultural dose of nostalgic inspiration the other day. Thanks bud.

* By the way, in addition to doing a hilarious job on Fanboy & Chum Chum,  I found out about another unsung showbiz story. Who knew that Steve Tompkins created Ari Gold on Entourage?