John Hammond has always been a strange case. Son of the legendary record producer and scout John Hammond Sr. who worked with Billie Holiday, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, young John who sang and played guitar staked out a difficult piece of musical turf when he decided to make playing acoustic Deltastyled blues on the National Steel guitar his signature move.
I’d say on average that about 85 percent of the people I ask, hate Christmas music with an undying passion. I am one of a crazed minority who actually like the stuff and have long cultivated a collection of the stuff. Although I usually begin the season with the two volumes of Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits, both of which are now out of print (C’mon Rhino!), but are easily found used on Amazon, my general rule with Christmas music is: the weirder the better. And God knows when it comes to weird, Bob Dylan’s new collection of guttural holiday croakings is truly amazing.
There was fast food like Catalonian baguette pizza with chorizo. Tapas like flash fried baby squid or crispy potatoes with olive oil mayo and tomato sauce. And then of course there was that robber baron Rupert Murdoch and his damnable tabloid The Sun which every morning has a halfnaked twentysomething smiling at you from page two! Danni, 23, from Coventry was my personal favorite. Yes, Europe does have its advantages!
And then there was the music, right, right, the music. A mini-theme of the 41st installment of the Barcelona Jazz Festival was the 50th anniversary of Kind of Blue. The idea, and it was an admirable one, was to turn three groups of musicians loose on Miles masterwork and then sit back and enjoy the contrasting approaches. Now that I’m back in the States and have had a few days to contemplate what I saw, it all sort of comes under the heading of: “The Mysterious Ways in Which a Musician’s Mind Works(?).” Or “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Drummers.”
During my Barcelona sojourn, I made a trip to the leading high end gear store in that beautiful city, Casa Werner, which is downtown, on the Ronda Sant Pere. Open since 1933, this former music store which began selling Victrolas along with 78’s, before moving entirely from content to gear, has been in the same family now for about a decade.
Back at the Barcelona Jazz Festival, after many espressos, a hunk of Cod, potatoes with olive oil mayo and tomato sauce, grilled mushrooms, and some of the best cookies I’ve ever had (thumb sized sugar cookies with chocolate centers), I made the trip to several record stores including Jazz Messengers, which has perhaps the finest collection of live jazz CDs and some LPs, in the world. If you’re feeling strong, pay down a credit card and then check out their website, www.jazzmessengers.com. They ship to the States, I checked. I picked up a CD of Clifford Brown’s final concert in Norfolk, Virginia, which was recorded in 1956, the week before his tragic death at age 26 on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The tenor player on the date was Sonny Rollins. Max Roach, Brownie’s friend and constant musical companion was on drums. It’s a legendary concert that has never been available in the US and needless to say I am thrilled to finally have a copy.