Is Paramore The Future of the Music Business?

With a successful CD and sold-out national tour, Paramore is the band of the moment. Their only area show attracted minivans brimming with teenaged girls and their wary chaperones, all prepared to stand in line for hours in subfreezing weather for the best seats. 

Most everyone went home happy, as the band played a solid set of punk-influenced pop-rock.   If Paramore is to become more than a TRL flavor du jour, their Worcester Palladium show Saturday proved a good start. 

Though unused to headlining (it’s their first time out topping the bill), lead singer Haley Williams and her mates were more than comfortable in the spotlight.  Their material doesn’t break much new ground, mainly contemplating love – lost (show opener “For a Pessimist, I’m Pretty Optimistic”), found (“Born for This”) or stolen (“Misery Business”).

Plenty of things set Paramore apart from the emo band crowd, however.  They write clever, dagger-sharp lyrics, as when the boyfriend thief in “Misery Business” snarls “I’ve got a body like an hourglass/ticking like a clock,” then claims humbly she “never meant to brag.”  They mix it up musically, too.  “Let the Flames Begin” was a particular highlight, featuring deft key changes and furious guitar solos. 

More than that, they took the stage with a professionalism that could have worked as well in a hockey rink as it did in the dilapidated former movie house.  Flanked onstage by oversized lithographs, with a jumbo screen above them punctuating their set like an MTV video back in the day, Paramore was both visually arresting and musically challenging.  It’s easy to imagine them on the same arc as No Doubt and Evanescence, two other female-fronted bands that made the move from the bars to the big houses.

Lead singer Hayley Williams is a seasoned performer at the mere age of 17; she bantered easily with the audience, and made acrobatic stage moves. It’s worth noting just how well behaved the crowd was.  Burly security guards at the edge of the stage picked up crowd-surfing fans and set them down gently, like they were stacking boxes of dishes at Target.  The whole experience was safe enough to ease parental worries.  The show’s sponsor, Helio, was more than likely gratified to see hundreds of glowing cell phone screens, as Mom and Dad sent and received text messages from their moppets in the front rows. 

Paramore pulled off a difficult balancing act. They’re not as daring as Fall Out Boy or the Disturbed, but they’re definitely not Disney material either.  With any luck (and Hayley Williams’ not-inconsiderable charm), their fans will grow up with them. 

One had the sense that Saturday’s crowd hadn’t been to very many shows by other bands.  Paramore is indicative of a trend in the business.  Niche performers court fans by putting together competitively-priced package tours with other like-minded bands.   

Saturday’s show featured two such groups, though they were unfortunately victimized by a bad sound mix.

Most of their vocals were drowned in a wall-of-guitar sonic fury.   The Almost showed the most promise – Kenny Bozich’s drumming was quite impressive – but neither his band nor the Starting Line managed to rise above the noise. 

Many in the audience, however, were obviously in tune with both opening acts, singing along to songs they’d heard online (the Almost claims over ten million MySpace plays alone) and buying t-shirts and CDs at the break.  They may have come to see Paramore, but they paid attention to everything going on at the concert.

That’s in direct contrast to most arena shows, where whatever happens before the headliner is lost in the din of ushers and beer vendors.  Such nights are always about the headliner.

It was reminiscent of a time when casual fans went to more than one or two shows a year.  Outlets like OzzFest and the Vans Warped Tour (which gave Paramore their first big national boost), are spawning hundreds of shows at places like the Palladium, Higher Ground in Burlington and Mark’s Showplace in Bedford.   

Good music at a fair price – if this is the future of the music business, then it’s definitely encouraging.

Local Rhythms – Try Some Promotion

I’d like you to try an experiment.  Locate a teenager.  Son, daughter, nephew or the kid who shovels your driveway, it doesn’t really matter – as long as they’re a music fan.  Look for kids who tend to wear lots of t-shirts with names you don’t recognize.

Or an iPod – that’s another good clue.

Ask them to name their favorite bands.  Chances are, they’ll recite a pretty long list.  

OK, here’s the fun part – try to locate some of them.

Time was, every town had a record store.  These days, there’s Music Matters and Newbury Comics in West Lebanon; for most of us, though, big box stores like Wal-Mart or Best Buy are it.   

After fighting traffic and steadily growing weary of clerk’s blank stares, you’ll buy a gift card.  Worth one, perhaps two items on a young fan’s holiday list.

On the other hand, purchasing credit at an online music store – iTunes is the most popular, but by no means the only one – means more variety and bang for the buck. 

The record business is floundering because there aren’t many good albums.  But there are a lot of good songs, and for that, a la carte is where it’s at.

Hold the power ballad – I’ll take a double order of rock steady. 

Of course, this doesn’t exactly sit well with the folks making – er, selling the music.  Jermaine Dupree, an industry executive, excoriated iTunes recently.  The latest release from Dupree’s client Jay-Z is available online, but only as a “complete work.”

He compared selling music by the track to hawking torn-off pieces of an Andy Warhol painting.   

It’s odd that Dupree cites Warhol, as the ubiquity of his work – prints, magazine covers, t-shirts, postcards – is a big reason why it’s so familiar today.

“Tearing a corner” from a musical masterpiece (though I have a hard time thinking of “American Gangster” in such terms) doesn’t alter the work.  It’s not like there’s only one painting.  You can buy the whole thing if you wish, and I’ll just grab a song – which may whet my appetite for more. 

It’s called consumer choice.  For some, though, the concept of free markets is hard to grasp.

Dupree also complained that “books aren’t sold by the chapter.”  He’s right.  The Internet, with no printing or mailing costs, makes it infinitely easier to give it away.  Check out the New York Times Book Review, and you’ll find a link with most write-ups. 

That, Mr. Dupree, is called promotion.   You should try it sometime.

What’s happening in the coming days? 

Wednesday: Handel’s Messiah, Hopkins Center – With the holiday shopping season underway, it’s a good time to remember what a good many people are celebrating.  First performed in Dublin in 1742, this edition of Handel’s Messiah is particularly special, with celebrated German conductor Helmuth Rilling leading the Handel Society.  If there’s a chorale sample more ubiquitous than “Hallelujah,” I haven’t heard it. 

Thursday: Billy Rosen Quartet, Sophie & Zeke’s – Since introducing live music 18 months ago, this downtown Claremont restaurant has found its sweet spot is jazz.  Of all the combos that pass through, Rosen’s is probably my favorite.  These four musicians possess a breathtaking ability to communicate, trading solos and finding infectious grooves with ease.  Good jazz remakes the familiar into something surprising and new, and they have that in spades. 

Friday: Spare Change Bluegrass Band, Salt Hill 2 –Joe Stallsmith’s name comes up a lot in the history of area music.  He fronts a few different bands; this one has an old time feel and features some incredible picking.  The three-piece – guitar, mandolin and fiddle – moves from Nashville to Texas, with a long walk along the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Fire up the Orange Blossom special, and enjoy some Americana.

Saturday: Mighty Sam McClain, Blow-Me-Down Grange Hall – This should be a lot of fun.  McClain, who lives in Southern New Hampshire, sings soul with abandon, backed by a seven piece band that will rattle the walls of this venerable Plainfield building.  His music earned him Grammy nominations and appearances on TV shows like “Ally McBeal.”   

Sunday: Area Choir, Newport Congregational Church – This event (with one performance Saturday and two Sunday), brings together the best voices from churches throughout the region for a Christmas sing.  It’s always a seasonal highlight, featuring not-so-often-heard hymns along with holiday favorites, when those in the pews are invited to join in.  There’s no admission charge, but a donation is welcome. 

Tuesday: Alejandro Escovedo, Boccelli’s – One of the more luminous acts to play downtown Bellows Falls, Escovedo has a widely varied background.  He was an early progenitor of punk in the late ‘70’s with the Nuns, then moved on to country rock with Rank and File.  Always a step ahead of the rest, his latest release, “Boxing Mirror,” reflects a spiritual awakening – but he’ll still play “I Wanna Be Your Dog” in concert. 

Roomful of Blues – The Band and the Brand

roomful.jpgThe story of Roomful of Blues and the New England blues scene are inextricably intertwined. The venerable Rhode Island band brings its unique style of swinging, dance-friendly R&B to the Ascutney Mountain Resort on November 30.

Countless players came through their ranks on the way to other bands. Duke Robillard, who co-founded Roomful of Blues in 1967 with piano player Al Copley, went on to front his own successful band. Drummer Fran Christina joined the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

Other past members include vocalists Curtis Salgado and Lou Ann Barton, horn players Greg Piccolo and Porky Cohen and keyboardist Ron Levy.

Some left successful bands to join Roomful of Blues. Keyboard player Travis Colby fronted Hipology before joining a few years ago, and also gigged with Ronnie Earl, the ex-Roomful guitarist who replaced Duke Robillard in 1981.

In recognition of long runs with Young Neil & the Vipers and the High Rollers, Downbeat Magazine called new lead singer Dave Howard “the de facto ruler of the little blues state” of Rhode Island. Howard joined up in early 2007, and worked on Roomful’s forthcoming CD, “Raisin’ a Ruckus.”

The new record, due in early 2008, includes eight original tunes and some covers. It maintains the feel of a Roomful of Blues live show, says Chris Vachon, the band’s lead guitarist and producer since 1990. “It’s a mix of blues styling – a little rock and roll and big band sounds, a danceable kind of thing.”

In the studio, they try to strike a balance of tight and spontaneous. “We rehearse for three or four days and just go in and record the tunes,” he says. “There’s not a whole of fixing up, so when we go out and play it, it sounds like the record.

After so many years and personnel changes – close to 50, but there’s no definitive list – Roomful of Blues is equal parts band and brand. But their essential qualities remain the same, Vachon says.

“The guys in the band like what they’re doing and the kind of music we do,” he says. “Things have changed a little bit with singers and stuff, but for the most part it’s close to where it started out.”

The current lineup, says Vachon, “has been pretty consistent for the past 3-4 years, with the exception of Dave, who just joined a little while ago.”

Vachon says he’s pleased with the group’s musical chemistry.

“We’ve had editions in the past that probably weren’t as good as we’d hoped for, for a lot of different reasons. But this particular group is really solid. Everyone does what they’re supposed to do. I’d have to say it’s one of the best lineups we’ve ever had.”

The band plays a “Jump blues” style, popularized in the 1940s by Louis Prima, Big Joe Turner and Wynonie Harris; in the 1980s, it received a modern boost from Brian Setzer and Joe Jackson. Jump blues is more disciplined, less free form music than other blues idioms, designed to get crowds up and dancing.

Over the course of a 40-year career, Roomful of Blues has worked with everyone from Count Basie to Stevie Ray Vaughn, recorded with songwriting legend Doc Pomus, and seeded a bevy of blues bands as well. Along the way, their horn section built a long resume of session credits.

When the band plays live, says Vachon, “most of our stuff is worked out as far as the arrangements and who’s going to solo.” They do occasionally loosen up and stretch things out, he says. ‘We have a few tunes, like the instrumentals, that are open. Whatever happens – we don’t say, ‘you’ve gotta take three [bars]’. If a guy’s really playing, he’ll take four, five or six.”

“It’s interesting to be able to play in a band like this where you don’t always have to be the main guy, or the main soloist, everybody kind of takes it for a little while,” he says.

Is it still fun?

“I gotta say, I still love it,” replies Vachon. “It’s a little tiring once in a while out on the road, and it’s tough to be away, but I still enjoy it.”

At one time, the band did as many as 200 shows a year, but they’ve trimmed their extensive performing schedule. “We used to be on the road a lot, constantly,” he says. “We’re cutting back to weekends now, and then we’ll go out on tour for a couple of weeks and come back.”

“I can see my wife a little more,” he says. “I’m on my second marriage, so it’s kind of more important to me to spend time and take care of my home.”

Apparently, absence makes the musical heart grow fonder. “If we haven’t played together in a while, we have a ball,” says Vachon. “It’s different than playing five nights a week.”

Local Rhythms – Reasons to be Thankful

turkey.gifOK, it’s time to thank the people who’ve made my life as a music lover enjoyable over the past year.

First of all, thanks to Ray Massuco, for keeping the flame alive in Bellows Falls. He promoted his first Roots on the River festival in June. The weather cooperated and the music was, as always, sublime. Because of Ray, I found a new musical treasure in 2007 – Chris O’Brien, who I’m assured will be back on the Boccelli’s stage very soon

Cheers to Dave Clark, for maintaining the wonderful Yellow House Media web site ( If you haven’t been there, you’re missing a chance to sample some of the area’s best bands. You’ve heard of the Stone Cold Roosters, but you won’t hear them on the radio. You can, however get a full dose of them and others – Anais Mitchell, the Cold River Ranters, Juke Joynt and the Gully Boys – at Dave’s place on the web.

Thank you Steve Smith, for talking the talk and walking the walk. WVRR’s new management ungraciously got him the hook after he’d performed the minor miracle of turning Lebanon’s Clear Channel affiliate into a local resource. Steve responded by bringing back WCNL from history and launching his own station – in his hometown of Newport.

Josh & Joe Tuohy – I can’t thank these guys enough. Salt Hill Pub is now a twin dynamo, bringing fine Irish fare and the best pints anywhere to both Lebanon and Newport. Of course, I’m wild about the music at both venues. Bands like Sirsy, Hot Day at the Zoo, Roamin’ Gabriels and others are always fun, never predictable.

Chris Jones: The Middle Earth Music Hall’s Buddah-In-Chief had this to say in a recent email: “When I come across something special and unique, the force that drives me is the desire to show it to my friends.” He calls his Bradford, Vermont hobbit-hole a place “where the odds are good that the goods are odd.” It’s been a struggle at times, but the Shire survives because Chris won’t cave to the ordinary. Thanks!

To Reid and Danna Hannula; what was downtown Claremont before Sophie & Zekes? I have a hard time remembering, but I know that Pleasant Street is jumping now. Jazz has new hometown, not to mention eclectic bluegrass (the upcoming Bradford Bog People), hot blues (Kid Pinky) and a landlocked Margaritaville every time Pete Merrigan comes to town.

Some others deserving a tip of the hat: Jim Olsen, for running a record label (Signature Sounds) with passion, not cupidity, Bob Lefsetz, for providing a provocative, albeit occasionally overheated, vision of the way the music business should and will be, and mavericks like Thom Yorke and a million MySpace bands for helping to make it happen.

It’s a great time to be a music fan. Here are a few good local options for the days ahead:

Thursday: Sacred Harp Singing, Hanover Friends Meeting House – If you’re looking for a diversion on Thanksgiving Day, this might fill the bill – but only if you love to sing. Sacred Harp, for those of you who didn’t see “Cold Mountain,” is shape note music sung at large gatherings, usually a capella. Think of it as a cross between open mike night and a flash mob, only holier.

Friday: Draa Hobbs, Sophie & Zeke’s – An in-demand guitarist returns to Claremont. Hobbs has played with a long list of jazz luminaries, did a stint in Al Alessi’s band, held forth at Oona’s before the fire, and most recently helped singer-songwriter Lisa McCormick with her newest album. Tonight, he brings along a saxophone player (whose identity is a mystery), so expect to hear his jazzier side.

Saturday: Kind Buds, Salt Hill II – This pair made a big impression over the summer festival season. I think of them as the Dark Star Duo – they love the Grateful Dead (enough that they sat on a recent symposium about the band), and they do a lot of their songs – very well. But they’re not a one-trick pony – their spirited originals are pretty tasty, too. You can hear them on Yellow House Media.

Tuesday: Little Big Town/Sugarland, Cumberland County Civic Center – Pop and rock have become a paint by the numbers game, but country music is impossible to pin down – call it the Eagles Factor. Little Big Town’s harmonies are cool enough to keep ice cream from melting, and Sugarland is fronted by Jennifer Nettles – definitely the best part of Bon Jovi’s recent hit, “You Can’t Go Home.”

Wednesday: Handel’s Messiah, Hopkins Center – With the holiday shopping season underway, it’s a good time to remember what a good many people are celebrating. First performed in Dublin in 1742, this edition of Handel’s Messiah is particularly special, with celebrated German conductor Helmuth Rilling leading the Handel Society. If there’s a chorale sample more ubiquitous than “Hallelujah,” I haven’t heard it.

Local Rhythms – Bad Government

I try to stay away from politics in this space.  But a recent announcement compels me to go once again into the breach.

It’s no secret that big media interests like the RIAA and the MPAA pay handsomely for elected representatives to do their bidding.  Judging by the results, they’re getting a bargain. 

Since the mid-90’s, Congress passed a flurry of laws designed to strengthen their hand.  Thus empowered, their lawyers file lawsuits with reckless abandon; persuade Internet companies to spy on their customers and more. 

Recently, they got Comcast to block ALL peer-to-peer traffic, good or bad.   

These culture mavens spend more time in courtroom than the recording studio.  Therein lies the problem.  Suing teenagers and degrading broadband quality isn’t going to win many hearts and minds

Enter our government, with a solution to this vexing public relations problem. 

I can just picture the meeting that led to the “Intellectual Property Enforcement Act,” introduced last week in the U.S. Senate:

“See, the problem is we do all this work, and then everybody hates us.” 

“What if we could get federal lawyers to do it for us?”

“Yeah – no one likes the government anyway.” 

“It’ll cost us less, too. Boffo!”

That’s this bill in a nutshell.  It creates a special division of the FBI to go after media-mad miscreants.  The Justice Department is then responsible for filing cases and collecting damages.   

But copyright crime’s bad, you say.  They should be going after these guys.  Well, they do – in criminal court.  Where, coincidentally, fines aren’t assessed.

Bereft of new ideas, these guys are only interested in refining old ones.  Ever wonder why there are so many sequels and reunion tours?  There you go. 

The bill’s a rehash, too.  Essentially the same legislation failed three years ago, when it was called the PIRATE Act.

Even the Justice Department doesn’t like it.  “These cases are hard to win,” they said of the PIRATE Act, “and besides, don’t we have better things to do?  Like, uh, I don’t know – terrorism?” 

Lest anyone think I’ve an ideological axe to grind, I’ll remind you this is a bipartisan bill – Senators Leahy (D-VT) and Cornyn (R-TX) signed it.  It’s equal opportunity stupidity.

This law needs to be shut down faster than a bad movie. 

On to more entertaining subjects:

Thursday: Cold River Ranters, Sophie & Zeke’s – This band should fill a void left when the Spiral Farm Band stopped performing.  They call their music “hot gonzo primitive folk jive.”  If Leon Redbone shared a moonshine-soaked night with Daisy Dukes, their love child would sound like this.  I haven’t seen them live (they’re on, but I’ve gotten emails telling me they’re a must-see. 

Friday:  Upper Valley Bluegrass Festival, Lebanon Opera House – It’s a great weekend to be an Americana fan.  Tonight, mandolin wizard Sam Bush shares the stage with the Greencards, who feature Nickel Creek-like harmonies.  Tomorrow, Del McCoury picks and grins, while Crooked Still reinvents songs from the public domain.  Sadly, the show is Rushad Eggleston’s second to last with the band.  Tristan Clarridge will replace him on cello and Brittany Haas will join on fiddle next month.

Saturday: Lisa McCormick, New England Youth Theatre (Brattleboro) – One critic said of this Vermont singer-songwriter, “in a perfect world, she’d be the talk of the town.”  With her latest, “Talisman Groove,” she may get that chance, with top flight players like T-Bone Wolk helping out. Tonight, she celebrates the release with a full band show (typically, she’s solo).  Her songs are smart, edgy and hum-able. 

Sunday: Juke Joynt, Parker House – Take one part Foghat and one part Buddy Guy, mix it with a bodacious X factor that results from the chemistry of three players who do itinerant in several other local bands, and you have Juke Joynt.  Dave Clark, Jed Dickinson and
Terry Diers focus on original music that channels the blues when they were real and classic rock before it got cheesy.

Monday: B.J. Thomas, Billy Joe Royal, Verizon Wireless Arena – This is a benefit for the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire (PFFNH), called “Raindrops and Boondocks.”  Of course, the first refers to Thomas’s biggest hit, though I’m partial to “Eyes of A New York Woman,” and the second is a reference to Royal’s “Down in the Boondocks.”  Most folks know the song, not the name.  Tickets are a reasonable $20, which is why I’m breaking my arena ban – plus it’s for a good cause. 

Tuesday: Tegan & Sara, Calvin Theatre – I don’t know what to call this quirky pair – “punk folk? Whatever – they sport an infectious sound, with bouncing rhythms and popping harmonies.  You probably haven’t heard them on the radio, but they’ve been all over TV shows like One Tree Hill, Grey’s Anatomy and Veronica Mars.  They even appeared as themselves on “The L Word” – most bands are content to be on the soundtrack.

Bill Wightman – For the Love of the Gig

In the summer of 1992, Bill Wightman and his friend Rink Mann hatched the idea for “Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon.”  They were hoping to re-create the atmosphere of the great New York jazz clubs during the heyday of bebop, when performers like Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker and Ella Fitzgerald reigned supreme.

Rink was in a band and Wightman, a Berklee grad and longtime area pianist, was recruiting players to jam with.  “I was into jazz, but I wasn’t doing only jazz,” says Wightman.  “Rink said, ‘let’s make it only jazz.’” 

“It was slow starting,” Wightman says.  “We were doing it because we loved it.”

16 years down the road, the venues have changed – from its start the Lake Sunapee Country Club to a five-year run at the Newport Opera House, to JOSA’s current home, the Center at Eastman.   

But for Wightman – musician, teacher and jazz lover – the story remains the same.

“I’m doing this for me, and all the musicians that I work with.  I’m not making a lot of money,” he says.  “I do it to play.” 

In keeping with the session spirit that spawned the series, Wightman’s house band, the JOSA Ensemble, has changed and evolved over the years.

The current lineup – John Hunter on bass, percussionist Tim Gilmore and reed man/flutist Richard Gardzina, with Wightman on piano – has the requisite instincts to follow a wide-ranging vocalist like Shawnn Monteiro, an inventive horn player like Greg Abate or a dynamic duo like saxophone player Fred Haas and singer Sabrina Brown (all of whom will perform during the current season).  

“They’re just so solid and dependable,” says Wightman.  “The variable is that we play with people we’ve never played with before, the featured artist. So to have a real solid rhythm section is a real advantage.”

Such sentiments also motivate him in his day to day life. 

Wightman taught off and on for 10 years at Proctor Academy; now he’s their full-time music director.  In that role, he’s shepherded students to Boston’s Berklee School of Music, his alma mater. More important, he’s refined what he calls an “experiential” method of music instruction.

“If art becomes academic, it’s no longer art,” he says. During his classes, “we jam, we get a groove going.  We listen to each other.  Do I conduct? Yeah, to get them going, but then I step out of the way.” 

“I do a lot with improvisation, and with understanding … the chordal structure of a song, as opposed to just giving them a sheet with notes on it,” he says.  “We work on what is the form, how do you solo.  Everybody solos; everyone has a lot of fun with it.”

The goal is to help each student find their place in the group, and “communicate through playing,” says Wightman. 

“That’s what I’m teaching, and is in fact the joy of playing music.”

JOSA’s season opener brings together these many threads.   Al Alessi, who also opened last year, is a longtime collaborator of Wightman’s.   This time around, Alessi is bringing his daughter Elizabeth, who’s making her marquee debut.  The 16-year vocalist, however, has performed quite a bit, performing with her dad’s band, and also singing with Wightman. 

“She sang at JOSA at the Opera House,” said Wightman as the pair sat down following their regular first Friday appearance at Sophie & Zeke’s in Claremont.

“She scatted with Lady Eve and was right next to Big Joe (Burrell),” notes Alessi, adding that the then-12 year old “had a lot of composure on stage, and some real interesting young chops.”   

Wightman compares her to a young Norah Jones; he asked her to play JOSA after backing her during a fundraiser in Woodstock, Vermont.

“She was fabulous, really quite something,” he says.  “We had a great rapport together.” 

Al pointed out that “Biz” (her nickname) was busy finding her muse these days. She’s writing songs on the piano and working with a voice coach, and she recently discovered Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark” period.  She wasn’t exactly keen on sharing the stage with Dad. 

“She’s probably regretting that she said she’d do this,” Alessi says, “but Bill asked her and she can’t say no to Bill.” 

“We might do a duet,” Al says.

Responds Wightman, “well, I hope so.” 

Al laughs it off.  “We might do “Cheek to Cheek” – Louis and Ella did that,” he says.  “We’ll come up with something.  Maybe, if she wants to.  I’m not gonna force it.”

Wightman smiles, looking sure that Alessi & Alessi’s performance will go without a hitch. 

He’s asked, “Is this the youngest featured performer you’ve had at JOSA?”

“Yes, I think it is,” he answers – at least with their name on the program.  For years, Wightman’s extended an open invitation to anyone with the gumption to get up on stage and jam, regardless of age.  

“That is one of the things about JOSA, it invites young people, any age, to sit in,” he says.  “For the audience, it’s just a major hit.”

It’s also a sweet deal, he says.  “If you come to play you get in free. It’s really a good place for kids to get experience with top notch musicians.  My guys are really good with kids.” 

Casting aside riches to excite musical discovery has always been a big part of Bill Wightman’s philosophy.  It’s what’s kept JOSA vital all these years.

Says Wightman: “I never went after the money. I went after the gig.” 

JOSA Returns December 9

The 16th annual Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon series commences December 9, and runs every other week through April 6 (except for a 3-week break after Christmas).

The shows are held at Bistro Nouveau at Eastman.  The restaurant’s award-winning appetizers, entrees, drinks and desserts will be available for all performances, which begin at 4.

This season’s lineup includes familiar faces from past years, along with some exciting newcomers.   

Dec. 9             Al and Elizabeth Alessi – Jazz Vocalist & Entertainer and his talented   daughter. making her JOSA debut
Dec. 23          Jody Ebling – Captivating Jazz Vocalist
Jan. 13           Greg Abate – International Saxophonist
Jan. 27           Fred Haas & Sabrina Brown – Saxophonist & Vocalist Extraordinaire
Feb. 10           Cercie Miller – Jazz Saxophonist 
Feb. 24           Tiger Okoshi – International Trumpeter
Mar. 9             Shawnn Monteiro – International Vocalist
Mar. 23           Steve Marvin – Jazz Vocalist & Entertainer (Easter Show)
Apr. 6              Richie Cole – World-Class Alto Saxophonist (Season Finale) 


All performers are backed by the JOSA Ensemble:


Pianist, Bill Wightman, from Sunapee, NH, is the Instrumental Music and Music Technology Director at Proctor Academy.  He attended Berklee College of Music in Boston and, since the mid 1970s, has been performing, teaching, directing and producing in music and theatre both in education and for the public throughout New England and New York.  

Bassist, John Hunter from the Portsmouth, NH area has performed from coast to coast accompanying such jazz greats as Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Art Farmer, Milt Jackson and Joe Williams to name a few.  His playing is always highly intuitive, his repertoire extensive, and he’s a great listener and all around human.  The Rockingham Gazette says, “[John is] fast emerging as one of the most respected bass soloists in the country.”

Percussionist, Tim Gilmore from Lebanon, NH, attended Berklee College of Music, and studied with both drum legends Max Roach and Alan Dawson.  Having performed with such jazz greats as Mary McPartland, Dick Johnson, and Warren Vache among others, Tim is a recipient of the Presidential Arts Scholarship.  He brings to JOSA an up-beat and delightful attitude, and is known for his occasional, intricate and sometimes epic (never to be missed) drum solos. 

Reedman and flutist, Richard Gardzina from Barnstead, NH, has a BA and MA. in music composition from both the University of North Texas and UNH.  His performances include dates in Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New England with such jazz greats as Red Garland, David “Fathead” Newman, Little Feat, and “Blue” Lou Marini to name a few.  With two CD releases to his credit, Richard brings consistent freshness and innovation to JOSA with solos that support and compliment the performance of each featured artist.

Local Rhythms – Eagles Do A Good Deed

eden.jpgThe Eagles’ long-awaited collection of 20 new songs is the best thing they’ve ever done.

But I’m not talking about the music.

My readers know that I blame them for transforming the live music experience into a Veblenian spectacle of excess, forcing fans to choose concerts like vacations – once or twice a year.

This time, they’re doing us a favor, by taking control of their music. They have enough clout (and money) to manage every phase of the project, and in the process they’re proving just how irrelevant the major labels are.

You won’t find “Long Road Out of Eden” in any record store – only at Wal-Mart and the web site.

Good or bad, that’s the deal they made. You could certainly fault them for tying their lot to a company that’s, to put it delicately, somewhat out of sync when it comes to enlightened corporate behavior.

Don Henley defended the move by pointing out how great it would be to call Wal-Mart’s CEO on the Bat Phone, sounding a lot like he did back in 1994 when he claimed $125 concert tickets were OK because they came with free parking.

I’ll cut him some slack, though.

The example the Eagles are setting (along with Madonna and Radiohead, who recently made similar moves) will be followed by bands up and down the food chain.

The record labels may own the past, but if musicians are in charge of the future, we can look forward to a better world.

I should mention that “Long Road Out of Eden” is an awesome musical work. One song, “Waiting in the Weeds,” dabbles in metaphor, touching on the twilight of the label gods in the context of a gorgeous love song.

He describes “a small grey spider spinning in the dark, in spite of all the times the web is torn apart.”

Henley’s a guy who chooses his words carefully.

He’s an environmentalist who knows that the end of CDs means a healthier planet.

The web has been torn apart, by lawsuits and petty greed, but it’s not going away.

The new album may be available in Wal-Mart, but it’s a dollar cheaper as a download, either unencrypted MP3 or high-quality FLAC (which delights audiophiles).

Their deal with Wal-Mart expires in a year; after that, the band can do what they want – they own the music.

The world of music will be watching and learning. The dinosaurs will, deservedly, be dying.

Thursday: Richard Shindell, Middle Earth – One of the most intelligent and overlooked songwriters around, whether tackling topical issues like 9/11 or immigration, or just telling stories. Shindell is one of the best. To see him in an intimate venue like the Middle Earth should be a real treat. He also does a good job with others’ material – his latest CD, “South of Delia,” is a well-crafted tribute to his favorites.

Friday: Hair, Moore Theatre (HOP) – The first rock musical, with nudity, profanity and drug references – and the Dartmouth Theatre Department is mounting the production? Talk about a time warp. The music – songs like “Easy to Be Hard,” “Good Morning Starshine” and the title still sound vivacious, if a bit naïve, nearly 40 years later. The show runs through November 17.

Saturday: Susan Tedeschi, Lebanon Opera House – The reigning queen of the blues, in my book anyway. Tedeschi can play the chrome off a trailer hitch, and sings like a cross between Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin. This show will rattle the walls of the old opera house, so you should be prepared for an earth-shaking experience. Oh, she has three Grammy nominations and a song on the Bug soundtrack, plus Allman Brothers lineage by marriage. How cool is that?

Sunday: Acoustic Truffle, Salt Hill Pub – Once or twice a year there’s a cover charge for music at Salt Hill, usually for a cause. This time, door proceeds and 25 percent of sales after 5 PM will go to MS research. Acoustic Truffle brings a tasty brand of Americana from the Seacoast, where they’ve been a institution since 1986. “People get their groove on while supporting a good cause,” says owner Josh Tuohy, “which is a win-win.”

Monday: Marc Cohn, Iron Horse – Get in your car and drive to NoHo – if there are still tickets left. Seeing Cohn is like going to church. He is SO much more than “Walking in Memphis.” Seriously, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Wednesday: Solid Blues Tour, Merrill Auditorium (Portland, ME) – Admittedly, this is long trip, but this lineup of great blues musicians is worthy. The North Mississippi All-Stars top a bill that includes two legends of the genre – harp player Charlie Musselwhite and singer Mavis Staples (“I’ll Take You There”). The show hits Portsmouth and Keene later this month.

Jonathan Edwards’ “Sunshine” Mind

edwards.gifThree words succinctly sum up Jonathan Edwards’ sunny disposition. 

“It’s all good.”

He’s excited about his upcoming Claremont Opera House show.  Edwards performs Saturday, November 10 with his long-time side man, bassist Stuart Schulman.  He also plans to sit in with opening act Northern Lights.   

“We share the same manager; I’m on their new album. We enjoy playing with one another, it’s great,” he said during a recent phone interview.  “It’ll be a jam-nation!”

The singer-songwriter’s ebullient mood is infectious; his conversations are inevitably punctuated with smiles, laughter and those three words.  He’s been making music for over 40 years, and appears to still love every minute. 

After the success of his self-titled first album in 1971, which yielded the international hit “Sunshine,” he harbored a few doubts.

“When Nixon was president, and my second album met with no promotion – it was like I was dropped from the label – I decided to move to Nova Scotia and learn how to do some other stuff that I’d really wanted to do for years, like work with horses, raise a garden, work with friends and family and try to make a little community out of the bare bones essentials of self-sufficient farming,” he says.   

“I was there for about 5 months, and then Emmylou Harris called me up.”

Harris coaxed him to Los Angeles to work on “Elite Hotel.” She helped him land a deal with her label. “I did two albums (“Sailboat” and “Rockin’ Chair”) for Warner Brothers, and before I knew it I was right back in the middle of it,” says Edwards. 

“It was all good.”

Edwards’ latest project is a film score for “The Golden Boys.”  The movie, with a cast including Mariel Hemingway and Charles Durning, is due next spring.    

Working from his new Manhattan home, Edwards recruited several musician friends to work with him, including fellow songwriter Jesse Winchester, guitarist Bob Golub (Rod Stewart, Billy Squier) and Stuart Schulman.

Edwards also has a small acting role in the period film.  When the director, who’s also a friend, offered him the music direction role, he recalls, “I said OK, but only if I can be in it.  I was kidding, but he said OK, done, you’re in it.” 

“I play the Reverend Pearly,” he says.  “It’s pretty ironic, because I preach against the evils of rum in the town.  I tell all my friends, and they go, ‘yeah, right, that’s a hot one.’”

“Golden Boys” isn’t Edwards’ first time in front of the camera.  He hosted the PBS series, “Cruising America’s Waterways,” in 2001.  The travelogue show ventured “all the way from St. Lawrence to Champlain, to the canal system of the Hudson, the Eerie Canal, Key West, the Dry Tortugas and everywhere else in between,” says Edwards.  “It was a blast, and I think a lot of people learned a lot from that series.” 

Though he’s made 12 albums over his long career, Edwards is forever known for the energetic, upbeat “Sunshine” – a song that, interestingly, almost wasn’t recorded. 

“Another song on the record was accidentally erased,” he says. “I’d just written the song, and I put it down and it sounded real good.” 

“I bet a lot of the songs that we know and love were conceived and created through just such an effort of chance,” says Edwards.  “It’s all good.”

If he’s perceived as a one hit wonder, he has no regrets.  “If I never play another note but that song, and left that as a legacy I’d be satisfied,” he says.  “I still hear at the shows how much it meant to someone going through a hard time, or a great time, or people who were in Vietnam when it came out and how it helped them kind of understand that they weren’t in this alone.  So I love the fact that the song chose me to have one hit with.” 

“As I told someone recently, one hit’s better than not having any.”

Besides, he’s had the last laugh, building a solid regional following – not to mention a huge fan base in, of all places, the Netherlands.  

“Surreptitiously, someone bootlegged the two records I did with Emmylou Harris, this was years ago,” says Edwards.  “They became quite popular.”

Edwards enjoys helping performers find their way.  He discovered Lisa McCormick in a Peterborough, New Hampshire club, and produced her first record.  “It’s been real fulfilling and rewarding for me to find young artists who are starting out and to maybe give them some advice, maybe some musical help,” he says.  

“That’s really been fun for me, to work with other artists and try to sort of launch them on to the next level.”

What kind of advice does he give them? 

“Get a good attorney and take it from there,” he says, and guffaws heartily.  “That’s the cynical answer.”

 “I do have some advice for young singer-songwriters starting out, and that is – acquire an audience … three little words, a lot easier said than done.  Do whatever you can to try and attract an audience and they will show you the way.  They will lead you down the path that makes them happy and entertained.” 

It’s certainly worked for Jonathan Edwards.  With a musical career that shows no signs of slowing down, he’s unflappable.  There are those three little words again:

“It’s all good.”

Local Rhythms – Listening to Marc Cohn

cohn.jpgA couple of weeks ago, I wrote that most current music wasn’t worth owning.  That’s not to say it’s not worth listening to, but most of it’s disposable when all is said and done.

I have a handful of artists, though, who are automatics – I’ll buy anything they put out, sight unseen.  It’s a short list – Patty Griffin, Jackson Browne, Marc Cohn and Don Henley (though I prefer to steal his music after what he and the Eagles did to the concert business)..   

I’ve added a couple of new names – the moody, ethereal band Winterpills, and Americana chanteuse Tift Merritt have recently made the cut.

Most people know Marc Cohn for his one big hit, “Walking in Memphis,” and his brush with mortality a few years back, when he was shot in the head during a carjacking.   

If you don’t know any more than that, you’re missing out on one of the most gifted songwriters alive.

He’s not prolific, with a mere four albums spanning an 18-year career. The most recent was 9 years in coming.   

But when Marc Cohn commits music to tape, it’s timeless, perfection.  “Join the Parade,” Cohn’s latest, is essential – a great artist’s greatest work.

One of his new songs in particular evokes what it means to be passionate about music.   

“Listening to Levon,” paints a picture of young lovers, long ago, kissing in a car.  The details – the girl’s features, the weather outside, are all there.  But what Cohn remembers best is a song on the radio that blurred everything else about the moment. 

“I was looking at the girl,” Cohn sings, “but I was listening to Levon” – Levon Helm, the sandy-voiced singer/drummer of the Band (in their heyday, another of my automatics). 

Great music transforms and transcends; it stops time and reveals possible worlds. 

Long after human entanglements end, it remains a constant friend.  To quote Stephen Stills – “I have my ship, and all her flags are flying/she is all that I have left, and music is her name.” 

When art speaks with unmistakable clarity, I need it as a constant companion.  That’s why I love my iPod I’m never without my music collection. 

And I’m here to tell you that “Join the Parade” is that rarest of things, a new record that you must own.  If the Internet ever crashes, you don’t want to be without it.   

Thursday: Conduction No. 167, Spaulding Auditorium – Lawrence “Butch” Morris is a musical renegade, working the confluence of jazz, new music, improvisation and contemporary classical music.  Using the Conduction® language of hand gestures, he improvises musical landscapes with ensembles from around the world.  Tonight, he conducts an expanded edition of Dartmouth’s Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble.

Friday: Al Alessi/Bill Wightman, Sophie & Zeke’s – The next JOSA season is just about set, and brochures should be hitting the streets in a few weeks.  Last year Alessi, who can croon like Sinatra or Van Morrison depending on his mood, opened the series.  This year, he’ll do it again, this time bringing his daughter Elizabeth, who sounds like a young Norah Jones.  Meantime, he and Wightman hold forth every First Friday in downtown Claremont’s hottest nightspot. 

Saturday: Hexerei, Claremont Moose – It’s been awhile since the last heavy metal show at the Moose, and this one’s got a lot going for it.  It’s a reasonably priced post-Halloween show ($10 with a costume, $15 without), with five bands on the bill including the headliner – Soul Octane Burner, Anger Rising, Reflections of Mortality and Escape to Everything.  As a bonus, Hexerei will have demo copies of their long-awaited (and appropriately titled) third CD, “Pay Your Dues.”

Monday: Guy Davis, Capitol Center for the Arts – A bluesman of the first order, Davis mines the roots music of Robert Johnson (whom he portrayed off-Broadway in the early 90’s), Son House and Elmore James.  Davis has worked with some top-notch musicians over the years, but it’s solo, in a straight-backed chair, where he truly shines.  A Davis performance is an elemental experience – he’s as real as it gets.   

Tuesday: John Fogerty, Orpheum Theatre – How far has the music business come since the Sixties?  Well, Fogerty is back with his old label, Fantasy, a company he once swore an eternal enemy, and he’s released “Revival,” his most Creedence-like record in years.  If he hadn’t stayed so angry for so long, I’d venture he’s be filling hockey rinks today.  He’s an American original.

Wednesday: Terry Diers,  Canoe Club – A ubiquitous guitarist who works several.nights a week, playing solo or with a variety of Upper Valley ensembles.  Diers is incredibly diverse.   He plays 6 and 12 string guitar, slide, mandolin and is a talented singer as well.  Canoe Club owner John Chapin calls him “the essence of Northern  New England with a country overlay.”