Coming up with an appropriate playlist for this month’s Ear to Ear has been a difficult task. How does one select a group of songs that accurately reflects the emotions we are all feeling during a global pandemic? I thought about a few different themes, most of which would only serve as a brief distraction from the isolation most of us are experiencing, and the real-life horror of the unfortunate rest. To submit such a list would, in my opinion, be a disservice to this reality. There is nothing wrong with taking an emotional escape from the news; however, for the purposes of this article, I think it’s important that I select music which provides a comfort but doesn’t take away from the reality of the situation.
The first event in my life that I can recall feeling the weight of a collective tragedy was the Challenger disaster in 1986. I was six years old at the time, and I can remember feeling a sense of loss and sorrow, while simultaneously feeling a stronger connection to the community. I also remember my parents putting the tragedy into perspective for me. They told me how important it is to try and understand how heavily the disaster weighed on other people; particularly the victims and their families. However, they also taught me that my feelings about it were valid, and that it would get better. I’ve applied these lessons to every tragedy I’ve experienced since, personal and otherwise. What follows is a selection of music that highlights this process of acknowledgement, connection and hope.
On March 22, pianist Mike Longo became one of the first more notable jazz musicians to die from complications of COVID-19. In his 83 years of life, Longo proved himself to be one of the better sidemen in the business, most notably, with Dizzie Gillespie. However, he was also an excellent bandleader, as evidenced by these two cuts from his albums “Dawn of a New Day” and “Sting Like a Bee.” Both tunes highlight the fact that, above all else, Longo was pro. A musician to be admired. A musician to be remembered.
“L’s Bop” & “Let’s Stay Together”– Wallace Roney
As I was writing the opening paragraph of this article, I learned about Wallace Roney’s passing on March 31 at the tragic age of 59. Roney was a true jazz legend and his loss is especially heartbreaking. He was a master of hard bop and post-bop, a fact that is particularly evident in his rendition of Lenny White’s “L’s Bop” from his “A Place in Time” record. Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” is probably my favorite song. Including Roney’s version of it in this list reminds us that as devastating as COVID-19 is, and despite the fact we need to distance ourselves from each other, we still need each other to get through this. Together.
“Waiting for the Phantom” – The Pizzarelli Boys
It wasn’t long after submitting this article to my editor that I learned both Bucky Pizzarelli and Ellis Marsalis Jr. had died from COVID-19 on April 1. Two jazz legends and both patriarchs of immensely talented jazz families, the necessity that we include them was obvious to both of us. This wonderful blues, composed by Bucky’s incredibly gifted son, John, comes from an album that features the three great Pizzarelli musicians; Bucky, John and Martin. Listening to how well Bucky Pizzarelli and his two sons perform together, it’s clear that his legacy is in no danger of being forgotten.
“Teo” – The Marsalis Family
Ellis Marsalis Jr. was probably the most well-known patriarch of the most well-known jazz family in the world. His contribution to the art form was immense and his loss, without question, shook the jazz world to its core. I’ve included this Thelonious Monk composition from the album “Music Redeems” because it features the entire Marsalis family of musicians working and playing together. Through all of life’s greatest challenges, family — and those closest to us — is everything.
“Look for the Silver Lining” – Chet Baker & “Look for the Silver Lining” — Sam Hirsh
Jerome Kern’s “Look for the Silver Lining” is a jazz standard with a lyric that speaks to what I’m sure we’re all trying to do right now:
Look for the silver liningWhenever a cloud appears in the blueRemember, somewhere the sun is shiningAnd so the right thing to do is make it shine for you
Chet Baker’s rendition from his famous “Chet Baker Sings” record is classic. Sam Hirsh released his version earlier this year on his debut album “Quite Frankly – Introducing Sam Hirsh,” showing us that the sentiment of this great song is as true today as it was in 1954 when Chet Baker recorded it and when Jerome Kern wrote it over 100 years ago in 1919.
“Smile” – Gregory Porter
This is a song I think we all need to hear right now. Gregory Porter, a fantastic singer born right here in Sacramento, has a recording that I enjoy quite a lot. However, I encourage you to find your own favorite rendition of this Charlie Chaplin classic and smile, if only for a moment, and take care of yourself.
Looking for more music from CapRadio? Listen to our Jazz Favorites playlist here: