Rediscovering Jazz

The summer solstice is upon us. The longest day of the year will see me mowing the lawn and doing other things around the house amidst some typically warm and humid temperatures, while back in the high desert of Colorado they’ve set a record for rainfall, and there is snow forecast for above 10,000 feet. So it goes.

As the days wind down before the availability of jazz on Pittsburgh FM radio is slated to be drastically reduced, I’ve been thinking about jazz music in general. I really don’t have a lot of favorite artists or instruments – I just know what I like. Jazz is an excellent background beat for the music of life, and that’s the way I’ve enjoyed it most.

There are a couple of artists whose work is influenced by or considered part of the jazz repertoire that I’ve enjoyed over the years. This past weekend brought them back to mind.


Leslie and I had been looking forward to this concert for quite a while, and the show did not disappoint.

John Legend opened things up. He’s an excellent performer. His outstanding singing voice, piano playing, and songwriting skills were very evident, but perhaps drowned out a little too much by the band and backing vocalists.

Sade‘s show was elegant, long, exquisitely crafted, and nearly flawless in its execution. Along with the lead singer of the same name, parts of the band have been together since the early 80’s. The cohesion, the musicianship, and the feeling behind each of the songs they performed turned an otherwise ordinary concert venue into an intimate setting.

The production was something else – intricate lighting, a full video wall behind the stage, at times merged with video projected on a see-through fabric scrim that was lowered around the entire stage. The production represented what the music represents to me – a level of unexpected sophistication, and a meaning much deeper than just the soulful music and lyric.

Sade performed over 20 songs, including most if not all of their hits from the 80’s and 90’s. Sade herself is a performer whose talents lay somewhere beyond the striking beauty and unmistakable voice. You feel like she and her band have laid their souls out there in the music, much like many of the greatest jazz musicians. It’s a rare thing for someone who has enjoyed such popular appeal.

Pittsburgh was one of the tour’s first North American stops, having started earlier this year in Europe. There are plenty of clips from this show posted on YouTube, and the tour will have stops in Cleveland and Columbus in July. I will be keeping my eye out for a DVD of this concert down the road. It was that good.

Michael Franks

After the concert, Leslie and I walked back to the car and drove for a while with late night jazz on 90.5 helping to set the mood. We wound up at Ritter’s for a late night bite, and talked about the show and the artists from that era. We came back to a familiar jazz artist that we discovered in different ways, but whose music we both appreciated a lot.

I was introduced to the music of Michael Franks via the radio, but not WDUQ. It was by none other than Jack Bogut, back in the 70’s on KDKA. Jack was apparently fond of Mr. Franks’ second album, The Art of Tea, and played several tracks from it on his show. Over 35 years later, I’m kind of amazed that he was able to play “Popsicle Toes” in the morning without getting a slew of raised eyebrows. Well, maybe he did..

You must have been Miss Pennsylvania
With all this pulchritude.
How come you always load your Pentax
When I’m in the nude?
We oughta have a birthday party,
And you can wear you birthday clothes
We can hit the floor
And go explore those
Popsicle toes.

There are many other Franks songs that I enjoy, but as with many other favorite artists, including Sade, other noise has gotten in the way of the music. Leslie sees this, and lets me know about it. That’s one reason why I’m down to one post a week.

Too many other more important things to do, not just percolate in my head and not move on. There are lots of nice things to remember, including the 40th anniversary of the Pirates’ 1971 World Series victory over the Orioles (who are in town this week). Enjoy the memory, and keep moving.

Anyway. it seems that Michael Franks has just released a new CD, with a track nicely suited for today. So enjoy your first day of summer, stay safe, and take time to listen to the music.

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