A Singular Adventure!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The entire yule-log-lovin' album (ZIP)

(from liner notes)


If you are looking for something different in Christmas music - if your Christmas office parties or gatherings at home have been too much the same for the past few years, and you would like to introduce a refreshing new note into the proceedings - let pianists Ferrante & Teicher take you on an ADVENTURE IN CAROLS. The paths along which this talented team will lead you bear the old names which you are familiar - White Christmas, Jingle Bells, Santa Clause is Coming to Town, and others just as popular - but the names, plus the famous melodies, are the only things about this recording which bear any resemblance to any other version of these carols you many have heard. For this recording Ferrante & Teicher arranged the carols for two pianos - or should we say that they arranged two pianos for the carols? Actually, they did both - for, if playing conventional pianos in the conventional manner did not produce the effect the boys were after, they worked on both music and pianos until they got just what they wanted.

All over the country, of course, audiences for years have seen Arthur Ferrante or Louis Teicher rise from his bench in the middle of a performance and address himself to the innards of his Steinway - alternately muting, plucking, strumming and beating the strings. Nor does either of them hesitate to use his elbows, forearms or knuckles to elicit a desired chordal effect - not to mention an assortment of wooden and metal gadgets designed to give the pianos a new personality althogether (sic). These unorthodox and sometimes gymnastic doings are not calculated to amuse. They are an integral part of the team's very special arrangements. Their goal always is to achieve the maximum tonal contrasts and to simulate orchestral color as vividly as possible within the limitations of pianistic dynamics.

But no concert audience ever saw what Westminster's engineers saw - or ever heard what has been captured on this recording. It's not a single recording, to start with, but a double one - no pun intended. The boys played everything through once, then donned earphones and went over the same ground again, interpolating all manner of fancy figurations and fugal folderol. What with a profusion of microphones stationed over the keyboard, the gadget-laden strings and the paired celestas the results herewith are unlike any pianism, duo or otherwise , that you have ever experienced. It is as if Santa had, at last, discovered high fidelity. After so many years of hearing the same old tunes played the same old way, Old Nick undoubtedly would join everybody else in welcoming these new Christmas Sounds.


What other duo-painist (sic) can boast that they have played together since the age of six? Arthur Ferrante and Louis Teicher were fellow prodigies at New York's famous Juilliard School of Music, and even while students they appeared as a team. After graduation they gave a few joint recitals, then decided to take time out to prepare a really distinctive repertoire. Together they returned to Juilliard, this time as fellow members of the faculty, and spent all their spare hours for the next year or so working over the standard pieces and cleansing them of every last hackneyed cleche. Their professional debut as a team took place quite a distance from the concert hall, for they bowed in as popular piano duo at New York's sophisticated penthouse night club, Spivy's Roof. They were such a hit with the starlight crowd that they went on to more cosmopolitan boites like the Blue Angel, the Little Club and the Ritz-Carlton Terrace. Since 1947 they have been criss-crossing the country annually, winning laurels everywhere for what The New York Times called their "prodigious technical feats." Radio and television audiences know them for their guest stints on Piano Playhouse, the Firestone, Telephone and Carnation hours . . They have also appeared with leading symphony orchestras throughout the country. Their gift for blending the classic with the modern and the "heavy" with the "light" their extraordinary sensitivity, their technical perfection - these are just a few of the reasons why one stern Manhattan critic, echoing the national concerns, called Farrante and Teicher "the most exciting piano team of our time."

UPDATE (from Wikipedia)

Ferrante and Teicher ceased performing in 1989 and retired to Longboat Key and Siesta Key, respectively, both close to each other on the west coast of Florida. They continued to play together occasionally at a local piano store.

Louis Teicher died in 2008, three weeks before his 84th birthday. Arthur Ferrante died on September 19, 2009 at 88 (he said he wanted to live 1 year for each piano key).

Mikey Claus

One Christmas Catalogue

Monday, December 14, 2009

:: One Christmas Catalogue ::

:: Relax ::

We all know who Captain Sensible is, right? Well, then again, you may not. He was Co-founder of the British punk band The Damned in 1976. The Damned have the distinction of being the first British punk band to issue an LP (Damned, Damned, Damned 1977) and a classic it is. They went through a lot of personnel changes over the years, and disbanded quite a few times as well, but they're still together today (with Captain Sensible and founding lead vocalist Dave Vanian) and are no doubt coming to a venue near you.

Sensible left The Damned in 1984 to concentrate full time on his solo career which he had established some years earlier. Listening to One Christmas Catalogue it's hard to believe that Sensible is one of the founding fathers of British punk, but you know, by the mid-80s everything sounded like this. Still it's a catchy number an deserves more attention during the holiday season than it's gotten for the last 25 years.

The b-side is curious, to say the least. The good Captain's cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax" is a real "huh?" moment, especially as the flip side of a Christmas record. Sensible doesn't really bring anything new to the song save for some sampled film dialogue mixed in ala Big Audio Dynamite. But in any case, relax and enjoy these '80s nuggets.


This Time With Panache

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

:: Interlude ::

:: Sweet Music ::

:: Outside ::

:: Magic ::

The airbrushed van art quality cover lured me in, the shout out to the inmates of Sing Sing on the back notes sealed the deal. I would buy you, funky looking private label soul record presumably from some time in the early 80's, and I would give you a good home. I would even take you out sometimes when I DJ, though I have so far been afraid to actually put you on in front of strangers.

There is of course no information on the Internet, but this is the product of the sweat and soul of Freddie and Debra Thompson, and it was their first album. Was there a second? Well, I'll sure keep an eye out.

After listening to this whole thing a second time, I feel like side 2 is where the action is, or at least where the repetitive vibe on side 1 is shuffled off. So here it is for you, with my quick notes about the tracks.

Interlude wraps your skull in some silken electric piano chords that surely ought to remind a lot of people of DJ Shadow's "Midnight In A Perfect World."
Sweet Music is the song that is being interluded into, and were it blessed with some of the sweet brevity of Interlude, it'd be a lot more fun. Nine minutes might have been a weeeee bit too much, but there's some fun vintage dance floor sounds here and Debra does some kinda kooky jumps up to falsetto in mid-word that has me picturing Muppets. But what doesn't these days, really?
Outside is the soundtrack to the last go around on a cruise ship disco dance floor, complete with slightly dyspeptic horn lines.
Magic again starts with that hazy electric piano sound and shifts the record from cruise ship to cruisin'. You can almost hear face being sucked.


Shorty's Portion (Updated Repost Now With Whole Album)

Monday, December 07, 2009

Entire album

The following is a repost from 2005. Originally I put up only 1 song from the album, so I'm correcting that here. Also corrected are a few "facts" that I had wrong the first time around. Enjoy...

Shorty's Portion was centered around singer/composer Steve Salazar. Steve was born with a hole in his heart, and underwent 2 corrective surgeries by the time he was 10. Unfortunately both surgeries went awry and doctors gave him only a couple of years to live. Steve beat the odds and stayed alive despite the dire predictions of his doctors, but was not able to enjoy physical activities like other kids. He was brilliant though. He excelled in school and proved to have near genius intelligence. He was the oldest of 5 kids in a very tight half Hispanic, half Armenian family. The Salazars lived in a big old Craftsman style house in the El Sereno neighborhood of Los Angeles, and despite Steve's pessimistic prognosis, they were a very positive, happy bunch. Steve's siblings all looked up to their big brother, even though by the time he was fully grown he stood about 5'3", and weighed about 90 lbs.

Steve took piano lessons at an early age. Of course he discovered rock music by the time he reached puberty, and he admired artists like Neil Young and Todd Rundgren. But when he discovered Frank Zappa, he went into hyper-drive and began writing not only pop songs, but also complex, near symphonic musical pieces with sardonic, self depreciating lyrics. In high school, he soaked up music theory classes, and was quite popular with the other "music geeks".

Later he attended USC, and eventually got a degree in musical composition. The Shorty's Portion album was recorded during his USC stint, and the band was comprised mainly of other music majors. Steve had high hopes for a career in music. He had an almost equal passion for film, and especially loved film music. About half of his massive record collection was comprised of soundtrack albums, so if given the opportunity, I'm sure he could have easily segued into composing film music ala Danny Elfman or Randy Newman. True to his quirky nature, he often said that if he made some money, he'd like to open a liquor store in Beverly Hills, and sell booze to rich people.

Shorty's Portion did occasional shows, but it was mostly his many friends and supporters that showed up. Andy Gonzalez was Shorty's drummer and a good friend of Steve's. I knew Andy from high school and we were in our early 20s, we were hanging out during a time when Shorty's Portion was inactive. Along with a couple of other high school buddies, we came up with a concept for a band, based on our recent exposure to the Sex Pistols and Devo. None of us were song writers though, so Andy thought of Salazar. Steve was a bit reluctant at first, but after we loaned him "Nevermind The Bollocks", he came up with a song called Long May She Wave, intended as an answer song to God Save The Queen. We loved it and he was in. The band was called The Skabbs.

Salazar was the perfect addition to the band. His bizarre physical appearance, and outrageous stage presence, combined with his high, fragile voice made for a strange mix with this aggressive, stupid band blazing behind him.

When Salazar began writing songs for The Skabbs, he realized that being forced to write in a simpler style was good for him, and the years of absorbing music theory had filled his head with too many musical rules. Writing and performing with The Skabbs freed his mind, and in his mid-20s he finally started doing a lot of things he was afraid to do before because of health concerns. He had a steady girlfriend for the first time, had a warrant out for his arrest (mostly for parking violations, but he bragged about it none the less), and moved away from home to the South Bay hamlet of Lomita (home of the Alley Cats). Life was good, but unfortunately short. His bad heart finally got the best of him and he passed away just short of his 27th birthday.

In our brief moment in the smog, The Skabbs recorded some demos, played a few shows (enraging and confusing hippies and punks alike) and at various times performed as many as 40 Salazar originals, but never cut any wax during our year + run (my biggest personal regret). Thus, the Shorty's Portion album is the only slab of Salazar vinyl in existence. So, without further adieu, here it is, in all it's glory.

I'm loathe to say anything about the album. I feel too close to it, even though I had nothing to do with it. Listening to it now, it's better than I thought it was. I love Gonzalez's drumming. Andy's told me about the sessions at Jerry Shirar's studio in the O.C., and how he insisted on recording each instrument separately, one at a time. So they'd do a take with Steve's piano, and go from there without the use of a click track or anything like that. It's fun to listen to Andy try to catch up, then slow down again (on Cliche especially, featuring Steve on "Half-assed" lead guitar and "tough guy licks"). On all 7 of Salazar's songs though, the songwriting comes right through.

Steve was torn between writing songs with hooks and songs with substance, but he always managed to combine the two anyway. He was mindful of his audience (his family, fellow USC students, etc.), and you could tell he was eager to please, to prove he was good, and this record does indeed prove that.

From Steve's liner notes: Bear in mind that most of this was done in our spare time and under not-so-opportune conditions. I'm sure that under the proper conditions with access to better facilities, it would still sound the same.

Tracks 7,8 & 9 are not by Salazar nor Shorty's Portion, and although he performs on two of the songs (guitar and bass on Terence d'Balboa's "I Had To Practice My Smile" and Steve Laughlin's "Lonely Leah". The other song is "Fantasy Child" by D. Layne), it's a weird left turn for the album to take a little better than halfway through it. Somehow in the end though, it all comes together.

Also from Steve's liner notes: The first four numbers on side two were written by four U.S.C. music comp majors (known to some as the USCateers). They were originally entered into the American Song Festival, 1975. We chose them from songs we thought had the most commercial potential. Unfortunately, the ASF judges disagreed! So, we thought we'd put these rejected entries on plastic and let you, the listeners, decide for yourselves.

One final note from 2009: The four surviving members of The Skabbs reformed in '08 and have been performing Steve Salazar's music at various watering holes around the L.A./Orange County area (we even played a couple of shows in Vegas. Steve would've loved that!). And like every other band these days, we have a myspace page:

One thing we knew when we got back together and that still holds true today: There's no way to fill Steve Salazar's shoes, but at least we can show you the shoes.