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THE PRESIDENT’S CORNER

 

To “boldly go where no other has gone before.”  I guess that, or something like it, was the mission of Captain Kirk and the Starship Enterprise.  Well, we decided to “go boldly back” (OK, another split infinitive couldn’t hurt) where lots of cats have been before --- the swing era.  Put Don Stiernberg, Rusty Holloway and Jeff Jenkins into a recording studio, add a mandolin, upright bass and acoustic guitar, and let ‘em “turn the pups loose” on some classic swing tunes.  That’s exactly what we did, and the result was “Swing 220,” Blue Night Records’ latest release.  We sure hope you like it.

 

Even more recently (right now, as a matter of fact), we’re in the development stages of moving into what’s being called the “Americana” musical genre.  Take one of the greatest singer/songwriters currently on the planet (Steve Spurgin), add Rusty’s upright bass again, and roll out the red carpet for Jens and Uwe Kruger (2/3 of the Kruger Brothers).  The result will be BNR-221, which has yet to be titled.

 

To say that I’m excited about this project would be a gross understatement.  Steve Spurgin is a veteran musician, a wicked-good singer, and as noted, a very gifted songwriter.  Among other ensembles, he was a member of the contemporary bluegrass group “California” with Byron Berline, Dan Crary, John Moore and John Hickman.  Heck, he was even in “Wild Oats” with me (I’m not makin’ this stuff up) back in early 1970s Los Angeles.  Check out his solo releases (“Distant Faces” and “Tumbleweed Town”) at www.stevespurginmusic.com

 

This latest project began with a phone call between me and Steve about two months ago.  Since then, we’ve developed a song list, secured the services of most of the players, and decided to record in Knoxville, TN.  We’re going into the studio the second week of December to begin the recording process, plan to mix right after that, send it out for mastering, finalize the art work, and get some discs manufactured.  I’m guessing it will be released in April, 2011 at the latest.  See, there really is work involved.  Doesn’t mean we won’t be grinning the whole time though . . .

 

On a serious note, take a moment to think of what artists give up to do what they do.  Whether they’re musicians, sculptors, painters, or actors, all artists take great risks to generate things we enjoy.  They don’t get guaranteed salaries, paid vacations, health insurance, company cars, or many other benefits normally associated with work.  Sure, it’s their choice, but without those with the courage to make that choice, the rest of us would be forced to live in a world without great music, thought-provoking visual art, or any of the other beautiful things that help soften the hard edges of life.  So let’s all support the arts as much as we can.

THE PRESIDENT’S CORNER

 

Tradition.  It plays a huge role in jazz, bluegrass and folk music.  In the latter two categories such great songsmiths as Norman Blake, Steve Spurgeon and Larry Coryell glean inspiration from their traditional musical roots.  Many modern day jazz players built the foundation of their chop vocabulary on the great solos of yesteryear (think Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, John Coltrane).  How many of us Boomers cocked a young ear to the stereo (OK, hi-fi) when it played the likes of Josh White, Flatt and Scruggs, the Kingston Trio, the Chad Mitchell Trio, and Doc Watson.

 

Fast forward to 2008.  Try walking into a “record store” (if you can find one) and buying the work of some esoteric song writer, hip saxophone cat or fiery banjo player not yet a household name.  I’ve heard it said that most downloaded music and CDs are bought by 12 to 15-year-old kids.  Where does that leave the rest of us who might not embrace synthesized rhythm tracks and re-mixed dance music?

 

Blue Night Records has distribution relationships with a couple of organizations that fill the need (craving?) many of us have for independently produced music that’s not part of the popular pablum being fed to the masses. 

 

ELDERLY INSTRUMENTS in East Lansing, Michigan is a dream come true.  For anyone interested in acoustic music, it’s heaven on earth.  Guitars, banjos, mandolins, violins, . . . virtually any kind of stringed instrument is there to be played, adopted, and taken home.  I’ve bought several guitars from them over the internet on approval, and they’ve always turned out to be even better than their knowledgeable sales staff described over the phone.  Elderly also has a CD distribution arm (Sidestreet Distributing) that focuses heavily on independently produced, traditionally-based acoustic music.  Chances are, when you go into that funky, cool little boutique or music store around the corner, the CD’s you find have been supplied by Sidestreet.  Go to Elderly’s web site (www.elderly.com) and peruse their inventory.  I’m happy to report that you can find any Blue Night Records release there.

 

CD BABY is another friend of ours.  Their distribution efforts are exclusively electronic, and their title and artist list is gigantic.  If your musical interests go well beyond the acoustic and the traditional, you may want to give CD Baby (CDBaby.com) a try.  Can’t find that illusive CD by the local grunge or Ska band just released?  Chances are you can find it at CD Baby.

 

Good luck, and thanks for supporting independent musicians!

THE PRESIDENT’S CORNER

 

French author Albert Lamorisse wrote a wonderful short story called “The Red Balloon.”  It’s about Pascal, an only child in Paris who becomes friends with a magic balloon (you guessed it, a “red” one).  Well, the balloon follows him everywhere --- to the bus (they get kicked off), to school (the balloon gets expelled), and back home again (Pascal’s mom is not amused).  I won’t tell you the ending, but rest assured that the seemingly simple red balloon takes on a life of its own, transporting Pascal from a bleak existence of loneliness and despair to one of wonder and amazement. 

 

Thinking about this simple, beautiful story has caused me to wonder about the life of a single recorded musical note.  The musicians labor in the studio, usually following a chart for the general structure of the tune.  But within that structure, at least with the jazz musicians who record for our label, they are somewhat free to explore a range of appropriate musical figures.  They occasionally and spontaneously play a line made famous as part of some other tune, out of respect for its composer and/or other musicians who have brought the tune to the public’s attention.  A “nod” they call it.  But experienced jazz musicians also give “nods” to each other.  Listen carefully to Richie Fudoli’s saxophone solo on “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.” (cut no. 8 on Don Stiernberg’s “About Time”).  He gives musical nods to the mandolin solo that has just ended.

 

So besides playing the tune itself, jazz musicians engage in a good deal of improvisational interplay.  Much like the red balloon, the notes that result could go anywhere.  But there’s so much more.  Once the tunes are recorded, mixed and mastered, once the licensing agreements have been obtained and executed, once the art work has been completed, and once the disc has been manufactured, we distribute it to the public.  Man, there’s no tellin’ where those notes are going to land.

 

One of the musicians who played on “About Time” told us that “But Beautiful” (cut no. 13) has, well, “spiced up” more than a few of his evenings at home with his wife.  A lawyer from Dallas wrote a three-page letter to Don Stiernberg about the day he got his copy and brought it home.  The letter told of dancing around his office, and of playing it for his 15-year old daughter --- who, by the way, said it was “cool.”  There must be thousands of additional stories about where the notes landed.

 

On behalf of all the “cats” who played on “About Time,” and who are playing on Don’s soon-to-be released new CD, we hope you enjoy the notes.  We hope they land in places and contexts that are or become special to you.  Let us know, won’t you?

 

Steven Briggs

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