Johnny Vidacovich LP – Like a Scent of Magnolia Blossoms

SKF NOTE: Last week I bought and listened to Johnny Vidacovich‘s ‘Bout Time album. What a joy, a treat.

Vidacovich is another drummer I’ve known about for 40 years or so, but outside of the occasional song video, or article reference — “One of the top New Orleans jazz drummers.” “Brian Blade’s drum teacher.” — I haven’t really listened much to Johnny Vidacovich.

I bought this album on instinct, uploaded it to my trusty old MP3 player, and listened while driving around last weekend on errands.

Like the best New Orleans jazz, ‘Bout Time swings start to finish. All of the band members are new to me. Michael Pellera (keyboards), Tony Dagradi (sax), Ed Wise (bass). They are all excellent players in both ensemble and solo roles throughout this album.

As for Mr. Vidacovich? Listening to him was like enjoying the scent of magnolia blossoms. A drummer who plays the drums. Many times I wondered if his set-up included cymbals. Of course, it did, and Vidacovich uses them very well. It seemed to me I was hearing an original. Yes, I know he’s well-schooled in drum traditions. That’s as it should be with all serious drummers.

But knowing what drummers who came before you were about doesn’t mean copying their styles. It means absorbing their styles, understanding their perspective, and then using your own percussive voice on the drumset. That’s what I hear from Vidacovich on ‘Bout Time.

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In Absentia – Happy Fathers Day Chet Fish, Jr

SKF NOTE: Happy Fathers Day to my dad, Chet Fish, Jr. Dad was a magazine and book editor. Among his five children I’m the only one who followed somewhat his career path.

Last year my dad died. My brothers and sisters asked me to give the eulogy at dad’s funeral Mass. A tough assignment I wasn’t convinced I could handle, but I did. Here’s what I said:

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Chet Fish Eulogy
by Scott K Fish
April 2, 2019

I am Scott Fish, Chet’s second son. My mom and dad have four other children: Craig, Maribeth, Andrea, and Brian.

Those of you who read dad’s obituary know my parents also considered Marco Toninelli a son, and Mary Stouffer a daughter.

Marco lived one year in NY with Claire and Chet as an AFS student. He arrived unable to speak English. No one in our family spoke Italian.

In the end, Marco was fluent in English, and my parents were fluent in Italian.

Maribeth has the eternal gratitude and love of her brothers and sisters as primary caregiver for both our parents.

Mary Stouffer earns the “You Got a Friend in Me” award for having Maribeth’s back during those care giving years.

Thank you, Mary and Marco.

Chet’s family — his children and his grandchildren — Tess, Katie, and Patrick — are his greatest legacy.

My brothers and sisters and I each have unique Chet stories, and Chet stories we share in common. As Craig said recently, Chet was almost 94 years old.

That’s a lot of stories.

The times I heard Chet speak in public, he began by starting out promising his audience to abide by the Three B’s of public speaking: Be Brief, Be Brilliant, Be Gone.

I will do the same.

If Chet had a parenting philosophy — I think he did — it was this: to raise us kids to be self sufficient.

More than once, Chet told me he raised us to leave home, self-sufficient, at age 18. We were always welcome in his home, he said, but he hoped, after age 18 we wouldn’t be living there.

In junior high school, if memory serves, dad decreed the school night hours from 7:00 to 9:00 as “homework time.” No tv. We were to be in our rooms doing homework. If we weren’t doing homework, we at least needed to be quiet.

I thought homework time was cruel and unusual punishment. Kids on the school bus the next day were talking about 77 Sunset Strip, Hawaii Five-0 — all the cool shows I missed.

But as an adult, I believe homework time was one of dad’s best decisions. Truth be told, I rarely used the time to do homework. But, I did use the time to read books, to learn to write, to do research, and to study. And, with my radio playing very, very softly, I also began learning about popular music.

These are the skills I used — and still use — in my professional life.

Chet taught us survival skills: how to build a campfire — even with flint and steel; how to tie rope knots, how to police a campsite; how to catch a fish and prepare it for eating, how to cook over a campfire; how to shoot a rifle, gun safety; how to use axes, knives, hatchets; how to plant and care for trees and plants. How to train dogs.

My sister Andrea reminded me of our religious upbringing — a tremendous foundation of schooling and church participation, of spiritual curiosity that has remained — and grown — with all Chet’s children.

And sister Maribeth pointed out Dad’s devout Catholicism which grew from his adult conversion. What started out as Dad’s studying Roman Catholicism to poke holes in his wife’s faith, became Dad’s conversion, which meant a great deal to him.

Andrea said of Chet, “When I think of the arc of his life I see him as an example of faith and constancy. Greatest generation and all that…enlisting in the US Navy right out of high school, married to his high school sweetheart for his whole life, ambitious but not materialistic, scrupulously honest, highly sensitive BS meter, not outwardly sentimental but easily brought near tears by sentimental moments. He had his eye on the “God” ball pretty much all the time and lived his life accordingly.”

That, too, is self-sufficiency. For this world — and the next.

I wish my dad had more interest, especially in the latter part of his life, to initiate communications with his adult kids living out-of-state.

Especially when he and mom stopped traveling and became homebodies.

Chet was not “a phone person,” and never warmed to computers or internet technology.

He acted as if he was afraid if he pushed a wrong button the family computer would self-destruct in a shower of sparks and smoke.

It wasn’t that Chet couldn’t use modern communications tools.

For example, Maribeth bought dad an iPhone. One day, out of the blue, I received a self-initiated FaceTime call from dad. He also Face-Timed Craig at a restaurant, and his son-in-law, Buzz Hofmann, out on the golf course.

That surprised the heck out of us all.

One of my last calls to dad was perhaps our best phone conversation. Nearing the call’s end, dad said, “Well, Scott. This has been a good phone call. But we probably shouldn’t count on doing this on a regular basis.”

My brother, Brian, wrote yesterday of Chet’s death, “I have come to understand the word ‘departed” more. As my friends and folks pass on, I do feel they have left for a different place. It is not a sad feeling entirely, but one of “See you again” and mystery.

I feel the same.

Thank you, dad. Well done.

We’ll catch up some other time.

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Neil Peart’s ‘Showdown’ with Five Different Drumsets 1986

Photo courtesy TheFamousPeople.com

SKF NOTE: I received a letter on April 22, 1986 which Neil Peart wrote using an electric typewriter on April 18, 1986. Re-reading the letter today I notice Neil describes in this letter his somewhat well-known choice of a new drumset by assembling five identical sets by different manufacturers and having a “showdown.”

Neil said he was looking for “more tonality” in his drums.

There’s a nice shout out here to Neil Graham of the Percussion Centre in Indiana.

Finally, I trust people won’t misinterpret Neil’s remarks about his clinic audiences. They are simply the reflection of a drummer who said on other occasions he sees little to no value in drum clinics as a way for drummers to learn about playing drums. Listening and actually playing drums are better learning tools, Neil believed.

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April 18, 1986
Norfolk, VA

On the drum front, I am going down to Fort Wayne next month to conduct a serious drum “road test” on about six different drum kits, to satisfy my curiosity and my desire for more tonality (if possible). Anyway, we’re going to set up a set of Tama “Artstars,” Gretsch, Premier “Resonators”, Ludwig “Super Classics”, and a set of “Tempus” (formerly “Milestones”), all with the same heads and tuning, and have me a showdown.

Should be interesting. It’s getting time for a new set of drums, and this time I want to base my choice on informed objectivity. While I’m there I’m going to live up to a long-standing promise to someday do a clinic for Neal Graham of the Percussion Centre, who has done so much for me over the years in terms of building special things and acting as an intermediary with those nasty, demanding, m-a-j-o-r drum companies!

After my experience with the students from the P.I.T. out in L.A., I know that I can get through a thing like that — if not really enjoy it.

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Step-By-Step – Alvin Stoller’s Homework Assignment

SKF NOTE: My habit is to find an unfamiliar instrument or musical style and dig deep. Gene Krupa was the first drummer to make an impression. That led me to books. Who was Krupa? Where did he come from? How did he learn to play drums? Which drummers influenced him? Finding answers to those questions led me, step-by-step, to all the great early jazz drummers – Baby Dodds, Zutty Singleton, Dave Tough, George Wettling. And all the musicians in all the bands those drummers played with.

I used the same step-by-step process learning the history of jazz, blues, rock, country, folk — and so on. The same process studying the history of pianists, sax players, trumpeters, trombonists, bassists, songwriters, lyricists, and so on. All musicians are connected.

All that is going through my head yesterday driving home from Marco’s Restaurant, listening for the first time to Herb Ellis‘s Ellis in Wonderland. I almost said I never listened much to Herb Ellis, but that’s not true. I owned a few of his albums — mostly on the Concord Jazz label — and at one time I liked listening to the Mort Lindsey Orchestra as house band for the Merv Griffin Show. Herb Ellis was in that band with drummer Nick Ceroli, bassist Ray Brown, and a ton of great jazz brass and reed players.

Ellis in Wonderland, recorded 1955-56, swings. Strong soloists. Drummer Alvin Stoller plays “real good” (to borrow a Joe Morello descriptor) on Wonderland. Steady, swinging, nice sound on drums and cymbals, good support for the soloists. Yet, I’ve never listened much to Alvin Stoller. No special reason. Stoller’s name and reputation are familiar. In my mind I see him smiling on the pages of old Down Beat magazines in a drum ad or two. Wasn’t he in the Zildjian catalog at one time too?

But as I write I’m unable to find on the web a usable photo of Alvin Stoller.

Eyes on the road, I remind myself to study Alvin Stoller. Step-by-step. It’s a fun process. Just when I think I’ve heard all the 50s-60s jazz drummers – a drummer like Alvin Stoller shows up on a new, to me, album, playing his butt off. In so doing, Stoller presents me with a homework assignment.

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Touched by Jimmy Cobb

SKF NOTE: It’s funny how musical energy and communication moves, travels invisibly.

Two days ago, May 23, I came across my digital copy of Miles Davis’s In Person Friday and Saturday Nights at the Blackhawk, Complete. My Macbook Pro had the set in a folder named Compilations, not in my Miles Davis folder. I immediately loaded Disc 1 onto my MP3 player.

Recorded live on April 21 and 22, 1961, In Person…at the Blackhawk is among my favorite Miles albums. Hank Mobley is on tenor sax – which makes this version of Miles’s band unique. The rhythm section is Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Jimmy Cobb on drums.

Right off the bat, Disc 1 Track 1, Sonny Rollins’s tune Oleo, the whole band takes off running as smooth as a Ferrari. A perfect rhythm section. And there’s Jimmy Cobb with his musical, slick use of brushes, motorvatin’ (to steal Chuck Berry’s lyric) the entire Quintet forward.

I listen close, admiring how the rhythm section sticks to the basics. Nobody’s showboating, each note, each chord is exactly right. Jimmy Cobb swings throughout, a lesson in the difficult art of playing simple. Knowing instinctively when one note is better than two.

This morning, May 25, I see Christian McBride’s Tweet: “Sir Jimmy Cobb. You swung loving energy to everyone. We will always love you. RIP.”

It seems to me, when the soul, the spirit of a great musician is transitioning to the spirit world from this world, they reach out with a burst of energy, a reminder, a parting thank you to everyone they touched while on Earth.

Thank you, Jimmy Cobb.

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