The great Italian tenor may have have sung his final song.
Luciano Pavarotti's health has deteriorated sharply and the 71-year-old tenor is at home, unconscious and suffering from kidney failure, a television station reported on Wednesday.
Family and friends went to Pavarotti's home to be near the singer, considered one of the greatest tenors of his generation, E' TV Antenna Uno television station in Modena, the tenor's home town, reported.
In July 2006 Pavarotti underwent surgery in New York for pancreatic cancer and retreated to his villa in Modena. He had to cancel his first planned public reappearance a few months later.
Just because a record has a groove don’t make it in the groove.
--Stevie Wonder, “Sir Duke” from Songs in the Key of Life (1976), Grammy winner for Best Album in 1977
Last week, instead of musing on the social merits of the musical lamentation regarding how hard it allegedly is out there to be a pimp, Terry Teachout (subscription only) and Scott Johnson at Power Linediscussed recording artists from a time when real talent was appreciated and marketable. The subject? Who was the best between Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. Terry picks Billie:
[F]or all their obvious differences, the two women [Fitzgerald and Vaughan] had one big thing in common: Neither was especially interested in the words of the songs they sang.
In Vaughan's case, this lack of interest was so total as to be startling. To hear her near-abstract rendering of, say, the first two lines of Carolyn Leigh's deftly crafted lyric to "Witchcraft" ("Tho-ose fingers uh-in my hairrrr/That suh-llie come-a-hitha starrrre") is to realize that for her, the words of a song, good or bad, had no meaning in and of themselves. They were merely a pretext for the emission of interesting sounds -- and, as Gustav Mahler wisely said, "Interesting is easy, beautiful is difficult."
Fitzgerald, by contrast, sang with the clean articulation of a swing-era canary who wanted her listeners to understand the lyrics, or at least be able to make them out. But did she care about them? I wonder. She got nothing, for instance, out of the juxtaposition of "roaming" and "Romeo" in the verse of Irving Berlin's "I'm Putting All My Eggs in One Basket," a neat half-rhyme on which Fred Astaire (for whom Berlin wrote the song) never failed to put the sliest of spins. It's as if she hadn't even noticed.
Well. I’m truly not an expert on old-school jazz, but I do own a CD or two in the style. I’m inclined to sort of agree with Mr. Teachout, since I own a couple of CDs of Ms. Holiday’s work and not any of the other two ladies.
One of my other favorite music styles is seventies and early eighties danceable funk. You know who I’m referring to if you know the style: recording artists that could actually play instruments, but (and) could make you want to get up and dance. And, very often, the words—if there were words—were nonsensical or even silly; paleo-rappers you might call many of them, if most rappers of present-day could play instruments or produce original and/or discernable melodies. (For all of you who get a bee in your bonnets whenever rap is criticized, I will admit to tapping my foot and “singing” along during the playing of some of Outkast’s offerings. Okay, I’m throwing you a bone. Get over it.)
The point is that sometimes listening to and enjoying music isn’t always about meaningful or heart-felt words. Sometimes it’s about the styling of the vocalist: the voice, certainly, but often the phrasing. Other times it’s about the obvious joy (or pain) that the singer is feeling about the song (as Mr. Teachout asserts). Still others, it’s about tapping your foot, clapping your hands, shaking your behind or even laughing (see Outkast).
Occasionally a song may be a fine piece of work, but is so depressing that you have to turn to something else. (See much of pop artist Sade’s work, especially 2000’s King of Sorrow. Great song, but it makes you want to refer the very talented Ms. Adu to a good shrink so she can get on some anti-depressants. I submit that she is the latter-day Billie.)
The decisive factor for musical greatness isn’t (or shouldn’t be) about a singular item, but a combination of qualities. The result of those qualities is some variation on this declaration: “I like that.” How often and how widely that result is produced is still not the end of the matter, but neither is the purported feeling that the artist may put into his/her work.
If you’re a professional singer and you’re asked to sing the Star-Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl or the NBA All-Star Game or at one of the games in the NBA Finals, the NHL Finals or the World Series, do yourself and your audience's ears a favor: rehearse. Many times.
The temporarily-reunited Destiny’s Child sang the song at today’s NBA All-Star Game and, aside from wowing all of the male on-lookers by looking good (you go, girls), they sang a harmony-laden and excellent version of the Banner—they didn’t just rely on the fact they are very good singers; it was obvious that they practiced, over and over again.
In contrast, the duet between Aaron Neville and Aretha Franklin at the Super Bowl some weeks back was a dog-howler. (I know that someone will attempt to yank my sista-card for saying that out front, but my card has armed guards, so good luck getting to it.)
Frankly, all Star-Spangled Banner renditions must measure up to Whitney Houston’s magical 1989 1991 Super Bowl performance. I watched it in a room full of GIs at an NCO Club in Germany. Many tears were seen around the room after Whitney sang, including my own.
I was lamenting the other day that, while I never liked many of Whitney’s song choices, she was undeniably talented and that it seems that nearly every female pop vocalist is trying to be the next Whitney without benefit of having her pipes. Of course, Whitney doesn’t even have Whitney’s pipes anymore (though, if reports are correct, she is definitely in possession of another type of pipe or two.)
Unlike other artists who fade into the background after disappointing sales or lack of fan interest, the veteran multiplatinum artist -- known for late '80s and early '90s hits such as "Sweet Love," "Been So Long," and "No One in the World" -- turned off the faucet herself when her career was still thriving. [SNIP]
"After 'Rhythm of Love,' I went home to recharge, and life just started happening," says Baker, dressed in a black top and pants, hair shorn in her trademark short cut and looking almost the same as a decade ago.
With two infant sons and a husband, Baker was more than happy to relinquish stardom to focus on being a wife and mother.
"My kids started growing up. I tried to leave and go cut the record, and I was like, 'Dang, I can't leave ... I can't leave these babies,' " she says. "I didn't want to be in a situation where other people were raising my sons. We just settled into a very normal, suburban lifestyle, with two kids, a cat and a bird and a mommy and a daddy."
But in time, she would also have to attend to two ailing parents -- first her father, who would die of bone cancer, and her mother, who succumbed to Alzheimer's disease. Taking care of them -- not singing -- became her top priority.
"I put my family over my career for the last 10 years, and I didn't intend to, but it just happened that way, and as it started to happen, it was like, this feels right," she says.[SNIP]
"When I was trying to be a songwriter and a record producer and a doctor and a nurse and a daughter and a mommy, my [musical] gifts weren't coming. Once I made the decision that I'm going to be here with my mother, the waters parted and the sky cleared."
It wasn't until Baker's mother died in 2002 that she decided to pick up the microphone again. She wasn't looking to record an album -- she just wanted to perform, to prevent grief from absorbing her. [SNIP]
Baker's first concert was a low-key affair at Westbury Music Fair in Long Island, N.Y. A nervous Baker didn't know quite what to expect. She had put on a few pounds and didn't have a glamorous look or any new material.
"I was not ready. I was right out of my living room and on to the stage," she says. "But the thing that I found out in doing that first show, even having 15 extra pounds and having mommy hair, was that with my audience, it ain't about my body, and it wasn't about my hair. It was about my music, and that's what I learned that night, and I'll take that with me for the rest of my career."
Yes, lovely Ms. Baker, that is what it’s about, but you realize there are two things more important: love and family. I remain a loyal fan of this wonderful and talented person.
While listening to the Air Force Choir’s beautiful rendition of America, the Beautiful during Former President Reagan’s state funeral yesterday, I couldn’t help but be reminded of another rendition of that song. Ray Charles’ version was always guaranteed to bring tears to one’s eyes, even those belonging to the most virulent of America’s detractors.
Ray Charles was a part of my childhood. My great aunt and uncle were some of his biggest fans and the raucous, fun What’d I Say was heard blasting many times in this same house that I, again, call home.
Later, I remember watching the famous/infamous 1980 “no más” contest between boxers Roberto Durán and Sugar Ray Leonard; the latter's given name is Ray Charles.
Before the fight, as it turns out, it was Charles who, instead of singing the National Anthem, put forth his inspiring, soulful, beautiful version of America, the Beautiful. When my step-dad heard those first chords and saw Charles sitting in front of the piano, swaying with his trademark sway, Dad had this prophecy: “There is no way Sugar Ray is going to lose this fight. Not now. Not with Ray Charles putting his benediction on it.” Roberto must have felt it, too.
Goodbye, wonderful Ray Charles. Like another great man whose life is being celebrated this week, you came from humble beginnings, took whatever blessings God gave you and used them to bless the rest of us.
Riding in the car today, I was listening to LA’s oldest R&B station, the Stevie Wonder-owned KJLH, and reflecting on music. When I tuned in, they were playing D’Angelo’s and Lauryn Hill’s beautiful collaboration, Nothing Matters. It’s one of those songs that makes you want to curl up and love on that special someone or it makes you reflect on that special someone in your past: the one that got away.
Immediately afterward, Outkast’s I Like the Way You Move was played, and, while the funny and beat-driven song/rap has a tendency to make me tap my foot, it’s an anomaly. (The musical part is reminiscent of Earth, Wind and Fire. Does anyone know if it’s them?) This old lady is ready to beat on the radio when most rap “songs” present themselves. There is more than one reason that my car radio, for the most part, is tuned to talk radio stations.