Thursday, July 22, 2010

RIP Dick Buckley, Jazz DJ

Dick Buckley, a jazz DJ who had a 50-year career on radio, has died. I have probably listened to more jazz on his WBEZ Chicago radio shows than I have from any other source in my life because his extensive record collection, encyclopedic knowledge of the genre, his turn of phrase and his melifluous baritone voice made his shows so appealing. Some typical comments from him were that a trumpeter played a piece, "with all ten fingers and both elbows," or that a song was from album entitled Greatest Garner but that any song by Erroll Garner was great. He'd provide extensive details on a particular recording then add, "Although the liner notes say that so-and-so was on that track, it was clearly the style of what's-his-name who was in the band at the time."

He was an absolute treasure. The Chicago Public Library's Harold Washington Library Center houses Dick Buckley's Archives of Jazz in the Music Information Center. It covers 1989-1993, takes up 32 linear feet and contains over 400 hours from Mr. Buckley’s show on WBEZ, recorded on reel to reel audiotape, often with a program log included.

The Chicago Tribune web site had a brief obituary. I anticipate that more complete coverage will appear in tomorrow's print edition.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Concert Review: Alejandro Escovedo, the Middle East, July 19

Boston, what the hell is wrong with you? Why don’t you recognize the talent and glory that is Alejandro Escovedo?

I moved to Boston from Chicago two years ago. One thing Chicago has over Boston is that the city appreciates Escovedo. As I looked over the far-from-capacity crowd at the Middle East last night, I contemplated what has fostered Chicago’s love for him that Boston lacks. There are venues such as the Hideout and FitzGerald’s that cultivate an audience for Americana. There’s the trickle-down effect of the Taste of Chicago in the culture of free outdoor concerts throughout the summer, manifesting itself is such events and Escovedo opening for Patti Smith at a free show by Tribune Tower a few years back, which encourages residents to explore music they wouldn’t necessarily pay to see. He can get airplay on WXRT, an adult album alternative radio station with DJs who care about music rather than air personalities hired only to fill the space between songs that have been market-tested for their target demographic.

But these are excuses, rather than reasons. The guy keeps releasing great albums, coming to town and putting on great shows, and yet most of Boston ignores him. The fools.

While his previous visit to town was an intimate, acoustic evening, accompanied by David Pulkingham, now he was back with a full band, dubbed the Sensitive Boys. It was only twice as many musicians, but the additions of bass, drums and electricity made the volume grow exponentially. They blasted into “Always a Friend” to open the set and tore through a handful of songs, mostly from Escovedo’s latest album, Street Songs of Love and 2008’s Real Animal. Despite being a working musician for decades, he has never had a hit single, the advantage being that he is not beholden to his past. He barely dipped into his back catalog except for a “Castanets” sing-along.

But it wasn’t all brashness. The middle of the set took a more subdued tone, highlighted by “Down in the Bowery,” his homage to his teenage punk rocker son. As he sang, “I’d buy you a smile in a minute, but would you wear it? If I had one moment of time, would you come down and share it?” I thought of my own young boys, carefree and cuddly, and choked up at that thought of the days ahead when I’ll ask such questions.

Ian Hunter provided vocals on the album but didn’t come along for the tour, which partially explains the decision to cover Hunter’s biggest hit, Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes.” These days, all the young dudes carry the news on their smart phones. Fortunately Alejandro Escovedo is the rare old dude who can still rock without just riding on past glories.