Something that is probably evident by now from some of my past tapes is that I’m a big fan of piano, especially jazz piano playing. It’s one of my favorite instruments, which I also grew up around, hearing my mother play classical and Scott Joplin rags almost every day as a kid.
I love hearing musicians bang on the piano with emotion too, rather than just play the keys delicately. I was reminded that the piano is a percussion instrument the other day I was sitting in my room for two hours with my little midi keyboard trying to teach myself the chords to “Maiden Voyage,” just kept hitting the keys like a drum. It was great.
Anyway – here’s a couple cuts for folks to warm up to as the weather cools off. There’s only a little solo piano – these are just songs that I feel are “driven” mainly by the piano, even in the case that it’s on an artist’s record who isn’t a pianist, like Yusef Lateef.
Hope everyone enjoys.
— DJ Ian Head
June 2010: Summer Sun
The past week in the Apple has been increasingly sticky-hot. My fan was set on High, and I probably consumed half a gallon of water while laying down this tape early this morning, racing over to dump a couple ice cubes in the glass after mixing in a record.
Even having spent close to half my life on the East Coast, I still can’t quite get used to the thick, humid air. So I keep it a little slower, stroll up the block to the bodega at half-speed. Try and coast around Brooklyn on the bike. Especially that easy evening sun, slight breeze, rollin over to check some friends to post up and grab some food. Really, I’m glad it’s about to be summer, even if it is a little sweaty and grimey.
This is a short collection of more relaxed joints as we ease into summer. Some are themed for the season, others just remind me of the sun, or driving home at night with the windows downm, back when I didn’t live in New York. And a couple remind me of some hip-hop records that spoke on NYC summers and inspired me to come out here in the first place.
No track listing this month, but you should check your Lonnie Liston Smith collection. Hope you dig it.
— DJ Ian Head
There are these compilation albums from the 70s I think, called like “Heavies” or “Heavy Stuff from CBS” – something in that vein. I took it to mean that the songs included, while for promotional purposes, were a sampling of some deeper, more intriguing cuts by artists, rather than pop-radio athemns.
So here’s my own little compilation of “heavies.” I tried to choose songs that feel…beautiful, I guess, or at least evoke something larger than just “it’s time to dance!” (not that I don’t love dancing to good music). These selections are more thoughtful pieces to me, along with “heavy” production value – thick drums, instrumentation, vocals that hit you directly.
It’s not a long mix, and I know some folks have told me I need to stretch the mixes out. I had several other records pulled originally, but when the Bobby Hutcherson song ended, I just felt like, that was it right there, a proper conclusion. Maybe the next mix will be an hour, we’ll see..
Full tracklisting below.
— DJ Ian Head
1. Cannonball Adderley “Tensity”
I write these liner notes with a sigh. First of all, let me say Ahmad Jamal is one of my favorite pianists of all time, and I love many of his records immensely. The albums “Jamal Plays Jamal” and “The Awakening” are pieces of art that should be in every music lover’s collection. His covers of standards and classics are often beautiful and creative, and his touch on the keys always sounds incredible.
This is a short mix of eight songs I really dig, nothing close to a sampling of his catalog. In making the mix, I thought I’d try and spice things up a little and maybe drop in a nice sample of Jamal speaking once or twice, so I searched the internets for a nice little snippet. I did find a nice interview from 1985 on Marian McPartland’s “Piano Jazz” show (everyone needs to tune in to this if they haven’t already) but it didn’t quite fit.
And then I found a more recent 20 minute interview on a WNYC show, and after getting halfway through, had to turn it off. While the interviewer left much to be desired, so did Jamal. Even after being told that hip-hop had helped many people find his music, he had nothing to say except mumble about not getting paid for samples.
The man is a legend, and if he’s gotten jacked by record labels, I totally sympathize. But it was Pete Rock and Common Sense and Nas that led me to “I Love Music,” which ends this mixtape. I remember finding “The Awakening” for five bucks from some dude on Prince Street back in ’97 and clutching it tightly under my arm. And so it is always somewhat of a let down to hear people I look up to kind of brush aside the very reason I know who they are.
But what can you do? This is probably true of many of the artists I love. The bottom line is, these are great records and beautiful music. Jamal is a phenomenal musician, and I had to the privilege of witnessing him live at the Blue Note a couple years ago and it was stunning. The way he not only played the keys but directed and created the environment around him was magical.
Again, this is just a short selection, of the post-Argo Jamal. And despite my frustration with his outlook on hip-hop, everyone who hasn’t dug into his catalog should make it a priority.
— DJ Ian Head
Children of the Night
June 2009 Mixtape: Summer Fusion
There’s the back cover of a Ramsey Lewis record that kinda symbolizes fusion for me. It’s one of the first records I ever dug up. It has the whole crew of musicians, chillin, rockin various funky styles of clothing. One dude though – he’s rockin these sunglasses with an extra lense in the middle – a lense, possibly, for the metaphysical “Third Eye.” It’s that kinda vibe – mystical, funky, political, and just plain out there – that’s some fusion ish. In that spirit, I play Roy Ayer’s “The Third Eye” on this mix.
Honestly, I’m not really sure what “fusion” is. There’s jazz fusion, rock fusion, disco fusion – obviously, we’re talkin bout the fusing of different sounds, styles, genres, ideas, etc. But did it start in 1977 or 1982? Did certain artists pointedly try making fusion music, or did it just come out sounding that way? Maybe some musical scholar can school me in all this, but to me fusion is just that certain fuzzy, funky, borderline cheesy sound that it seems artists from all genres tried out at one time or another, usually in the late 70s and early 80s. Sometimes it worked – a lot of the time, it really didn’t. Or at least, for me it doesn’t – but some of it might have been the hottest ish out in 1979. I just wouldn’t know, I was only one year old.
One thing fusion has blessed hiphop with though is some FUNKY ASS SAMPLES. There’s some deep, deep grooves in some of these records. Basslines, choruses of voices, hard drums, funky Rhodes pianos. The key is finding these grooves, and the problem is avoiding the points where the sappy saxophone or harsh guitar suddenly make you think of a bad love scene in an 80s Chuck Norris film. Other times, however, the groove might ride out like a sunny day cruisin with the windows down, some west coast type chillin.
I tried to put together a mix of both short breaks and longer selections. I’m not sure if all of this qualifies as “fusion” technically speaking, but to me it has that abstract, funky quality that you don’t find earlier in the 70s, when shit seemed more raw-sounding, or later in the 80s, when it got all Jimmy-Jamm’d out with electro drums and basslines (don’t take that as a dis, I’m just describin sounds here – I love me some Rhythm Nation).
These aren’t the rarest of records, but on this one, I can’t really reveal the selections. These are some obscure-ish, funky samples – and yeah, they’re samples. Like, I might sample them. Or others already did. So just vibe out. It’s mostly jazz-related musicians, and many who recorded on Blue Note, which put out a lot of great fusion-ish records in the 70s.
Hope you enjoy!
— DJ Ian Head
May 2009 Mixtape: A Tribute to Ramsey
Personally, I don’t think Ramsey gets the love he deserves among the beat heads and collectors. It’s true his records aren’t sampled as heavily as other artists, and that he was very successful, so his titles aren’t that rare. But the dude is ridiculously talented, versatile and funky. He kept his rhythm section tight, and his production value high – while there might not be a lot of open drums, the kicks and snares are definitely hitting hard, often in a really raw, ill way, especially on the records he put out on the Cadet label. His LPs are full of heat, whether it’s the big singles or album cuts.
The first Ramsey record I picked up, and really one of the first records I ever dug out of a crate, was “Maiden Voyage.” I knew that there was a break on there that Pharcyde used, and another little something sampled by Black Sheep. But I couldn’t help listening to the entire record, especially songs like “Maiden Voyage” and “Les Fleur” that had a crazy, mystical vibe to them. I’d never really heard music like that before, and I’m not sure if I have heard anything like it since. Jazz and soul and classical and some other things flowing all together.
Which is what’s great about Ramsey Lewis. His catalogue is gigantic – this mix mainly focuses on about ten of my favorite albums, put out on the Cadet and Columbia labels, but is not to say his other work is less impressive. Even on just these records he branches styles from symphonic, funk, soul and straight-ahead jazz. He’s recorded and performed with orchestras, but has also said he just loves making people dance with his music. It’s not that he tries to “do everything,” it’s just that it seems like he has endless creativity in how he approaches his records.
Ramsey did a huge amount of cover songs – some records being almost entirely covers of other songs, from the Beatles to Aretha Franklin to movie scores. This is often a bad sign with other jazz artists – usually it means a record filled with half-assed, cheesy covers that the label forced them to record in hopes of the extra buck. But Ramsey’s covers are funky, often raw – he’s hitting the keys hard, and with a bass groove and solid drums backing him up. Nothing overdone.
So here’s a brief selection of some of my favorites. I tried not to include anything that I had already used on a previous mix – Ramsey is in my top ten favorite artists of all time, and you can count on me dropping his joints on many other mixes down the line.
“Intro / Black Bird”
“Hot Dawgitt” w/Interview Pt. 1
“Back to the Roots”
“Kufanya Mapenzi (Making Love)”
“Collage” w/Interview Pt. 2
“My Love for You”
“Love for a Day”
“Cry Baby Cry”