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
December 2009: Tribute to Aretha Franklin
I thought I’d pay tribute to another one of my favorite artists, the queen of soul, Aretha Franklin. A voice like no other. I’ve done the Reborn Soul project (with Evolve-One) sampling her work, but I thought it was time to just play some of the records out that I really enjoyed. I didn’t get super obscure on here, kept it mostly within her Atlantic catalogue with a couple big hits and some minor ones.
I love the range of songs she did, from the raw, upbeat anthems to the smoother, Curtis Mayfield funk. There’s some great gospel stuff too that I didn’t include because it didn’t quite mix right, but maybe I’ll drop that on a later tape. But my favorite Aretha is her bluesy side – I think those songs are among my favorite, where he voice slowly builds and builds with emotion. The kind of songs you find yourself listening too after a long, frustrating day, that let you know someone else felt your anger, frustration, loss, or pain – and put it on record in the most raw, soulful way. Or rather, even if you don’t feel that way – she takes you right there herself, for a moment.
However, I tried to end the tape on a more upbeat note, with a classic live version of “Spirit in the Dark” with Ray Charles, off one of my favorite live albums, her “Live at the Fillmore West.”
This tape finishes up 2009, a pretty good but crazy year, that has found me traveling and then moving back across the country once more, resettling again in the boro of Brooklyn, NY. If I haven’t gotten at you recently, I promise to soon. Thanks to everyone who continues to listen to my tapes and tell others about them, it’s greatly appreciated.
— DJ Ian Head
October 2009: Good Ol’ Soul (For Carlos)
I’ve spent a number of years accumulating a lot of soul 45s, not just rare stuff but the big hits, the “golden oldies,” that my dad used to play in the car when I was a kid. Just because the records were huge doesn’t mean they aren’t great music, even though I feel that they are frowned upon by many DJs today, either because of their popular status or because the sound is simply “too old” to play now. I can see there being reasons for not playing a Sam and Dave record unless it’s a wedding – a lot of young people are gonna be like, what the hell is this? The thing is, this soul music, whether on Motown or Atlantic or another large label, was (and is) extremely danceable, just a different kind of danceable than what’s in the club today.
Anyway, I’ll keep it simple – I love these songs, just like I love some of the heavier, rare-groove type stuff as well. Whether or not it’s “cool” to play it. And that brings me to my friend Carlos.
My relationship with Carlos had little to do with music. He was a volunteer at a program I ran, helping to send legal information to prisoners (http://jailhouselaw.org). He was an extremely dedicated volunteer, and often it’d just be me and him and a stack of 120 letters from prisoners to answer, staying into the night to get through them. I’d often play one of my mixtapes as background music. At one point, Carlos offered up his iPod to plug in and play, and we started listening to his catalog of 50s and 60s blues and soul music. Lots of Ray Charles, Otis Redding, King Curtis. He started bringing flyers for dance parties he was djing – spinning strictly 50s and 60s 45s, he told me. We’d occasionally talk music – I remember vibing with him about Rufus Thomas’s “Turn Your Damper Down” one day, how he loved that song and wanted to find more Rufus 45s. But he wasn’t a hip-hop, “breaks” type of head – I remember the Ray Charles song Kanye sampled for “Gold Digger” came on his iPod once, and another volunteer said “Isn’t this what Kanye sampled?” And Carlos hadn’t even heard the Kanye song, he was just like, “Really?”
Carlos was not only a music lover and DJ, but an incredible dancer. Such an incredible dancer that he was known throughout Brooklyn – when he stepped on the floor, people took notice. He’d warm a spot up djing, then let another person take over and go out on the floor. This was how he died last August – dancing to the music he loved, he collapsed. He was 29.
As much as I wanted to, I never made it out to his parties. I’d always be doing something else, or be too tired. It’s one of the few things I regret, not being able to see him in action on the dancefloor, vibing to the great music he loved. And so I thought I’d dedicate this mixtape to him. It is not supposed to be “what he would play” but it could maybe be what I might have played, if I had ever dj’d with him. I realize there’s not a lot of 50s songs on here, mostly just 60s stuff, some a little more break-oriented (Alvin Cash) and some big hits (Aretha). The final song is Archie Bell and the Drells “Tighten Up” which I know was one of his favorites of all time. It’s an amazing song – the breakdown is one of the best that I know of, as Bell directs each of his musicians to solo and come in over each other.
Carlos was straight-edge, a vegan, who once spent a year cooking all his meals and not eating out. He cared deeply about the struggles of prisoners in the U.S., and dedicated countless unpaid hours to helping send thousands of legal handbooks to people imprisoned all over the country. He had a quirky sense of humor, and was constantly asking questions, showing up with new books to talk about every other week. He would smile broadly whenever one of his favorite songs was playing. He had incredible soul.
This is for my friend Carlos Alvarez.
— DJ Ian Head
You can read an article about Carlos Alvarez in the NY Press by clicking here.
The Miracles – “I Like It Like That”
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”
Let me be up front – I know a tape based around Jay Dee (Dilla)’s music is cliché at this point. J. Rocc of the Beat Junkies has already done several definitive mixes, Rev. Shinez has dug deep into original Dilla breaks, and Houseshoes just put out what may be the most complete mix of the samples Jay Dee used.
So I understand if you pass up my tape.
But hopefully you won’t. I really dug Dilla, his choice of records, his lush filtered samples, his basslines, and the fact he loved to eat donuts (Cuz I LOVE me some donuts). I was introduced to his genius by Jumbo of the Lifesavas, otherwise known as my high school janitor. He hit me with a dub of the early Slum Village album before it dropped, and told me to dub it and give it back to him the next day, cuz that was his only copy. And even rocking a dub of a dub, the beats were just so ill. I’d bump the shit til I couldn’t take the rhmyes anymore, but I never got tired of the beats.
I’d wanted to do this tape for awhile, and felt I should put something together dedicated to Dilla, as I was a fan of his music. Not every beat or 12 inch, but the feel of his production – he just had a great ear for great records. This tape is a mixture of some of my favorite Dilla-related records (that I own on wax) from well-known to more obscure, from rock to classic hip-hop tracks. It is by no means any kind of compendium, and isn’t meant to be. It’s just a brief sampling of music I dig, music that represents the inspiration I took from Jay Dee.
I’ll run through a few of the tracks I included on the tape:
“When I Die”
“Long Red” by Mountain
“Let’s Ride” by Q-Tip
“We Must Be in Love”
“Inside My Love” by Minnie Riperton
“Track” by J. Dilla
“Love Junkie (remix)” DJ Cam / Cameo ft. Dilla
“Asiko” by Tony Allen
“Fuck the Police” by Jay Dee
“Get a Hold” by Tribe Called Quest
“Runnin (Jay Dee Remix)” by Pharcyde
“You’re Gonna Want Me Back” by Dionne Warwick
“Nag Champa” by Common
RIP James Yancey.
– DJ Ian Head