Nowhere is [amplified sound] more an issue than in New Orleans where set after set of great music is sabotaged by sound men with hearing aids (to quote Tom Waits). At this year’s French Quarter Festival for instance we saw Astral Project’s set turned into a sound blast that would have embarrassed Metallica, so much so that we couldn’t stay near the Mint. At d.b.a. Walter “Wolfman” Washington’s set was subject to every player asking the sound booth to jack their monitor and volume to the point where only those of us who know the lyrics had any idea what he was singing into our stinging ears.
The ultimate was Saturday night when we were trying to sleep in a front room at the Frenchmen Hotel and the brass band in the club across the street blared until 3 a.m. with the tuba and drums amplified to near oblivion. Weren’t brass bands considered acoustic music at some point and wouldn’t people standing in a club be able to hear them okay if they were? It’s so unnecessary!
We’ve been to 25 French Quarter Festivals and plan to come back for more, but as producers
of our own festival (The Twin Cities Jazz Festival in June) we’re amazed at how incompetent so many of the sound techs in your great music city are. There are ways to make sound work for a crowd and more volume isn’t the only one.
—Alden Drew, Minneapolis, Minnesota
ONE BIG NOTE
The following is in response to Jan Ramsey’s blog “Exploiting the Creative Process?” on OffBeat.com wherein she questions the Pharrell Williams/Robin Thicke verdict.
There are certain musical signatures that are unmistakable, and unmistakably belong to certain songs and songwriters. If the signature piano lick to “Big Chief” turned up uncredited in some modern songwriter’s “new” composition, wouldn’t you go, “Hey! That’s Fess’ lick to Earl’s song!”?
Today’s writers and singers have grown up on the music collections of their parents and older siblings, maybe even their grandparents—a phenomenon that didn’t exist when Toussaint, Fats, Cosimo and Wardell kick- started this business. Today’s writers and singers have heard pretty much everything there is, and all they can do is create variations on existing themes using that same 12-note scale. They should not be penalized for that.
Don’t sample without credit. Don’t steal, don’t lift. Twenty years of schoolin’ and they put you on the day shift. Bob Dylan said that. Then there was this guy, who pretty much gets the last word. “It’s all one big note.”— Frank Zappa.
—Jef Jaisun, Seattle, Washington
My son, Michael Ballard, was consumed with producing a CD for Travis “Trumpet Black” Hill and he was happy to have Mike do it. I contacted Travis and we met for breakfast. I could tell that he had some rough edges; however, he was determined to take his life to a better place based on playing his trumpet. I did not hear him play until one morning shortly after his death. Mike was playing some music, which got my attention. So I asked him what is that you’re playing. He said it was a track from the Trumpet Black CD. It was reminiscent of some years ago when I was checking out the Latin Show on WWOZ and heard a trumpet player who got my attention. His name was Arturo Sandoval. Travis was a special trumpet player.
—Harry Ballard, New Orleans, Louisiana
Regarding the song “Vacant Chair” [letters, July 2015], the song was indeed originally written for Graham Bond. In a conversation I had with Steve Winwood he indicated that he was thinking about the song in terms of Moon, especially in light of the cover Who Are You, Moon’s last Who album, where he is sitting in a chair marked “not to be taken away.” Although it is complicated Townshend knew what I was referring to. My apologies for the confusion.