Before & After: Michael Wolff

michael-wolff-1Michael Wolff has worn many hats in the music business. As a jazz pianist and composer he worked with Cal Tjader, Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter, and he spent five years as Nancy Wilson’s music director. The mid-1980s found Wolff branching out as a comedian and singer-songwriter, which paved the way towards his high profile 5-year gig as television bandleader on The Arsenio Hall Show. He’s since composed soundtracks for several films, including The Tic Code directed by the actress (and his wife) Polly Draper. More recently, Wolff has sharpened his acting chops playing the geeky accordion-playing dad on Nickelodeon’s popular rock comedy television show The Naked Brother’s Band, starring Wolff’s sons Nat and Alex. We sat one night over a bowl of pistachios listening to records and talking about his latest release, Joe’s Strut (Wrong Records).

1. Nancy Wilson

“Never Will I Marry” (from Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley, Capitol). Wilson, vocals; Cannonball Adderley, alto saxophone; Nat Adderley, cornet; Joe Zawinul, piano; Sam Jones, bass; Louis Hayes, drums. Recorded in 1961. Continue reading

Before & After: Billy Cobham

Drummer, composer, producer and bandleader Billy Cobham has played every style of music, from military marches and mainstream jazz to Afro-Cuban and the Grateful Dead. Best known for his jazz-rock innovations through his work with Dreams, the Mahavishnu Orchestra and his own groups, Cobham has spent the past 29 years living in Switzerland, which he values for its peaceful lifestyle and as a convenient jumping off point for world tours. Cobham’s legendarily strong technique is matched by his strong opinions about music, which he was not shy about sharing.

1. Gil Evans

“Las Vegas Tango” (from The Individualism of Gil Evans, Verve). Evans, arranger, piano; Johnny Coles, Bernie Glow, trumpets; Jimmy Cleveland, Tony Studd, trombones; Ray Alonge, French horn; Bill Barber, tuba; Garvin Bushell, Eric Dolphy, Bob Tricarico, Steve Lacy, saxophones; Kenny Burrell, guitar; Ron Carter, Paul Chambers, bass; Elvin Jones, drums. Recorded in 1964.

Before: Gil. Nobody writes like that, the chords and the phrasing. [as drums enter] That’s Elvin. What’s really funny about this is that Elvin has a way of playing in 3 while the rest of the band is feeling 2. Gil told me he likes to write and play on the edge of chaos but without falling in. He had this freedom and his using Elvin provides a looseness that could not happen with any other player. So Gil would match the music with the musician. I haven’t mentioned the bass player because the bass player is not listening to what’s going on. The bass player’s in his own world. I can feel that he’s reading what’s on the paper, and it’s correct. Now we have an oboe or English horn player in the mix, which means that everything’s being played very softly. That could be Kenny Burrell. This sounds like early to mid-1960s. You can tell by the quality of the recording that a lot of concessions were made, the technology wasn’t there. And if they did two or three takes of that, it was a lot. These guys know exactly what’s going on, they know how Gil likes to phrase. It’s beautiful. Continue reading