Adventures with the Santana Family

havana moon
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In early December, a holiday card from the Santana Organization arrived in my mailbox—just as it has every December for the past few decades. And it always makes me smile at my connections with the Santana family.

Back in 1980 when WRVR went off the air, I was crushed. That radio station had introduced me to jazz and “fusion” music, and now I would no longer be able to get my fill of my new favorite music and musicians. But by the mid-80s, it was positively exasperating how many of my favorite artists were missing from the radio! So being young and idealistic, I hatched a plan: I would find some of those artists, interview them, and write a book about them, thereby giving them their propers.

Now remember, this was before the Internet, so the only way to find people was through physical, archival, old school research: telephone books, library reference departments, physical newspapers, physical magazines, phone calls. But if you know me, you know that I was BORN researching! So it was no problem for me to begin tracking down these artists. And high on my list was the Santana band.

santana lps

A shelf’s eye view of some of my Santana albums. Not shown: the Santana CDs in my collection! (click on photo to enlarge)

By then I’d been a music journalist for awhile, and I had lots of contacts in record companies and entertainment publications. So I finally reached the Santana Organization and spoke with a very nice woman named Kitsaun King, who sent me press information about the group, and put me on their mailing list.

In 1987, I took my second trip to London. Before leaving, I looked up interesting events that might be happening during my time there. (Again I remind you, dear reader, that this pre-dates the Internet.) Luckily, I worked in the building that housed the British Tourist Authority, and in their offices were copies of TIME OUT magazine. Which is how I discovered that there was a Santana concert at Hammersmith Odeon on one of the nights I’d be there! Without hesitation, I contacted Kitsaun to ask if I could come and meet her and the band, and she said YES!

Meeting the Parents
I remember going to the Hammersmith Odeon stage door and being met by Kitsaun, who escorted me to the band area. It was a huge room filled with people, including an older couple that Kitsaun introduced to me as Santana’s parents.

This was especially exciting to me. You see, on Santana’s 1983 album Havana Moon, there was a tune that I loved called Vereda Tropical. In the liner notes, Carlos Santana wrote that as a child, he’d heard the song being sung by his father, who was a mariachi singer, to his mother after they’d had a lovers’ quarrel, and that she’d cried when she heard it on the album. So after our introduction, I began to tell Mr. and Mrs. Santana how much I enjoyed that song and the story behind it. One sentence in, though, Mr. Santana expressed to me that they couldn’t speak English very well!

Silently I thought, awww HELL naw—I’m not gonna blow this opportunity to speak with the PARENTS of my idol! So I reached back into my brain and pulled out my Spanish, and you better believe we had a conversation! I told them that it was a special pleasure to meet them, since I’d been moved by that song. I asked Mr. Santana about his experience as a mariachi singer, and Mrs. Santana about her experience being the mother of a famous musician. While I didn’t record or even write down our conversation, it was one of those experiences that… well, you know. A beautiful memory.

Mr. Santana told me to keep in touch, and wrote their address and phone number for me on a card. Although I never called them, I still have the card.

havana moon

The card on which Mr. Santana wrote his contact information (click on photo to enlarge)

Soon, it was time for the band to go onstage, and I had the happy experience of watching the show from backstage. That’s probably why to this day, during a concert I prefer to sit or stand in odd places (offstage, backstage, roaming around) to sitting in the audience!

But Wait: There’s More
After that, every year I would exchange holiday greetings with Kitsaun and the Santana organization. Years later, I was thrilled (vindicated?) when the band became a household name again. Once, when they were in New York, I met up with Kitsaun in their hotel room. As we were talking, Santana and his son Salvador—then just a young boy of maybe ten?—showed up, and we just sat around chatting. What? Me, DP, in a hotel room with Carlos and Salvador Santana??

But the whole thing came full circle when in 2005, I learned that Deborah Santana, Carlos’s wife, had written a memoir called Space Between the Stars. The book moved me deeply because it was the most candid memoir I’d ever read—and I am a memoir JUNKIE. To this day it remains the example of memoir writing that I refer aspiring authors to. And through reading it, I realized that Deborah was Kitsaun’s sister!! How odd was it that I had never met Deborah or even known that she was Carlos’s wife, let alone that she and Kitsaun were sisters? So after reading it, I reviewed the audiobook, then reached out and interviewed her for Publishers Weekly , and it was a true pleasure to connect with such an honest and creative woman.

That year, Deborah was scheduled to attend the annual bookseller’s convention in New York, and I was looking forward to meeting her for the first time. The second day, as I was cruising the packed convention floor, I heard someone call my name. I turned around, and there was Kitsaun, whom I hadn’t seen in years, and Deborah! I was amazed that Kitsaun recognized me after all that time. So we all had a very nice reunion. And just a couple of years ago, I found out that Deborah was back in NYC to host a book signing for a friend of hers, so I surprised her by showing up for a hug.

As I’ve said, Deborah’s book was very candid about her relationship with Carlos; part of it described his womanizing and her reaction to it. At the end, I was surprised that she stayed with him, but in the book she explained that choice. Imagine my further surprise when several years later, I read somewhere that they had divorced. Part of me thought, wow, getting those feelings and memories out must have been more cathartic for Deborah than she realized! And every chance I get, I recommend the book to anyone who is writing a memoir. Oh, and during the writing process, Deborah was part of an excellent writers group. I recommend that too!

Deborah Santana's stunning memoir, with a lovely inscription to me

Deborah Santana’s stunning memoir, with a lovely inscription to me (click on photo to enlarge)

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Jazz April 2013 Comes to an End / How I Became a Music Journalist

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Well, today is April 30, the last day of the month and the last day of Jazz Appreciation Month! My contribution to Jazz Appreciation Month was to raid the archives and post a random jazzy article a day from my years as a jazz journalist (1987-1994). Hope you enjoyed them! If you missed them, just take a look at My Music Article Archive.

Since we’ve looked back at my music articles, for the last day of Jazz Appreciation Month, how about we look back at the February 1, 2012 blog entry where I told you How I Became A Music Journalist? It was all because of Les Davis, the former WRVR deejay whose cool commentary introduced me to the world of jazz…

——————————–

Recently, someone asked me how I became a music journalist. I promised to answer that question on my blog.

A little back-story:

I’m a native New Yorker. The music I grew up on was what we heard at home, on the radio and records. (Home was the apartment of my brother and sister-in-law, where I lived after my mother passed away when I was eight.) At home, there were lots of jazz records with glamorous photos of people like Nancy Wilson, Lou Rawls, and Cannonball Adderley on the covers. To me they were grown folks’ records, but I remember really liking the mellow atmosphere they created. On the radio, my favorite music was doo-wop, rock & roll, and R&B.

Years later when I moved into my own apartment, I found a radio station, WRVR, that played music I’d never heard before–jazzy and instrumental, but with features of rock & roll and R&B. Names like Weather Report, Pat Metheny, Grover Washington, Jr., and Jean-Luc Ponty became familiar. This music, called “jazz fusion,” became my new favorite music. My favorite WRVR deejay was Les Davis, who not only played the music but explained it too; I began my record library and stocked it because of his lessons.

Then one day–no, it was a certain day. September 8, 1980–the WRVR format changed from jazz to country. Here’s my journal entry from that day:

Monday, 9/8/80
When I got home, WRVR gone country! Oh, I was so, so hurt, I cried & cried. I’d known it was coming & I knew they would go down with their jazz boots on, but it was so sudden. They played it to the hilt–kept it a secret. Oh, how I’ll miss them!!

After the station went off the air, it was Les Davis whom I missed the most. Where had he gone?? I fretted. I needed closure, and I needed to let him know how much he was appreciated. I kept my ear to the ground.

A few years later, while dial-surfing on the radio, I heard his voice! Still in New York, he was broadcasting overnights on an obscure AM station. I wrote him a letter introducing myself and asking if I could interview him for an article. (At the time, I had never had any articles published, but that didn’t stop me.) At first he declined, but I persisted until I got a reply, and an invitation to come to the station. Victory!!

Les was on the air from about 11 PM to 4 AM. I went down to the station, interviewed him, took photos, we had a great time, and it was a true honor for me. I wrote up a nice profile on Les and sent it to the Amsterdam News, on spec, plus I mailed a copy to Les. He sent me a note of appreciation…which was another honor.

Les Davis

Jazz broadcaster Les Davis, after our wee-hours  interview. (click on photo to enlarge)

A few months later, quite by accident I saw a little article in the New York Daily News with the headline “JazzTimes Convention Comes to New York.” According to the article, this was a professional convention of jazz musicians, educators, radio and TV people, and writers all in one place, organized by a music magazine called JazzTimes.

I only had one question: how could I get a piece of that?

The next thing I knew, I was in the Roosevelt Hotel, wearing a press badge in the name of the Amsterdam News, surrounded by the entire jazz industry! Since I was a newbie (and possibly an interloper), my plan was to keep my mouth shut and listen. I drank in the schedule of panels and performances, and wherever I saw a name I recognized, I showed up. Do I need to tell you, I was in HEAVEN???

By the third day, I’d met a few nice people, among them the magazine’s publisher, Ira Sabin. Emboldened by the atmosphere of fun and friendliness, I asked him if his magazine used freelance writers. He said yes, and that I should speak to the editor, Mike Joyce. I found Mike and told him that Ira Sabin had sent me.

Mike smiled at me like he’d been waiting for me all his life. “Do you know Jon Hendricks?”

WHAT?? It was all I could do to keep it together. “I love Jon Hendricks!” I gushed.

Which was no lie. As a young girl, while looking through my brother’s record collection, I had discovered Sing A Song of Basie by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. Why I was attracted to this album, I do not know. But when I played it, I was tickled by what those voices did with that orchestra–and the lyrics made me laugh too. I later learned that that technique was called vocalese, a clever method of dissecting an instrumental tune into saxes, trombones, trumpets, etc., then writing lyrics to the passages that each instrument plays. The end result is that the vocal parts mimic the instruments, and to my young ears it was so cool to hear grownups having so much fun with music and language.

Sing A Song of Basie LP

A closeup of the label of Sing A Song of Basie, my first favorite album, by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. And yes, this is that original LP I listened to as a young girl.
(click on photo to enlarge)

(By the way: during my visit with Les Davis, I’d mentioned the album and confessed that I had the record, but not its cover. Whereupon Les mentioned that he had the album, and kindly photocopied the jacket for me. This was especially important, because the lyrics were on it.)

Anyway. Standing there with Mike Joyce, I explained most of this. When I finished, he pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to me. “Well, here’s Jon Hendricks’ address and phone number. I promised him we’d do a full-page story on him when we got a New York writer to interview him. You interested?”

And that’s how it all started. Not long after I submitted the article, I was invited to become a regular contributor to JazzTimes… and the rest is history!

Les Davis note

Note of thanks from Les Davis
(click on photo to enlarge)

The photocopy that Les Davis made for me of the back cover of Sing A Song of Basie.
(click on photo to enlarge)

Jon Hendricks article

My profile of Jon Hendricks, the first of many articles I would write for JazzTimes magazine.
(click on photo to enlarge)

Steely Dan: An Appreciation (or, from Hugh McCracken to Steely Dan to Curious George and Back)

Steelys
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Today on Facebook a musician friend of mine posted a notice that a guitarist named Hugh McCracken had passed away today. I didn’t recognize the name, but his friend and fellow guitarist Steve Khan posted a tribute in which he noted that McCracken had played on hundreds of tracks–and that “I often feel that his essence could be summed-up by his playing on Hey Nineteen by Steely Dan.” So of course, after reading that, I had to listen to Hey Nineteen with new ears. Because I’m guilty of not always knowing what musician played what part on what song.

I first heard Steely Dan in the 1970s, on the radio. In those days, radio wasn’t so strictly stuck on all that “format” bullshit. Which was great, because you couldn’t categorize Steely Dan. Here in New York, I heard them on black stations like WBLS, on jazz station WRVR (thanks to deejays like the great Les Davis), and on white rock stations like WNEW-FM. That was an era when artist creativity defied categorization. In fact, up until the late 1980s, to my nephew Kevin, myself, and all our friends, you were a candy-ass punk if every tune on your album sounded alike! We considered that we got our money’s worth when no two tracks on an album sounded like we expected them to. This is one reason I still enjoy music from that time: because there was so much ORIGINALITY. I’m spoiled and proud of it!

So yes, I loved Steely Dan, and yes, I’m listening to them as I write this post, singing at the top of my voice—after plugging in the grownup speakers because the music is so full and rich that you gotta hear every juicy drop! Do It Again, Ricky Don’t Lose That Number, Peg, My Old School, Bodhisattva, Hey Nineteen, Bad Sneakers, Deacon Blues, Aja–all full of clever lyrics blended with expert music.

Steelys

My Steely collection. As you can see, I was able to snag some at bargain prices! (click to enlarge)

At the time, I just enjoyed the songs, oblivious to any details. Later, after buying the albums, I would realize that Steely Dan was not a static band: it was master musicians Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, surrounded by an expert roster of rotating musicians from the jazz and rock world. I remember listening to East St. Louis Toodle-Oo and assuming it was just another of their quirky ideas… only to discover (years later, from simply taking a closer look at the credits) that the tune was a 1920’s classic composed by Duke Ellington.

Like many bands of the era, there came a time when Steely Dan broke up. Or better said, when they stopped recording under that name. (In 1982 Fagen released a solo album, The Nightfly, which I enjoyed.) Which made it especially exciting to me when in 1990 I saw an ad that “The New York Rock & Soul Revue Featuring Donald Fagen” would be performing at the Beacon Theater in New York! So I got myself a press ticket and went to the show. As I later wrote in a Billboard review, on that gig Fagen surrounded himself with quality musicians, just like in the Steely Dan days, and it was a delight to witness.

DP revue review

My 1990 Billboard review of The New York Rock & Soul Revue Featuring Donald Fagen (click to enlarge/read)

At that concert I was highly impressed by the backing band, Curious George, particularly the way in which they were able to deliver all the Steely classics. The keyboardist/bandleader, introduced as Jeff Young, had an unforgettably powerful voice. A short while later I got to meet him at his NYC home studio, where he gave me a demo cassette filled with his band’s great music. On it, my favorite was a tune called Working My Way Downtown, which I played to death.

Fast forward to one recent day. The thought popped into my head: wonder where Jeff Young is now? A quick Internet search led me to–you guessed it–Facebook! I sent him a private message starting with “You probably won’t remember me, but…” and mentioning (and including a photo of) that cassette to refresh his memory. To which he replied “Of course I do!” and informed me that would be sending me some more recent CDs to update me.

Two CDs arrived. One was Pure Herringbone, recorded just a few years ago. To my amazement, one of the tunes on it was… Working My Way Downtown!

Jeff’s website features a video of himself playing–with Steely Dan!–in a 2006 concert. Too bad I missed that one! But like I said, they surround themselves with the best.

So rest in peace, Hugh McCracken. Your music lives on–and brings back memories that keep on giving.

Mixtape-Makin’ Memories

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Recently I read an interview with the Roots’ drummer Questlove in which he talked about his passion for making mixtapes before the age of the iPod.

“I’d stay up hours the night before [a tour],” he said. “Like, I should be packing for Europe but I’m trying to make a ten-volume Mellow mix… going to CVS, buying five-packs of those Maxell XL-IIs, the real clear ones. And up until airport call I’m still trying to squeeze that last song in.”

Well DAMN, did that send me down memory lane.

Because anyone who’s known me for a long time can tell you that ever since wayyyyyyyyyy back in the day, my go-to gift to give has been a mixtape. Whenever there was an occasion calling for a gift, you’d get a tape. Or two.

Of course, there were the obvious “Birthday Music” and “Anniversary Music” compilations.

But if you changed your address, you got a tape of “Housewarming Music.”

If you had a new boo, you’d thank me later for the “Lovemaking Music.”

Feeling sick? The label read “Healing Jams.”

Bought a new car? I got your “Driving Music” right here.

If you were a classical or jazz purist, my mischievous side would come out and I’d put together some music by artists you probably wouldn’t be caught dead listening to… until I made that tape for you.

Seriously, I made so many mixtapes for people that I had to develop a system for not repeating myself. So each time I made a tape I wrote the track list on an index card, and kept the cards in a box filed under the recipient’s name. A quick check of the card before making another tape for that person helped avoid the embarrassment of “Thanks, but you already put that song on my birthday tape from last year!”

Mixtape Records

The little box of mixtape uh, records. On each tab is a person’s name, and behind it is an index card listing the tracks on each tape they got.

Mixtape Records 2
The reputation-saving index cards

Mixtapes were a labor of  love—because you could only record in real time. A 90-minute tape would take 90 minutes to record. But I loved sitting at the console, cheffing up the tunes. A dash of this, a splash of that… It gave me such a thrill when people would tell me how much they loved their mixtapes! And I would love receiving them as gifts myself.

Random Tapes

Some random tapes I pulled from my collection, just to show you. From left: The first three are probably recorded from the radio, most likely WRVR. The fourth is the very first tape I owned–somebody call the Smithsonian! The handwritten ones were gifts to me, and the typewritten ones are record company promos.

And so what if it’s the twenty-first century? As passionately as ever, I still make and give mixtapes as gifts. Only now, I curate from the my digital music library, created from my own CDs. Mixtapes… without the tapes. Of course, since I still have working equipment (and a few factory-sealed cassette tapes!!) I could make an actual mixtape if I so chose. But who could play it?

Yeah sure, there are playlists that you can download online, with all the work done for you. But I’m a purist: I love the sheer fun and discovery of putting it together myself. There’s nothing like rolling your own!

QUESTION: Who gave you YOUR favorite mixtape?

How I Became a Music Journalist

Les Davis
Standard

Recently, someone asked me how I became a music journalist. I promised to answer that question on my blog.

A little back-story:

I’m a native New Yorker. The music I grew up on was what we heard at home, on the radio and records. (Home was the apartment of my brother and sister-in-law, where I lived after my mother passed away when I was eight.) At home, there were lots of jazz records with glamorous photos of people like Nancy Wilson, Lou Rawls, and Cannonball Adderley on the covers. To me they were grown folks’ records, but I remember really liking the mellow atmosphere they created. On the radio, my favorite music was doo-wop, rock & roll, and R&B.

Years later when I moved into my own apartment, I found a radio station, WRVR, that played music I’d never heard before–jazzy and instrumental, but with features of rock & roll and R&B. Names like Weather Report, Pat Metheny, Grover Washington, Jr., and Jean-Luc Ponty became familiar. This music, called “jazz fusion,” became my new favorite music. My favorite WRVR deejay was Les Davis, who not only played the music but explained it too; I began my record library and stocked it because of his lessons.

Then one day–no, it was a certain day. September 8, 1980–the WRVR format changed from jazz to country. Here’s my journal entry from that day:

Monday, 9/8/80
When I got home, WRVR gone country! Oh, I was so, so hurt, I cried & cried. I’d known it was coming & I knew they would go down with their jazz boots on, but it was so sudden. They played it to the hilt–kept it a secret. Oh, how I’ll miss them!!

After the station went off the air, it was Les Davis whom I missed the most. Where had he gone?? I fretted. I needed closure, and I needed to let him know how much he was appreciated. I kept my ear to the ground.

A few years later, while dial-surfing on the radio, I heard his voice! Still in New York, he was broadcasting overnights on an obscure AM station. I wrote him a letter introducing myself and asking if I could interview him for an article. (At the time, I had never had any articles published, but that didn’t stop me.) At first he declined, but I persisted until I got a reply, and an invitation to come to the station. Victory!!

Les was on the air from about 11 PM to 4 AM. I went down to the station, interviewed him, took photos, we had a great time, and it was a true honor for me. I wrote up a nice profile on Les and sent it to the Amsterdam News, on spec, plus I mailed a copy to Les. He sent me a note of appreciation…which was another honor.

Les Davis

Jazz broadcaster Les Davis, after our wee-hours  interview. (click on photo to enlarge)

A few months later, quite by accident I saw a little article in the New York Daily News with the headline “JazzTimes Convention Comes to New York.” According to the article, this was a professional convention of jazz musicians, educators, radio and TV people, and writers all in one place, organized by a music magazine called JazzTimes.

I only had one question: how could I get a piece of that?

The next thing I knew, I was in the Roosevelt Hotel, wearing a press badge in the name of the Amsterdam News, surrounded by the entire jazz industry! Since I was a newbie (and possibly an interloper), my plan was to keep my mouth shut and listen. I drank in the schedule of panels and performances, and wherever I saw a name I recognized, I showed up. Do I need to tell you, I was in HEAVEN???

By the third day, I’d met a few nice people, among them the magazine’s publisher, Ira Sabin. Emboldened by the atmosphere of fun and friendliness, I asked him if his magazine used freelance writers. He said yes, and that I should speak to the editor, Mike Joyce. I found Mike and told him that Ira Sabin had sent me.

Mike smiled at me like he’d been waiting for me all his life. “Do you know Jon Hendricks?”

WHAT?? It was all I could do to keep it together. “I love Jon Hendricks!” I gushed.

Which was no lie. As a young girl, while looking through my brother’s record collection, I had discovered Sing A Song of Basie by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. Why I was attracted to this album, I do not know. But when I played it, I was tickled by what those voices did with that orchestra–and the lyrics made me laugh too. I later learned that that technique was called vocalese, a clever method of dissecting an instrumental tune into saxes, trombones, trumpets, etc., then writing lyrics to the passages that each instrument plays. The end result is that the vocal parts mimic the instruments, and to my young ears it was so cool to hear grownups having so much fun with music and language.

Sing A Song of Basie LP

A closeup of the label of Sing A Song of Basie, my first favorite album, by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. And yes, this is that original LP I listened to as a young girl.
(click on photo to enlarge)

(By the way: during my visit with Les Davis, I’d mentioned the album and confessed that I had the record, but not its cover. Whereupon Les mentioned that he had the album, and kindly photocopied the jacket for me. This was especially important, because the lyrics were on it.)

Anyway. Standing there with Mike Joyce, I explained most of this. When I finished, he pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to me. “Well, here’s Jon Hendricks’ address and phone number. I promised him we’d do a full-page story on him when we got a New York writer to interview him. You interested?”

And that’s how it all started. Not long after I submitted the article, I was invited to become a regular contributor to JazzTimes… and the rest is history!

Les Davis note

Note of thanks from Les Davis
(click on photo to enlarge)

Les Davis sent me an autographed headshot too...

Les Davis sent me an autographed headshot too… (click on photo to enlarge)

 

Jon Hendricks article

My profile of Jon Hendricks, the first of many articles I would write for JazzTimes magazine.
(click on photo to enlarge)