Sometimes a singer’s work is too conveniently packaged. Is this one simply a stylist dedicated to carefully approximating their genre? Is that one an innovator? In the case of Sharon Jones, who died last November after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, the truth is somewhere else.
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It took a sinfully long time for Austin City Limits to induct Guy Clark into their esteemed hall of fame, but some artists don’t collect their due until it is too late.
First, a confession: I’ve never really understood the collective mourning when most artists die. Not to sound callous, but what exactly am I supposed to be mourning? I don’t personally know the artist in question. In the vast majority of the cases, said artist stopped making music that mattered to me years before his or her death. The actual act of passing does absolutely nothing to change my relationship to the artist. Bowie’s Station to Station sounds every bit as good as it did two years ago or 20 years ago.
On 6 April 1966, nearly 50 years ago, the Beatles entered Abbey Road Studios in London and began recording a musical masterpiece. Revolver would be released on 5 August of that year, and would mark the moment the Beatles leaped forward from a tight and professional rock band to, perhaps, the most influential studio artists in rock ‘n’ roll history.
Orrin Keepnews frequently talked about jazz the way war veterans will talk about experiences on the front lines. There were at least two reasons for this. One, it was never strictly business with him; it was always personal. More importantly, it was necessary.
See, Keepnews didn’t gravitate toward a career in jazz—as producer, writer and battle-scarred raconteur—because it was fashionable or profitable. He immersed himself in the idiom for the same reasons any of us who make the music and those who become enchanted, then obsessed by it do: because there is no choice in the matter. Once you get in, as a fan but especially as an artist or producer, you don’t get out easily. You don’t want to. In Keepnews’s case, he didn’t know how to.