Friday, March 30, 2012

Beyond Category

If you have been following this blog and posts that I've made here and there on the Internet, you'll know that I believe that the essence of jazz - and really music in general - revolves around freedom.  If you think about the best and most free-feeling times in your life, I would be willing to bet that there is a memorable soundtrack playing good time tunes on infinite repeat on the turntable, tape deck, CD player, or iPod of your mind.

Last month, as I was searching for ways to bring TIMKAT Entertainment back from a (way too) long hiatus, Robert Glasper's "Black Radio" was released.  I listened to a few of the tracks, actually expecting a trad jazz vibe, but instead was challenged by what is likely to be a truly groundbreaking album.  The more I listened, the more it occurred to me that Glasper had created something very fresh for a new audience.  Here is a pianist and vocalist that dared to mix break-beat, jazz rhythms, rap, soul, neo-Soul, Nu-Jazz, all these labels, to ultimately deliver a unique experience to the listener and meanwhile express his innermost feelings as an artist. 

What I like best about Black Radio is its daring musical and social spirit and most of all, you guessed it, its freedom to be, defying those confining labels. Duke Ellington often said that extraordinary people in his life were "beyond category" and that's a great way to describe many artists' inner creative urges to grow beyond conventional bounds.  It is often difficult to recognize art that will endure while enjoying it in the present, but I think Glasper and team are headed in that direction.  Time of course will either be a gentle or cruel judge, but usually one of the most fair.

Lately, it would appear that going beyond category shouldn't be too difficult for creative people to accomplish, as some of the most pervasive and powerful influences in media follow set formulas that have evolved over the past 15 years and therefore lulled us into a collective social slumber in its wake. Regardless, it continues to be an elusive treasure to possess.  

Take the "reality TV show" format, for example.  Whether or not most have noticed it, this show's format, like the classic sit-coms and variety shows of the past, follows a basic formula as follows:

  1. Introduce characters (...often filled with despair and woe ...)
  2. Create a conflict  (Host highlights said despair and woe ...)
  3. Rise the conflict to a semi-climax (Characters become upset that host highlighted their problems)
  4. Cut to commercials to keep suspense ... (... because why else would we keep watching?)
  5. Hit a breaking point (climax)  (Characters are now in total meltdown mode.)
  6. Resolve conflict, end show (Characters eventually see the light and are grateful that the host 'saved the day.'  Thank goodness.  Tune in next week and we'll do it all over again!) 

If you're not sure about this analysis, use these notes the next time that you watch shows like A&E's "Hoarders: Buried Alive" and Food Network's "Restaurant Impossible."  While completely different in subject matter and characters, the format of the show is the same and so far has been a recipe for ratings success.

Music is also not immune to having established a set formula; in fact, in composition and theory courses, we learn that there are many "song forms".   Here, I'll illustrate a traditional standard or pop song.  Start with a Verse - Repeat the verse with different lyrics - Move to the chorus or "hook" of the song - Rinse and repeat through verse and chorus again - Throw in a bridge for variety - Spin back through the final chorus hook - End song, coda out.  Or to music geeks, it's song form AABAABCB ... repeat B and fade out ...

As artists of all stripes, we were well-schooled in formulas.  What are scales and chords if nothing more than a convenient way to package the study of music into bite size pieces?  What are the blues if nothing more than a great formula of three chords that help to tell a story? 

I'm not knocking formulas - please don't misunderstand.  We need them as a basis when learning new skills, concepts, and patterns.  We need them to grasp the functions of the world around us.  However, when an artist "busts out of school" to weave new formulas and result in new ideas - together, this is extraordinary, this begins to stroll toward beyond category, and this is what most artists I've met yearn for, regardless of if they actually ever reach that goal.  The pursuit itself is more than worthy.

As usual I've slipped down the rabbit hole of rhetoric and so I'll get to my point.

TIMKAT is still a tiny jazz entertainment company, but lately, the mammoth drive to push outside of a (boring) comfort zone has challenged me to think in new and creative ways in order to swim upstream in a world that doesn't always rush out to buy jazz records.  This month, I am delving into the idea (thanks Mr. Glasper, though we may never meet!) of mixing and matching sounds that most would never say that they go together in order to grasp a new concept. 

One such light bulb went on for me a couple of weeks ago:  what if I dared to combine two things that I love into a potentially new and funky sound -- house music and classic jazz -- break-beat and smooth-jazz, for starters!  Unclassic the classic and un-smooth the smooth.  Could it be done?  Is it possible to take an Irving Berlin track such as "Change Partners" and turn it into a raving club anthem?  Is it possible to shift "Star Eyes" into a funky and irresistable beat that folks would love to crank in the car? I don't know, but like Glasper, I am willing to push some boundaries to find out.  As a result, I have started the investigation by opening conversations with folks outside of the jazz world (DJ Jason Wolfe: Basement Funk Vol 1 from House Candy Music is a bit of inspiration, for example) but still within the industry to pursue that dream. 

Pushing boundaries doesn't always win a creative person a warm and deserving welcome.  For example, some people (critics included) hated Charlie Parker with Strings in 1952, saying Bird had "sold out." Others couldn't get their minds around John Coltrane's A Love Supreme in 1964.   American audiences avoided Disney's Fantasia in November 1940. The movie was a flop then, but it is suddenly a masterpiece today.  We hear the same dismissals today when some posit that Esperanza Spalding's music isn't really jazz. 

[Begin Soapbox Aside:  If there is anything that needs to be dismissed, it is not their creative efforts; rather, it is our ingrained double-standards and narrow preconceptions on the art form itself.  Furthermore, it appears that as Spalding can be dismissed that her work isn't really jazz, Glasper can be hailed as having "one foot planted firmly in jazz and the other in hip-hop and R&B."  To each artist's credit, I think they are both doing the same thing -- pushing the envelope, challenging convention, and inviting us to indulge in that flight -- in delightful but different ways that fit their own personal styles best.   :End Soapbox Aside]

Because as I mentioned, isn't the essence of jazz about freedom?  Logically, it follows that if jazz is about freedom, then no one has the right to shackle an artist into a subjectively convenient category that arbitrarily dictates what's real and what's not.  And speaking of formulas, how's that one for a trusted method to how to approach music and life?  Be free.

Best always,
Kathryn Ballard Shut
President, pianist, idealist
TIMKAT Entertainment, Inc.
Twitter: @timkatent

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

LINER NOTES: Retrospective: Tim Ballard's Singing Positive to the People (2012)

I don't envy the job of people that sit down and choose to write a memoir. The task is daunting and full objectivity is impossible. How does one objectively recall facts about what happened during his or her life, as though that person were an innocent bystander, and still put the subjective heart, soul, memory, and feeling of what it was like to have personally experienced the events in the memoir? That's exactly where I find myself in writing these liner notes, as not only the surviving press agent for Tim Ballard, but also as his daughter, in introducing you to Tim's timeless soul album, Singing Positive to the People.

In late 1978, I turned six years old and remember my father giving me the vinyl 33 1/3 LP album to play on my Soundesign turntable. I listened to the nine tracks again and again in my room, not quite understanding that it was a “covers” album - that the tunes I was hearing had already been made very famous by legendary groups such as Lou Rawls, The Commodores, Full Moon with Buzz Feiten, The Stylistics, Hall and Oates, the Brothers Johnson, and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. My friends and I happily roller skated to it in the basement, oblivious to its deep and musical excellence. To me, it was my dad's band doing the killer job as they always did – so killer, that when I finally heard the original artists' versions many years later, I marveled at how truly talented and tight the entire Oklahoma City-based ensemble really was.

In fact, I felt a little guilty in admitting that I was slightly disappointed with the original versions in some cases. For example, when I later heard Buzz Feiten and Full Moon's easy groove on “Need Your Love”, I missed arranger David Powell's amazing Tower-of-Power-like original horn interludes and relentless, driving funk on the Singing Positive version. And when I heard “The Love I Lost” -- as excellent as Teddy Pendergrass is – and one of my all-time favorite vocalists -- I had to admit that regardless of if my father sang it or not, as a professional, master musician, Tim had given Ted a great run for his money. It was only as an adult that I realized that I had owned a gem of a recording for years, but most of the world had never heard it, and wouldn't for many, many more years. In fact, I could not have known then that the only way that the world would hear it, would sadly be after Tim passed away, through my actions alone, and thanks to the endless reach of the Internet.

Almost thirty-five years later, Singing Positive has the opportunity to experience a rebirth in the digital age and a chance to gain a new following. The master tapes have long since been lost (… given away, gambled in a poker game, traded for something else, who knows? It's all typical musicians' lore …), but I didn't let that stop me. I enlisted the incredible studio talents of Mr. Colin Chapman of Satori Systems and his connections in Boulder, Colorado to perform the cleanest digitization of vinyl that I've ever heard, and the talented Ms. Lynne Menefee of Menefee Creative in Baltimore, MD to refresh the cover art work. And if there is an occasional pop of the vinyl, it's the perfect way to send us nostalgic listeners right back to our Soundesign (or Marantz!) turntables of 1978, bulky black headphones on, lying on the floor, eyes closed, volume cranked.

The saying goes that what is old is new again, and I hope that you will feel the same way when you hear Singing Positive to the People for yourself. A great mix of Quiet Storm, driving Funk, heartfelt Soul, and the best of 1970's R&B, this album puts Tim's unique touch on the tunes that inspired him to thrill audiences during his days at Oklahoma City venues such as the Onyx and the Razz-Ma-Tazz. It's a testament that truly good music never goes out of style, and all of the tunes on the album deliver on that promise, including such rarely-heard classics as Hall and Oates' “Las Vegas Turnaround”, Paul Williams' “Sunday”, Bell and Creed's “Stop, Look, and Listen (To Your Heart)”, and Buddy Johnson's “Since I Fell For You”, all styled as I've never heard anyone else do.

Singing Positive is on CDBABY in digital format (June 2012) and CDs will be available after June 12, 2012. (  It will also appear later in 2012 on all major media download sites, such as iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, and a new service – Amazon CD On Demand -- where customers can still order a physical compact discs to play anywhere they choose. (Regrettably, the album will no longer be available on vinyl, cassette, or 8-Track tape. That's the downside to the Internet Age!)

For more information about Tim Ballard and TIMKAT Entertainment, write us at, 'Like' us on Facebook ( and follow us on Twitter @timkatent.   May you enjoy this treasure every bit as much I have for the past 35 years.

Sincerely yours,
Kathryn Ballard Shut /shoot/
President, pianist, musical legacy
TIMKAT Entertainment, Inc.
Denver, CO, USA
Web Portal:

PRESS RELEASE: TIM BALLARD - Singing Positive to the People

March 20, 2012

TIMKAT Entertainment, Inc.
Denver, CO, USA
Follow on Twitter @timkatent

TIM BALLARD - “Singing Positive to the People” (2012)

There is a popular saying: “What's Old Is New Again”, and this could not be any truer than when referring to master vocalist Tim Ballard's collection of timeless 70's Soul Classics on Singing Positive to the People.

Recorded and distributed only on vinyl to a limited following in Oklahoma City in 1978, Singing Positive has been expertly digitized and will be released via all major media outlets and CDBABY in Summer 2012, just on the eve of the album's 35th Anniversary.

Featuring all-time soul favorites originally recorded by superstars Hall and Oates, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, The Commodores, The Stylistics, The Brothers Johnson, Lou Rawls, Full Moon (Buzz Feiten), Paul Williams, and Lenny Welch, Singing Positive provides a delightfully hip trip back to the Golden Age of Seventies Soul and Fusion sound. The album boasts all original horn arrangements, tight vocal harmonies, and infectious funk on tracks such as “Need Your Love” and “Sunday”, two great hits that have since fallen out of collective memory but are once again brought to life by this masterful recording.

Singing Positive reaches beyond the bounds of being just a covers album, due to Tim Ballard's vocal mastery at breathing unique life into beloved musical stories. Soul lovers of the time will no doubt revel in the journey down Memory Lane, while a new generation of fans will find the grooves and funk intriguing enough to enjoy the songs on their own merit while venturing to compare Ballard's rendering with the originals.

The album will be available for direct purchase from TIMKAT at CDBABY ( in Summer 2012 or later throughout the year at all major media outlets, such as iTunes, Amazon, Amazon CD On Demand, and Rhapsody. Reviews are welcomed on blogs and in magazines and copies can be mailed to  

TIM BALLARD – Singing Positive to the People Track Listing:

  1. Las Vegas Turnaround
  2. Let's Fall In Love All Over Again
  3. Young Girls Are My Weakness
  4. Stop, Look, and Listen
  5. Need Your Love
  6. Sunday
  7. The Love I Lost
  8. Since I Fell For You
  9. Get the Funk Out of My Face

Friday, March 16, 2012

Strawberry Fields .... Forever?

I really had to hand it to Ringo Starr for his comments in this Billboard Magazine article; however, I also had to note that this was not the first time society has experienced "unaware kids", even in the age of the Internet.  Due to the nature of just being kids, some level of unawareness, otherwise known as inexperience, is bound to pop up eventually.

While some might argue that it would make more sense for kids to do a Google search on names such as Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr before publicly tweeting or posting blunt questions such as "who the hell is that?", the reality is that the rapid convenience of blogs and Twitter has mysteriously prohibited some young people's abilities to effectively look up such information themselves. 

Step into the time machine with me once again and let me take you back to about 1994 for a story on The Beatles and general "unawareness."  I was almost 22 years old that year, a first-year senior in college, and armed to the teeth with a dial-up modem connection to the world and a roaring 486 personal computer.  At the time, the Internet was beginning its meteoric rise and engines such as Netscape and America On Line (AOL) were two powerful, pre-eminent, Windows-based, graphical user interfaces available; both of which eliminated the need to type command lines and allowed us to view pictures as well as text content.

As the World Wide Web emerged thanks to our ability to access it with Netscape, the attraction of newsgroups also flourished, and at that time, I blogged (before there was such a word!) primarily on the Steely Dan and Beatles newsgroup boards.

The Beatles board in particular received a lot of traffic then because new compact-disc editions of the group's entire catalogue were being released for the first time.  It was the 30th Anniversary of Beatlemania in America, and Capitol Records (EMI) was milking the profit machine for all it could.  As a result, as adults raced into the record stores to get the same albums they owned on vinyl -- now on CD -- their kids saw the Beatles albums advertised and heard them played overhead.  Rather than ask their parents about the group (so uncool), they naturally sought out places on the Internet where they could ask (other, older) fans about the music. 

At the same time, the newsgroups were a great place for the kids to log on and educate us presumed "old farts" that BRITNEY SPEARS ROCKS FOREVER!!! and THE BEATLES SUCK!!!!!  That I could stand; that was just a fourteen year old being rebelliously and immaturely fourteen.  However, at least the kids still knew who Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr were.  What they didn't know was the jargon that accompanied the "archaic" recordings.

Growing up with vinyl records, we Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers took it for granted that everyone and his sister knew what a 45 RPM single was.  We figured everyone knew what 33 1/3 LP meant and how this was different from an EP.  We even dared to assume that everyone on the board knew what a "record" even was. 

We were wrong.  Times were changing.  Almost daily, someone, usually a ten to fifteen year old (who, by the way, would be in his or her 30s now!) first asked "What's an LP?   What's 45 RPM mean?  Vinyl?" and then of course never neglected to remind us that BRITNEY RULES!!!

At first, most people on the boards nicely answered their questions. Invariably, after the daily onslaught, fans grew weary, and an FAQ was finally drawn up.  After that, the kids were mocked, told off by the fans that felt they didn't have time to answer idiotic questions like these.  The fans wanted to talk about the music and in egregiously nerdy detail!   They wanted to dive into Lennon's incredible use of the mellotron in the psychedelic period of the group (1966-1970 - think tapes playing backwards and the electronic flute sound on "Strawberry Fields Forever" and you've got it.)   They wanted to discuss who was a better songwriter and/or lyricist: Lennon, McCartney, or neither, opting instead for the "Dark Horse", George Harrison.  They wanted to know how Paul and Linda were doing with their new vegetarian frozen food line.  The last thing they wanted to be was a New Webster's Dictionary of technological wonders of the 1960s and virtual babysitters for pre-pubescent Britneyphiles.

Fast-forward to today and no one is even talking about Britney anymore.  Eighteen years later, it's the kids of the kids I was just talking about that are asking for verification of a pop legend's identity.  Now it's all about Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Pitbull, and who the hell is Paul McCartney

(As an aside chuckle in retrospect, if the teenybopper set even knows who McCartney is --- and most assume that they do and that the Twitter trend was really a big joke --- it likely didn't help his image to have released an easy-listening standards album.  It no doubt missed the ears of the Beliebers and Gaga-monsters.  They just probably figured it was some old guy singing some really old songs on the Grammies.  Time passes.  Paul probably doesn't care and why should he!  He's hitting his demographic square-on and selling well.)

The fleeting world of the young is not a new phenom; the juvenile pronouncements today are exactly the same as they were on the Beatle UseNet boards in 1994.  With this, we can safely assume that the next generation in 2030 will be asking us  ... "what's a CD?   What's an mp3?  What's an iPod?" -- and amazed that we used to TYPE STUFF?  (So uncool.)

Ringo's attitude is right on the mark; he knows who he is, what he has achieved, his undisputed place in history, and perhaps the most important thing that comes with age, security, maturity, and experience --- knowing that kids will be always be kids. 

Best always,


Kathryn Ballard Shut
TIMKAT Entertainment
Denver, CO, USA

MySpace Music:
Album Sales on CDBABY:
GRAMMY365 Networking:

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Independent Review: The Jeff Hamilton Trio, "Red Sparkle"

Submitted to JazzTimes Community Pages on March 8, 2012 at 
Reprinted here for your convenience and comment.

Jeff Hamilton Trio - "Red Sparkle"

Class, sophistication, original material and inventive takes on classics make this album a delight to both critical musicians and casual listeners alike.

As a native Colorado-based jazz musician and enthusiast, I often drop over to the Bailey-based Capri Records to see what's new in the jazz world. Today I picked up The Jeff Hamilton Trio's newest effort, "Red Sparkle", released in Feburary 2012, and was immediately and aurally rewarded for the venture.

The Jeff Hamilton Trio is in essence a standard jazz threesome, made up of Tamir Hendelman on piano, Christoph Luty on bass, and Jeff Hamilton on drums. All of the musicians in this outfit are world-class, at the top of their game, and their rich experience in jazz truly shines on this album. The entire album, all ten tracks, is an ongoing and cohesive musical conversation throughout.

The album opens with a Hamilton original, "Ain't That a Peach"; a great and driving blues shuffle. From the first riffs on Hamilton's drum, this tune does not beg to be noticed; it takes you by the throat, throws you on its shoulders for a ride, and commands you to tap your foot during the journey.

Next, once you've departed the blues train, the trio takes you on an inventive trip to Thelonius Monk's world, with his classic, "Bye Ya", only this time, the group has smoothed it out and given it a less angular mood than Thelonius' original 1960s rendering. The gem of this tune lies in its flawless samba beat, held tightly throughout Hamilton's solos and traded-fours interplay with Hendelman and Luty. Two minutes into the piece, the fellas are in full Latin mode with constant rhythmic interchanges between Hendelman's comping left-hand and imaginative solos, to Luty and Hamilton's unfailing adherence to the groove. A delightful offering that had me bopping along, even as I wrote this review!

Usually by the third song in an album, I have an idea of what the rest of the effort will sound like, but Hamilton and team continue to throw fantastic curve balls to that experience. On the third track, "On and On", the trio pleasantly surprises with a complete overhaul of Stephen Bishop's 1977 pop ballad, beginning with Hamilton's almost-tribal toms and Luty's enchanting bass vibe. It is only when Hendelman introduces the melody at about 50 seconds in that you may recognize the tune and say, "Yes, indeed, this works, and in fact... I like it better than the original!" Gone is Bishop's influence on the tune; this treat is now fully and gently under new ownership and re-presented for us to enjoy once again. It is easily one of my favorite offerings on the album.

"Hat's Dance" is the next original tune (Hendelman and Hamilton) and is a joyful, straight-ahead swing, that continues to impress with its driving and yet understated command of rhythm and time. It is a tune sure to be enjoyed by serious listeners of jazz for its technical sophistication by the group, as well as swing dancers and casual listeners for its fun groove. The word "Dance" in the title is fitting; as a swing dancer, I would love to get up and move to this one.

Two Johnny Mercer (original lyrics) offerings come next in the shuffle. The first, "Too Marvelous for Words" (Whiting-Mercer), was made popular originally by vocalists such as Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday in the 1950s. Here, the trio approaches it with a slightly quicker tempo than usual, and also incorporates more "Monk-like", angular rhythms and breaks thoughout the solos. However, the overall effect is a fantastic hard bop romp that features Hendelman's amazing and imaginative soloistic style, coupled with Luty's tight doubling of the melodic line, and Hamilton's tasty brushwork on the kit.

The second Mercer-era offering is "Laura" (Raksin-Mercer), from the 1944 film of the same name. This tune takes the most liberties with tempo of all of the tracks on the album, is a piano feature, and is made more modern by the gorgeous use of Hendelman's polychordic structures (quartals, sustained fourths) and perfect use of simplicity and space in the melodic lines. The concept of the tune is deeply based in pauses and heavy rubato time, which in turn shows how tightly this group listens to each other's aural cues. And while Luty's bass execution is flawless throughout the entire album, I especially enjoyed hearing more of his beautiful and round tone on this track.

Leaving Mercerville, the seventh track on the album is "A Sleepin' Bee" (Harold Arlen - Truman Capote). This offering is primarily a bass and drum feature, as the tune is masterfully constructed as a traded-fours exchange (think Neal Hefti's "Cute") in which each member of the trio holds his own throughout the conversation.

Two of the three remaining tracks on the album are Hamilton and Luty compositions, with the third being a Ray Brown one, previously recorded as a vocal edition with Judy Roberts and Brown himself.

Track Eight is "Red Sparkle" (Hamilton), the album's namesake and neither the name nor the music disappoint. This is a bright, very up-tempo, unforgiving hard bop romp that features primarily Hamilton and Hendelman, but well-supported by a very, very understated, light bass treatment, so light that Luty at first uses it to accentuate the drumming and solos, much as a trumpeter might blow kicks in a big band chart to generate excitement. Luty doesn't even "walk bass" until almost two and a half minutes into the tune and by that point, he is fully on board, locking tightly with Hamilton to create a magic carpet for Hendelman to fly upon as he solos with dizzying dexterity. While frenetic, the delivery of the track is never out of control, kind of like when one rides a "Wild Mouse" rollercoaster that feels like it should fly right off the rails, but always turns on the track, and just in time. The chart eventually fades out to Hamilton's rock-solid, militaristic riffs and leaves the listener's room no doubt spinning with delight. A masterpiece not only of composition but also of execution by
the trio; rookies need not apply!

After the wild ride, Hamilton and team begin to wind the album down with the Ray Brown composition, "I Know You Oh So Well", and as mentioned, this originally was recorded with Hamilton, Brown, and vocalist Judy Roberts; however, this time, bassist Luty brings his bow to converse with Hendelman's treatment of the melody and the effect is brilliant. The sentiment of the chart still retains the mood of a "vocal" chart, as it is a beautiful edition of a timeless jazz ballad, coupled with classical sensibility.

Finally, the album closes with a Christoph Luty original work, "In An Ellingtone" and delivers a perfect end to a tight, flawless, and wholly enjoyable album. While the title of the chart recalls Ellington, as a fellow pianist, I believe that I heard more Horace Silver's style of the mid-1960s, from Hendelman's raised 9th voicings and Silveresque triplets in the melody, to Hamilton's heavier drive and rim clicks on the drums. In any event, the track is a tasty blues trip that completes an album that delivers an entire package of swing, Latin samba, blues, pop ballad, and hard bop.

"Red Sparkle" is definitely worth owning and is one of the few albums that I immediately downloaded, just from hearing the samples. From the Capri site, the album can be downloaded for $9.99 or a track at a time for $0.99 each. The physical CD media is pricier at $14.99.

For more information, visit the Capri Records site at to enjoy it as much as I did.

Best regards,
Kathryn Ballard Shut
President, Pianist
TIMKAT Entertainment, Inc.
Denver, CO, USA

Twitter: @timkatent


Monday, March 5, 2012

Long-Lost Musical Cousins: Roy Clark and Blues / Jazz

About a week ago, a friend of mine, lead guitarist in a great rock band called Drew 6 (Kansas City), posted a YouTube link on his Facebook page.  The link showed the legendary Roy Clark, a guest star and featured artist on an episode of the popular television series, The Odd Couple (1971).  

Mr. Clark astounded the characters of the show, Oscar (Jack Klugman) and Felix (Tony Randall) when he decided to perform something different than what they expected of him (aka Felix's request for "more Bach" and Oscar's request for "Mountain Dewww!") and launched into an amazing rendition of the classic Spanish tune, MalagueñaThe expressions on Klugman and Randall's faces, together with the audience's applause mid-performance, said it all. It was obvious that in character or out, the actors were just as enthralled and moved by Clark's performance as the studio audience, who rightly exploded into monstrous applause when Clark finished with a final olé!

That night, I sent a video response back to my friend's Facebook page, showing a different side of Mr. Clark's work, this time with a performance of Duke Ellington and Juan Tizol's classic Caravan on the Hee Haw television show (1969).  Both of us traded glowing tweets and Facebook comments about the music throughout the evening and marveled once again at this living legend that could seemingly play anything, any style, any level of difficulty.  Mr. Clark was (and is!) a timeless master of his art.

Then it hit me ... Classical guitar.  Duke Ellington.  Roy Clark.  "Caravan" ...  Hee Haw!?  At first glance, it seemed like a bizarre place to showcase a jazz standard; and yet, as I thought about it further, I knew that "crossing over" from one musical style to another in this fashion simply does not make much difference to the artist.  A true musician studies music and by this admission, must embrace different styles not only to suit his or her audience, but also study a plethora of styles while on the journey to mastering his or her instrument.  On both The Odd Couple and the Hee Haw performances, Roy Clark does exactly that.

When Hee Haw was popular (1969-1971 on CBS, and again for over 20 years in syndication), I was a child, so I couldn't appreciate the acting and artistry behind the weekly goofiness written into the show.  In my child's mind, everyone on the show was a bunch of real hillbillies that loved and joked about their "simple" country lives; in reality, however, the concept of the show resulted in country music's response to Rowan and Martin's 'Laugh-In', and its music couldn't be any more serious.  The show was not only an immense success in syndication to a wide variety of television viewers due to its comedy, but also because it provided a major stage for the biggest stars in the country music business (1969 - 1992) to showcase their talent.  In that spirit, Hee Haw also opened its stage to other non-country music entertainers, such as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Ernest Borgnine, Leslie Nielsen, Eddie Rabbitt, and many, many more, thus broadening its appeal to a wide range of viewers.   In retrospect, goofy or not, the show truly exhibited some of the greatest performances known in rock, blues, bluegrass, and country music, all ushered weekly into American living rooms by master musicians Roy Clark and Buck Owens.  Let's focus next on the dexterity of Clark's Caravan performance mentioned earlier.

From the first downbeats laid out by Buck Owens' band, The Buckaroos (all excellent Nashville musicians in their own right), Mr. Clark playfully raises his eyebrows at the camera, as if to say "get ready folks, this is going to be good", and he delivers.  The entire performance is a flawless fusion of classic Middle Eastern "phrygian" modes and melody from the original Ellington/Tizol chart, but further enhanced with Clark's warm and tasteful blues, jazz, and country riffs in the solos, all set to a solid, driving, and unfailing Western beat.  Taken together, the performance warms my soul and inspires me to think of Mr. Clark differently than I ever had before, every time I watch the clip. 

Just listen to Mr. Clark's smooth blues riffs, particularly at 1:49, when Roy solos and The Buckaroos launch into a straight-ahead, up-tempo swing that would play just as well in any jazz setting today.  There is no filler, no fumbling, not a note out of place.  Everything flows and belongs there.  The phrasing is clean and tells a fantastic story. The Buckaroo rhythm section is in command and Mr. Clark is free to fly his magic carpet sound right overhead.

Listen again to the heartfelt blues riffs at the break (2:18), where it's just Roy and the drummer, and feel the infectious swing return for another dancing joyride at 2:38.  Marvel at how effortlessly The Buckaroos shift from a "Rawhide" Western two-step beat into straight-ahead swing, complete with a kick on the snare to cue everyone into each new phrase on-time. 

And finally, dig Mr. Clark's wailing cadenza at the end of the tune, which is nothing less than the blues at its best.  All told, the experience is tight and flawless, perhaps one of the best three minutes and thirty-three seconds of music out there. 

So why talk about Hee Haw and country music on a jazz blog?   First, because country music and jazz share a common ancestry.  Jazz is, just like country music, a rural storyteller's music!   Both are grandchildren of the blues and by that association are musical cousins. And finally, as stated before regarding a musician's education and skill, truly good musicians are not limited to only knowing how to play one particular style of music.  As listeners, we can learn to appreciate their talent for what it is, no matter what style of music they choose to present.

An additional bit of country music and jazz lore in closing: in the early 1950s, the alto saxophone legend, Charlie Parker, also known as "Bird", was often fond of dropping a nickel into the jukebox and listening to country music in diners while on tour. One day, one of the members of his band asked him why he, a hard-core bop musician, even bothered with listening to the whine, drivel, and simplicity of country music. Parker didn't miss beat and replied, "Just listen to the stories!"  In the case of hearing Roy Clark and The Buckaroos perform Caravan on Hee Haw, I have no doubt that Bird would agree, only this time, the stories are timelessly captured within the joy of the music itself.



Kathryn Ballard Shut
TIMKAT Entertainment
Denver, CO, USA

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