SURVIVING NAMM: After twenty-plus years (best to lose count at some point) of going religiously to the NAMM show, the question of why becomes moot. It’s a happy habit, and a joy and a drag on multiple levels. For this music journalist, musician, closet gear geek and fetishist, the prospect of going back to the circus/expo/showroom/gear hypefest each January in the sprawling outpost of the Anaheim Convention Center has become an annual pilgrimage, like it, love it, and/or not.
Things change and stay the same at NAMM, year after year and decade after decade. The meat ‘n’ potatoes stuff of guitars ’n’ drums (’n’ pianos and tubas, et al) have yielded showroom space to the advance of digital technology, and this year, in particular, the place might be subtitled iNAMM. Apps and software for iPads and iPods ran the gamut, from easy-use teleprompters (such as the one Steve Martin used when he played the Granada), electric guitar multi-effects command posts, recording software and other ideas bursting forth in this new i-arena.
Live musician sightings are critical real time buzz moments at NAMM, which seem like a business-first enterprise at times, mixed in with the unspoken but clearly felt “religious fervor” of musicians gathering in a musical place.
On the Thursday when I made my whirlwind tour through NAMM ’12, guitarist Wayne Johnson and his trio were kinder, gentler fusion in the always cozy Taylor compound, and jazz organ great Dr. Lonnie Smith was burning in the Hammond booth, within earshot, ironically, of the digital zone and the likes of the AVID Pro Tools temple. Downstairs, blues-rock guitar master Kenny Wayne Shepherd was awkwardly posing and naturally riffing in a small booth, keeping his volume to a minimum, less the volume-meter-bearing “Sound Control” peacekeepers would register dismay and give orders to diminish the Ives-ian clamor.
Of course, NAMM’s Ives-ian clamor is part of the charm and proof of the timeless vitality of the music biz. Religion meets capitalism meets scantily clad women and scowling rockers and dweebish engineers, all under the bodacious, multi-farious big top.
JAZZ NOTES FROM NEARBY: Suddenly, this winter, the jazz-hungry among us in this jazz-challenged town are getting a bit of satisfaction in the next couple of weeks. On Friday, February 24, the Jazz at the Lobero series continues with the arrival of command jazz violinist Regina Carter, bringing her African-themed “Reverse Thread” project to the room.
At the Lobero this Friday, things kick into swing, and fusion-flavored grooving, when the Yellowjackets pay a rare visit to town in a rematch with mighty fine and tasty guitarist Robben Ford. It was Ford who essentially, and half-accidentally, launched the Yellowjackets, when he hired founders Jimmy Haslip, bass, and Russell Ferrante, keyboards to play in his band for Ford’s late ’70s album The Inside Story. Ford moved on, but the “backup group” began in earnest, and has built up a solid artistic life for 30 years and counting. Neither a straight-ahead jazz band or a panderer in the dreaded “smooth jazz” game, the Yellowjackets have charted a respectable post-fusion, Weather Report-influenced course, especially since inducting masterful tenor saxist Bob Mintzer into the fold.
Friday’s show is doubly significant in that this is a high profile edition of the annual TRAPS (The Rhythmic Arts Project) benefit, supporting Carpinteria-based drummer Eddie Tuduri’s inspirational organization, dedicated to educating those with disabilities through the universal power of percussion and rhythm.
Meanwhile, the cool and humble Danish outpost of Solvang continues its effort to make the town—and those of us within driving distance—safe for jazz. This is the town which hosted a brave, if short-lived Solvang Jazz Festival for three years, through the organizational efforts of Crusaders drummer Stix Hooper.
As of Saturday, Solvang again increases the jazz peace with the launching of the “Famous Jazz Artist” series at Terrace Dinner Theater (upstairs at Manny’s Restaurant, 1693 Mission Rd.), an expansion of the long-standing series in Cambria run by vibist Charlie Shoemake and his wife, vocalist Sandi. As a special guest in this first of hopefully many a dinner-show series ($35 wins you dinner, starting at 6, and two sets of jazz by some of SoCal’s finest), the respected L.A. alto saxist Lanny Morgan will head up the coast. The fine bebop-fueled Morgan is one of those top drawer jazz players who for many years made a living in studios (recording, television and film soundstages) by day and heeded the jazz muse by night, playing in Supersax for almost twenty years. For info: 691-9137.