The Jazzcat

Michael Franks at the Long Beach Jazz Festival!

by on Aug.23, 2005, under News


Slide Show

In all the years that I have listened to, appreciated and

grown in my musical taste, Michael Franks has been one that has remained

on my good music radar. Yes, I am the Jazzcat and yes I live my life in the

straight ahead vain however, Duke said it best and I follow his philosophy when

it comes to music.


It is interesting because my musical taste have grown in

an extremely different direction than when I first began listening to music.

Here is my dirty little secret:


I started out listening to hip-hop on KDAY, a radio station

that has come back and made a serious rebound after all of these years. I broke

away from that and started listening to other music, which they now have a name

for that I am sure that you know quite well: Artist like Jeff Lorber, Earl

Klugh, Spyro Gyra, George Howard, and even a few I dare not mention. However,

this type of music helped put me on the path to the core of straight ahead

music, real jazz – the essence of life which I hold dear and which molds my

character and determines my destiny.



I have pretty much closed the door on anything that remotely represents

the touch of silk, a tsunami of the smallest magnitude or weather that causes

thunder and lightning when it comes to music. I probably should not be so

harsh. I am just fond of music that makes a statement with simplicity and not

just for simplicity's sake. If they called it adult contemporary music, I would

be fine with that because that is what it is.















Now, having said all of that, any music that has

stayed with

me over the years and has not fallen by the wayside must have something

to say.

I believe that about Michael Franks and his music. I believe that there

are two

sides to his music. This could probably be said about many artists but,


is one side of Michael that is contemporary (the record label side) and

another side which exudes an extremely profound and creative lyricist.

I have had

most of his records over the years and I am amazed by them. Amazed that

on the

same record there could be something so intriguing and also something

so very

contemporary. To me, it is like oil and water, but what this tells me

is that

Michael's imprint is present on all of his work, regardless of the way

the studio

would like to present him as an artist.


Times have unfortunately changed since the old days. Artists

were given record deals because of their sheer talent and once proven, allowed

to freely express their art and creativity through their music. Jazz musicians

who speak and play the truth do this every day and are not financially rewarded

nearly as abundantly as others. Michael is a wonderful storyteller who has

created beauty from the heart. He has captured some very poignant aspects of

the love between humans and expressed the joy, pain, and sorrow with things

that make you laugh, feel and think. But as the years progress, the avenue for

these types of expressions change and that change sometimes leaves artists on

an island of creative prowess with no market. Television is not about the

programs you watch and radio is not about what you are listening to.

imageimage image image


I took the Blue Line train down to the Long Beach Jazz Festival

in Long Beach because it is always an easy ride and it pretty much drops you

off right at the back door of the festival. I met two women on my way back home

that had just been at the festival. They both saw Michael’s performance and one

thought his lyrics were corny and the other said that she just liked his voice.

I have been listening to these lyrics for over 20 years and I have always

looked upon them as fun, humorous and yes, sometimes a little silly. But, I get

it. I felt like I was a fly on the wall when he composed some of these songs

and I understood where he was coming from. I think you have to look, feel, hear

and live between the lines to understand the song’s true meaning. I am not sure

that the world hears Michael’s messages correctly.


This is the same approach I take with jazz music. I like to

hear between the lines and experience the possibility of notes not played. I

know that those who love adult contemporary music only listen to and want to

hear what is coming out of the speakers. There is so much more to life and

there is so much more to music and so much more to art. I relish in those

lyrics because, like most of us, they take us back to a time to remember. Only,

I heard the music in its entirety back then, when it was presented in a free

form and not a part of a radio formula that works financially.


During his performance at the very successful Long Beach

Jazz Festival, Michael covered some of his popular tunes like, “Eggplant”,

“Monk’s New Tune”, “Rainy Night in Tokyo” and of course everyone’s all-time

favorite “Popsicle Toes”. On vocals, backup vocals and percussion, a friend

that I have for only known a short time (though it seems like we go back many years)

was Veronica Nunn, adding the flavor of “A Love Duet”. That’s what Michael

Franks's lyrics do– make you seem like you have known him for quite some time. Through

time, Michael has remained the same all of these years. I have seen him at

performances for many years here in Los

Angeles and he has a certain approach and relationship

with his microphone that is hard to explain in words. My guess is that he respects

its power and wants its recipients to hear and get his message.


Of course all of his songs are great, but what is even more

dynamic is when you spend time with the albums in a serene environment in their

entirety. You can’t always get your music through the radio. When was the last

time you got together with some friends, made some dinner at your house and

spent some intimate time listening to music? This can be more rewarding than

“War of the Worlds”, “Star Wars” or “Deuce Bigalow”. Believe me, take your

discs or MP3’s of some of your favorite tunes over to a friend’s house and

spend some time getting into the music. You play two tunes and let your friend

play two tunes. You really get to know your friends and you really get to know

the music. Do me a favor, take some Michael Franks. If you really want to

impress them, play “Still Life”!


LeRoy Downs

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