Music and the Brain: An Enduring Partnership


Ever since I became entranced by Coltrane’s song “India” in my bedroom when I was sixteen, living at home, I’ve been aware of the power of music to affect the heart, soul, and spirit.  Music has always exerted a powerful force on me, even before I could really put its magic powers into words.

It’s what moves the Sufis, enables fire walkers in Morocco to avoid getting burned, and is used in ritual trance ceremonies in Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, the Philippines, and many parts of Africa.  Music is a hypnotic agent and healing elixir, and it has been for a long time.

In preparation for a class I was about to teach a few months back, I did a lot of reading on music and the brain.  Read More →

Fall Music Listening: The Group Oregon


It’s gray and foggy where I live in Southern California, cold too.  I helps sink in the fact that summer is gone and fall is here.  I never liked the fall, though it’s been easier over the past few years.  The holidays from Halloween until Valentine’s Day can either be a source of joy and togetherness or a sinkhole of dread and sadness, depending on each person.   I may have been influenced by my late father, who always darkly observed, as fall was approaching, that “the shadows are getting longer”.  It sounded like a portent of death to me.

I associate the music of the Portland, Oregon band Oregon with fall.  There’s a fall feeling in their music, which they’ve been making and recording since the 1970s.  The group has changed little except for the drummer/percussionist.  The original drummer, Colin Walcott, died in a car accident in Germany, and a succession of drummers, including Trilok Gurtu and Mark Walker, have followed.  Otherwise the group Oregon consists of Paul McCandless on double reeds and soprano sax, Glen Moore on bass, and Ralph Towner on guitars.   They’ve made about a dozen cd’s over the years, maybe more. Read More →

Africa: A True Oxymoron


I have loved African music for over thirty years.  I discovered it through Olatunji’s seminal Columbia lp Drums of Passion and the great Congolese mass Missa Luba years ago.  I first heard Afro pop while living in Paris in the 1970s.  Congolese rumba was especially sweet and intoxicating.  Later came the great Afro-Cuban grooves of bands like Guinea’s Bembeya Jazz and Orchestra Baobab from Dakar, Senegal.   This is truly joyful noise.

Yet when I read in the newspapers about the Lord’s Resistance Army, hear the Refugee All-Stars (a Sierra Leone group of survivors of the war there), the Congolese murders or Rwandan genocide, it’s hard to square the violence with the sweet soulfulness of the music. Read More →

Paul Bley, El Cordobés, Only Sweetly, and Old Vinyl


The other day I was reading the latest issue of Absolute Sound, an audiophile publication that recently published a piece about Henry Rollins called “Henry Rollins:  I Am an Audiophile!”  I wrote a blogpost about that on my KCRW Rhythm Planet column (  In the new ish there was an article about classic lp’s that have never been reissued/need to get reissued.  One of those lp’s was an album by one of my favorite jazz pianists, Paul Bley:  it was issued on the Dutch label Fontana Records in 1966 and was titled “Blood”.  Now I was sure, as I approached the “B” section of my vinyl library, that I didn’t have this lp or if I did it must have been sold, loaned out, or otherwise gone.  (I sold my vinyl collection in 1976 to Rhino Records to help pay for long distance phone bills occasioned by my breakup with my French girlfriend.  What a waste!). Read More →

Bhutan Celebrates Royal Wedding


I wanted to alert you to a nice articule in today’s LA Times, “Bhutan Rejoices as King Marries Student”.   I’m sending this because last Sunday we featured on my show an interview with Lisa Napoli on her wonderful book Radio Shangri-La:  What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Place on Earth.

We listened to all sorts of music from this remote and little-known country. Read More →

Dori Caymmi’s New Album: Poesia Musicada and Why I Love It


Brazilian composer, arranger, and guitarist Dori Caymmi has a stunning new album out.  It’s called “Poesia Musicada”, which roughly means “Poetry Set to Music”.  Dori, along with siblings Nana and Danilo, comes from Brazilian musical royalty:  their father, Dorival Caymmi, was the patriarch who paved the way for Jobim, Joao Gilberto, Caetano Veloso and all who followed him.  Dorival also introduced Carmen Miranda in 1939 when she was still unknown.  The debut song was called “O Que é Que a Baiana Tem” (“What is it about Bahian Women”) and was a big hit.  By 1945 she was the highest-paid woman in the world. Read More →

Catalina Bar and Grill Celebrates its 25th Annniversary


Catalina Bar and Grill, one of the few jazz clubs left in LA, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.  Longevity isn’t something associated with jazz clubs;  there were many of them in the 70s and 80s:  Donte’s, Carmelos, Concerts By The Sea, Hop Singh’s, Chadney’s, Marla’s Memory Lane, to name just a few.  They’re all gone now, which makes the continuing existence of Catalina’s even more valuable.

Catalina Bar and Grill is named after Catalina Popescu, who came here from Rumania 35 years ago.  Perhaps it’s because she survived the brutal Ceaucescu regime that she is persistant, stubborn, and steely, and it is these traits that have helped her establishment survive.

I have many wonderful memories of Catalina’s.   Read More →

Bacardi Rum: As Cuban as Rumba


There was an article about Bacardi Rum in yesterday’s LA Times Food Section that caught my eye.  I’m not a mixologist but I appreciate good rum.  In Cuba they put it in regular glasses and you drink it straight at room temperature.  Which doesn’t rule out going to La Bogedita del Medio to get a strong, fragrant mojito that will kick your ass. But it won’t be with Bacardi.  It will be Havana Club, the closest things the Cubans get get to the original Bacardi formula.

Why is that?  Because the Bacardi family escaped from Cuba before the January 1st, 1959 Cuban revolution, taking the famous and secret yeast formula with them.  That’s what the LA Times article was all about.

It struck a bell with me because I’m fortunate to have a famous photograph that the great Cuban photographer Raul Corrales–whom even the more famous Cuban photographer Korda called the best photographer in Cuba—of a militia returning from liberating and requisitioning the Bacardi factory.  They got everything but the yeast: The most important thing. Read More →

Tinariwen’s Tuareg Blues


tinariwen tuareg group

Here is the band in its natural habitat

Tinariwen, the Tuareg group, is back on tour in the U.S.   They perform here in LA as part of the Ooh La La Festival organized by the French government.   The show is Friday night at the El Rey, and they perform alongside Nouvelle Vague and Etienne de Crecy.  Guests on Tinariwen’s set include members of TV on the Radio.

Besides the fact that Tinariwen—the name means “desert”–has become so familiar both here and in Europe, besides the fact that they’ve been touring since 2001, that Robert Plant loves them, and that they’ve done Coachella, KCRW’s World Festival at the HOllywood Bowl among other things–is that the blues mode is familiar to most of us.  Rather than moving through a series of chords, what you get is one base key and everything moving in relation to that “home plate” key.  This is the hallmark of all the great Mississippi Delta blues that we know and love. Read More →