I put up an image with text
To hell with swine flu, now I know the end is near.
I hear that the real test is whether the site is still usable in Netscape 3. ;)
There's this old concept people might remember from the 70s, sometimes seen parodied on old SNL episodes and the like: the "lounge lizard".
The lounge lizard is a hack pianist that has an unusual skill to play by ear, knows a lot of jazz chord theory, and can play in simulacrums of a lot of styles. So, you go to the piano bar and tip and ask for some boogie-woogie and you get that. Or you go and ask for your favorite "unplugged" Allison Morissette tune or, if they're a fancy lounge lizard maybe you ask for "Take Five".... they deliver. Lot of breadth and *usually* not a lot of depth.
Except that there's a subset of lounge lizards who are actually really quite good and they do all that lounge lizard stuff in their sleep to earn a buck but meanwhile they have real art projects going on the side.
Ok, and then there's this trick you can do if you know a really good lounge lizard: get them to a private party with a piano and get them drunk and then butter them up. They fall for it every time: the result is always the same....
You can get them to play some old standard but like that scene in Amadeus where Mozart satirizes lots of composers with "variations" - the lounge lizard will freely mix styles. So, they might play an old standard (like "Georgia on my mind") but they'll drift comically and drunkenly but with impressing skill amidst a bunch of styles - one verse boogie woogie, another T. Monk....
The net effect of the drunken lounge lizard performance is this mesmerizing pastiche of styles, with lots of jokes in it - and no shortage of a sense of anger behind it. Anger at the de-humanizing, "de-artifying", reductionist commoditization of musicians (e.g., to get a job, answer questions like "can you play gershwin? can you play ragtime?" You get sick of that when really, on your nights off and at the low-or-no-pay gigs you're trying to to do something really profound - the pent up anger/resentment of how you suck up to drunken request makers comes out as these funny, poignent, drunken-lounge-lizard pastiches).
Ok, well, that's the 1970s. And that little pattern that repeated itself across a lot of good lounge lizards was a kind of rediscovery of the kinds of expansive vocabularies of modern jazz which also comes from giving up religious beliefs about the formalist vocabularies....
A guy Lewis' age grows up in an era where the "drunken lounge lizard" style is kind of an old joke. A lot of guys are able to do it perfectly well when not drunk. It's still "funny" and interesting but showing its age - like watching Abbot and Costello's "Who's on first" routine. There's something there, sure, but it's quaint and pointless.
And guy of Lewis' talent grows up with a lot of exposure, training, and practice. Scales, arpegios, pedal techniques, classical, jazz (multiple styles), pop styles -- he's trained with a vocabulary ready made for louge-lizardry, not that there's really much of a market for that old trope of a style.
And the guy Lewis grows up with a kind of Hendrix-esque, preternaturally sensuous approach to his instrument which, aside from the harpsichord or carillon or pipe organ is one of the most difficult instruments towards which to develop a sensual relationshiop. And he grows up with a keen interest and mind for jazz and applied theory and avant guard forms.
So basically he's taken the old "drunken lounge lizard" gag and elevated to a personal, powerful, jazz and avant guard style.
I think he's going to be pretty interesting to watch age as a performer. He appears to currently express a lot of something that at least refers to anger and he appears to currently be a little bit timid about stretching dynamic range towards quiet and structure towards more intricate - yet he also appears to have a lot of reserve strength in those areas in the performances I've seen so I expect that'll appear more as he gets older.
Meanwhile, I think - and its just an interpolation, of course - I think the way he seems to "us" these days must be reminiscent of how weirdos like Monk came across back in their breakthrough days. It evokes a kind of "What the fuck was that?" feeling accomponied with the answer "I'm not sure, but I'm interested in more of it."
I crave attention. Did that little "review" actually "work" for anyone or is it too personal and incomprehensible? Did it make sense and increase enjoyment for people watching the youtube videos of the DNA Lounge performances or... not? I ask because, like many, I'm trying to find things to do in the current economy so I look further in the direction of music critic or prune that possible line of exploration. Not that I think "music critic" is a growth industry or anything.
Parasitically thankfully yrs,
The first 5 or so paragraphs were interesting and taught me something about the 'lounge lizard'. After that it just sorta ... rambled.
That sounds about right. Thanks.
Worked for me. It may have been personal, but was also perfectly comprehensible.
I appreciate that. Thanks. What you didn't say (no, I'm not fishing) was "It made me want to go back and listen again and when I did I got more out of it." One function of good criticism of a good but challenging artist should be to have that effect - at least that's the case with critics I like to read. So, in that sense: too personal. Not too revealing - simply not "universal" enough. It's a kind of take on him I could pull off more convincingly in person with voice tone, and gesticulation, and a lot of "you knows?" and interaction - didn't work as well as I'd have liked as writing.
I was inspired to try when I saw that the Guardian guy had written similarly to me in an earlier comment on this blog: that Lewis is hard to talk about but intense and words fail me. So I took a quick shot at it.
More practice, tighter writing (this was a very quickly written piece) - and more feedback - and I *might* get somewhere. Shrug.
Bit late of me, but: the Hendrix analogy convinced me to listen when I otherwise would never have gotten around to it. I usually do anything I can to avoid "jazz," but I can appreciate that and you got me to notice it.
The archaeological aspect re: lounge-lizards was also interesting to someone who's only ever seen the more recent caricatures.
For a... different take on reviewing, you might want to check out Head Heritage's approach, between the Cope and Seth and whoever else writes for "Unsung." The stratospheric level of enthusiasm there can really... do something (but does require the subject material to be something you're enthusiastic about).