Echo in the Canyon — Straight-Up Nostalgia Buzz: Folk Meets Rock ‘n’ Roll

Echo in the Canyon. With Jakob Dylan, Tom Petty, Stephen Stills, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, Lou Adler, John Sebastian, Jackson Browne, Fiona Apple, Beck, Regina Spektor, Graham Nash, Cat Power, Michelle Phillips, Norah Jones, Jade Castrinos. Directed by Andrew Slater. 82 minutes; PG-13. Grade: B+

echo poster new

Sure, “Echo in the Canyon” is a straight-up dose of nostalgia buzz, and potentially not of enormous interest to those under 35 or so. But anyone, regardless of their age, who is fascinated by the personal stories behind pop-music history will be charmed by the film, a part documentary, part concert affair “hosted” by Jakob Dylan (of the Wallflowers, and son of Bob), who also performs in the film.

The story is fairly narrowly focused on the years 1965 through 1967, when folk knocked knees with rock ‘n’ roll to create a new sound. And many of the originators of that new pop music — nominally focused on the artsy and the poetic rather than silly love songs, as the typically unrestrained David Crosby points out — congregated in the woodsy Laurel Canyon area of Los Angeles.

“Echo,” directed by newcomer Andrew Slater, is packed with vintage clips of performances by Buffalo Springfield, the Mamas and the Papas, and the Beach Boys, and recent interviews with members of some the above and others: Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash (but why not Neil Young?), Roger McGuinn, Michelle Phillips, Jackson Browne, Brian Wilson, John Sebastian, Ringo Starr, and Eric Clapton.

In what feels like the most emotional component of the film, there are several sequences with the late Florida-bred Tom Petty, interviewed at a vintage guitar store. “This is a folk-rock special,” Petty says, as he plays a few chiming, ringing chords on a 12-string electric Rickenbacker (feels unimaginable that Petty wouldn’t live to see the film’s release).

McGuinn, chatty as ever, effectively describes how the Beatles, who initially drew from skiffle and other Brit folk forms, played the kind of rock ‘n’ roll that inspired the Byrds’ electric folk-rock, which was initially dissed by folk audiences in New York City and on the West Coast. And, of course, as the stories go, the Beatles’ “Rubber Soul” influenced the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds,” which in turn helped spark the Beatles’ “Sgt Pepper’s.”

Crosby relates the story of how he was kicked out of the Byrds — his bad attitude, not the band’s decision to keep his risque song “Triad” off their album “The Notorious Byrd Brothers,” he says — and Stills sheepishly recounts the time he jumped through a bathroom window to escape from the police when they raided a party at his house; other celebrity guests were arrested on marijuana charges and carted off to jail. Phillips talks about how her free-love lifestyle led husband John Phillips to fire her from the Mamas and the Papas.

The film also is spiked with fun performances of those old hits by a younger generation of artists, including Dylan, Cat Power, Norah Jones, Beck, Fiona Apple, and Regina Spektor. Thus we get new versions of “In My Room,” “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times,” “Questions,” “Go Where You Wanna Go” and “Never My Love” that are largely faithful to the originals, rather than reinventions. Some of the performances are live in the studio, and others are taken from a 2015 concert at LA’s Orpheum Theatre.

What’s not to like? Well, to be honest, as much fun as Slater’s film is, particularly for someone like me who clearly remembers at least 75% of the music (I was 4 to 6 years old during the film’s target years), “Echo in the Canyon” sometimes feels like it could double as a feature-length commercial for the soundtrack album.

Also, the multiple clips of “Model Shop,” a mostly forgotten 1969 film said to represent the SoCal vibe of the time, add little to the proceedings. I would have liked to have heard some of the artists’ opinions on why they think this particular body of music — made by a group of singers, songwriters and instrumentalists who practically lived in each other’s homes for a period of time — resonated so strongly with the public.

And there are no (or only minor) references to several major artists who were central or tangential to the scene, including Joni Mitchell, Carole King, the Eagles, J.D. Souther, Linda Ronstadt, and Jim Morrison.

Still, “Echo in the Canyon” works well as a broadly entertaining record of a long-vanished, highly creative artistic flourishing resulting in music that continues to resonate. Highly recommended for music lovers and pop-culture fans.

Snarky Puppy’s New “Immigrance”

Really digging “Immigrance,” Snarky Puppy‘s latest full-length recording, released today.

It’s jazzy and funky, yes, but it also travels in some unexpected directions. Intriguing, shape-shifting arrangements, unexpected instrumental textures, and brilliant improvisations.

Snarky Puppy remains one of the most gifted and most ambitious large-ensemble instrumental groups out there. Congrats, Michael League & Co.

And the video for the catchy “Bad Kids to the Back” is extraordinarily creative.

Look for my full review in a jazz mag near you.


Never Again Neverland

I watched about an hour of HBO’s “Leaving Neverland” last night. Devastating. Sad. Disgusting.
Depressing beyond measure.
Way, WAY too many very specific details regarding the circumstances of the sexual abuse and the actual acts of abuse for any honest observer to walk away thinking that these victims aren’t telling the truth.
A few other things to remember, particularly for those Michael Jackson superfans who dismiss the accusations out of hand (even to the point of attacking a documentary that they’re unwilling to watch):
1)Jackson spent untold hours, alone and unsupervised, with these (and other) little boys.
2)There are on-camera interviews of Jackson talking about how sleeping in the same bed with others (including little boys who weren’t his children) was “the most loving thing” anyone can do.
3)He paid out tens of millions to settle claims of sexual abuse.
None of these actions are remotely “normal.” Where there’s smoke …
As far as the complaints that Wade Robson and James Safechuck have changed their story several times: Anyone who’s read accounts of young sexual abuse victims realizes that this is not uncommon, thanks to the kind of enduring mental/emotional hold that pedophiles can have over their young victims. While eventually coming to realize that they have been victimized, they also feel oddly protective of their abusers. Not uncommon in spousal abuse situations, either, from what I’ve read.
How could the parents of these boys be so blind as to allow the abuse to occur? No real simple answers, but it’s clear from the documentary that these particular parents were starstruck, and that they believed Jackson’s carefully orchestrated public image — “childlike wonder,” “innocence” — more than they believed what was in front of their own eyes.
Will those who enabled Jackson’s pedophilia by turning a blind eye — His agents, managers, and publicists, family members, Neverland employees — ever be held responsible for their role in the abuse?
The documentary has forever changed the way I will think about the guy and, yes, his music.
Michael Jackson is about as “innocent” as OJ.
I take no pleasure in coming to that conclusion, as I’ve always appreciated him as one of history’s most talented singers, dancers, songwriters, pop-music conceptualists, and entertainers. An amazing stage presence.
And someone who rose above tough circumstances, including a demanding and violent father, to become an amazing artist. Brilliant, but lonely and misunderstood.
All that, and a “smooth criminal,” too. 

Saluting the Tampa Bay area’s guitarists

I hear some folks complaining loudly about the Tampa Bay area music scene, when it comes to the volume of good gigs for local players. Yes, there could be more opportunities for more gigs, and more better-paying gigs. Sadly, that could be said about nearly every area of the country.

What IS unique about the region where I’ve lived for 30 years: We’re home to as many top-shelf jazz and blues musicians as any area in Florida, and probably more good players overall than any place of its size in the US.

And many of those good players — particularly the rhythm-section folks — are staying busy 3-4 nights a week playing gigs. Yes, there are exceptions, and yes there are slower periods. Helllo, summer.

So today, I want a send a big shout-out to the many talented jazz and blues guitarists in our area, several of whom I’ve worked with in bands or on the occasional gig.


At the risk of leaving out someone: (in no particular order) Matthew Swenson (above, my bandmate in Acme Jazz Garage & other groups), LaRue Nickelson (below, my former bandmate in Greenwich Blue), Joel Lisi (my former bandmate in Ghetto Love Sugar), Larry CampPeter Mongaya HogsholmDamon FowlerVincent SimsJon PuhlStephen BurdiJordan GarnoNathaniel Bernard NajarSarasota SlimJohnny G LyonPatty SanphyChuck HillMike Cripe


Nearly all of these folks are open to good-paying gigs: Hit ’em up!

(And if you find yourself in Tampa on a Thursday or Friday night, come see me play bass with Acme Jazz Garage — Matt Swenson, pianist Bryan Lewis and drummer Pat Close at Timpano Chophouse — in Hyde Park Village. We start at 7 both nights.)

French Quarter Fest lineup: Galactic, Astral Project, Ellis Marsalis, Delfeayo Marsalis, Bonerama, Rebirth Brass Band, more.

The French Quarter Festival in New Orleans is a nice alternative to the bigger Jazz and Heritage Festival: Many of the same great New Orleans & Louisiana artists, without the big pop/rock acts.

Admission is free, and the fest is held on stages spread across the Quarter and along the Mississippi River. Meaning: if you get a hotel there, you can walk to everything, and not  hassle with going to and from the Fair Grounds (as you do with Jazz Fest).

The festival will be held April 11-14. The lineup seems to get better every year and, yes, the four-day affair is more crowded than in the early years of the FQF.

astral project

Some highlights of the lineup, just announced:

Thursday, April 11 — Galactic, Jon Cleary, Chubby Carrier, Evan Christopher, Rebirth Brass Band, Tin Men, Sasha Masakowski

Friday, April 12 — Delfeayo Marsalis, The Iguanas, George Porter Jr., John Boutte, Alex McMurray, Leroy Jones, Little Freddie King, Papa Mali

Saturday, April 13 — Bill Summers, Cyril Neville, Ellis Marsalis, Leroy Jones, Paul Sanchez, Shamarr Allen, Walter Wolfman Washington, Jazz Vipers, Treme Brass Band

Sunday, April 14 — Astral Project (above), Bonerama, James Andrews, Dash Rip Rock, Rockin’ Dopsie Jr., Tuba Skinny, James Andrews, Jeremy Davenport

Check it the Offbeat story here.

Remembering the Challenger

I was a young reporter at Florida Today in Melbourne. Had just left the house I was sharing on Cocoa Beach that crisp, cool morning, to drive to the office. Remembered the launch was about to happen, so I pulled off of A1A at a viewing spot near Patrick Air Force Base — something of a front-row seat, as it wasn’t far from Cape Canaveral.

The shuttle shot straight up into the clear blue, began its swerve and then pieces separated, trailing white smoke. I immediately knew that something was wrong.
Several of the folks watching with me were employed by NASA or had friends or family in the space program, which was essential to the lifeblood of Brevard County in those days. Some of them began to cry.

My trusty reporter notebook was in my back pocket — its usual resting place — so I pulled it out and started interviewing folks. As part of my work on the team covering the tragedy, I wound up going to Orlando to interview the parents of Gregory Jarvis. His dad, Bruce Jarvis, had much to say about the failure of the O-rings being the culprit in the disaster.

That was a very sad day for America. Remember how we all shared in the mourning? Hard to believe that it has been 33 years — a lifetime ago.

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays from Jazzlands

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you and yours from May this season be filled with meaningful reflection, pleasant times with family and friends, and lots of great music.

THANK YOU for reading this blog. Comments always appreciated. And so are new readers.

I stay busy with my day job, as well as gigs with Acme Jazz Garage, Swan City Jazz Project, and other groups, and writing for several national publications, including JazzTimes, Jazziz, and Relix magazines.

I write in this space as time permits. In 2018, I also contributed to the Washington Post, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and SawPalm.

In the spirit of the season, here’s a holiday-ish tune, “Last Call,” from the debut CD by Acme Jazz Garage.

It’s a swinger, with a ’40s-set story about a couple taking a romantic walk across Manhattan on a snowy night during Christmas season; they pass through Times Square and stop at a jazz club, encountering some legendary musicians along the way.

For this track, our core group — pianist Bryan Lewis, guitarist Matt Swenson, me on upright bass, and former drummer Tim Diehl — was joined by singer Whitney James, trumpeter Ron Wilder, and vibraphonist Sam Koppelman. The tune’s chorus, with its tightly clustered vocal harmonies (all by Whitney), might remind some of Manhattan Transfer.

“Last Call” is the only vocal cut on our CD, which had a nice run in 2016. The CD was heard on more than 30 stations across the country, including Tampa’s WUSF, 89.7 FM and WMNF, 88.5 FM, staying on the Jazzweek radio-airplay chart for several months. It received good reviews from national and regional press, including Relix magazine, LA Jazz Scene, Tampa Bay Times, Creative Loafing  (Tampa), The Toledo Blade, Ken Franckling’s Jazz Notes, and Tie Your Shoes Reviews.

The CD is available for purchase via iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby, and at our gigs.

Acme Jazz Garage has been together since 2011. If you find yourself in the Tampa Bay area on a Thursday or Friday night, please come hear us play at Timpano Chophouse in Hyde Park Village, Tampa, starting at 7. We mix jazz standards with blues, bossa novas, funky stuff, pop/rock instrumentals and originals.

We’ve recently returned to the Springs Theatre in Seminole Heights, where we recorded our debut CD, and have nearly completed work on four new tracks of original material. We hope to release something in 2019.

(BTW, Acme Jazz Garage is more than open to partnering with a label for our next release. If interested, contact me directly —