Fox, Pizzarelli, Waugh, Hiromi
January 1, 1970Four pieces this week: profile of guitarist Mimi Fox; review of guitarist-vocalist John Pizzarelli, review "Waugh Abroad," by Evelyn Waugh (all three from the Boston Globe), and a short profile of pianist Hiromi Uehara in Best Life magazine, a new men's magazine offshoot of Men's Health.
'Woman' shows she's got chops
On new CD, Fox confirms there's life beyond pop for female guitarists
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | May 21, 2004
Mimi Fox, who'll be promoting her new CD tonight with a trio performance at Ryles, retains an appealing amount of "East Coast attitude," even though she's now spent more than half her 47 years living in the San Francisco Bay area. A good thing, too — without it, she might never have pulled off all she's accomplished lately on the guitar.
Not that she lacks the chops for it. Her new disc, "She's the Woman," is the first jazz album to come out of rock guitar legend Steve Vai's Favored Nations label (others from Larry Coryell and Stanley Jordan are slated to follow soon). From the Fox-penned bebop burner that leads it off ("East Coast Attitude," one of three tunes featuring bassist Ray Drummond) to the playful rearrangement of the Beatles tune that concludes it ("She's a Woman"), the CD demonstrates her virtuosity as both an instrumentalist and composer.
It's not easy making it as a female jazz guitarist, though. For Fox, the journey began in Queens, N.Y., where she grew up beating time to her dad's old Dixieland records on her mother's soup pots. (Her mother, an amateur singer, was into Cole Porter, the Gershwins, and standards.) By age 9, Fox was playing drums (an instrument she kept up through high school), but soon she became a devotee of the Monkees. "I was 10 years old," she explains, "I can be excused." Her mom bought her a small guitar using S&H Green Stamps.
Fox took to the instrument immediately. An older cousin showed her a few chords and promised to return to check her progress.
"By the time he got back a few weeks later," she recalls by phone, "I was already playing all the songs from the Beatles' `Rubber Soul' — everything, including `Michelle,' that little guitar part. I'd taught myself just from listening to the record. So he was pretty freaked out. He goes to my mom, `Look, I don't have anything to teach Mimi anymore. She just learned all this stuff and taught herself this.' So yes, I guess I had an affinity for it."
She stayed entirely self-taught until moving to California in 1979. She spent about six months doing studio work in Los Angeles before drifting north to San Francisco. "I had headphones on all the time, and I really didn't like it," she recalls. "Even though I was making really good money, that wasn't all that I wanted. I didn't really care about having a swimming pool and palm trees in my yard."
What she wanted to do was to move beyond pop. "There's some point for every composer — every songwriter, whatever the genre — that all roads lead to jazz, because of the richness of the harmony," says Fox. "All the pop people that I liked — Stevie [Wonder], Bonnie Raitt, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, even James Taylor — all these people have written jazz ballads. Even the Beatles: You take a song like `When I'm 64' — that's a swing tune. Certainly Stevie Wonder had a number of really classic jazz tunes, like `Sir Duke' or `Isn't She Lovely?' "
Fox immediately fell in love with the Bay Area, "for all the reasons you can imagine," and began taking lessons from the bebop-oriented guitarist Bruce Forman. ("She was a great student," Forman recalls. "She came to me full of energy and enthusiasm, and was just a sponge. And she picked it up real naturally.")
Then she began paying dues in earnest. She taught guitar and drums at an Oakland music school while practicing six hours a day herself and picking up whatever gigs she could at night. And she faced down the skepticism of sexist men who couldn't get their heads around the idea of a woman playing jazz guitar.
"Of course there were guys that were supportive," she says, "but by and large I think a lot of men were threatened, because I had chops. I think if I was a laid-back player it would have been different, but because I'm kind of intense, kind of a choppy player — meaning can play fast and can cut the fast tempos and all that stuff — I found a lot of men really hassled me and excluded me and didn't give me gigs.
"A number of experiences stand out as being particularly lousy, but when I was about 19 I was playing in a funk band and this really respected jazz player in town came up to me after my set and goes, `Well you know, sweetie, you play pretty good rhythm, but you should never try to solo.' "
Another time, she recalls, a manager she was working with sent a demo of hers to a promoter, only to hear back, "The music's great, but I don't believe this is a woman. Who are you really representing?''
"The guys that are cool are cool," Fox hastens to add, "and there are men that have gone out of their way to be very supportive. Probably because they know that it's like, well, rooting for the Red Sox."
Fox persevered, and lately her career has been taking off. Last year her former label, Origin Records, brought out two worthy CDs involving Fox — a collaboration with vocalist Greta Matassa titled "Two for the Road" and a solo album, "Standards," inspired by Fox's late friend and mentor Joe Pass.
"She's the Woman" shines even brighter. Jim Hall, Charlie Hunter, and Russell Malone all blurb Fox favorably on its back cover. Her former teacher hasn't heard the new CD yet but likes what he's heard of Fox lately. "She's really sounding great these days," says Forman. "I've heard her live a couple of times, and she's swinging."
Swinging with Fox tonight at Ryles will be two locally based musicians, bassist Keala Kaumeheiwa and drummer Luther Gray. Fox says her friend Rebecca Parris will probably drop by and sing a couple of tunes as well.
Mimi Fox performs at Ryles tonight at 9:30. Tickets $10.
© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
Pizzarelli takes up a Brazilian beat
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | May 19, 2004
At Scullers Sunday night, John Pizzarelli augmented his decade-old working trio — Pizzarelli on vocals and guitar, his brother, Martin, on upright bass, Ray Kennedy on piano — with a drummer (Tony Tedesco) and a second vocalist (Daniel Jobim, grandson of bossa nova great Antonio Carlos Jobim), the better to promote his charming new CD, "Bossa Nova."
"It just came out two weeks ago," Pizzarelli told the audience as he switched guitars midway through his first set, the rest of which would be taken up by songs from the new album, "and it's taken the world by drizzle."
Pizzarelli, as always, wore his virtuosity lightly: chatting privately with a front-row audience member as he comped behind Kennedy, obliging a request by good-naturedly belting out a few lines of "The Wonder of It All" (Pizzarelli being the singing TV pitchman for the Foxwoods Resort and Casino), and drolly joking between tunes. "Ray's an integral part of the group," Pizzarelli said, introducing a number featuring the pianist, "and now he's going to sing the Foxwoods song."
But Pizzarelli has guitar chops to do even the brothers' guitar-great dad, Bucky Pizzarelli, proud, and his singing — a reedy tenor undiminished by the allergies he was battling — got the job done in a pleasantly understated way.
The first half of his opening set included three tunes from the CD "Kisses in the Rain" ("When I Take My Sugar to Tea," "Don't Be That Way," and Kennedy's composition "Oscar Night") and one each from "P.S. Mr. Cole" ("I Know That You Know") and the year-old "Live at Birdland" ("Isn't It a Pity"). Highlights included Kennedy's solos on "Don't Be That Way" (a well-built gem at a medium-slow tempo) and "Oscar Night."
What was different about Sunday was the bossa nova material, but it went over well with the Pizzarelli faithful. Like other jazzers before them, the Americans adapted persuasively to the Brazilian beat. Jobim sat out "Desafinado (Off Key)" but then sang harmony and/ or lead on four more by his grandfather (Jobim sitting in on piano for one of them, "Waters of March"), the Gershwins' "Fascinating Rhythm," and James Taylor's "Your Smiling Face."
The second half peaked with "The Girl From Ipanema," which Pizzarelli began and ended in English, with Jobim singing the Portuguese lyrics in between.
"That song," Pizzarelli pronounced afterward, "is the 'One for My Baby' of Brazil."
At: Scullers, first set, Sunday night
© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
Comic set pieces from a clash of personality, the unknown
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | May 16, 2004
When he heard that the young novelist Evelyn Waugh would be coming to Asmara in summer 1936 to report on the effects of Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia, Waugh's Italian Press Bureau contact hurriedly hunted down a bouquet of red roses.
"Like many others before him," wrote Waugh in "Waugh in Abyssinia," the nonfiction account of his stint as a war correspondent, "he was deluded by my Christian name and for two days flitted between airport and railway station, meeting every possible conveyance, in a high state of amorous excitement. . . . The trousered and unshaven figure which finally greeted him must have been a hideous blow."
The man's confused ardor can be excused. At the time, the Eritrean capital's white population of 60,000 included only seven unattached women, and Waugh's two best-known novels ("Scoop," his fictional spin-off of that same war correspondence, easily the funniest spoof of journalism ever written, and "Brideshead Revisited") were still in the offing.
Today's well-read traveler ought to know better. Waugh (1903-66) was not merely a stellar satirist and literary stylist; he also produced some of the great English travel writing that flourished between the World Wars. Late last year, to celebrate the Waugh centennial, Everyman's Library brought out two new collections of his work. One bundles "Scoop" with three other novels: "Black Mischief," "The Loved One," and "The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinchfold." The other, "Waugh Abroad," is an unabridged compilation of his seven book-length travel narratives.
The travel book is more of a gamble, given the susceptibility of all travel writing to becoming dated — and the uneven quality of Waugh's work in that line. His first four travel narratives, though, remain standouts in the genre. "Remote People" centered around his trip to Ethiopia to report on the coronation of Haile Selassie, and inspired "Black Mischief." "Ninety-Two Days" documented a 1933 trip through the jungles of British Guiana and Brazil and spawned the Dickens-obsessed Mr. Todd in "A Handful of Dust." Waugh's best travel book was probably his first, "Labels," which recounted a touristy cruise of the Mediterranean he took with his first wife (also named Evelyn) when he was 25.
Waugh's strength in travel writing was in the comic set pieces that resulted from the clash of his personality — conservative, Roman Catholic, aggressively English, snobbish, acerbic — with unfamiliar people and cultures. In "Labels," for instance, he decides to put ashore in Naples one Sunday morning to view the cathedral.
"As soon as I landed, a small man in a straw hat ran to greet me, with evident cordiality. He had a brown, very cheerful face, and an engaging smile.
"'Hullo, yes, you sir. Good morning,' he cried. 'You wanta one nice woman.'
"I said, no, not quite as early in the day as that.
"'Well, then, you wanta see Pompeian dances. Glass house. All-a-girls naked. Vair artistic, vair smutty, vair French.'
"I still said no, and he went on to suggest other diversions rarely associated with Sunday morning. In this way, we walked the length of the quay as far as the cab rank at the harbour entrance. Here I took a small carriage. The pimp attempted to climb on to the box, but was roughly repulsed by the driver. I told him to drive me to the cathedral, but he took me instead to a house of evil character.
"'In there,' said the driver. 'Pompeian dances.'
"'No,' I said. 'The cathedral.'"
Waugh's fastidiousness did not extend to declining freebies. Running low on money for a stay in Malta, he wrote ahead to two hotels asking for free lodging in exchange for a plug. The proprietor who hosted Waugh showed him a previous hack's cloying praise as an example of the sort of stuff he hoped Waugh would write. Waugh responded with an endorsement as honest as it was faint.
"I will not be outdone in gratitude," he declared. "If my appreciation is more temperately expressed, it is none the less genuine. Let me state again, the Great Britain may be less suitably placed for golfers than Gleneagles, the bathing may be better from the Normandie, one can shop more conveniently from the Crillon, the Russie is set in a prettier square, one meets more amusing company at the Cavendish, one can dance better at the Berkeley and sleep better at Mena and eat better at the Ritz, but the Great Britain Hotel, Valletta, Malta, is the best on the island; further comparisons seem rather to confuse the issue."
Waugh clearly didn't take his travel writing as seriously as he did his novels, nor should anyone else. If "Waugh in Abyssinia" is marred by his pro-Italy take on the invasion, it was also where the hilarious telegraph exchanges between the clueless war correspondent Boot and his London editors in "Scoop" originated. Beyond their intrinsic value as travel writing, the narratives in "Waugh Abroad" are a superb opportunity to see at close hand the mind of the real-life Waugh at work.
Bill Beuttler is a freelance writer in Swampscott.
© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
By Bill Beuttler (Best Life, spring/ summer 2004)
Her e-mail handle is Pikachu. But while Hiromi Uehara is petite of stature, he sound is fierce enough that the giants of jazz have taken notice. When she was 17, Chick Corea invited her to perform with him. Ahmad Jamal produced her first album, Another Mind , which won a jazz-album-of-the-year award in her native Japan last year.
Her follow-up effort, Brain , percolates with her diverse influences — J.S. Bach, Franz Liszt, Art Tatum, King Crimson, and Green Day. "I just don't want to categorize myself as a jazz artist," says Hiromi, "because the only two categories in music are the music [that makes] you feel good and the music [where] you don't feel anything."
Born in Shizuoka Prefecture in 1979, Hiromi discovered jazz at age 6 when her piano teacher player her an Oscar Peterson record and encouraged her to improvise. In a way, she's been improvising ever since.
While a law student at Hosei University in Tokyo, she wrote jingles for Nissan on the side, and now, as a full-time student at Berklee College of Music in Boston, she'll be taking her own interpretation of the piano trio on the road this spring and summer to gigs in Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York, Cleveland, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
© Best Life magazine