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A Violinist with a Gift for Music—All Music

Regina Carter | Photo by Christopher Drukker

About Open Ears: So many people who made invaluable contributions to classical music were underappreciated in their time, or have been nearly lost to history. That’s why KDFC is starting Open Ears, a series of stories about composers, musicians, and conductors who deserve more recognition. You can learn more and explore other articles here.

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It almost takes your breath away. To be touched by so many forces in music yet maintain one’s own voice is truly something special, and maybe that’s exactly why Regina Carter is such a unique violinist. That push-and-pull of influences allows only a few top artists the ability to accept and maintain the challenges of playing an instrument in so many different genres.

Her accomplishments are many: playing and recording on Paganini’s legendary violin, the “Cannon,” the most famous Guarneri violin of them all, complete with armed guards when it travels to the concert hall. Meeting Ella Fitzgerald when Regina was just a high school student. Then there were the master classes with Itzhak Perlman and Yehudi Menuhin. Studio sessions when she was the new kid in town (New York City) with the likes of Dolly Parton, Billy Joel, and Aretha Franklin. Blazing trails with her all-female jazz group called Straight Ahead. Regina Carter helped open the SFJAZZ Center a few years back, and her work with Michael Morgan and the Oakland Symphony premiered new contemporary works like a Violin Concerto by jazz pianist Billy Childs.

Regina Carter was born in Detroit back in 1966 and started early with the Suzuki method (which she still champions). Her gift just may be that fluid ability to move from one musical stream to the next. An obvious comparison would be to public radio star and mandolinist Chris Thiele. A major milestone was achieved when Regina was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Fellows Program Genius Grant in 2006. In presenting the award, the committee said, “Regina Carter is a master of improvisational jazz violin. Though her work draws upon a wide range of musical influences—including Motown, Afro-Cuban, Swing, Bebop, Folk, and World—she has crafted a signature voice and style…. Carter’s performances highlight the often overlooked potential of the jazz violin for its lyric, melodic, and percussive potential. Her early training as a classical musician is reflected in the fluidity, grace, and balance of her performance. Carter’s repertoire retains a firm connection with the familiar while venturing in new, unexpected directions. Carter is pioneering new possibilities for the violin.”

That generous grant has allowed her to teach at Boston’s Berklee College of Music and nearby as part of Stanford Jazz, all the while actively recording wide-ranging CD releases that show off her comfort and expert touch in the worlds of classical, Afro-Cuban, folk, and world music. In due time she’ll return to the Bay Area, and we’ll have the pleasure of enjoying a style of music Regina Carter has embraced from somewhere in her travels.

By | 2018-08-01T00:13:49+00:00 August 1st, 2018|Jazz|Comments Off on A Violinist with a Gift for Music—All Music

Road Trip, Milan


With Paolo Barsotti in Milano.

There are certain cities around the world that just ooze music. London, Nashville and New Orleans are three places that immediately come to mind. Music towns!

While chasing after what looks to be Roger Waters of Pink Floyd’s final tour I recently ended up in Milan, Italy. It’s tough letting go of that amazing concert experience that Roger is known for. So, there we were, two incredible sold-out shows in front of a wild audience that knew all the Floyd music and warmly greeted his three or four new tunes from Is the Life We Really Want. The crowd really reminded me of the passionate, heavy duty Roger/Floyd fans in New York that would show up at Madison Garden all the time. The hard core rock fan who KNOWS all the tunes and the stories and myths that go along with Roger’s legacy. It was nice to experience all that over in Europe with my Italian friends Paolo and Francesco from Lucca.

Milan’s music tradition goes way beyond our times. There are statues to Richard Wagner and the Italian superstar opera composer, Giuseppe Verde in squares all around town. A street named after Mozart and then there’s the greatest opera theater of all time; La Scala. Known world over, it’s ground zero for the finest opera productions of the last couple of hundred years. And still going strong. Being a history freak I got a real strong sense of time as well the power of musical passion and creativity over the years. It was definitely goose-bump time as I stood outside and headed into the lobby. Much like the first time I walked on stage at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville or bringing on a jazz band at Carnegie Hall in NYC. Tons of tradition and a feeling of musical excellence that seems to hang in the air.

I couldn’t help thinking that just maybe Roger’s music might make it crosstown to La Scala one day. True, he wrote the finest rock opera of all time with The Wall but I was actually thinking of Ca Ira his traditional opera set during the French Revolution. It’s starting to be performed around the world by various opera companies. I sure love those blurred lines when it comes to music genres and Milan, Italy is just the place for it to happen.

By | 2018-08-15T23:48:58+00:00 May 9th, 2018|Ray's Travels|Comments Off on Road Trip, Milan

It’s on Showtime (Finally)

It’s a new documentary called “New Wave: Dare to Be Different”about a cool little New York radio station back in the 80s. A real punk David & Goliath tale. WLIR-FM was a hip, low-powered station broadcasting from Long Island, the crowded suburbs of New York City. Management and the crazy staff made a decision in 1982 to abandon the corporate rock of the day and switch all their energies and airtime to the new music scene. That meant out with the Grateful Dead, Charlie Daniels, Styx, Billy Joel and Journey. Taking their place was the new wave sound of Nick Lowe, the Clash, U2, Billy Idol, Joan Jett, the B-52, Elvis Costello, Squeeze, Talking Heads and Soft Cell. Watching the film you witness a dumpy little station (it was a hole!) broadcasting from the burbs. You meet a lovable, obsessed crew of DJs, phone volunteers, record shop owners, club promoters, record executives and clever publicist all before the arrival MTV. Some say that MTV’s appearance happened all because of WLIR’s sound and the powerful new music scene that was unfolding.

Stream the movie (Showtime required)

WLIR was the little musical engine that could. Along with KROQ in LA, it helped change the music world in America. To have been there, sitting in the front row of this zany story, is one of my proudest moments. I used to do the afternoon shift, doubling as music director with an office that you couldn’t even walk through the door of because of the constant avalanche of new vinyl everywhere. Yeah, those were the days.

By | 2018-03-31T20:53:24+00:00 March 31st, 2018|Press|Comments Off on It’s on Showtime (Finally)

The End of an Era

Once upon a time there were huge record stores that roamed the earth. All decked out in bright orange and yellow. They were called Tower Records and you couldn’t miss them. Russ Solomon was the man who had a dream and vision selling about recorded music and he started the chain in a corner of his family drugstore in Sacramento. On Sunday while watching the Oscar ceremonies he asked his wife for a glass of Scotch whiskey and moments later made his transition. He was 92. His record retail journey is quite a story.

Granted, there are still some record stores around. And with vinyl’s resurgence they’re doing better than they have in years. But there was nothing like hitting Tower back in the day. There seemed to be been one on every block, like Dunkin Donuts in New England. Over the last few days through emails, Facebook and Twitter there’s been one great story after another about these record and CD superstores with their awesome inventory, passionate (almost always friendly) clerks and that industrial lighting. Spending all your paycheck at Tower on payday, meeting a future spouse in the aisles of Tower or running into music stars (especially at the Sunset store in LA). The old philosopher Bruce Springsteen once said “everyone is your friend for 20 minutes.”

In 2015 an indie film saluting the chain came out called All Things Must Pass. Directed by Collin Hanks (Tom Hanks’ son) it’s a terrific documentary about the history and loyal employees that worked for their charming founder Russ. It’s part love letter, as well as a truly fascinating tale and a delicious bit of music biz history. It’s all there; the humble start, the mighty expansion and the breathtaking collapse.

So, how could this company fail? Thanks to director Hanks we get the whole back story to this invincible, musical Titantic cruising toward it’s rendezvous with the big iceberg called the internet (Napster). If that wasn’t enough, the record companies were dying and management had opened too many stores. We meet the charming founder Russ Solomon and his loyal and lovable staff as well as some very famous Tower customers like Elton John, Bruce Springsteen and Dave Grohl (who used to work for the chain in Seattle). You’ll love their comments about hanging around Tower’s miles of CD and record bins.

Whether it be the original San Francisco shop on Columbus (with the classical annex across the street), the star-studded outlet on Sunset, their giant eight story superstore in Shibuya, Tokyo, the packed outlet in Austin, Texas or NYC’s uptown and downtown stores it was always a fun (and expensive!!) hang.

Thank you Russ Solomon. I have so many memories of talking music in the aisles amongst the bins of your stores. Vinyl may live on but there will never be another Tower Records (unless you go to Japan where they still exist).

By | 2018-03-14T23:53:17+00:00 March 14th, 2018|Ray's Thoughts|Comments Off on The End of an Era

Neil Young Blasts Google

They’re neighbors actually. Neil Young’s ranch is just a few miles from Google’s campus yet they are a million miles from one another philosophically. After the collapse of Neil’s pet project called Pono this past year which he blamed on the record companies, he’s now put Google (YouTube’s parent company) in his sites.

“The Tech Giants have figured out a way to use all the great music of everyone from all time, without reporting an art’s number of plays or paying a fucking cent to the musicians. Aren’t they great companies!!!”

He has a point. Here’s the entire text of his email.

Young artists today, great authors, songwriters and musicians at the beginning of their creative output, are challenged to make ends meet in the digital world, a world where the artist is paid last, if at all, by the Tech Giants. This came to mind somehow today, listening to Broken Arrow, an album I made with Crazy Horse about twenty years ago, in 1996.

Broken Arrow is an overlooked album. It was the first Crazy Horse album after the death of David Briggs, our producer since the beginning’s lucky “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.” It was engineered by Greg Archilla, who David had just introduced to us. Broken Arrow is soulful. Real. Not trying to be anything it wasn’t. I was beginning to see that hits were overrated and that hit-makers were falling like flies.

There’s a comet in the sky tonight.
Makes me feel like I’m alright
I’m movin’ pretty fast
For my size

Those lyrics from “Music Arcade” are kind of how I felt at the time. Today, in the age of FaceBook, GOOGLE, and Amazon, it’s hard to tell how a new and growing musical artist could make it in the way we did. The Tech Giants have figured out a way to use all the great music of everyone from all time, without reporting an artist’s number of plays or paying a fucking cent to the musicians. Aren’t they great companies!!! It makes you wonder where the next generation of artists will come from. How will they survive?

‘Don’t Be Evil.’ That was GOOGLE’s corporate motto as they directed users to pirate sites to get artists’ creations and not pay!! Amazing tech breakthrough!! Meanwhile, they reap the bucks from ads people read while listening to music made by the artists. GOOGLE just changed their motto to ‘Do The Right Thing,’ but haven’t changed anything else as they continue to rip off the artist community, building their wealth on music’s back and paying nothing to the artists. WOW! Brilliant tech breakthrough! BTW, GOOGLE is YOUTUBE! Guess who’s next?

I am so happy to be able to share my music and albums like Broken Arrow with you here at NYA, where you can actually hear what we did. Xstream high resolution music makes me feel like I was there. I hope you can feel it too. The more you enjoy this music, the happier I am to share it with you. NYA is moving into a future that is really different from what we have now. It will not be easy. We are going to break a few rules and give you what you want.


By | 2018-03-02T01:05:50+00:00 March 2nd, 2018|Press|Comments Off on Neil Young Blasts Google

Thoughts on the 2018 GRAMMYS

The uproar over Bruno Mars’ landslide at the 2018 Grammys is the latest fiasco and frustration at yet another ceremony. I’ve been around the block a few times and this stuff doesn’t make me crazy anymore but it sure is annoying.

First, let me say I was happy about some well deserved Grammy recognition that went to:

1. Taj Mahal and Keb Mo. Loved their acceptance speech contained here…

2) War on Drugs

3) Christian McBride and his Big Band

The Grammys have always been real hit or miss stuff. And this year there were lots of obvious “misses”. As a young, passionate music fan back in1965 I was stunned when Tom Jones took the “Best New Artist” from my Byrds. Tom Jones, Come on! Then in the late 70s when all the fresh energy of Elvis Costello, the Clash and Peter Gabriel was overlooked I knew I was just wasting my breath.  Recently music editor Robert Baird over at Stereophile Magazine laid out the problem and addressed it in a great column.

By | 2018-02-23T00:51:21+00:00 February 23rd, 2018|Ray's Thoughts|Comments Off on Thoughts on the 2018 GRAMMYS