Juan Gabriel, the “Divo of Juarez”

“Hasta Que Te Conocí”–Vevo Video on YouTube (“Until I Met You”)

Juan Gabriel was a Mexican superstar with multiple Grammy nominations and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. A prolific artist, he sold more than 100 million records since his debut in 1971 and was known for his showmanship during marathon concerts. Just last Friday he gave a sold-out concert at the Inglewood Forum in California.

Gabriel (January 7, 1950-August 28, 2016) retained traditional aspects of Mexican music, such as mariachi, even as he kept pace with musical trends.

A CNN post quoted a tweet by Maria Atencio, a news anchor for Fusion and Univision: “We lost our Prince, our Bowie, our Elton John.”

“Querida” from Los Dúo on Spotify

Irving Fields, Pianist Who Recorded Hit Album “Bagels and Bongos”

“Miami Beach Rhumba”–Video on YouTube

Irving Fields made a career out of mashing up musical styles, often by taking Eastern European sounds and putting them to a Latin beat. His hit 1959 album Bagels and Bongos sold two million copies and spawned a series of followups: Bikinis and Bongos, Champagne and Bongos, Pizza and Bongos and More Bagels and Bongos.

As a pianist with the Irving Fields Trio, he performed at many of the hot nightclubs of midcentury Manhattan–Copacabana, the Latin Quarter and Mermaid Room. Just months ago, he could still be heard performing at Nino’s Tuscany Steakhouse. He was 100 at the time.

Fields (August 4, 1915-August 20, 2016) had a humorous side to him (as if his “…and Bongos” albums aren’t proof enough). He composed and recorded “The YouTube Dot Com Theme Song,” which has been viewed over 800,000 times.

“Mazeltov Merengue” on Spotify

Matt Roberts, Founding Lead Guitarist of 3 Doors Down

“Kryptonite” by 3 Doors Down-Vevo Video

Matt Roberts (January 10, 1978-August 21, 2016) was the lead and founding guitarist of 3 Doors Down, a Mississippi-based post-grunge band that gained wide popularity in the late 90s and early aughts, especially after the release of their debut album The Better Life.

Post-grunge is an offshoot of Seattle-based  Nirvana and Pearl Jam, bands who defined the grunge sound with distorted guitars and angst-ridden lyrics. Once those groups had started to build a big following, other bands and labels started to capitalize on their sound (if not their attitudes). Bush, Candlebox and Collective Soul were part of this first phase.

3 Doors Down represents the second wave of post-grunge along with Creed and Nickelback. While not always critical favorites, 3 Doors Down have definitely been fan favorites, with two multi-platinum albums and top-charting singles. A relentless touring schedule has boosted fan loyalty, while taking its toll: Roberts left the band in 2012, citing health reasons.

“Loser” from The Better Life on Spotify

 

 

Toots Thielemans, Jazz Harmonica Player and Guitarist

“Bluesette” at Night of the Proms in Rotterdam, 2009–Video

I learned of Toots Thielemans (April 29, 1922-August 22, 2016)  from Lowell Pickett of the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. Lowell, who also serves as Artistic Director at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, booked Thielemans at both venues.

I never saw him play, but listened to a few recordings on Lowell’s recommendation. I’ve also learned that I’d heard his music before without even knowing it. His harmonica-playing is part of the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack contributes to the opening theme of Sesame Street. 

But Thielemans began his professional musical career as a guitarist. Inspired to pick up the instrument by listening to fellow Belgian Django Reinhardt, he achieved enough proficiency to be a member of the Benny Goodman Sextet and George Shearing Quintet. Increasingly he became known for his work on the chromatic harmonica, a slightly larger harmonica with a slide that allows the artist to play every note in every key on a three-octave scale.

“Airegin” from Images on Spotify

James Woolley, Former Keyboardist for Nine Inch Nails

“Closer”–Official Video from Woodstock ’94

James Woolley toured with Nine Inch Nails for four years, appearing with them at Woodstock ’94 and recording on their Broken EP and 1994’s The Downward Spiral (although he was not credited on either). He received a Best Metal Performance Grammy for “Happiness in Slavery” off the Woodstock ’94 compilation.

Before NIN, he was a contributor to the Chicago industrial band Die Warzau. Later he returned to join Die Warzau on their album Convenience and to play in 2wo (formed by Judas Priest vocalist Rob Halford) and his own project, VOID.

Writing about him following his death, his ex-wife Kate Van Buren said he “brought coolness to playing keyboards, which isn’t as easy to do as playing guitar or drums.”

“Hurt” from The Downward Spiral on Spotify

Bobby Hutcherson, Jazz Vibraphonist Who Bridged Bop and the Avant-Garde

The Bobby Hutcherson Quartet “Delilah”–Video

Mention the vibes, and Lionel Hampton is the first name that may come to mind. But it was Bobby Hutcherson, perhaps more than any other vibes player, who stretched the range of the instrument, using it to create more tones, more moods.

Of his nearly 40 albums in The All Music Guide to Jazz, five receive top, five-star ratings. Components, his 1966 release on Blue Note is among them and is also included in Tom Moon’s 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die. “Tranquility,” a track on the album, has over 3 million streams on Spotify, a high volume for a jazz track and a sign of the artist’s enduring appeal.

Hutcherson (January 27, 1941-August 15, 2016) recorded many albums on the Blue Note label between 1965 and 1977, and Component features frequent collaborators: Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter on bass, Freddy Hubbard on trumpet, James Spaulding on alto sax and flute and Joe Chambers on drums. Hutcherson composed the tracks on Side 1, which are mainly done in the hard bop style. Chambers is responsible for the arrangements on Side 2, which go in a more experimental direction. “Little B’s Poem,” which I provide a link to below, is a tribute to his then 3-year-old son.

“Little B’s Poem” on Spotify

B.E. Taylor, Who Found Niche in Holiday Music

“What Child is This?” Live at Heinz Hall-Video

I shouldn’t be surprised. Much of my career has been spent in retail, where every day of the year is spent anticipating, planning for or fretting about holiday sales. But looking at the Nielsen 2015 U.S. Music Year-End Report, I was still surprised to learn that the Holiday/Seasonal category accounts for more total music sales (digital, physical and streaming combined) than either jazz or classical.

So it’s no surprise, I guess, that artists, from Elvis to Nick Lowe, have found room for a holiday album or two in their catalogs. It would be a missed opportunity, after all.

B.E. Taylor made holiday music an even larger part of his career. Four of the eight albums on his website are holiday-themed. His concerts in Southwestern Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio drew over 40,000 fans a year, including two-night sold-out performances at both Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall and Wheeling’s Capitol Music Hall. PBS aired his Christmas concerts during fundraising periods.

But Christmas music wasn’t Taylor’s only accomplishment. With his band B.E. Taylor Group, he came to fame with a 1984 rock hit, “Vitamin L,” which made it to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100. The Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre commissioned him for a live performance of his love ballads. And Marvin Hamlisch and the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops joined him in a live performance of his patriotic album One Nation Under God.

Taylor (March 18, 1951-August 7, 2016) was born in Aliquippa, PA, but lived for the past 30 years in my hometown of Wheeling, WV.

“Mary’s Boy Child” on Spotify

Glenn Yarbrough, Had Hit With “Baby The Rain Must Fall

With The Limeliters (1963)-Video

 

I remember Glenn Yarbrough from his mid-60s solo hit, “Baby The Rain Must Fall,” the title track of the Steve McQueen-Lee Remick movie of the same name. The movie was a commercial and critical flop, but Yarbrough’s recording was not, making it to #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 List in 1965. (And it’s still bouncing around in my brain 50 years later.)

Before this, he had already tasted success with The Limeliters, a folk group formed in 1959. Yarbrough, a guitarist and tenor, and Alex Hassilev, a bassist and bass-baritone, were performing together at Hollywood’s Cosmo Alley nightclub, where they were seen by Lou Gottlieb, a composer, arranger and newly-minted musicology PhD. He suggested they join up and make some demos for The Kingston Trio, but they liked their own output so much, they decided to go it alone as a trio.

Before long they had a string of well-received albums, TV appearances and as many as 310 live performances a year.

Yarbrough (January 12, 1930-August 11, 2016) also collaborated with pop-poet Rod McKuen. Among their projects were  The Lonely Things and Glenn Yarbrough Sings the Rod McKuen Songbook.

Yarbrough was ambivalent about fame and on several occasions retreated from the music industry altogether. In a 1961 interview with Saturday Evening Post, cited in his New York Times obituary, he said “The only thing that success has taught me is that success is meaningless…An audience is like a lynch mob. Three years ago they were walking out on me. Now that they know we’ve been on the Sullivan show, they come and cheer.”

“Baby The Rain Must Fall” on Spotify

Penny Lang, Canadian Folk Legend

“Ain’t Life Sweet” video

Penny Lang was a fixture of the 1960s folk scene, but did not break through into mainstream popularity, perhaps due to her unwillingness to follow musical fashion. When MCA Records approached her to do a recording of Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne, she declined because they insisted on electric instruments being part of the arrangement. (Judy Collins would later record the song and boosted both her–and Cohen’s–fame.)

Lang (July 15, 1942-July 31, 2016) began her career backing up her father on rhythm guitar. They played Legion halls in Montreal, prisons, hospitals–wherever their variety act could get gigs. As a young woman, she went solo and performed in many folk clubs in both Canada and the US, including Montreal’s Café André, New York’s Gerdes Folk City and the Bitter End, Toronto’s Riverboat and Ottawa’s Le Hibou. She also appeared at major folk festivals such as Mariposa and the Philadelphia Folk Festival.

As folk gave way to rock in the 1970s, Lang took a hiatus, but returned to performing, writing and recording in the late 1980s-early 1990s. Beginning in 1989, she recorded nine albums with the She-Wolf and Borealis labels.

“Gather Honey” on Spotify

 

Patrice Munsel, Soprano on Met Opera Stage and TV

Adele’s Laughing Song from Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss

In addition to being blessed with a natural-born talent, it doesn’t hurt to have parents who are more than willing to indulge its cultivation. Such was the case with Patrice Munsel (May 14, 1925-August 4, 2016).

As a little girl, enthralled by whistling characters in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, her parents sought out a whistling teacher (I never knew there was such a thing). At 15, after Patrice started listening to Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts, her parents took her to New York for voice lessons. By the time she was 17, she’d earned a contract with the Metropolitan, the youngest singer ever to do so.

She would appear 225 times with the Met and was especially known for her role as the maid in Die Fledermaus. New York Times critic Olin Downes praised her for her “virtuoso singing” and “very amusing acting.” (He had been considerably less charitable in reviewing her debut performance in Mignon.)

In addition to the Met, Munsel’s career took her to the Las Vegas strip, to ABC and The Patrice Munsel Show and to musical theater, where she appeared in touring productions of The Sound of Music and The King and I.

“Villa” from The Merry Widow on Spotify