Top 10 Favorite Toots and the Maytals Tracks

Frederick “Toots” Hibbert has been my favorite reggae singer (and indeed one of my favorite soul singers, period) since I first heard him when I was around 15. Because 2020 is relentless, we now only have his recordings (including his latest studio album, released soon before he suddenly fell ill), but my goodness are there gems in his discography.

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Top 10 Favorite Sonny Rollins Tracks

What a gift that a soul as wise and deep and creative as Sonny Rollins has been around for 90 years as of today and is still with us, playing retirement notwithstanding. Even if he never played a note, I would be moved by his approach to art and his wise words about life. But fortunately for us he did play notes, sometimes lots of them. I’m reticent to describe his style in a setting like this, but his mixture of stunning fluency (on the horn and with harmonic structures) and relentless pursuit of idea-development is incredibly inspiring, and if you add to that his robust sound and the extreme clarity of his articulation, the results are incredible. And I mean that literally – I listen to Newk sometimes and think “how is this even possible for a human to come up with this?” I can confidently say (and, mind you, I would cite John Coltrane as my favorite musician, period) that no greater saxophonist has ever lived than Walter Theodore Rollins.

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EDS Awareness Month 2020: Finding Your Inner Toilet Paper (reassurance when things might not be okay)

I’ll just say it: my mother was a toilet paper hoarder. It’s more interesting and instructive than that, though, and I as I’ve reflected on it, I think it applies to other facets of life and coping with uncertainty and adversity, particularly at times of disruption and upheaval. For this year’s Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Awareness Month essay, I’d like to examine that (though, sorry to disappoint you, there will be nothing particularly scatological here).

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Top 10 Favorite Tracks Featuring Jimmy Cobb

Ironically, I began this list a few days ago as part of a determination to recognize some of my favorite living musicians while they’re still around. Obviously not fast enough in this case, as yesterday was time to say goodbye to maestro Cobb after 91 profoundly productive years. If all he’d ever done was play with Miles Davis for a few years, his place in the history books would be secure, but his pocket was more versatile than that, while at the same time being so swinging that it helped define a musical generation (when I was in my early 20s, I recall observing that there were young drummers on the scene in NY who sounded more like Jimmy Cobb than Jimmy Cobb did). Without any further ado, here is a sampling of some of my favorite Jimmy Cobb moments among many (and with apologies for all I omitted), presented in chronological order.

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Reaffirming Purpose Amidst the Chaos

I present you a tale of affirming and reconnecting with my sense of purpose amidst the anxiety and disorientation of all that’s going on. If you’re needing something like that (or at least a ray of hope that it could happen) then I invite you to read on. I considered keeping this to myself but figured there’s likely someone here who needs to hear it.

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Top 10 Favorite Mickey Tucker tracks

Every day is a good day to listen to and celebrate Mickey Tucker’s music, but it’s his 79th birthday today, so it’s a particularly good day for it. In early 1996 I was formally introduced to Mickey Tucker’s music. I don’t always remember precise timings of such things (and had heard several of the recordings…

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Top 10 Favorite Herbie Hancock Tracks

I missed his eightieth birthday by a day, but nonetheless, here is my humble tribute to maestro Hancock. For someone as widely beloved as he is, I feel like it’s hard to grasp the breadth of his significance because he’s been so versatile and so prolific. There are many things I appreciate about him, but the one thing I’ll focus on right now is his ability to inhabit worlds that might on the surface seem oppositional. The most obvious examples of this are genre-based (synth pop and bebop, hard funk and ethereal movie soundtracks, etc.), but it strikes me on a more molecular level. That is, even when he’s grooving (whether swing or funk or whatever else), there’s a flexibility to his harmonic and rhythmic choices that makes the music breathe; even when he’s playing things that are by definition looser, there’s a rhythmic intention and a melodic directness that make the music earthy. His unique (even while widely imitated) ability to straddle these lines is to my ear fundamental to why his personality shines through no matter the context.

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