Music Routes Blog

SMLP #4: Muhal Richard Abrams and Steve Martin

28 September 2009

I've been cat-sitting for the Flannestads, which means I get to raid their record collection for the Saturday Morning Listening Party.  The Flannestads contribution to this week: Levels And Degrees Of Light.  This is the first recording led by Muhal Richard Abrams.  It contains the results of the first recording session of Anthony Braxton.  It is a landmark of experimental jazz.

My selection from the nearby shop selling used LPs for $1: A Wild And Crazy Guy.  This is the Steve Martin live comedy record.  It too is a landmark.

And now, a route from Muhal Richard Abrams's Levels And Degrees Of Light to Steve Martin's A Wild And Crazy Guy:

Our route starts with "The Bird Song", a monumental union of poetry and experimental jazz.  Unfortunately, the song does not appear to be available on most legal streaming audio and video sites.  The CD is available for purchase from the usual suspects online and you can download "The Bird Song" and the rest of Levels And Degrees Of Light at the Flabbergasted Vibes blog.

As mentioned above, "The Bird Song" was Anthony Braxton's first recording session.  He has had a long career in experimental music.  He may be best known for collaborations involving Chick Corea.  One of those collaborations resulted in the next step in our route, "Quartet Piece No. 3".   Although you can't (anymore?) download "Quartet Piece No. 3" from the Destination: OUT blog, you can read Braxton's thoughts on Scientology:

Not as many people are familiar with the adventurous early part of Chick Corea’s career, but listening to the side leading up to Circle it’s no surprise he would form an artistic bond with Braxton. So what changed him? Scientology, y’all. An interesting side note is that everyone in Circle joined L. Ron Hubbard’s crew. While Corea became obsessed with it, the others quickly lost interest. ”I found Scientology very interesting, especially some of the techniques they developed for having people brainwash themselves,” Braxton says. ”But this was not what I wanted to be part of.”

So Chick Corea became a Scientologist, and coincidentally or not, started playing less experimental music than he did with Circle, and more music with mainstream appeal like he did with Return To Forever.  He also played on Warren Zevon and Cat Stevens records.  The next step in our route is the Cat Stevens track "Bonfire", with Chick Corea on electric piano, from the album Izitso.


The drummer on "Bonfire" was Andy Newmark.  Newmark is a studio drummer who worked with a mindboggling array of the most important pop artists of the 1970s.  He was the drummer on the Randy Newman song "Rednecks".  "Rednecks" was first released on Newman's Good Old Boys and is also widely available on various greatest hits collections.

Glenn Frey and Don Henley sang backup vocals on "Rednecks" along with another member of The Eagles, Bernie Leadon.  By the late 1980s, Leadon had become a member of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.  He is on their song "Down That Road Tonight" which hit #6 on the Billboard Country chart in the U.S.  You can stream it from a MySpace page set up by Rhino Records.

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band founding member Jeff Hanna is on "Down That Road Tonight".  Hanna was also on the hit novelty single "King Tut" by Steve Martin.  The backing band that includes Hanna is billed as The Toot Uncommons.  On A Wild And Crazy Guy, it sounds to me like Martin is singing along to a pre-recorded track.  I'm guessing that it is just the backing track from the single and that, therefore, it includes Jeff Hanna.  (Anyone know?)  The video below is of a performance filmed after the release of A Wild And Crazy Guy but it's close enough for this blog.