Friday, May 2, 2014

Music Minus One

A series of records called "Music Minus One" were big in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. They left off one part so musicians and singers could practice playing/singing along. It was a great way to practice, and was quite a novel concept (long predating karaoke, obviously).

I didn't realize the company was still in business (newer, hipper, upstarts have long since dominated the niche). Yet, they turn out to be going strong, and, incredibly, founder Irv Kratka is still running it at age 87. Hear this short radio piece by Sara Fishko of NPR (and watch for her reports - all of which are terrific - here).

I have a very personal connection to all this, and Fishko's radio report inspired me to write in with the following anecdote:

Dear Mr. Kratka,

I heard the radio piece about you by the great Sara Fishko. It had never occurred to me before to write in and tell this story, but I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy it.

I was a promising trombone student while growing up, and when I was 14 or so my parents gave me a Music Minus One record for my birthday - "The Music of Fats Waller". I loved it, and wore it out. The band was stellar - I remember, particularly, Zoot Sims on sax and Major Holley on bass. When you wear out a record as a 14-year-old, it sticks with you for life. To this day, I can hum every one of Major Holley's bass solos, which I found so soulful and lyrical.

Anyway, I went on to be a professional trombonist. And while I was lucky enough to play with a lot of my heroes, I was truly over the moon the time I was invited to sit in with a small group featuring Major Holley. I told him how I'd spent my entire youth playing with him, which amused him, and the strange thing was that I found it exquisitely easy to play with him even in real life. It was like I'd been BRED for it!

He could feel that connection, too, and we struck up a friendship and a musical relationship. I've mastered a multiphonic technique where you sing while you buzz, at a higher interval. If you do it right, you can achieve a rich, chordal sound. And, as you may know, Major Holley was famous for humming along with all his bowed bass solos. So we could make ourselves sound like a quartet while playing duo!

For the subsequent month or so, Major told me about all his gigs and gave me carte blanche to come down and sit in (a good opportunity for me to meet the great musicians he was playing with). He then departed for a European tour, telling me he'd be booking some gigs with me when he returned. Alas, he never returned. Heart attack.

Sorry for the sad ending, but it's certainly not a sad memory, all-in-all. I've played with much more famous players, but, to me, Major was a titan because of all those years we'd spent playing together in my parent's den.

I'm sure I'm not the only MMO customer you've heard from who pierced the veil, graduating from unilateral collaboration to real live in-the-flesh collaboration with the greats on your records. But I figured I'd tell my tale, because you deserve to hear how much good you've done.

At one point, Major and I played Honeysuckle Rose (one of the tracks on the album) together, and I played his own solo at him, from memory. He didn't notice, because, obviously, he didn't remember such a long-ago recording. But I had tears of happiness in my eyes.

Thanks again,

Here's Major Holley playing on the European tour he never returned from. Such humor, such swing. I also used to play a lot with the pianist in the video, the great Richard Wyands:


Unknown said...

Great story Jim!I love Major Holley's playing.

Unknown said...

Yeah, Jim! A beautiful story on a beautiful spring day... Thanks for telling it

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