Jul 31, 2017

Review: "Nice Stories About Nice People," by Dr. Bugs Bower

I've been a fan of Maurice "Bugs" Bower's work for years, before I really knew anything about the guy. Back in the 1970s, a friend hipped me to his Bop Duets book, and I've been using it for teaching ever since. (I've also used his Rhythms Complete book).

Some years later, I got to know an older-generation sax player who, as it happened, had served in the 89th Infantry Division band with Bugs during World War II, and had a story about him (see this post). Subsequently, I learned a bit more about Bugs - he was not just the author of educational materials, but had been quite active in the recording business as a producer, with eight gold records (i.e., they sold a million copies each), and two Grammies.

So when I learned that Bugs had written a book of his reminiscences about the music business, I had to get a copy. It's called Nice Stories About Nice People. This little book (93 pages) is, as the title indicates, entirely positive and upbeat. It includes short chapters about recording with Cab Calloway, Perry Como, Kool and the Gang, and Steve Allen; the time he turned down a job directing merchandise sales for a rock group (they turned out to be the Beatles - but who knew?); the recording of "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini," which earned him a gold record as producer as well as royalties for the song on the flip side; musings about famous musicians with perfect pitch; his creative brainstorms for various commercially successful recordings (e.g., aerobics, children's records, "Tijuana Christmas"); and advice to the reader for a happy life and how to get started in the music business. It's a fun read.

Bugs' 95th birthday was this past July 16.

Here's a short video made for the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Oral History Program, in which Bugs describes how he used the Schillinger system to write his "Rhythms" book in the late 1940s. I'm pretty sure he used the same approach in Bop Duets, as he often sets licks to varied rhythmic patterns. And actually, that's a great pedagogical approach in teaching students to read rhythms. It's also a great technique for jazz players: using different rhythms to get many different licks from one basic one.

Judging from the number of Youtube videos, Bugs' bop duets are still quite popular for teachers, on a number of different instruments. They were probably written originally for trumpet, as that was Bugs' main instrument, but they certainly work well for sax and clarinet.

Here's a link to an excellent article about Bugs in the Jacksonville (Fla.) Times-Union, with a lot more biographical information.

Here's a link to Bugs' own music book website.

Here's Cab Calloway at age 85, singing with a big band arrangement that Bugs did for a recording of Cab's, and that Cab used for years afterwards (the story is in the book) (BTW, I have a feeling that I've played a knockoff of this arrangement in some big band or other):

Finally, here is a 1964 recording by Donna Lynn of a tune written, and I assume produced, by Bugs: "My Boyfriend Got a Beatle Haircut." Cute, but it did not go gold.

Jul 4, 2017

Saxophonist Fred Staton

Check out this New York Times article on tenor saxophonist Fred Staton, still gigging in New York at age 102.

There are a few videos featuring Fred Staton on Youtube; here's a studio recording with vocalist Catherine Russell. Everyone sounds terrific. Fred was 100 years old at the time of the recording. What an inspiration!

Here's one with Fred talking a bit about his life: