RIP: Joe Morello, Owsley Stanley, Hugh Martin, Jack Hardy, Mike Starr

Since the middle of last week announcements of deceased musicians have greeted fans almost daily: Mike Starr (founding-member of and bassist for Alice in Chains), Joe Morello (a peerless drummer who came to fame with Dave Brubeck), Hugh Martin (best known for his songs in Meet Me in St. Louis, including the Christmas uber-standard “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”) and singer-songwriter Jack Hardy (in the ’70s he established his reputation in the Greenwhich folk scene, in the ’80s he established Fast Folk Musical Magazine). 

Today news broke on the passing of Owsley “Bear” Stanley – not a musician, but a major figure in the West Coast ’60s music scene.  In short, he was the man who put the “acid” in “acid rock” (The Grateful Dead, the band he is most associated with, wrote “Alice D Millionaire” about him; Owsley was heavily connected to Ken Kesey’s famed “Acid Tests”, as recounted by Tom Wolfe and others; Jimi Hendrix, according to legend, first wrote “Purple Haze” and later played his historic, breakout Monterey performance under the influence of Bear’s brews).

Hopefully, amongst all this news, Morello’s death in particular sparks a renewed interest in his work – it certainly deserves it.  In his 82 years he proved himself a true master of drumming.  Working with pianist/composer Dave Brubeck, saxophonist/composer Paul Desmond and bassist Eugene Wright, Joe brought odd meters to the pop charts and jazz to colleges.  Both of these introductions forever altered the landscape of jazz and the demographics of people affected by this music.

Joe integrated exceptional technique – fancy footwork, unbelievable one-handed open rolls, stick control galore, impeccable touch – into an effortlessly expressive style.  His phrasing – always fluid and full of finesse – demonstrated an artful, swingin’ sensibilty and singular imagination.  He was particularly known for his advanced brush work, ease in all meters and ability to shape a song from behind the kit.

Joe, also a beloved teacher, recorded over 120 albums and his impact reaches well beyond fellow jazz drummers.  He laid groundwork for the San Francisco scene of the ’60s, influenced generations of drummers across genre-boundries, is universally acknowledged as the master of lyrical, odd time drum solos…  
…and before Bonzo did his stickless shtick, there was this…

The above performance is an excerpt from Joe’s solo on The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s “Far More Drums” from 1961’s Time Further Out.  That album, building on odd-time-signature landmark Time Out (1959), took rhythmic explorations further (quite a literal LP title!) and sequenced the tracks to add a beat to each cut on the album.  It opens in waltz time, works up to 5/4 – as heard in “Far More Drums”, hear the LP version below – than 6/4, 7/4 (the minor pop hit “Unsquare Dance”, which features a drumless solo – yep, Joe’s drum solo doesn’t use any drums – hear it below), 8/8 and finally, the closing track in 9/4 (take that math-rock nerds).

Rest in peace Joe Morello, Owsley Stanley, Hugh Martin, Jack Hardy and Mike Starr…

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