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September 28, 1995 - Image 23

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The Michigan Daily, 1995-09-28

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- - I - - - - - - -- V, -- - - - , VY- -W I

The Michigan Daily -- W4e"t ee. - Thursday, September 28, 1995 -98

Frnk Allison a first-rate songwriter, storyteller

----P
err jazz department grrows

By Mark Carison
Daily Arts Writer
Frank Allison is one of those local
treasures that Ann Arbor just doesn't
seem to have much of anymore. He's
the guy that you might catch in the tiny
basement of a coffee shop and go back
and tell all your friends about the great
time you had and how wonderful of a
performer this guy is. This is the guy
that you can't believe your luck that
you got to see him in such an intimate
setting because he is obviously bound
to be a big star someday. This is the guy
who is so charming, witty, and
heartwarmingly endearing, that he'll
make you feel like a kid again, no mat-
ter how callous and jaded you've be-
come since you've been attending the
good old U-M.
The reason singer/guitarist/
songwriter Allison is so captivating is
because he is such a true performer.
Whether you see him with his band, the
Odd Sox, or you catch him playing
acoustic with his guitarist Kevin Allison
(no relation), he is always putting 100
percent into making sure you, the lis-
tener, enjoy yourself as much as pos-
sible. Through wacky facial expres-
sions, hilarious tales of adolescence,
and honest, heartfelt singing, the great

time Allison is having performing the
tunes is easily picked up on and had by
the audience.
One thing that is easily apparent about
Allison is that he is first and foremost a
storyteller, an attribute that frequently
comes in handy with dead audiences. "It

Where: Blind Pig
When: Saturday,
Sept. 30

cold Michigan weather, having to work
shitty jobs, or having a crush on thepretty
girl that lives down the street. "That's like
a folk tradition," said Allison. "My song
writing is kind of folky. You wouldn't
listen to it and go, 'that's folk music,' but
that's where storytelling kind of fits in."
Allison's music certainly does not fit
in with the folk genre, nor any other
genre, a problem that has workedagainst
it getting its fair share of attention. In a
music market that is more based on
whatever style is hip at the time, there
isn't much room for straight-ahead pop
songwriters. Said Allison, "There's a
sound, and if you can get into the sound
of what's current, that seems to be what
does it. It's hard for someone like me,
because I don't fit into any radio for-
mat. I mean, it's easy for someone to
say 'I'd listen to you if you were on the
radio,' but that's not the point. They're
going 'who is this marketed to?' They
have all these little marketing catego-
ries, and I don't fit into any of them. I go
best on the classic rock stations, but I'm
not classic rock, so they don't know
what to do."
The music is definitely rock, but other
than that, there is no one category that
Allison's song writing can fit into. The
emphasis ison the songwriting,however,

a trait that can probably betraced back w
his early listening tastes. "The first thing
I liked was the Beatles and the Monkees,"
said Allison of his childhood listening.,
"My grandma would buy me all oftheir
records, as long as they didn't have hair
over their ears." Later, he would draw
inspiration in older music. "Personally, I
find that the best song writing, when
you're really talking about song writing
rather than sound, is in the tunesmiths of
the thirties, the Irving Berlins, and the'
classic songwriters of the time."
Frank Allison has several recordings
available on tape and CD, mostly with
the old incarnation of the Odd Sox, *
group that has been reformed several
times. For the best goofiness, check out
their first official release, "Monkey
Business." For the most rockin' sound,
check out their live at the Blind Pig
album, "Pig Out," and for the best re-
cording sound, have a listen to their
latest release, "Russia," actually re-
corded and mixed in Russia, before the
fall of the Soviet empire. There are
several album ideas in works now, in-
cluding an already-written projectbased
completely on childhood fables. You
can catch Frank and the latest incarna-
tion of the Odd Sox Saturday night at
the Blind Pig.

ly Emily Lambert
)aily Fine Arts Editor
"Ifyoubuild it, they will come,"could
e the motto of the foresighted jazz pro-
'essor Ed Sarath. For years, Sarath was
he sole faculty memberofthe University's
wearly non-existent jazz department.
Zathe than live out his passion for jazz
:sewhere, Sarath recognized the situa-
ion at Michigan for what it was: Un-
apped potential. Here was the opportu-
ity to design, from scratch, the perfect
azz department in an already well-estab-
ished,well-known music school. So nine
rears ago, Sarath began creating a new
azzdepartmentattheUniversityofMichi-
Armed with talent and enthusiasm,
'arath set about formulating his ideal
rogram. In an interview Friday, amid
ardboard boxes, saxophones and stacks
>fsheet music, Sarath spiritedly reflected
n the project's early stages.
"What I was able to accomplish in the
nitial years," he mused, "was to setup an
esthetic foundation and the basic frame-
york of courses and philosophy that we
ould be going from when we started to
xpandour faculty." Aftermuch prepara-
ion, the mentioned 'expansion' phase
ias arrived. This summer, two new in-
tructors doubled the department's total
iumber of professors. A teaching assis-
antandaprofessorofmusic andtechnol-
'gy are also in the picture. Sarath, an
etive composer and flugelhornist heads
be program.
The School of Music offers a Master's
egree in music and improvisation and a
lachelor of Musical Arts in jazz. An
ndergraduate degree, the Bachelor of
ine Arts in jazz and contemporary im-
rovisation, was added just this year.
ecause the program is so new, most of
:s students transferred from other areas
ithin the school, but thejazz department
already beginning to attract students
traight out of high school.
Michigan won't say it has the best jazz
epartment around. Not yet. The Pro-
ramin Jazz and Contemporary Improvi-
ation,though still in its fledgling stages,
growing and is faced with a myriad of
citing prospects.
One such prospect is the possible fac-
ty appointment ofthe legendary bassist,
:eggit Workman, who played with such
zz greats as John Coltrane and Cecil
aylor "Basically, he's a who's who of
zzmusicians and he's a walking history
f jazz," said Sarath. "We're not in a
>sition to officially announce the addi-
on of Reggie Workman to our faculty.
ightnow it's up in the air," hecautioned,
ut it looks positive that he's coming."
That Workman would consider teach-
g at Michigan speaks highly of the
ossoming baby department. Yet Sarath
looking for morethan a famous name in
eggieWorkman. The bass player's in-
vative perspectives towards jazz are
milarto the department's philosophies.
e really view jazz as a link to all sorts
music," Sarath explained. "We are
ing to cultivate the view of jazz as an
erture to all kinds of music."
Jazz is a young music that is still being
fined, if it can be defined at all. And
ough jazz and nightclubs are still in-
parable images, the lingering stereo-
e of a jazz pianist with a dangling
garete is one that Sarath would prefer
disiense with. From nightclubstobands
popular music to "serious" art, jazz is
nstanly evolving in any number of
recti.ns.
"Oie thing that interests me about jazz
ther&s such arange ofmusic within the
tegory," said Sarath. "You have music
at's very commercially oriented. But
to the other end of the spectrum and
u find highly experimental, abstract,
oterie sorts of things that may sound

e avante-garde, contemporary concert
sic Then you have everything in the
iddle."
Jazz, long treated as entertainment and
t art, is relatively new to the concert
ge. In a successful example of jazz's
ntinuing battle for legitimacy, the Uni-

versity Musical Society's 1995-96 sea-
son featuresjazz artists Wynton Marsalis,
Slide Hampton and Tito Puente, along-
side the world's best symphonies.
The music has made it to Hill Audito-
rium, but thejourney for credibility in the
academic worldcontinues."Jazz is avery
young music, so when many people still
at the helm in academia gained their most
immediate exposure to jazz, it was a very
different jazz," said Sarath. "Therefore,
distinctions between so-called art music
andentertainmentmusic seemtobeclearly
supported ... That's changing. It's very
interestingto seehow theyoungerfaculty
members coming on board realize that
jazz is a highly sophisticated art form."
In terms ofraising the music's credibil-
ity, Sarath sees one option: Education.
Musicians, he said, "need to actually look
at the music and be exposed to it."
Such exposure is slowly growing atthe
University's School of Music. "The ad-
ministration ofthe school has been highly
supportive and some influential faculty
members of the school have been highly
supportive," said Sarath. "I would say
that Michigan, as a whole, is an extremely
conservative institution. It's much more
conservative than our peer institutions in
the classical world in its attitudes towards
jazz. Extremely conservative."
The observation is well put. Most stu-
dents in the School of Music follow a
conventional classical track. Students with
interests outside of the norm must plan
their academic schedules early and well
to take any classes outside of those pre-
scribed. The school's many offerings in-
clude courses in music and technology,
composition and, especially now, jazz.
There are classes in improvisation, jazz
composition and arranging and jazz his-
tory. Jazz ensembles, the Jazz Composer's
Orchestra and the eclectic Creative Arts
Ensemble schedule popular campus per-
formances throughout the year.
"I think that the kind of musicianship
jazz offers is very complementary to the
classical skills that (the School of Music)
offers," said Sarath. "My feeling is that,
hey, we have both of these things. Put
them together and you have something
even greater."
Although Michigan has the means to
diversify curriculum, possibly by offer-
ing students greater leeway in choosing
courses, it shies away from doing so.
Changing requirements is an uncomfort-
able possibility for professors who feel
theirofferings may be compromised. Yet
allowing for a more comprehensive edu-
cation may be in Michigan's best inter-
ests.
Sarath likes to point out that compre-
hensive musicianship, as exemplified by
jazz,is "much more closely alignedto the
musicianship of Mozart, Beethoven or
Bach, who improvised, composed and
performed their own and other people's
music, than to the specialized musician-
ship of today's classical musicians."
"There's something about creating in a
contemporarylanguage that may enhance
a person's ability to engage in music on a
... deep, you might even say spiritual
level," said Sarath. "That is the level
music should be engaged on. That is the
level of artistry musicians should seek."

helps a lot," says Allison about his yarn-
spinning, "Usually if we play a couple
tunes and the audience is kind ofdry, I can
always tell a story. Usually that perks
people up and they start to get that I'mjust
kinda' clownin' around not all serious
about what we're doing."
Allison's skillful songwriting is also
built upon his storytelling abilities, as
well as his ever-present incredible acous-
tic guitar work. Each tune delves into his
personal experiences and tells a story that
we can all relate to, whether it is about the

Alternative music backlash ha

By Brian A. Gnatt
Daily Music Editor
Have you listened to the radio re-
cently? I haven't. At least, not for more
than a minute as I shuffled through all
the local stations, trying to find some-
thing even remotely appealing on the
airwaves. Between all the "alternative"
and "college rock" like Hootie and the
Blowfish and pure grunge like Bush
and Silverchair, listening to the radio
has become almost as painful as sitting
in Comm 103 at 9 a.m. Monday morn-
ing.
But why has radio become a giant
mess of watery diarrhea? Are people
loosing their sense of what good music
is? Hootie ain't so bad, but how has

such a small-scale bar band sold eight
million albums and turned into a pow-
erhouse, playing sold-out shows of
40,000?
While record companies try to break
new groups to replace Nirvana (Bush)
and Pearl Jam (Silverchair), some
people may get hooked by the medioc-
rity, but others have begun heading
back for the straight-forward rock of
bands like Hootie and the Blowfish, or
to other forms of music. Alternative
music is still beating strong, but with a
glut of crappy new music swimming in
the mainstream, it's time for the tide to
change. The Alternative Backlash has
begun.
More and more people are listening

to older and more varied kinds of mu-
sic. Jazz has made a giant resurgence in
the past few years, and country, disco,
funk, soul and folk have also all been
thrown back onto turntables every-
where.
But what inspired this blast from the
past? Lousy new music is the best bet.
With its old, worn-out riffs and
genericism, mainstream alternativerock
has become more of a lobotomizing
experience than an enjoyable one.
Even though good, old-fashioned
rock'n'roll isn't at the forefront at the
moment, in another year, and maybe
two, rock'n'roll will return. We are in a
period of very unhealthy and generic
music. Bands like Bush and Silverchair
are the Wingers and Warrants of the
90s. They came late in the game, as
almost substitute players between Pearl
Jam and Stone Temple Pilots records.
They sell, but they suck. They're the
scabs of rock'n'roll.
If you think about it, it's the recurring
cycle of popular music. In the early and
mid'70s,rock ruled theairwaves. Bands
like Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones
and Aerosmith reigned and ruled rock
music. In the late 70s, punk revolted
against the longwinded solos and re-
petitive songs of now-classic rock.
When punk began to dry up after a
few years, new wave took control ofthe
music scene, and just a few years after
that, hard rock and metal returned.
Aerosmith was back, Bon Jovi and

is begun
Motley Crie sold millions of records:
Others, like Metallica, Megadeth and
Guns 'n' Roses, grew out of their punk-,
roots to create a solid period of metal
and hard rock.
By 1992, people had grown tired of
Guns 'n' Roses' epic ballads and
Poison's poofy hair. Nirvana and Pearl
Jam were a breath of fresh air. Within
four years, "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
revolutionized music, and then Cobain
died. Pearl Jam can't tour, and grunge
and mall punk have played themselves
out.
Rock'n'roll might returning from
hiatus in the next few months. With fall
releases scheduled from hard rock vet-
erans AC/DC and Ozzy Osbourne, metal
may begin to shred once again. Also.:
expected in the next few months is
Metallica's first post-grungerecord,the
group's first in four years. Later next
year, Guns 'n' Roses will release new
material.
So it's 1995. Hootie and the Blow
fish have sold eight million copies of
"Cracked Rear View," almost as much:
as Nirvana's revolutionary
"Nevermind."Sounds like a revolution
to me.
By now, I'm pretty sick of Live and
one hit wonder Alanis Morissette. Get
over it people. As Lee Ving of the punk's
band Fearhassaidmanyatime,"Idon't,
care about you. Fuck you." Stop your
bitching and complaining. Letmusicbe
enjoyable again.

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Gavin Rossdale and Bush know that It's the little thlogs that kill.

71

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7

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