Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio – 9.19.15 – New Hazlett Theater, Pittsburgh, PA

Saturday was one of those days.  A day that somehow turns out even better than expected. I knew that Dr. Lonnie Smith and his trio should be pretty good at the Hazlett, but somehow they managed to far exceed my expectations.  Even more unexpected that day was one particular crate of records at Jerry’s that forced a rare in-store ATM visit.

Organist Lonnie Smith is one of the best and also one of the last guys from the late-60’s/early 70’s funky soul jazz era still around.  After passing on seeing Lou Donaldson a couple of years ago, I was not going to let that happen again on Saturday. Not only is Smith still around, he’s still keeping it real and making some truly great relevant jazz.  For this performance he brought along guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Kendrick Scott, both of whom sounded incredible all night.  I’m somewhat familiar with Lonnie’s work from recent years and I knew that he’s hasn’t been just going through the motions for the sake of getting paid.  This was definitely true on this night.

After a short story from Lonnie about playing with George Benson in Pittsburgh many years ago, the trio started off with a darker spacey intro that lead into a really tight, almost hip-hop sort of groove entitled “Back Track”.  That set the tone for two sets of music that covered quite a few sides of the jazz spectrum, not just soul jazz.  Some highlights for me were the aforementioned opening piece, a ripping “Mellow Mood” which was not so mellow at all, an intense take on “My Favorite Things” (see video above), some amazing blues piece that featured some vocals/singing by Lonnie that was just so deep and delicate, and a moment where Lonnie played his cane like an electric bass!  Yes, a metal walking cane that he secretly plugged into an amplifier during a faux closer of sorts. (This is impossible to explain without it sounding like pure novelty.  I think you really had to be there to appreciate this.)  Mike Shanley wrote a great review of the show that is MUCH better than mine. Check it out on his Shanley On Music blog HERE.

The show was presented by Kente Arts Alliance.  This Pittsburgh-based arts organization has brought many great performers to Pittsburgh over the past few years including Roy Haynes, Roy Ayers, Pharoah Sanders, The Last Poets, and many more.  Upcoming shows include the Billy Harper Sextet on 12/15/15 and Jeff “Tain” Watts on 2/12/16. Be sure to check out Kente’s website and support their shows so that they keep bringing in performers of this caliber.

So, that was how my day ended, but the beginning was not so bad either.  During my weekly/bi-weekly trip to Jerry’s Records, I stumbled upon a crate of records unlike the normal Jerry’s stock. I didn’t ask him about it, but he might have recently bought a collection of hip-hop, funk, soul from a DJ.  These records weren’t super rare or anything, but certainly not something you find at Jerry’s very often, if ever, and they were very clean.  Since I didn’t want to spend $100 on records that day, I had to pass on several things that I REALLY wanted, but I ended up with a few great ones.   I’d love to hear about the records that were pulled out out of that crate before I got to it….or maybe I wouldn’t.  Here are a few of my scores…

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RECORD STORE DAY – 4.19.14 – Pittsburgh, PA

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Record Store Day has been a thing for a few years now and it means different things to different people.  To some, it’s a day to head out early and get your hands on some exclusive limited edition releases for the sake of either feeling proud that you own it or, unfortunately, to flip it on eBay for ridiculous prices. To others, it’s a day to celebrate and support record stores and more specifically, those that sell music on vinyl.  I fall into the latter category.

For RSD last year, I did get slightly caught up in the limited release frenzy and actually waited in line to get the 2LP Deluxe Vinyl edition of Phish’s Lawn Boy.  That specific album is sentimental to me for several personal reasons and I wanted the chance to put it on my turntable and drop the needle on the “chill part” near the end of “Reba”.  I also paid too much for, I mean “scored”, the 3x 10″ Scientific Dub by Scientist.

This year, there was really nothing that interested me on the list of exclusive RSD titles and even though I don’t need a “holiday” to get out to a record store, I wanted to go out and support some of my favorite shops around town.  I had no interest in dealing with the crowds, so I waited until about 3:00 to venture out.  My first stop was 720 Music & Cafe in Lawrenceville.  I looked at the 10″ “Get Thy Bearings” release by Bonobo, but decided that I didn’t really need it and put it back on the shelf.  I thought, by chance, that they might have a copy of the Charles Lloyd Quartet RSD release, but didn’t. All I ended up with was an Americano from the cafe. But with DJ’s spinning vinyl all day and a nice sized crowd browsing the shelves, the vibe in 720 was good and made for a nice start to the day.

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My next stop was Sound Cat Records in Bloomfield.  I waited in line at Sound Cat last year and I knew that of all of the stores in town, Sound Cat (and possibly The Attic) would have more of the RSD releases than the other stores.  Therefore, it was going to be packed early.  I had hoped that by 3:15, the crowds would be gone.  I was wrong.  The store was still surprisingly busy so I left.

Going into the weekend, my original plan was to hit Jerry’s only.  I knew that out of all the record stores in town that I would spend the majority of my time there.  There was a stretch of time, a few years ago, when I went to Jerry’s Records in Squirrel Hill every Saturday and spent hours at a time. This experience was, (and still is) like the equivalent of going to church on Sundays or of deep meditation or therapy or something like that.  This year, once again, Jerry’s was a true celebration of records and record-lovers.  They turned the Whistlin’ Willie’s 78’s section of the second floor into some sort of speakeasy/lounge serving up hot dogs, beer and soda.  The energy was great and I could have stayed there all day.  I checked out quite a few jazz records but only ended up buying two, Keith Jarrett‘s Expectations 2xLP on Columbia and Man, We’re Wailin’ by Louis Jordan. On my way out, I stopped into the Bargain Basement downstairs and picked up Skyy‘s Skyway and Bohannon’s Insides Out for a dollar each.

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At that point, at about 5:15, I thought I had enough time to make it over to Craig Street in Oakland to stop at Desolation Row inside of Caliban Books.  To me, Desolation Row is like the “Little Record Store That Could!”  It is literally tucked into one tiny corner of the bookstore, but pound-for-pound, it’s one of the best stores in town.  They consistently have a great selection of low priced jazz reissues on labels like Prestige, New Jazz and Vortex.  I only had about 5 minutes before they closed but I found what was probably the highlight of my day, a reissue of vibist Walt Dickerson‘s To My Queen on the New Jazz label that also features Andrew Hill on piano.

Since I had to basically drive right through Bloomfield to get home from Oakland, I decided to try Sound Cat one more time.  Fortunately, the crowd from a few hours earlier had dissipated and I was able to check out what was left after a busy day at the shop.  For the size of the store, I’m usually pretty underwhelmed by the vinyl jazz section at Sound Cat.  He has a ton of CD’s but at this point, I can’t imagine that too many people care about those.  This is the time of year that I start wanting to play reggae records at high volumes with the windows open.  So I ended up grabbing a reissue of Travelling by Burning Spear on Clocktower. The reggae section is another one that could use some improvement at SC.  There have been many days when I would have gladly left the store with a $10 or $11 reggae reissue had there been one that interested me.  But, with that being said, Sound Cat is still a great store and an asset to the city. Sound Cat’s owner, Karl, obviously has a better idea of what sells than I do and I’m assuming that jazz and reggae records are not it.

When the dust cleared from my 3 hour whirlwind around the city, I ended up with 3 times as many records as last year’s RSD while spending half the cash.  Factor in a couple of free hot dogs and a beer courtesy of Mr. Jerry Weber and a solid Americano from 720 and I’d say I couldn’t have hoped for a much better Record Store Day 2014.

Record Store Day – 4.20.13 – Pittsburgh, PA

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Today was Record Store Day.  For some reason, I found myself to be more interested in RSD this year than in years past.  There were at least couple of things that I wanted and I tried hard to talk myself out of buying them.  I was unsuccessful.  I bought some records and had a good time in the process.

My Record Store Day started last night.  My friend Wayne told me he was going to The Attic in Millvale at midnight.  The Attic is the only store in town that opens at midnight and people typically line up hours early to get first dibs on the hot releases.  I had no interest in going, so Wayne said he would look for a couple of things for me.  I was looking for Phish’s Lawn Boy 2LP and Scientist’s Scientific Dub 3x 10″ box set.  Well, when Wayne texted me the prices shortly after midnight, I told him to forget it.  I thought that might have been the end of my Record Store Day.

Early this morning, my wife, to my surprise, was actually interested in waking up with me and my daughter and going to an estate sale in our neighborhood at 8:00.  Although that sale was uneventful, the timing worked out perfectly for us to hit the coffee shop and then drive over to Bloomfield in time for Sound Cat’s 9:00 opening.  The line was about 50 people deep and I jumped in.  Sound Cat is a pretty small store but somehow, when they opened the doors everyone squeezed their way in.  The overall enthusiasm for records was unbelievable.  People (mostly guys in their 20’s and 30’s) were tearing through the bins scattered all throughout the store.  On the end cap about 10 feet inside the door, I see a lone copy of Lawn Boy.  Of course, the dude right in front of me grabs it.  So, I hear someone saying that there were more copies in the back of the store,  So just as I start squeezing my way through the crowd, a girl hands me a copy and says, “Here.  I was holding this for a friend but I don’t know where she’s at.”  Score!  The price was high but not as high as at The Attic.  So, then I made my way over to the next closest RSD release rack and the Scientific Dub box set was right in front.  Also expensive, but as my wife put it, “Just do it.  This only happens once a year.  Don’t worry about the money.”  My wife was actually talking me INTO buying records.  I love you, babe!  So those ended up being my only purchases of the day, but it was all I was really looking for so it worked out.  Sound Cat even had custom numbered bags for the first 33 purchases of the day.  Mine was number 20/33.

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For my next stop, I had to make it over to Jerry’s in Squirrel Hill.  Jerry doesn’t sell new or reissued records, but I had gotten those purchases out of the way and I figured a RSD wouldn’t be complete without hitting one of the best record stores in the country.  The vibe in Jerry’s was perfect.  If Sound Cat was like coming down the stairs on Christmas morning and running to tear into a pile of gifts under the tree, then Jerry’s was like Christmas dinner with family and friends, food and drink, and music and laughter.  I don’t go to Jerry’s a quarter of what I used to, but they still treat me like family.  As I looked though the jazz section, one of the guys said “Hey man!  Happy Record Store Day!  Go in and grab a hot dog and a beer!”  Yeah…hot dogs and beer!  All on Jerry, no charge.  Every day is Record Store Day at Jerry’s.  Today was a celebration.  I kind of felt bad not buying anything, but it really didn’t matter.  It was a great vibe.

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Later in the afternoon, I decided to take a ride down to 720 Records & Cafe to see what was going on.  I knew there were DJ’s spinning vinyl there all day, and I wanted to check out what records, even non-RSD items, they had.  There wasn’t much there today.  Their jazz selection was especially light, which surprised me a little.  I did get to talk to one of the owners, DJ Selecta, as well as one of the baristas, who had fun playing with my daughter while I looked at records.

On my way home from 720, I made one final stop at Unifaun Records on Butler Street.  Unifaun is an interesting little shop consisting of all used vinyl and very friendly owner named Larry.  He has a bunch of rock stuff like the Stones, Dylan, etc. but not a whole lot of jazz or reggae, which was all I was really interested in buying used today.

Overall, I had a pretty good day looking at records.  I was a bit disappointed in the lack of jazz releases for this RSD.  There were a few Miles reissues, but not much else.  I should have tried to make it over to Mind Cure in Polish Hill to check out his used jazz selection.  But, as I said above, I got the 2 things that I really wanted, got to talk to some really cool people, and got a free beer and hot dog.  Happy Record Store Day 2013!

Jerry’s Records – 3.17.13

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The jazz room at Jerry’s Records, Pittsburgh, PA
(one of my favorite places in the entire city)

I needed a couple of things from Galaxie Electronics today.  Galaxie is next door to, actually inside of Jerry’s Records in Squirrel Hill.  I didn’t have much time, but I stopped over at Jerry’s first to take a “quick” look.  Well, today was one of those days where I could have spent at least an hour and probably at least 50 bucks.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have an hour and I only had $9.

Coincidentally, Jerry had Miles Davis’ In Concert double LP.  How much?  9 bucks.  So, being a sucker for any Miles Davis record that I don’t already own, I had to buy it.  He also had a nice copy of Big Fun, but I already own and love that one.  I never did make it over to Galaxie for the record sleeves I needed since both stores are cash only.  But, I did walk away with a nice clean Miles LP.

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