Check out the link below to this delightful album by Ernesto Cervini:
 match the pictures below with their upcoming gigs in the “HEADS UP” section…
I love this time of the year, because everyone puts out a list of “Favorites.” Depending upon your interest, you can find Top Tens of 2017 for cars, movies, baseball games, restaurants, movies, plays, books, vacation sights, trends, diets… you name it!
Being “the best” of something, no matter what it is, is still quite a subjective thing. We may say that someone is “The Best” actor, for example, but even Humphrey Bogart said that the only way to give out a Best Actor award is to have each of the nominees play the exact same movie role. In sports, people argue all the time whether Barry Bonds is better than Babe Ruth (even though they played 75 years apart) or Tom Brady being superior to Johnny Unitas even though the game, equipment, schedule and even shape of the players are completely
Moving on to music, let’s take tenor sax players. How can you judge whether John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins or Sonny Rollins is the “best” sax player ever, let alone for a single year? The problem with comparing artists is that they are people limited to their own time and environment.  Both Hawkins and Coltrane revolutionized the tenor sax in terms of playing, created a style of their own, and changed along with the times. But today, there are players that can play note-for-note transcriptions of their solos. Are these current players therefore “better”?
If something is a current TOP TEN album, does that say more of the artist or the audience? Many of the albums that we cherish today were virtually ignored when they were first released and only gained respect and awe over time.  For one simple instance; while Duke Ellington’s 1941 Orchestra is considered his “best ever” as well as one of the all time greats, a simple look over the popular songs from that era showed that he had no big sellers. Most popular were singers Tony Martin, The Ink Spots, Jimmy Dorsey’s Orchestra with Bob Eberly & Helen O’Connell and Sammy Kaye. Anyone even recognize most of those names?

How about music from 1959, arguably the greatest year in jazz and modern music? Big hits included material by The Chipmunks and David Seville, tons by Elvis (but really? “I Need Your Love Tonight” and “One Night”?) as well as songs by the likes of Fabian, Connie Francis, Freddie “Boom Boom” Cannon” and Sandy Nelson.  Albums like Charles Mingus’ Ah Um, Bill Evans’ Everybody Digs…, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue took the slow arduous road, gradually building respect and appreciation.
This month we are recognizing an album that when it first came out 50 years ago, didn’t make that bid of an impression. Initially an R&B band, the Moody Blues decided in 1967 to change their style and sound, timing it with a one-time opportunity to record an album with a full orchestra. On top of all that, the idea of using poetry to bookend the entire project was revolutionary at the time. The album did produce some “hits” during its initial release, but it wasn’t until a number of years later that it got the recognition it deserved, catapulting one of its songs “Nights in White Satin” back into the airwaves, competing with the bands current album of 7 years later!
The thing to take away from all of this is as a music fan is to listen to the current collection of artists, but take them into consideration of their generation. Are they a virtuoso in their field? Are they keeping in the tradition or breaking into a new and yet-untried territory? Do they take the familiar and bring it into a whole new direction? Are they adding a technique or style that shows creativity as well as accessibility?
If you’re a drum fan, for instance, you’re not going to find anyone these days like Gene Krupa, who pioneered the tom-tom back in the 1930s, and if you did, you’d think he sounded “quaint” and old fashioned. Today’s drummers grew up on rock, funk, rap and hip-hop, so the “feel” of today’s artists has a natural difference than, say, a Max Roach or even a Elvin Jones who grew up listening to Swing drummers.
If you are a musician, you cannot go back in time and become part of the Miles Davis or Clifford Brown Quintet, let alone Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters. What you can do is to take from the foundational artists and figure out how to develop your own voice and musical direction.
Every current artist had to deal with accomplishments by others in the past. Mozart had to move beyond Hayden, Mickey Mantle had to leave Joe DiMaggio’s shadow, and so on.
I know that I’m not the Apostle Paul, but I can use him as an example of how to live. As the Bible states, the men like King David, Moses and Abraham served as models for our current day. They didn’t have to deal with 24/7 news and Facebook, but the essential problems of how to live and why are timeless, and we can use these foundations for our own lives.One of the great summaries of a life is in the Bible, where it is written “For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers.”  Lord willing, we can look to the greats of the past, learn from them and be inspired to indeed try to be a “Top Ten” at something!!!
We get feedback from readers: 

Verily, verily, George, my resolution is to listen to more jazz in 2018, beginning with your top ten list of favorites. Thanks for the distinction between “best” and “beloved,” btw. I emphasize that difference all the time in rock.

Tim Philen