Saturday, March 29, 2014

Hip-Hop, Java and a Bellevue Cadillac

Did Herbie Hancock really invent hip-hop?

That’s what Snoop Dogg said at the end of his performance at the most recent Kennedy Awards presentation.

Now, I’d never associated Herbie Hancock with rap or hip-hop; to my thinking, he’s a jazzman from the Count Basie tree, like Quincy Jones, Clark Terry, Miles Davis and so many others. My mind’s ear hears “Rock-it” or “Watermelon Man,” that bane of junior high school bands everywhere.

And besides, if hip-hop or rap (as a musical “genre”) is essentially a spoken-word art form, then (no offense, but) its origins substantially predate Herbie’s birth, much less his impact.

Nearly 100 years ago, a vocal group named The Ink Spots was cranking out popular tunes by following a simple but tried-and-true blueprint. The high tenor voice of Bill Kenny sang the primary lyric of a number, but a spoken-word interlude was provided by the bass singer.

Louis Jordan, one of the innovators of jump-blues back in the 1940’s and a pretty fair song-writer, performed a song called “Brother, Beware!” which is entirely spoken-word (somewhat like a church sermon). “If her sister calls you ‘brother,’ you better get fu’ther” is a typical piece of the lyric.

Wasn’t the Sugar Hill Gang reaching back rather than breaking new ground?

Just askin’.

Speaking of The Ink Spots…

One of the group’s most successful records was “The Java Jive” – you know, “I love coffee, I love tea.”
Well, I’ve been addicted to coffee for decades, and a cup of hot tea is very nice every so often. (My mom was a tea drinker, and the “tag” lines on Salada tea bags helped spur my interest in thought-provoking expressions.) Either way, it was generally a pretty simple process, cream and sugar being the only cause for pause.

Then, somebody decided to sprinkle a little cinnamon on the coffee grounds, and the next thing you know – Starbuck’s.

That’s when all the “jive” started.

But, finally, for those of us who merely crave a simple “Cuppa Joe,” we have Professor Doug Bell and his Bellevue Cadillac.