Writings about Music

Don and George Thanksgiving

Cats, oranges and flowers on a cold, rainy Thanksgiving

On a cold, rainy Thanksgiving with cats and oranges in the garden, I found Don Ellis interviewing George Harrison. Both Don and George studied Indian classical music with Harihar Rao, myself doing the same some years later. Robby Krieger, Brian Jones, Lalo Schifrin, John Densmore and Ed Shaughnessy also benefited greatly from Rao's instruction, he being the senior disciple of Ravi Shankar, and the person closest to him beginning when they were teenagers. Harihar generally had more time to teach than Shankar mainly because of the latter's touring.

Ravi Shankar and Charlie Parker were born the same year of 1920, and together their influence transformed music and the world. George did too, of course, as part of the Beatles.

Don Ellis created an original body of music that most, including myself, have yet to fully know, understand and appreciate. What I do know is that he composed my favorite film score ever for the French Connection, an extraordinary achievement by itself.

When we think of jazz originating from Los Angeles and California, Ellis is often overlooked. Come to think of it, so is Frank Sinatra given how his greatest jazz recordings were done while he was living here in Los Angeles in collaboration with a range of gifted arrangers. Miles Davis, Lee Konitz, Lou Levy, myself, and myriad others recognize Sinatra as the premiere jazz singer, which startles some mostly due to an unfortunate focus on his personal life as opposed to comprehending the musical subtleties of his artistic genius, definitely a developed taste for myself partly due to my delayed understanding and appreciation for the Swing jazz era (my initial jazz orientation focused on modern, modal and avant-garde forms) from which Sinatra immerged. Sonny Payne, the legendary drummer with the Count Basie Orchestra, exclaimed that Frank Sinatra was the only vocalist who made him swing.

Adding to the above, Ravi Shankar, whose influence on John Coltrane completely transformed jazz and rock, was based in Los Angeles, too, including establishing along with Harihar a school of Indian music in the sixties, and a preeminent concert series in the seventies, the Music Circle, that continues today.

Lastly, there is also a strong case for Lee Konitz being the actual godfather of what is sometimes referred to as West Coast jazz even though he has always lived in New York after leaving his native Chicago with a spell in Germany. Sometimes things are about geography, sometimes they're about implanted seeds that travel, and sometimes they're about qualities transcendent of place and time.

- Michael Robinson, November 2019, Los Angeles


© 2019 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer, programmer, pianist and musicologist. His 199 albums include 152 albums for meruvina and 47 albums of piano improvisations. Robinson has been a lecturer at UCLA, Bard College and California State University Long Beach and Dominguez Hills.