Mop Mop: Max Roach’s Media Encounter With Kentucky Sour Mash

Chip Stern with Art Taylor, Papa Jo, Max, Shelton Gary [Cropped]

Chip Stern with Art Taylor, Papa Jo Jones,
Max Roach and Shelton Gary

Radio Free Chip here.  One hell of a long winter, was it not dear friends?

And was it ever brutal for your author on a number of levels, including an unending series of computer meltdowns–culminating in a very long, harrowing bout of the flu that lasted for the better part of two months and left me a physical wreck.

On top of that, there ensued a whole slew of family and personal obligations, and before I knew it, several months had passed without any RADIO FREE CHIP blog entries.

Woodford Reserve Distilliry

Woodford Reserve Distillery
Versailles, Kentucky

I’ve certainly missed all of you, and have been more or less dawdling along on some content as time allows, looking in time to make a suitable splash with the requisite passion about some great music I’ve been digging all the while.

Little did I suspect that my initial splash would be of old Kentucky bourbon, as featured in one of the more abstract, tongue -in-cheek advertising spots I’ve ever encountered (which a sizable contingent of humorless, politically-correct types on the Internet seem to think unforgivably sexist).  But then who would’ve thought that half a lifetime ago America would have both an African-American president and a growing number of states where sales of marijuana for medical or personal use would be legal? Go figure.

Which is why I was inspired to make a brief re-appearance to share this momentous cameo with you, even as other creative kettles percolate away on my psychic back burners.

Bourbon did you say?

Mia--Xmas Mia In Carolina [12-19-13]

Mia Caroline Stanley
April 15, 2013

Indeed I did.

You see, I was up early on Monday morning, April the 14th, a day before the first birthday celebration of my granddaughter Mia Caroline Stanley (down Charlotte, North Carolina-way, where my daughter and her husband relocated this past Christmas).

I’m presently engrossed in the conclusion of a reading marathon that began when I was laid up with the flu and a non-functioning computer:

Robert Caro--The Passage Of PowerI was finishing up Volume Four of Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Robert Caro’s epic Shakespearean LBJ chronicle, THE PASSAGE OF POWER, while half watching/half listening to a re-broadcast of the MAD MEN season premier on AMC, when peeking out from behind a commercial voice-over, I discerned the familiar strains of my dear friend Max Roach’s solo drum composition “For Big Sid.”

I mean, what the fuck? Parade rest! I immediately came to full attention.

Angry Baby, Cropped

“Who characterized this commercial as sexist?”

No, it doesn’t seem to be the master’s original rendition (from his Atlantic release, DRUMS UNLIMITED), but a pretty righteous re-creation of what is after all, an actual-factual composition, a stately set of variations for the multi-percussion kit every bit as architecturally structured and melodically phrased as a Bach Solo Partita for Violin.

(Reinforcing the musical efficacy of Mister Roach’s formal designs, and his lifetime’s assertion that the drums are a musical instrument capable of every bit as much intellectual depth as a piano sonata.)  Max Roach--Drums Unlimited [Cover]

(Additionally, “For Big Sid” has been covered by innumerable drummers who looked to Max as an inspiration, such as Steve Smith, who recently collaborated with the folks at Hudson Music to author The Roots Of Rock Drumming: Interviews with the Drummers Who Shaped Rock ‘n’ Roll Music.)

The roots of Max’s most famous set piece have their origins in a dynamic showcase for the legendary drummer Big Sid Catlett, as featured in his famous live performance with the Louis Armstrong All-Stars

These variations in turn derived from a famous 1943 recording by tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins of his composition “Boff Boff [Mop Mop]”, which in addition to drummer Catlett, also featured such jazz giants as pianist Art Tatum and bassist Oscar Pettiford.

And to what purpose were Max Roach’s thematic variations on a set of rhythmic choruses by his great inspiration Big Sid Catlett deployed?  Why as a backdrop for a television commercial trumpeting, so to speak, the virtues of Woodford Reserve–a very old, very distinguished brand of Kentucky Bourbon, whose initial distillations go all the way back to 1780, marking them as the oldest of nine bourbon producers in the bluegrass state.

What can I say. Verily, the Rapture must be nigh.

Anyway, here’s a toast to you Brother Roach, the ultimate straight no chaser artist–I miss you every day I’m alive, and think of you with great affection every time I sit down behind my own drum set.

Chip's Drum Set [3-4-14]

And furthermore, as a token of respect, though I’ve never been much of an enthusiast for the spirits (now and again I would imbibe the odd beaker of Hennessy Cognac when hanging out with Papa Jo Jones, just so he wouldn’t have to drink alone), I shall in due course go out and purchase a bottle of Woodford Reserve Old Kentucky Bourbon at the earliest possible provocation.

Is there a precedent for people responding in kind to such media sophistication by actually purchasing the product?

Speaking only for myself, I recently purchased a box of Nabisco Honey Grahams out of solidarity with that company for answering the mendacity of some medieval knuckle-draggers who defamed the manufacturer for producing a commercial that they felt glorified Godless homosexuals in a two-dad family unit.

(“Everyday wholesome snacks, for every wholesome family–this is wholesome…”)

Nabisco chose to turn the other cheek, and responded to this hysterical crank chorus with an even more remarkable advertisement, which further celebrated themes of tolerance and diversity by doubling down on their initial message of love–pointing out how positive responses out-numbered the negative by a whopping factor of ten-to-one.

Likewise, many, many moons ago (circa 1985, if you must know), I saw a McDonald’s commercial featuring Aretha Franklin and Jerry Butler–The Queen of Soul and The Iceman–hocking a gastrointestinal atrocity dubbed the McDLT.

The premise of this commercial was that McDonald’s special packaging, not unlike Miss Aretha and Brother Butler, rolled both hot and cool, homie, reflecting as such the manner in which its soulful Styrofoam conveyance sequestered the grilled  from the chilled–so as to sustain the burger’s warmth and the crispy, wholesome qualities of the lettuce and tomato.  Can I hear an amen?

My reaction at the time was one of both solidarity and pity

Whatsoever had compelled Miss Aretha to lend her name and visage to such a cause?

“Damn,” I thought at the time, “If the Queen of Soul can abase herself for the sake of a fast food burger, the very least I can do, out of abiding love and respect, is to consume one on her behalf.”

Alas, some days later, when archeological remnants of the McDLT had yet to clear my colon, I determined that from this point forward, “Girl, you on your own.”

I trust that with due moderation, my experience of Woodford Reserve, and subsequent toasts to Roach, Catlett and Papa Jo, will prove far more engaging.

Big Sid Catlett Juggles

Big Sid Catlett

Mop Mop.

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