Dark Days of Yore: A Cautionary Tale

It happened in the late '70s; I strayed from Jimi, Miles and the like, heading off on a path to fusion, away from heart & soul and into the heart of darkness.

The apex of this ill-fated journey, after frenetically and fruitlessly following Al Di Meola up and down his fingerboard at breakneck speed and preening my tendons in a vain attempt to find meaning in the joining of two or more things that became so-much-less than the parts, I hit rock bottom and Jean-Pierre Rampal and Claude Bolling were lying in wait to greet me.

I should have known from the album title and/or the album cover (I was searching blindly) that a Suite For Flute And Jazz Piano with a flute smoking an after-sex cigarette (ugh), that this music which promised so much cross-genre wizardry, barely skimmed the surface of soul-stifling pap. All whip cream, no meat.

What's good is bad, what's bad is good, you'll find out when you reach the top. / You're on the bottom—Bob Dylan, "Idiot Wind"
I can still remember the feeling that washed over me when I put Suite For Flute And Jazz Piano on my record player and dropped the needle; death: What was meant to be a spiritual journey had turned into a fool's errand. And I was the fool.

Thankfully I eventually recovered, in part thanks to Jean-Pierre Rampal and Claude Bolling and their Suite For Flute And Jazz Piano (think scared straight), and found my way back on the spiritual path.

The end.

CrimsonKink's picture

I too fell from grace and found myself listening to, yes, Al et al, and yes, a flute smoking a cigarette. I admit it: I owned the album in question.

In my case shock therapy was required: The Clash. Yes, I was saved by the Clash, then set on the path by XTC and Wire. Once healthy, I was able to revisit Reich, Can, et al, and had the strength to explore new worlds.

Still can't go near fusion though.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...to learn you're not alone.


Thanks for sharing.

Ecl876's picture

I have to say, I disagree. I loved the album at the time and still love it, as I do many of his subsequent albums. Your descriptive epithets like "heart of darkness, soul-stifling pap, all whip cream, no meat, a fool's errand) ring hollow to my ears. Is it really necessary to diminish this piece of music to this degree just to make a point? I can't help feeling you betray a snobbishness with this empty piece.

CrimsonKink's picture

I think you make a fair point. It's a bit unfair maybe on that particular album, one could do far worse.

But for me Michael's story echoed how I felt: one day I found myself listening to music i really didn't connect all that strongly with. Maybe i'd just entered a second adolescence but I swung back over to music more concerned with passion and less so finesse.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...how I felt as a teenager. The excessively dramatic language (see "Tale" in the title) feels right in that regard.

What I say about any thing does nothing to the thing, e.g. this record remains unchanged as do your feelings about it.

If you choose to feel a certain way about me because of what I've written, there's nothing I can do about it. It's one of the risks of writing about things we are passionate about.

mahameister's picture

a gift from my (then) girlfriend, and at the time I thought it was a super cool gift. I too have become a musical snob of sorts and do not listen to it any more - the fact that we broke up subsequently notwithstanding. :) I still have the CD.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...is not the workings of a musical snob. It is the nature of, well, being alive.


Bob Karp's picture

I wondered if you would be saying something positive about the album. And I thought, well, let's see what he says. But I agree with you! A college friend tried to convince me of the merits of that album. I just couldn't see it. I confess I did listen to some Al. But when my friend put on Suite For Flute And Jazz Piano, I'd reach for the Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, etc. (He didn't like that.)

However, the same friend introduced me to Oregon (the album Out of the Woods), and I enjoyed that very much - still do (and I have collected many of their recordings).

Anton's picture

Hey, if that album didn't exist, PBS and cooking shows, in general, would have no opening themes.

So, what should be done about that album? How do we apply the 'caution' in this cautionary tale?

I think there is more to this discussion than meets the eye!

Itsaboutthemusic's picture

I discovered music while I was really young. I came up with all the sixties bands, and I loved them. As rock and roll became more feverish and, arguably in hindsight, less skillfully executed, I went right along with it. My low point, and where I ultimately diverged, was in the late 70’s when I considered Molly Hatchet my "favorite" band. Then I heard Miles Davis and Muddy Waters, and things began to change. A new road opened up for me. By the time the hair bands of the eighties came along, I was gone. Most of my new "favorites" were now being discovered in dusty used record stores and the library instead of at the Friday night concert or on MTV. To this day, hearing Molly Hatchet and the like makes me shake my head in wonder at my teenage self. On the plus side, recalling my own tone deaf preferences helped me understand my kids choices when they were the same age. It was difficult to keep quiet, but I did, for the most part, and they eventually figured it out too.

BradleyP's picture

The first CD I ever bought was of Rampal playing classical against a piano, and it was lovely. So, I thought I'd cue up Spotify and give this one a whirl. I'm happy to send a thousandth of a cent to the artists by clicking on the album. Well, I agree with your assessment of this one, Michael. Dreadful, but the engineering is rather good.

I hate the album cover so much that I'd frame it and put it on my wall for its campiness.

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Hot_Toddy's picture

I like the biting humor, but I disagree that such a recording equals death. Is it straight-no-chaser jazz? No, of course not. Is it the final word in classical? Perish the thought. Is it even the greatest cross-over album ever recorded? Was it even intended as such? Meh. Do I have fun listening to it? Yup, that’s why I listen to it. I am not inviting yet another debate regarding the controversial Grammy awards, but someone thought enough of the album to nominate it. So does Bolling REALLY mean the end of life? Well, to your ears, yes. Your cautionary tale is merely more proof that this, every other recording & form of artistic expression (including your tale) is subjective. You don’t have to love it. You can actively hate it all you want, for even for 42 (apparent) years. ;)

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...to keep in mind that I was re-telling a story from my teenage years where everything is overly dramatic. At least in my experience ;-)