Category Archives: Music

Eddie Van Halen, RIP

There are so many articles and posts that have been written in memory of the legendary rock guitarist Eddie Van Halen, who died yesterday at the age of 65. I couldn’t begin to do justice to the legacy he left behind as one of the most influential rock guitarists of his generation.

But one story did give me a chuckle—as well as insights into Van Halen’s creative contributions, even to other artist’s work. Several writers, including Denise Quan, Damian Jones, and Hillel Italie, recount the story of how the great Quincy Jones contacted the guitarist to provide what would become a sizzling, memorable star-turn solo for Michael Jackson‘s groundbreaking “Beat It” from his 1982 album, “Thriller“—transforming that song into a bona fide Grammy-winning Record of the Year. As Italie writes:

Before Eddie Van Halen agreed to add a guitar break to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” one of the most famous cameos in rock history, he had to be sure the phone call from producer Quincy Jones wasn’t a practical joke.

“I went off on him. I went, ‘What do you want, you f-ing so-and-so!,’ ” Van Halen told CNN in 2012, 30 years after he worked on the song. “And he goes, ‘Is this Eddie?’ I said, ‘Yeah, what the hell do you want?’ ‘This is Quincy.’ I’m thinking to myself, ‘I don’t know anyone named Quincy.’ He goes, ‘Quincy Jones, man.’ I went, ‘Ohhh, sorry!’ ”

Van Halen, who died Tuesday at age 65, needed less than an hour in the studio and 20 scorching seconds on record to join white heavy metal to Black pop at a time when they seemed in entirely different worlds, when the young MTV channel rarely aired videos by Black artists. “Beat It” became one of the signature tracks on Jackson’s mega-selling “Thriller” album, won Grammys in 1984 for record of the year and male rock vocal performance and helped open up MTV’s programming.

When Van Halen arrived at the studio in Los Angeles, Jones told him he could improvise. Van Halen listened to “Beat It,” asked if he could rearrange the song and added a pair of solos during which, engineers would long swear, a speaker caught on fire.

As he was finishing, Jackson walked in. “I didn’t know how he would react to what I was doing. So I warned him before he listened. I said, ‘Look, I changed the middle section of your song,’ ” Van Halen told CNN. “Now in my mind, he’s either going to have his bodyguards kick me out for butchering his song, or he’s going to like it. And so he gave it a listen, and he turned to me and went, ‘Wow, thank you so much for having the passion to not just come in and blaze a solo, but to actually care about the song, and make it better.’ ” …

After the record’s release, Van Halen would remember shopping in a Tower Records while “Beat It” was playing on the sound system. “The solo comes on, and I hear these kids in front of me going, ‘Listen to this guy trying to sound like Eddie Van Halen,’” he said. “I tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘That IS me!’ That was hilarious.”

Another amazingly talented musician has left us. And for those who forgot how good he sounded on “Beat It”—check out the Bob Girardi-directed video again:

RIP, Eddie.

Postscript (8 October 2020): Courtesy of my cousin Michael Turzilli, I learned that there was footage from the Victory Tour—the only time Eddie Van Halen appeared on-stage with Michael Jackson (and the Jacksons) to perform “Beat It” live in concert in Texas. Apparently, once word got out that Eddie had done this, his record label pretty much said: “There will be no more of that.” Check it out below!

Song of the Day #1815

Song of the Day: What the World Needs Now is Love, lyrics by Hal David, music by Burt Bacharach, first hit the charts in 1965, with a recording by Jackie DeShannon [YouTube link], who took the song into the Top Ten of the Billboard Hot 100. We started this Summer Music Festival (Jazz Edition) asking the question, “What is This Thing Called Love?“; we end it with the acknowledgment that whatever love is, and however you express it, the world needs it now. This song was recorded by many popular artists through the years, including Dionne Warwick, the Supremes, Barbra Streisand, and Tom Clay [YouTube links], whose Top Ten version (a medley with “Abraham, Martin, and John“), filled with social commentary, decried bigotry, racism, and division. Broadway for Orlando [YouTube link] recorded an all-star charity rendition of this classic, in the wake of the 2016 attack on the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in which 49 people were killed and 53 were injured. Jazz-inflected recordings of this song are plentiful, including renditions by Chicago, as well as by vocalists Sammy Davis, Jr. (with Buddy Rich), Jack Jones, Sarah Vaughan, Buddy Greco, Billy Eckstine (in a medley with “Just a Little Loving”)—and instrumentalists Stan Getz, Bud Shank, Wes Montgomery, Stanley Turrentine, Cal Tjader, Doc Severinsen, George Shearing, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, Bill Frisell, McCoy Tyner, and David Hazeltine [YouTube links]. As we hang onto the last few hours of summer before the Autumnal Equinox arrives in the Northern hemisphere at 9:31 am, let the love in. We’ll return next year with a new incarnation of our annual Summer Music Festival.

Song of the Day #1814

Song of the Day: Blood Count by Billy Strayhorn, was completed in 1967 while the composer was hospitalized, becoming his last finished composition before his death. There are wonderful renditions of this composition by the Duke Ellington Band, Joe Henderson, and Stan Getz [YouTube links]. Strayhorn remains one of the greatest contributors to the jazz repertoire and to the Great American Songbook.

Song of the Day #1813

Song of the Day: Super Chicken, words and music by Michael Renzi and Luis Santeiro, was the theme song to this cartoon, which was a segment of “George of the Jungle.” Check out the original theme and yet another jazz rendition [YouTube links] from pianist Randy Waldman, featuring clarinetist Eddie Daniels, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, and trombonist Bob McChesney. And check out the Emmy Awards tonight!

Song of the Day #1812

Song of the Day: Mighty Mouse, words and music by Marshall Barer and Phillip Sheib, was the title song to the classic TV cartoon [YouTube link], which made its debut in 1942. This weekend is the 72nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, and I’ll be featuring two great jazz renditions of some classic TV cartoon themes, from pianist Randy Waldman‘s wonderful 2019 jazz tribute to superhero theme songs. Check out his swinging rendition [YouTube link], featuring saxophonist Joe Lovano, trumpeter Wayne Bergeron, and both Steve Gadd and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums.

Song of the Day #1811

Song of the Day: Leap Frog (pdf), composed by trumpeter Benny Harris and alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, was first recorded by Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie for the 1952 album “Bird and Diz.” Check out the original recording by these two bop giants and then take a look at two remarkable comic routines that I once posted on Facebook, spotlighting the trade-off between these legendary musicians here and here [YouTube links].

Song of the Day #1810

Song of the Day: Yes [YouTube link], composed by pianist Kait Dunton, is performed by trioKait on their 2015 eponymous album, with bassist Cooper Appelt and drummer Jake Reed. A sweet groove for a late summer’s day.

Song of the Day #1809

Song of the Day: Chocolate Souffle [YouTube link], composed by jazz-fusion guitarist Oz Noy, appears on the 2019 album, “Booga Looga Loo” on the Abstract Logix label. Featured on this recording is Noy on guitar, Brian Charette on keyboards, John Patitucci on bass, and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. Also check out an alternative Noy live version [YouTube link] with bass guitarist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Dave Weckl, and Noy discussing the tools of his trade [YouTube link].

Song of the Day #1808

Song of the Day: Elephant’s Eye [YouTube link] was composed by post-bop pianist Marc Cary and Brooklyn-based jazz percussionist Sameer Gupta. It appears on the 2006 album, “Focus” (not to be confused with the Stan Getz-Eddie Sauter masterpiece of the same name [YouTube link]). Cary was influenced by both Randy Weston and McCoy Tyner. He heads this trio, which includes bassist David Ewell. They incorporate East Asian, Indian, Native American, and African American influences in their approach, making for a genuinely global sound.

Song of the Day #1807

Song of the Day: The Island (Comecar de Novo), music by Ivan Lins, Portuguese lyrics by Brazilian songwriter Vitor Matins and English lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, begins an extended Labor Day weekend of the Summer Music Festival (Jazz Edition). Notable recordings of this sensuous love song include renditions by Ivan Lins (live), pianist Steve Kuhn, virtuoso harmonica player TootsThielemans (live too!), tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, pianist Richie Beirach and vocalist Laurie Antonioli, and vocalists Patti Austin, Julie Andrews, Sergio Mendes (with vocalist Angie Jaree), Dee Dee Bridgewater, Barbra Streisand [YouTube links], and, from the album, “Embraceable You,” Joanne Barry [mp3 link] (my sister-in-law, whose birthday is today: Happy Birthday Wan, with Love!), with my brother, jazz guitarist Carl Barry [YouTube link], Mike Morreale on fluegelhorn, Tim Lekan on bass, and Mike Hyman on drums.