BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
People still talk about the tour.
Granted, in Tulsa — Leon Russell's recognized home turf — it's the stuff of legend, but across the country it's still one of the best stories in rock 'n' roll. The tale just keeps getting taller. A new band of transplanted locals in Nashville is reportedly even preparing an album tentatively titled "Mad Dogs and Okies."
Musicians still have it on their resumes. Sometimes an artist's bio will come into the Arts desk here, and it will tout — very near the top — that this musician performed on the Mad Dogs and Englishmen Tour in 1970. We have to chuckle, because that's not saying much. Hundreds of people wound up on that stage.
Funny thing, though: when they mention the tour, it's always Leon Russell's Mad Dogs and Englishmen Tour, never Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen Tour. Leon was the bandleader for Joe's show. Pretty unintentionally, though, Leon stole that show right out from under Joe.
That's pretty much why these two classic rock figures haven't shared another bill since.
Until next week.
For the first time since that infamous circus, Russell and Cocker will share the same stage on the same night. That is, they're each scheduled for individual sets as part of one show. Concert organizers don't know whether they'll actually perform together.
"I suspect that they will, but I don't know," said Mark Lee of 462 Concerts this week. "No one could imagine them not playing together, but they haven't in 30 years."
The Mad Dogs and Englishmen Tour was a highlight of Cocker's career and the launch of Russell's.
Cocker had come up through the British pub circuit with the Grease Band. He landed a No. 1 hit in 1968 with a gritty, soulful cover of the Beatles' "A Little Help From My Friends." When he sang that song at Woodstock the following year, his superstardom was assured.
Russell had been struggling through the ranks in America as a session pianist. He was sought-after — working frequently with Phil Spector — but he was still a session player in the wings. His 1967 solo debut LP, "Look Inside the Asylum Choir," was respected by critics but didn't sell. In '69, he hit the road with Delaney and Bonnie.
It was then that the two crossed paths. Cocker, always looking for good material, picked up Russell's "Delta Lady" and recorded it for another hit. When Cocker decided to tour again, he asked Russell to put together a band for him.
That was either his first mistake or his stroke of genius, depending on who you talk to.
Russell didn't hold back in assembling a motley crew for what would become the Mad Dogs and Englishmen Tour. One-time Russell girlfriend Rita Coolidge was on board. Delaney and Bonnie joined up. The Rolling Stones' future horn section was there, as well as Derek and the Dominos' future rhythm section. Some shows had up to 45 people on the stage, including a few actual dogs.
It only lasted a couple of months — 48 cities in 56 days — but the tour's effects lasted a lifetime. It was even filmed for a concert movie of the same name. It was the hottest post-Woodtsock ticket around the country, because not only was Cocker in his prime but there was this long-haired Okie up there stealing the show. Russell ran back and forth between piano and guitar, leading the band with his hair flying. Russell was so manic and so darned good that people wound up talking about him as much, if not more, than Cocker — and it was Cocker's headlining tour.
After the show inevitably fell apart, Russell's star rose. He showed up on albums by B.B. King, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan, and the next year was a highlight of George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh. Then he toured with the Stones — all this while living in Tulsa. The record label he founded here, Shelter Records, nurtured the early careers of Tom Petty and Phoebe Snow, as well as locals Dwight Twilley and J.J. Cale.
Cocker didn't fare so well after the tour. His albums and performances suffered from problems with alcohol on and off the stage. He bounced back with another hit, a cover of "You Are So Beautiful," in '75, and then made that kind of romantic ballad the hallmark of the rest of his career. Later, his raspy crooning scored him soundtrack hits such as "Up Where We Belong" (a duet with Jennifer Warnes) from 1982's "An Officer and a Gentleman."
Russell continues churning out his traditional and sometimes country songcraft through his own label, Leon Russell Records. Cocker just released his latest collection, "Respect Yourself," on the Red Ink label.
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey
"Telluride Is Acoustic"
A four-track mini-album recorded live at the Telluride Jazz Festival this year, this limited-edition gem captures a beautiful, rare performance of the Jacob Fred freaks unplugged.
It's only the second time in seven years bassist Reed Mathis has played an upright, and the alien cats he strangles with it on "Son of Jah" make for one madcap psychedelic trip through the borderlands of jazz.
These recordings also feature some crazy stereo panning that makes the world bend a little when listening through headphones. Available through www.jfjo.com.
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Brian Haas has been knocked out by his progressive jazz band's new acoustic music.
One performance that was slated for the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey's latest CD, "Telluride Is Acoustic," had to be cut from the record because of an unwanted noise: Haas's head hitting the piano.
"We're doing all these acoustic performances now, right? Well, I'm not used to acoustic pianos. They have this lip that comes down over the keys, and — you know me — I was moving around pretty hard one night at this festival, and I whacked my head so hard on that part of the piano that I blacked out for a second or two," Haas said in a conversation this week. "The audience saw me go back, and I caught myself just before falling over. I actually don't remember much of the show, but there were oxygen tanks and people with ice packs waiting for me when I got off stage. My forehead looked like a Klingon's.
"And then we couldn't use that track on the record because in the middle of it there's this huge (ITAL)thonk!(END ITAL). It sounds like someone whacks the piano with a baseball bat."
The new disc is still hard-hitting. Recorded live at this summer's Telluride Jazz Festival, it spotlights the Tulsa-based, nationally acclaimed jazz group in a rare acoustic mode.
The Jacob Fred trio has gained widespread attention from coast to coast during the last few years for its electric — in every sense of the word — performances. Haas punishes his Fender Rhodes keyboard while Reed Mathis plays his electric bass like Hendrix on guitar. The only truly naturally acoustic performer in the band has been drummer Jason Smart.
But occasionally — such as this weekend's rare evening performance — the guys enjoy unplugging. The results usually highlight the band's traditional roots, roots which are often more difficult to discern amid the screaming electrons.
"It's changed a lot for us," Haas said. "We're now totally accepted in trad jazz circles."
The new acoustic yearnings grew out of the circumstances of the band's latest cross-country swing. Their 2002 Ancient Creatures Tour, the band's first solely headlining swing in several years, landed them in more upscale jazz venues, such as Yoshi's in Oakland. Most of these clubs have quality house pianos, and Haas couldn't resist.
"Whenever we'd pull up to a club and found out they had a nice acoustic grand, my Rhodes didn't even come out of the trailer," Haas said. "We'd sometimes have the clubs provide Reed with an upright bass, or we had friends that would lend them. I just have to do it when it's an option."
It's an option this weekend, for sure. Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame president Chuck Cissel encountered the Jacob Fred phenomenon in August when he met and saw the band at its first Fred Fest concert downtown. Haas continued the conversation at the Hall of Fame on Greenwood Avenue — and he saw the organization's piano.
"He came by to talk about the 2002 Autumn Jazz series, because I wanted them to be a part of it," Cissel said this week. "We have a beautiful 9-foot grand piano, and when Brian saw it and played around on it, he said, 'I've gotta do this.' They're the biggest thing in progressive jazz now, so we definitely wanted that kind of energy to come to the Hall of Fame."
The Jacob Fred boys are taking an extended rest here at home throughout the holidays. They're gigging lightly around the metro area while they woodshed a few new tunes — and on a few new instruments — before tackling a studio recording after Christmas. All six Jacob Fred albums thus far have been live recordings.
The trio will be back in the Northeast this spring. They've got residencies at two clubs throughout the month of April: Tuesday nights at the Middle East in Boston and Wednesday nights at the Mercury Lounge in New York City.
"Telluride Is Acoustic" is a limited edition disc and should be available locally at Starship Records and the midtown Borders Books and Music.
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Tea is a lot like wine, really.
There are different varietals, different leaves. Like wine, a cup of tea is full of clues about the country and the climate in which it was grown. Wine-tasting stands on a certain ceremony, and rules also exist for the ideal storage, preparation and brewing of tea.
This means — just as there are starchy, snooty oenophiles — there are tea snobs.
They're a new breed. The availability of tea's numerous varieties and flavors is still a relatively new option for Americans. When most of us think of hot tea, we still think a mug o' Lipton.
But the broader availability of intriguing, mystifying tea types and blends is just as much an opportunity for everyday enjoyment and exploration as it is for the creation of a new class of specialists.
We know tea as a frightfully proper beverage, steeped in Old World repression and sipped delicately by old ladies wearing white gloves. Most teapots are ridiculously dainty. Find me a "tea room" that doesn't have doilies everywhere.
There's so much more than that.
There are bold teas out there. There are brisk ones, too — and they don't come in yellow boxes. Tea can be stimulating, thought-provoking, meal-enhancing, life-saving.
Tea can even rock.
"You can take any rock 'n' roller, and if he's from the U.K., he's drinking tea — pinky out, man," said pop singer Nathan Brant.
To prove that tea has a more rockin' edge to it, take a look at the fellows that joined me for a tea tasting recently: Brant and Davit Souders. Brant is a slick, Tulsa-based pop singer, usually scruffy-chinned and sporting crazy Foster Grant shades. Souders is a kingpin in Tulsa rock 'n' roll, a veteran concert promoter and a singer for the hard rock band DDS. His trademark fashion accessories: an authentic kilt and a doo rag. Myself, I'm the Tulsa World's rock critic. I not only still have all my skinny ties from the '80s, I still wear them.
Other than rock 'n' roll, our common bond is tea.
We're each a bit fanatical about it. Souders brought his own ceramic pot. It got chipped in the ride to my place, and he was visibly upset. I've got a rack of tea tins in my drawer here in the newsroom. I've found that darjeelings go best with jazz. Brant's got a baker's rack at home stacked with tea jars. He dreams of opening his own shop.
If others in the local rock 'n' roll community overheard some of our conversations — gushing over discoveries of new blends or, gulp, scheduling our recent tea party — we'd lose our street cred immediately. We'd never be taken seriously in a rock club again.
But we're just hearty heartland guys who found life after Lipton — and it wasn't a latte.
If anyone borders on being an aforementioned tea snob, it's Brant. His family name is really Barnes, so he's solid British tea stock. During our tasting, he showed Souders and I how it's done — insisting on milk with all the black teas ("whole milk is the best," he said, but keep in mind he's 21 and rail-thin), scolding me for my inexact brewing time, correcting our pronunciations (Ceylon is "salon," not "say-lon"). Like a curt sommelier, his knowledge was impressive and appreciated.
We're all three tea snobs to at least this one degree: We brew only loose-leaf tea. Tea bags have certainly improved in recent years, but for the most part the tea inside them is of vastly inferior quality. It's also ground up so finely that it infuses quickly but with less flavor and often increased bitterness. True tea lovers buy loose leaf.
However, that's not easy to do in Tulsa. The alarming majority of coffee shops and markets, if they sell tea at all, sell bags. It takes some digging — and often some Web crawling — but we found several locally or online that we enjoyed.
We first brewed a pot of Ceylon Lovers, a Ceylon blend from www.teashop.net, and tried it with a little milk. Ceylons are very basic teas, slightly more earthy than your average black tea blend (but not as musty and muddy as a Chinese oolong). This one, however, started our gathering with some raised eyebrows.
"This is so dark and sinister," Nathan said.
"And diabolical," Souders added. His company is Diabolical Productions.
We later tried another purchase from www.teashop.net, an Irish Breakfast blend with a little milk. Irish and English Breakfast blends take well to the milk, largely because they're quite stout. Irish Breakfast is the strongest of all, and this was no exception. It's a hearty tea that would make for a good coffee substitute in the morning (with less caffiene). Souders even pegged a slight liqueur scent and flavor.
Darjeelings are milder, and we sampled a "Gold Tip" variety purchased from the Mecca Coffee Co., 1143 E. 33rd St. in Brookside. It's got a pleasant, faint scent — cinnamon-sprinkled roses — and an equally easy-going flavor. We tasted this without milk, which was wise considering its subtle tones.
We also tried another variety from Mecca: the Lapsang Souchong tea from China. This is an unusual smoke-scented tea that smells like the hickory or mesquite chips used on barbecue grills. This scent had the smoke and the nostalgia of old fire coals. The smoky taste comes through in the cup, too, making this variety, we decided, a perfect choice for autumn evenings on the patio or deck.
"I feel like I'm drinking a steak," Souders said. "But that's a good thing."
We followed Souders' lead here and added sugar to this tea. I had only a dark brown sugar in the house, but that limitation led us to a marvelous discovery. The heavy molasses sweetness of the sugar was a perfect match for this robust tea. This was the only pot that we finished during the tasting.
A gold mine for local tea lovers is the Nam Hi Market at 21st Street and Garnett Road. This Asian grocery features an entire aisle of tea, from traditional Chinese and Japanese green teas to some unique floral varieties. We tried two of the latter and hit both ends of the enjoyment spectrum.
A jasmine tea from the Tea Master brand (in a tall, yellowish bag marked "Tra Bong Lai") was the most fragrant jasmine we'd ever smelled, much more intense than the diluted perspiration served at many Chinese restaurants. The aroma was matched in a strong flavor — strong but still couched in the oily texture of the flower itself. It had a fairly bitter finish that was no doubt magnified by the fact that we were drinking it without food.
Another floral tea from Nam Hi was an impulse purchase and thus a bust: honeysuckle tea. It brewed weakly, like chamomile, but — despite a delicate and sweet beginning — had a harsh flavor that was not unlike licking linoleum.
We got back to basics with an everyday kind of tea called Typhoo, available at Things U.K., 707-A S. Main St. in Broken Arrow. This basic black tea blend was enhanced by milk and also took sugar well.
"This is smooth," Brant said. "It's good all the time. It's a great basic tea."
"This would be a perfect anytime, fall-back tea," Souders said. "This might be my favorite. This would be perfect for that late-day cup that (my girlfriend) and I enjoy, when we just sit around and talk about our day. When we talk."
"That's the whole point of tea time," Brant said, "to just stop and take a minute."
Where to find tea
The three Tulsa-area shops where we found broad selections of loose-leaf tea are Mecca Coffee Co. at 1143 E. 33rd St. in Brookside, the Nam Hi market at 21st Street and Garnett Road, and Things U.K. at 707-A S. Main in Broken Arrow.
Mecca is a great source for all-around varieties of tea. It stocks big jars of black and green teas (a surprising selection of greens) and herbal infusions. Things U.K. also has a wide variety of black teas.
The Nam Hi market has a tea aisle that's the Willy Wonka factory for tea lovers. All kinds of Asian teas can be found, often large quantities at great prices.
Gloria Jean's Gourmet Coffee in Utica Square sells its own company brand of loose-leaf tea in the store. Oddly, they sell loose-leaf tea but serve tea bags. The loose tea comes in 3.5-ounce boxes for about $6.
Some supermarkets also carry canisters of loose tea from The Republic of Tea, a company that's sort of the next step beyond Celestial Seasonings. It's mostly good quality, and they specialize in green blends and herbal infusions. Wild Oats Market at 41st Street and Peoria Avenue has an impressive selection of these.
Restaurants and coffee shops in Tulsa, alas, all seem to serve bags. Some of it's quite good, though. The Gypsy Coffee House, 303 N. Cincinnati Ave. downtown, has a good selection, and the White Lion pub, 6927 S. Canton Ave. (just east of Yale Avenue off of 61st Street) has the very tasty PG Tips black tea bags. The new Starbucks is notable only because it serves the great Tazo teas.
Online may be your best source for the widest variety of teas. Our favorite sources: Tealuxe (www.tealuxe.com), a chain in New York and Boston that's basically a tea-centric version of Starbucks; Stash Tea (www.stashtea.com), an impressive supplier of every kind of tea from all over the world; and the Tea Shop (www.teashop.net), which leans toward good English black teas.
What kinds of tea
Black tea is what we're all used to. It's just the oxidized and dried leaves of the tea plant, Camellia sinensis.
Black tea blends include English Breakfast (Ceylon and Keemun), Irish Breakfast (mostly Assam) and Russian Caravan (usually Keemun with a little Lapsang Souchong). There are flavored varieties, too, such as Earl Grey, which is a black tea blend mixed with the oil of bergamot, an inedible citrus fruit.
Oolong tea is Asian black tea that is not allowed to oxidize as long as other black teas. It is often served in Asian restaurants and is noted for its floral aroma and peachy flavor. The finest oolongs are the Formosa variety, grown in Taiwan.
Green tea is simply tea that is not oxidized at all before drying. Thus, green teas are usually more herbaceous than blacks and oolongs. Green tea is noted for its healthy qualities; it contains loads of antioxidents which are being studied for their cancer-preventing possibilities. There are many different varieties, the most common being Gunpowder from China (strong and earthy) and the most valued being Gyokuro from Japan (rich, also called "Pearl Dew").
White tea is rare but interesting. It is made from the tea plants buds more than its leaves, both of which go through very little processing.
Where chai fits into it all
Chai is not a kind of tea; it is a drink made with tea. Chai — properly, Masala Chai — is a blend of black tea, spices, sugar and milk.
Chai became hip somewhere during the last few years, showing up in bookstores alongside all the lattes. Most commercial chais are sickeningly sweetened with white sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, making the beverage more of a soda than a tea drink. An exception to this is the plain, perfectly satisfying chai served locally at the India Palace and India Gate restaurants.
Chai is delightful when made at home. There are about as many recipes for chai as there are drinkers of it, and they are readily available now.
Here's a recipe from Diana Rosen (Steeped in Tea and other great tea books) for an easy mix that you can prepare early and keep in the refrigerator. It lasts a long time, and the flavor actually intensifies as it rests. The only challenge here is finding unsweetened condensed milk in the grocery store (but sweetened works just fine in a lighter concentration).
1 14-ounce can unsweetened condensed milk (low-fat or nonfat, if desired)
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pour the condensed milk into a clean, dry jar or a plastic container with a lid. Add the spices and mix. Cover, or seal with the lid, and place in the fridge.
Then, when you have a craving for chai, simply add 2 to 3 tablespoons of the mixture to a pot of strong black tea. Way easy and way good.
How to brew the perfect cup
First, use fresh, cold water. You want the water to be clean and oxygenated. That means, run the tap for a minute or two before filling your kettle; this flushes out any metals that the water might have absorbed while sitting in the pipe. Filtered water sometimes makes tea taste flat and should be poured back and forth between two glasses a few times to oxygenate it.
While boiling the water in the kettle, warm your teapot by filling or rinsing it with hot water. This will allow the water to maximize its brewing capacity without losing heat to the cold teapot.
Add the tea leaves to the teapot before the kettle boils. When figuring the amount of tea to add, the general rule of thumb is: one teaspoon per person, plus one for the pot. You can tweak that ratio in relation to your preferred strength of tea.
Ideally, add the leaves loose to the pot, then strain the water as it's poured into the cup. You can also use an infuser (clamps and tea balls are readily available), and many pots are sold now with infuser baskets in them.
Add the water to the pot just after it reaches a full, whistling boil.
Allow the tea to infuse for three to five minutes. Different teas call for different infusion times; read the package, but three minutes is average. The longer it infuses, though, the more bitter it can become. Stir or swirl the pot a time or two during infusion.
If you desire milk with your tea, add the milk to the cup before pouring the tea.
Pour the tea and enjoy!
BY THOMAS CONNER
© Tulsa World
Ah, George Winston. Just his name is relaxing now.
His "folk piano" records were the first New Age music to find real commercial success, securing a place for the innovative Windham Hill label in the early '80s.
His delicate playing evokes the patient seasons, pastoral landscapes and rollicking psychedelic binges glimpsed through previously unopened doors of perception.
Wait a minute. What was that last one?
Winston has recorded many tributes in his storied career as an instrumental pianist. He's paid homage to the great New Orleans ivory-ticklers that inspired him, namely Professor Longhair and James Booker, and a few years ago he recorded an entire album of Vince Guaraldi's compositions.
But his latest project seems, at first, a bit out of step with what we've come to expect from this soothing player.
The new album is "Night Divides the Day: The Music of the Doors," 13 classic songs by the Doors translated through Winston's nine-foot Steinway.
The project has been so well-received thus far that Winston performed a concert with Doors organist Ray Manzarek on Sept. 26 in New York City.
The album proved to be a challenge for Winston, and in our recent interview he discussed the unique opportunities in listening to the Doors for the music instead of just grooving to Jim Morrison's poetry.
How did you develop the idea for an entire album of Doors songs?
I had been working on a series of solo piano dances, kind of being a piano one-man band. I was checking out everything I wanted to play, R&B and soul and rock, Sam Cooke and Gershwin and the Beatles. I was trying out everything possible, and that was going to be my next record — Volume One of these solo dances.
But I noticed that I had worked up 24 Doors songs, a lot of which were not danceable. I began working more with them, and that became the project. The Doors record got bumped ahead to be the new record.
So it was purely happenstance?
Well, sort of. I have listened to and been inspired by the Doors for 35 years . . . I was a senior in high school in 1967 when I got the Doors' first album, just because someone told me they had an organist.
I'd never heard of them. I put it on, and right away "Break on Through to the Other Side" obliterated everything I had ever heard. I was like, "Whoa! What is that?" I decided I had to get an organ and play in a band one day.
Had you ever thought of recording these songs before?
No. I wasn't even thinking of doing it when this all came about. They're very difficult composers to interpret, and my main temperament is as an interpreter. I mean, with the Doors, the version is the version, you know?
Jose Feliciano did a great version of "Light My Fire," so that was encouraging. It was very difficult to make them my own, though. I definitely put the time in on this one. Out of the 24 I had, these 13 worked together best to make the statement I wanted to make.
And what statement is that?
I like albums to be like one song all the way through. I want the songs to work together in the right order, and these 13 seemed to me to flow together very well the way I had done them. It's great when it all just kind of speaks to you like that.
Was it worth the hard work?
Oh yes, but I'll never do a record this hard again. Most of these songs were organ songs, not piano, originally. Plus, it was all so personal to me. It was like I was writing a novel about them: I wanted to do them justice because I love them. The more time you've lived with something, the more significant it is. And, you know, what else can you do with "Light My Fire"?
Well, it seems that you took the song to New Orleans. That track and "People Are Strange" really heave with a bluesy — almost ragtime — rhythm. Is that because of your New Orleans influences or because they sprang from this dance music project?
Some of the songs translated well into my folk piano, melodic mode, and some of them, like those two, are in an R&B style — my James Booker, New Orleans piano mode. That came out of the dances.
I was working those songs up to be dances, indirect listening. Those two songs are done completely the way James Booker would have played them. His piano language has kind of ingrained itself into me involuntarily.
Professor Longhair was instrumental in your career, so to speak. What was your relationship to him?
I never met him. I'd quit playing in the late '70s, and I heard his 1949 recordings 30 years later, in '79. I thought it was so perfect that I started playing again. He inspired James Booker, too, and that became my way of thinking about the piano.
You grew up in Montana, and I assume those wide-open spaces and changing seasons fueled your seasonal records ("Autumn," "Winter Into Spring," "December") and that open, circular style you call "folk piano." How did that develop?
The folk piano is a style I made up in 1971 as a reaction to stride piano. I wanted to do something simple and melodic, which was opposite of the stride style.
I love to have the piano ring out and to keep it simple. I'm interested more in tone quality than in having a lot of notes. But if it wasn't for the stride, I wouldn't have had anything to react against.
How much Montana is in your music?
The folk piano records are extremely Montana-based. Everything I do, really, has some Montana in it — even the Doors album. The cover photo of the Doors record was taken in Montana, by the way.
The way the four seasons are so distinct and different there influences everything I do, even the R&B. "People Are Strange," for instance, is an autumn song. Everything to me is seen through the seasons — that's the bottom line.
Some people refer to sound or "om" or the creator, but seasons are the driving force to me. The Vince Guaraldi stuff is all about that.
All that Charlie Brown stuff is undeniably linked to certain times of year, not just because the television specials aired around holidays but because the songs were about seasons.
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.