Shearer Does Trump, Singing “Mother-in-Law”

You loved him as Mr. Burns. You feared him as Nixon.

(Or maybe it was the other way around.)

Anyway, now Harry Shearer takes on a yet more demanding (or was that “demeaning”) role—Donald Trump.

During his Sunday night radio program (um, I meant “podcast”), “Le Show,” Shearer has, ever since the 2016 election, reluctantly coughed up the words “president Donald Trump” with something between a sardonic chuckle and a dismissive guffaw.

Shearer’s new video depicts Trump singing a song in praise of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, It’s the first track of his forthcoming album, The Many Moods of Donald Trump —“a cycle of satirical songs inspired by the last four years of U.S. politics and in particular the often mercurial behavior of the current occupant of The White House.”

Written by Shearer, the video is based on “Mother-in-Law,” an Allen Toussaint tune that was a hit in 1961 for Ernie K-Doe. The band includes A-list New Orleans musicians such pianist David Torkanowsky, bassist George Porter, Jr. and drummer Raymond Weber. Even their innate sense of groove can’t rescue Trump’s characteristically rhythm-less phrasing, which Shearer captures.

I talked to Shearer about this latest role, and his presidential fixation.

Who has been your favorite president to portray, and why? Continue reading “Shearer Does Trump, Singing “Mother-in-Law””

COVID CONVERSATIONS, Volume 7: Ambrose Akinmusire

Here, Akinmusire is masked only by a shadow; rest assured, he wears one when out in public. (Photo by Ogata/courtesy of Blue Note Records.)

With his latest release, “on the tender spot of every calloused moment” (Blue Note), trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire wrestles with painful truths from the perspective of his life as a Black man in the United States and mines inheritances from his extended musical family.

In a liner note, saxophonist Archie Shepp—who worked notably alongside John Coltrane, and who Akinmusire has recently performed with—likens the trumpeter’s commitment to Coltrane’s legendary discipline and rigor. The fruits of such focus are evident in the confident brilliance of the brief trumpet soliloquy that opens the album’s first track, “Tide of Hyacinth,” and in the cohesiveness of his quartet (including bassist Harish Raghavan, drummer Justin Brown and pianist Sam Harris).

As both a player and a bandleader, Akinmusire is by now an essential voice pointing the way forward in jazz’s ongoing story. Another track, “Mr. Roscoe (consider the simultaneous),” explores the open-minded, multi-layered aesthetic of multi-reedist and composer Roscoe Mitchell, who Akinmusire has also played alongside.

His new album music relies mostly on the complex webs of harmony and rhythm woven with seeming ease by this quartet. Still, the best moments are the sparest, most often owing to the sound of Akinmusire’s horn—especially the ringing notes on “Reset (Quiet Victories & Celebrated Defeats)” that glimmer brightly but dissolve into whispers and pained moans.

That pain is not abstract. Nor is its context. (“Considering our history,” he told me, “my mere existence is resistance.”)

On “My Name Is Oscar,” from his 2011 Blue Note debut release, over a drum solo, Akinmusire read aloud accounts of the shooting of a young black man, Oscar Grant III, by a transit officer in his hometown, Oakland, Calif. On “Rollcall for Those Absent,” from a later album, a child recited the names of those killed in similar circumstances—Amadou Diallo and Trayvon Martin, and on—with accompaniment on Mellotron, an electro-mechanical keyboard.

In January, when Akinmusire recorded the new album’s final track, “Hooded Procession (Read the Names Outloud),” he had not yet heard the name George Floyd. But he knew that list would grow, and he sensed active participation (his instruction to read the names out loud) might be in order. Alone, forsaking his horn, playing glistening chords on a Fender Rhodes electric piano, he takes his time as in a church processional, moving nearly imperceptibly from minor key to major, finding fleeting resolution.

I spoke with Akinmusire twice—first, shortly after the Coronavirus lockdown began, and then again, after the protests began following the murder of George Floyd.

When did the pandemic start affected your life and your career? Continue reading “COVID CONVERSATIONS, Volume 7: Ambrose Akinmusire”

Throwback Monk

This shirt arrived as a promotional item for what was then the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, back in 1997, when Monk would have turned 80. It reminds me of my favorite game, which I can’t play right now, and my favorite musician, who I’m getting to hear anew.

Palo Alto,” a previously unreleased recording, comes out July 31.

It documents Monk, in 1968, leading his quartet (tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, bassist Larry Gales and drummer Ben Riley) at a high school in Palo Alto, California.

I’ll have more to say about it soon in the Wall Street Journal. For now, you can hear a track here (just ignore the “visualizer”).

COVID Conversations, Vol. 6: Jon Batiste

Photo © 2020 Enid Farber; All Rights Reserved,

One sunny June Sunday in Manhattan’s Union Square, Jon Batiste spoke through a megaphone and a mask about “the need to implement systemic change and to avoid collective apathy.”

He then marched roughly a thousand people, including members of the Stay Human band he leads  as music director of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” up Sixth Avenue. He was just blocks from the Village Vanguard, the storied jazz club where he’d recorded two albums. He drew directly on the second-line tradition he learned as a boy, in New Orleans. He played and sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” composed more than a century ago and often referred to as the “Black National Anthem.” He segued into his latest single, “We Are,” a call-to-arms, he told me, “meant to confront the choice between profit and humanity, between freedom and the bondage of racism and all the terrible things that have been accepted and perpetuated in this country.”

A week later Batiste sat at an upright piano in front of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Wearing a mask and bright-blue protective gloves, he played a version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Like the version he’d recorded for his 2013 album, “Social Music” it sounded playful, rollicking, chaotic, even threatening.

We talked on the phone about these protests and this moment.

What prompted you to head out to Union Square and lead a protest? Continue reading “COVID Conversations, Vol. 6: Jon Batiste”