For years now, I’ve been hearing that the CD is an obsolete way of delivering music, that its time has come and gone, that new cars don’t even have disc players any more, etc. At the same time, I continue to hear great new releases in that very format.
Two of the latest come from Tulsa-area musicians. And I suppose it’s fitting that, just like their compact-disc technology, both of these albums are rooted firmly in the past.
First up, let’s look at a beautifully written, arranged and played instrumental-jazz disc called Long Time Coming. Trombonist Richard Carson is the man behind the CD, and he’s quick to point out that its origins go back more than three decades, when he was a student at the University of Tulsa, attending on a music scholarship and playing in the TU Jazz Band.
“This was ’84-’88,” he recalls, “and it was during this time that I took some elective courses in improvisation and music composition and arranging.”
Although he had a music scholarship, Carson wasn’t a music major, and he went on to get his law degree and build a legal and corporate career. But he never gave music up completely, playing at his church, First Baptist in Tulsa, doing a stint with the Tulsa Praise Orchestra, and becoming a part of a rock-oriented horn section dubbed the Phantom Horns, which did some backing dates with the Tulsa-based band Sybil’s Machine.
“We played with them whenever they had what they considered to be a big gig, like a radio show they did at the Cain’s. And we opened for Molly Hatchet once.” He laughs. “That was strange, but it was a lot of fun.”
Flash forward to 2020, and to the pandemic, whose restrictions gave those so inclined more time to contemplate and create. In this situation, Carson found himself revisiting the material he’d done back in his student-musician days.
“They were things I had composed,” he says, “just scraps of songs. I’d have a lead sheet with chord changes and some information about the style and the feel. Sometimes I’d have titles; usually I didn’t. Maybe I’d have some notes on instrumentation. Most of them didn’t have more that 12 or 16 bars.”
Still, the more he went through his long-dormant work, the more he saw potential. Ultimately, he figured there was enough there to build a disc upon – with a little help.
“COVID gave me this unique opportunity, because all the things I was active in, outside of work – different charities, church, social events – I wasn’t doing any more,” he explains.” And professional musicians had more time on their hands, too. They weren’t gigging. They weren’t touring.
“I knew that a friend of mine, Brad Henderson, who leads our orchestra at church, was a talented arranger, and that he had a recording studio, and that he also had time on his hands. So he collaborated with me on this project. I learned a great deal from him and really give him a lot of credit.”
In addition to assisting with the compositions and arrangements and playing keyboard, bass and percussion on the disc, Henderson was valuable in another way. As Carson says, Henderson’s “network of friend musicians . . . all great, tremendously talented folks” was invaluable in supplying players for Long Time Coming. That network includes such well-known area musicians as guitarist Pat Savage, drummer George Toumayan, and the father-son duo of Shelby and Nathan Eicher.
The presence of Carson’s own family colors Long Time Coming as well. The cover is a painting by his late father, while his wife and daughter also contributed artwork to the disc and its packaging.
“This was meant primarily as a fun project,” notes Carson. “I purposely wanted to pick different genres and see if I could do a piece in them, not thinking about commercialization or monetization. That’s how I ended up with a jazz-trio song, and a blues, and a bossa – all the variety on there.”
There’s indeed a number of different jazz styles on the disc, brought emphatically home by Carson’s composition skills and the always solid playing of the musicians, including Carson himself. It’s good and satisfying music, and you can get it from Amazon.com.
Then, we have the Bagsby Brothers.
David and Steve Bagsby have been making music around Tulsa for decades now. And while they’ve been heard in different ensembles over the years – Steve, most recently, as the steel-guitarist for the Tulsa Playboys and Round Up Boys and David with the Retro Rockets – the name of David’s longtime CD label, Esotericity, gives you an idea of the approach they take when they’re left to their own devices.
That’s the case with 2 Left Ears, the Bagsbys’ latest CD, released on their new label, Slapout. “Esoteric” could indeed describe the material here, but “multifarious” and “eclectic” may be better adjectives. The 14 cuts on 2 Left Ears bounce around from Irving Berlin to the Sons of the Pioneers to Del Shannon to the Hoosier Hot Shots, with stops along the way for two tunes from ’60s satirist Tom Lehrer, a Homer & Jethro parody, and a nod not only to small-town radio but also to the beloved early ’70s Tulsa TV show Dr. Mazeppa Pompazoidi’s Uncanny Film Festival and Camp Meeting. There’s also original material, including David’s unclassifiable “Shoe Nose Blues.”
And, like Richard Carson’s completely dissimilar jazz disc, 2 Left Ears is rooted firmly in another era.
“This is stuff we did when we first started playing, back in the ’70s,” recalls David. “When the Fontana [Shopping Center] was first built, and the Williams Center – they’d have these little talent shows. We’d do ‘em with guys who were manualists, making noises with their hands. They were like our arch-nemeses. They’d always win.”
Adds Steve: “When we started out, we didn’t know a lot musically, so we had to resort to some weird stuff. We played funny music, and we’d show up in long johns and funny hats – that’s how we competed.”
The material from that period of their lives was resurrected recently, following a phone call from a high school friend of Steve’s named Kelly Raines.
“He has a barn out in Catoosa that he converted into a rehearsal studio,” says David. “I guess he was wanting to test it out. So we went out there and pulled out songs we hadn’t done in 40 years.”
“It was just us,” Steve notes. “We sat down with two microphones in the studio and cut the first tracks, which were just vocals and guitars. Then we started layering. It was never designed to be a commercial production, or to have all those multi-layered songs on it – but that’s where we wound up with it.”
Those interested in a truly unusual but consistently entertaining listening experience can order 2 Left Ears from the Bagsby Brothers’ Facebook page or bagsby.com. The siblings are hoping that the release of the disc may also lead to some live Bagsby Brothers appearances as well. (According to David, it’s possible that these would be done under the name “The Electrolyte Orchestra.”)
“Since we’re not really doing a cruise-ship-type thing, or a bar-type gig, what we’d love to do is open for people,” David says. “We’ve opened for the Round Up Boys a couple of times, and that was pretty cool. Literally, it takes us just five minutes to set up. It’s two mikes, one amp. And it takes us two minutes to break down – just in case they throw stuff.
“You know,” he adds, “we’ve been disappointing audiences for over five decades now, and in England, we’ve sold less than Slim Whitman and Boxcar Willie – combined.”