Try as I may to watch network television, the soul of this man can’t buy into the daily dose of nonsense. Bad actors, rehashed storylines, and obvious outcomes. It’s all YouTube and streaming in this house. This brings me to three winning documentaries: Zero Gravity, the life of jazz composer and saxophonist Wayne Shorter, streaming on Prime, Little Richard: I Am Everything, a CNN-produced doc and Mark Ronson’s Watch the Sound, Apple TV+ a deep-dive into the recording process, released in 2021.
Most of us have little patience for anemic programming. Thus, the thumb on the remote bait and switch. Documentaries are the way out of the wasteland and on to cerebral riches.
Ronson accomplishes this by focusing on six areas of studio production interest. Auto-Tune, Sampling, Reverb, Synthesizers, Drum Machines and Distortion. Each one of these applications comes with serious pushback. To this day, Auto-Tune offends these ears, but Ronson is convincing in tracing the history and causes behind its usage. Each tool results from political interruption, economic conditions, or heightened advances in technology. Resistance only secured a permanent stature among young producers.
Ronson revisits the roots of each and how hip-hop artists, most times, were the first to embrace it completely. Much to do with Reaganomics of the late ‘70s, the gutting of music programs across America. It was that old record collection of mom-and-pop's sampled, scratched, and hacked to bits that brought a new generation of producers out of the shadows. Beastie Boys, T Pain, Duran Duran, Gary Numan, Jonsi, Angel Olsen, Questlove, Too Short, Dave Grohl, Josh Homme, Thurston Moore, and others. This is a must-watch by anyone aspiring to work in the present-day studio environment. Five Stars!
Most will remember Wayne Shorter from his work with partner and co-founder of Weather Report, Joe Zawinul. Shorter, for most of his career, sustained a presence in jazz as a composer of magnificent music. Zero Gravity enters with Shorter’s childhood in Newark, New Jersey, surrounded by a world of fantasy and art. The accolades include 12 Grammy Awards, 10 consecutive wins as the tenor saxophone winner in DownBeat Magazine’s annual poll, and the crown for the greatest small-group composer. There’s also a Polar Music Prize in 2017.
Zero Gravity is divided into three episodes called Portals. One – childhood, fascination for comics and movies, then in 1959 the gig that would change it all, Shorter joins Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. A graduate of New York University with a degree in music education and composition. A steady rise through the Miles Davis Quintet of the early ‘60s. Portal 2, Faith is To Be Fearless 1972-1999. Philosophical in tone. Struggles with personal trauma and addiction then discovers Buddhism. The jazz-rock movement. Epic work with Joni Mitchell.
Portal 3, Zero Gravity 2000. At home, surrounded by the artifacts of cheer and creativity. Life talks and further compositions for larger ensembles. Five Stars!
Little Richard: I Am Everything.
Richard was undeniably confusing too many. Was he a genius or was he playing us? Was he gay or clowning? Was he wealthy or a man in need of both attention and steady income? Richard was all that.
On those talk shows Richard would insult, play a drag queen, and steal the moment. I Am Everything cuts to the heart of Richard, and through interviews with longtime associates, family, and band members, gives a slick portrayal of a complicated, often contradictory man. Yet, behind the facade was a decent soul and musical genius.
One could only imagine growing up in Macon, Georgia with more churches than automobiles, being gay and disliked by Dad. Disabled to a certain measure and unsure of the road ahead. The focus of the conversation was on role models.
Richard found many influences along the journey. From stage make-up, costume, stage presence, showmanship, sound, and delivery, there was another trailblazer to emulate. Each person who appears in his life solidifies Richard’s boisterous character. Flamboyant, handsome, dynamic, and funny as hell.
Clips of Richard's initial performances with his skilled band, the Upsetters exist. No make-up, mascara, or lip liner. This man was gorgeous. Under the cosmetics, Richard was a hustler and played for every dollar.
The jump between church and rock was painful. The money was in rock ‘n roll, salvation in church. I doubt many of us would have invited the brain and soul to struggle with either. I’m giving I Am Everything four stars. It’s a winner!