Fire Up The Grill, But Don't Forget The Vinyl

Some celebrate Labor Day as a formal end of summer. But before colder days arrive, NPR arts producer Felix Contreras shares the perfect music tunes for a farewell summer barbecue.



Well, a new fall TV season sadly means the end of summer. Labor Day marks that transition from summer's recreation to fall's back to business lifestyle. Many of us mark the occasion by squeezing in that last barbecue. So, we've invited NPR's arts desk producer Felix Contreras to help us with the soundtrack. Felix, thanks so much.

FELIX CONTRERAS: Thanks for asking me.

LUDDEN: Okay, so we've got the invites out. We've got the potluck menu out. We're getting ready, we're getting the drinks. What can we listen to to start this off?

CONTRERAS: Labor Day for me is quite a bit mellower than the 4th of July so I picked a list of music that's not quite as rambunctious as the one we had on the 4th of July barbecue. And it's not full of ballads but it does kind of reflect my thoughts about Labor Day. It's like the end of summer, back to school, cooler weather, but we do have to keep the party grooving and we're going to start off with jazz.


LUDDEN: That's very nice. I'm feeling better about the end of summer.

CONTRERAS: Those are the Godfathers of Groove. That's Reuben Wilson on the organ, Grant Green Jr. on the guitar, and Bernard Pretty Purdie on the drums. All three are respected jazz musicians. Wilson's a well-known organist, Grant Green's father was a well-known jazz guitarist, and he's a very good musician himself, and Bernard Purdie has reportedly been on over 3,000 albums as a session musician. Now this is the kind of music that heats up the coals in the barbecue pit, a nice blues shuffle. And there's a lesson in the simplicity of it, the importance of groove in all music. I think these guys aside have been known for the unheralded job of creating deep serious grooves. And on this cut they're joined by saxophonist Bill Easley.


LUDDEN: Okay, so now the coals are hot, we're - people are starting to arrive. We've got the meat ready to go on the grill. Can we kick it up a bit?

CONTRERAS: Yep. I got just the thing: communist funk.



CONTRERAS: This is an album called "Si, Para Usted: The Funky Beats of Revolutionary Cuba, Volume II." This cut is called "El Son de Victoria." It's by a pianist by the name of Hilario Duran. Now this CD is a collection of tapes from Cuban archives that were compiled by Dan Zacks and he got these tracks after playing them on his internet radio show. That was an interesting time in Cuba. The 1970s - the government controlled the studios, the materials for making records, which bands musicians could play with, radio play, virtually every facet of the music business. But what they didn't control was creativity or the sources of that creativity. The cuts on this CD reflect the influence of music by African-American musicians in the U.S, in particular 1970s funk. This cut has horns that sound like a cross between the Tropicana in Havana and Earth Wind & Fire.


CONTRERAS: And the baseline is pat Cuban Tumbow(ph) and part Bootsy Collins and Hilario Duran's piano solo is heavily jazz influenced.


LUDDEN: Okay. So now you're dancing. You've got your plate with your food and you're kind of moving around here. As you move into dessert and the end of the meal. What do you suggest for the winding down music?

CONTRERAS: Well the coals are losing its intensity but they're not completely out so we need a little something to mellow us out a little bit.


LUDDEN: Yeah. People are sitting around. Now no one wants to leave.


LUDDEN: What's this?

CONTRERAS: Wine coolers a little ice tea. This is trumpeter Bill Ortiz. The last 10 years he's been touring the world with Santana and he's a Bay Area musician who's a respected Latin and jazz musician. And this is his first CD under his name and the name of the CD is "From Where I Stand." It's a little bit of a contemporary jazz sound and the title kind of reflects what we've been talking about. We've heard elements of U.S. influence on Cubans musicians. There's certainly influences on African musicians and musicians from all over the world. And this music from Bill Ortiz has traces of all those musical influences.

LUDDEN: All right. So the barbecues over, so is summer.


LUDDEN: We're cleaning up the dishes now.

CONTRERAS: Wah, wah.

LUDDEN: People are trickling out sad. What's the last song we're going to hear?

CONTRERAS: Well for me this past summer was dominated by the news from June of Michael Jackson's untimely and tragic death, and my barbecue would end with something from Michael Jackson.


MICHAEL JACKSON: (Singing) Looking out across the night-time, the city winks a sleepless eye. Hear her voice, shake my window, sweet seducing sighs...

LUDDEN: All right. So you've picked "Human Nature." Why this song?

CONTRERAS: I think it allows for four minutes of reflection on the summer that just went by and what lies ahead and how we never really know what lies in store for us so we really should live each day to the fullest and always with great music. And it's one of the more mellow performances of Michael Jackson that still pack the intensity of his great vocal performances.

LUDDEN: All right. Felix Contreras is a producer on NPR's arts desk and is a blogger for NPR's jazz blog, "A Blog Supreme." This was so much fun. Thanks for coming in and happy Labor Day.

CONTRERAS: Thank you very much. Thanks for asking.

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