Sunday, May 21, 2006

Always Leave Them Wanting More

Craig Werner writes:

Charlie Parker stated the guiding principle for making CD mixes: "always leave them wanting more." I think of one artist mixes as missionary work. Given the number of students I encounter, I run into folks with surprising frequency who don't like (or, really, don't know) Ray Charles or Curtis or Merle Haggard or Mary J or Donny Hathaway. My experience is that most of them just need the intelligent introduction and that if they get it, they'll move ahead on their own. So I try to do a mix of a.) indispensable standards (no way you're doing Ray without What'd I Say or Curtis without People Get Ready); b.) my favorites of the non-quite-indispensables, chosen to reflect range of style; c.) almost always a sequence that points to influences (often cover versions or early songs--Los Lobos' mariachi suite, for example); d.) when it works, a live version or two (the keystones of my Sam Cooke mix are the Harlem Square, Copa, and Shrine performances); e.) some quirky shit even the afficionados aren't familiar with (I'm currently making a Chuck Berry mix and I'm putting on live versions of Route 66 and St. Louis Blues).

But the real key to a good mix is sequencing, transition, and meta-themes that are there for those who are looking. I like conversations between seemingly disparate styles a whole lot (bet that shocks everyone....). And I'll work pretty obsessively to find the transitions that have both a musical, historical and thematic logic to them. That provides a lot of possible paths into and through the sequences. My hope is that most of the listeners I'm proselytizing to will relate to one or another of those paths; and that listeners who are as aware as I am of the music will find them amusing and occasionally enlightening.

In a very real way, mixes are what I do instead of academic essays.....
--Craig Werner, May 20, 2006


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