by Rickie Lee Jones and David Kalish, as performed by them et. al. on Jones’s “Pirates” (1981, Warner Brothers) with Kalish (guitar), Chuck Rainey (bass), Steve Gadd (“boxes and thighs),” David Sanborn and Tom Scott (saxophones), Randy Brecker (trumpet and flugelhorn)

Funky, but what is it, exactly? It’s not rock, and it’s not the rhythm-and-blues the lyrics celebrate. It’s beat poetry set to a spare, virulently infectious funk groove, with the hottest (white) session musicians of the day on cruise control. (Some, of course, are still very much in demand; Gadd, for one, plays regularly with James Taylor and Sanborn.) It’s jazz, but the improvisation – or something like it – is completely in the atmospherics, particularly in the lyrics and catcalling, as though it all broke out spontaneously on a brownstone stoop at dusk. The night is young, dig.

The chart: Chuck Rainey’s funkadelic bass keeps it poppin’ over Kalish’s theme lick, in E major, which is as insidiously cool as a guitar lick gets, an earworm that heads straight for your medulla oblongata. Despite the ants-in-your-pants complexity of the sound, the song hangs on just two chords, E (or E6) and A (or A7). Guitarists’ workshop: Ingeniously, Kalish seems to play the whole lick out of the E6, voiced in the seventh and ninth positions, just shifting how he fingers it – by, that is, starting in 7p (while starting the lick on the first two strings at fret nine) then moving his first finger to the ninth fret to hammer from third and fourth strings/position nine to position eleven on strings two and one, then playing D string/ position nine. Next he plays the A chord out of the same barre but fingering string two at fret ten with his middle finger. Then he just lifts that middle finger (or I do, anyway, still with the half barre at fret nine) to end the lick back on the E, finishing off with that hammer-on business. You can mimic the walking bass by starting on the open sixth string (E G# B C# D C# B G#/E G# B-C# D – basically an arpeggiated E13 chord, up and down (nicely following the song structure insofar as the E and C# are also two-thirds of the A chord triad). Then you mimic that in chords by moving back to the high E6 and A voicings as at the lick’s beginning.

You’ve gotta love Jones’s voice and scat-singing, while conceding that the street accent is schtick (heck, nobody calls out the hip-hoppers or Michael Jackson on that), and even though the lyrics are not self-explanatory let alone altogether decipherable. The intricate arhythmical clapping, the finger-snapping(?), and the dialogue “calls,” though, are funkadelic perfect.

The date: I first heard “Woody and Dutch” on “Saturday Night Live,” so I’ve associated it with the day in 1989 that Gilda Radner, a brilliant light on that TV variety show, died of cancer, just short of her forty-third birthday. Talk about the world being a poorer place, now that pre-teen Judy Miller (bouncing on her mattress and singing about “The Judy Miller” show), teen nerd Lisa Lupener (with her crushes on Marvin Hamlisch and uber-nerd Todd [Bill Murray]), and Roseanne Roseannadanna have passed with her. We hear regularly about the “tragic” deaths of self-abusive rock stars. What about the premature passing, from disease or injury, of those gentle geniuses who make us laugh – Radner, John Candy, John Hughes, Phil Hartman, Harold Ramis, Andy Kaufman, Robin Williams…? Gilda, your light still shines.


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