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The Soul Of John Black: Back To 'The Mooche'

For The Soul of John Black, the roots of the seductive   "New York to L.A." extend all the way back to the jazz age.
Pep Williams
For The Soul of John Black, the roots of the seductive "New York to L.A." extend all the way back to the jazz age.

The cool chime of a vibraphone ushers in a slinky, minor-key, chromatic vocal run. High-pitched female vocals, including those of Nikka Costa, chime in: "L.A., giving me the blues again / I ain't leavin', I ain't never comin' back again." Then the lead singer enters the scene, his voice lazy and languid. Toggling between tenor and falsetto, he confesses to drinking sake, "rolling black chicks and blondes," and seeing a sky white with snow in the summer. This is not a straitlaced guy.

The song, with John Bigham on vocals, is "New York to L.A.," featured on the The Soul of John Black's new album Good Thang. But the roots of this particular number extend all the way back to the jazz age. You'll hear a trio of clarinets and a muted trumpet play the same seductive opening riff in Duke Ellington's classic instrumental, "The Mooche."

Co-writers Bigham and Christopher Thomas aimed to capture the sass and class of Ellington's 1920s composition. They also time-travel to a mid-'70s funk club, courtesy of Bigham's bluesy guitar and a fuzzy Fender Rhodes. As for the lead character, "Mooche" is short for "moocher," and the party-hearty fellow who makes the New York-to-L.A. trek here is a 21st-century moocher par excellence, having a fine time on Sunset and Vine.

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Marc Silver
Marc Silver, who edits NPR's global health blog, has been a reporter and editor for the Baltimore Jewish Times, U.S. News & World Report and National Geographic. He is the author of Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) During Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond and co-author, with his daughter, Maya Silver, of My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks: Real-Life Advice From Real-Life Teens. The NPR story he co-wrote with Rebecca Davis and Viola Kosome -- 'No Sex For Fish' — won a Sigma Delta Chi award for online reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists.
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