America The Beautiful &
Does The Sun Really Shine On The Moon
by Kristian St. Clair
gary mcfarland blazed through the american music landscape of the 1960's and disappeared almost as fast as he appeared. possessed of a brilliant melodic gift, he quickly distinguished himself on jazz projects with gerry mulligan, stan getz and bill evans and saw his first taste of wide popularity with the 'soft samba' album, where he explored the music of the beatles with such sideman as antonio carlos jobim, kenny burrell, and willie bobo. the jazz cognoscenti, however, were not impressed, tending in those days to rather look down on popular music.
nonetheless, mcfarland was a man of many faces and throughout the sixties he never looked back; scoring a jazz ballet, writing commercial jingles to pay the rent, and composing his largest orchestral work in the form of the inexplicably still unreleased score for the david niven, david hemmings, sharon tate occult film '13' (otherwise known as 'eye of the devil').
by 1969 mcfarland, like the united states itself, was in transition; having alienated his original uptight jazz fans, and not yet having been discovered by the long-haired crowd, he threw all his cards on the table in what was and remains his greatest work. 'america the beautiful' is a stunningly original jazz-rock tone poem about the state of the country, circa 1968, with the environment in shambles, a seemingly endless war raging, and corporate greed running amuck, gary expressed his outrage the only way he knew how: through music. it barely needs to be said this album is as relevant today as it was then,
mcfarland's trademark mix of gallows humor and sadness dominates this album, from the song titles ('suburbia-two poodles and a plastic jesus') to the music itself, listen and try not to be moved by the slash & burn guitar of eric gale on 'on this site..' or snooky young's mournful trumpet solo on 'last rites for the promised land', which was originally composed in 1963 for 4 black girls killed in an alabama church bombing.
after the intensity of 'america the beautiful' this edition moves into a more relaxed mood, the flipside of mcfarland's musical coin, 'does the sun really shine on the moon?', a buoyant excursion through the pop charts of the day, it is suffused with his trademark vibes and vocalise including the super-funky flea market with its multi-tracked vibe solo, originally composed as a jingle for fresca (!)
moving into the seventies, mcfarland would steer ever more towards pop, gaining confidence as a producer in the studio and releasing two albums ('today' & 'butterscotch rum)' which remain, perhaps, the two last great undiscovered pop classics of that era.
then on november 2, 1971, when celebrating the end of a particularly grueling recording session, mcfarland ingested a drink charged with liquid methadone. some say he was the victim of a malicious prank, others that it was misadventure (mcfarland was not without his share of personal demons).
it ended a remarkable musical career. he was 38 years old.
kristian st. clair.
kristian st. clair is an independent filmmaker living in seattle who has just completed 'this is gary mcfarland' a feature documentary about the life and work of the composer.
. Reproduced with permission.