Monday, December 26, 2005

Out of Nowhere, Warne Marsh

Warne Marsh (1927-1987)was one of the greatest unsung heroes of the jazz saxophone world. You can listen to 50 of of the top-selling or top listened-to jazz players today and you won't find anyone remotely similar to Warne. The common reaction of well-rounded musicians listening to him for the first is a kind of "Wow!" and then, almost simultaneously, a head-scratching "What the hell is he doing?".
What little I can make out is that Warne's improvised horn lines are a kind of continuous melodic thread that is growing out of itself, constantly shifting accents akin to waves breaking over rocks - something almost 'selfless' and naturally happening; not a series of cliched licks, patterns, or arpeggios, piled upon each other as is the norm.
Warne, along with Lee Konitz, was a disciple of the blind pianist Lennie Tristano who nurtured a deep appreciation of Lester Young, Charlie Parker, and Bela Bartok in his students. I had some guitar lessons with a student of Warne's in Santa Cruz and saxophone lessons from a student of his here in Phoenix - both spoke with reverence of his approach to learning standards, ie. singing the bassline of the tune first to learn it and so forth.
Of course Warne was never anywhere close to commercial success - he worked for many years cleaning swimming pools, or teaching. He would occasionally play at the Village Vanguard in New York and was very much appreciated in Denmark and England (so, what else is new?).
quote from Safford Chamberlain;
My favorite Warne Marsh story, included in my book,
"An Unsung Cat", is this: a student, Claude Alexander,
asked Warne if he had ever tried LSD. Warne said he
had. "How did you like it," asked Claude. "It makes
the notes too far apart," answered Warne.
Finally, for all of you film history fans out there, all -32 of you, Warne's aunt was Mae Marsh - the silent film heroine who starred in D.W.Griffith's major epics.

Recommended Warne Marsh cd listening:
Music for Prancing (Check out Playa Del Rey, Ad Libido)
Here's a Good One For You
Duos with Red Mitchell
or, way back in 1949,
tunes like Warne's composition "Marshmallow" with the Tristano Quintet

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Brooklyn Bridge Ghosts

Heard that the famous poet Hart Crane was composing his "To Brooklyn Bridge" while living in a room in Brooklyn overlooking the bridge itself in clear view. Only after he'd composed it did he learn that Washington Roebling, who, after his father, was Chief Engineer during construction of the bridge for decades, had lived in, and watched from the same window of, the very same room. Roebling was nearly paralyzed in 1879 from decompression bends while working on the bridge and his wife Emily took on the supervison while he remained in the room for four years, finally witnessing it's completion - from the window - in 1883.

the last three verses of Crane's poem:

Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path--condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.

Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
The City's fiery parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year . . .

O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies' dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.

-- Hart Crane

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Berenice Abbott NYC: narrow passage through door of Twilight

Usually museums are a little too much for me. If it's a great show it's too much to take on in an atmosphere that can be somehow stifling, like sneaking up on a butterfly while wearing a spacesuit.
My best strategy is to find one compelling item or work of art - and there usually is just one in particular - and just quietly take that one in, leaving and returning and just let it seep in.

Tonight at the Phoenix Art Museum it was a photograph by Berenice Abbott; New York At Night 1934.

I found out the story behind this picture later:
She was said to go about getting the perfect photo "almost as if a trap had been set".
She wanted to get a night shot in Manhattan from high on up, looking down at the criss crossing streetlines and traffic and the buildings illuminated with office lights. It needed to be just light enough to get a clear view of the building forms but with the lights on - in those days a lot of the offices closed down early and turned off their lights.
Berenice (beautiful name)"calculated that in order to get a dramatic night shot with all the lights on she would need to expose the film in her camera for 15 minutes.
The only night in the year that it would be dark enough before 5pm to create the contrast between the building lights and the night sky is the shortest day of the year December 20". Winter solstice.
With no wind that night to blur the film, and permission of the landlord to use a high up window the film Berenice captured the perfect shot...
Sunset December 20, 1934.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

New Orleans via Canary Islands

NPR had a feature recently about the "Islenos", descendants of Spanish-speaking Canary Islanders who settled in New Orleans around 1770. Their community and culture has survived to this day, up to the recent disaster; which is particularly devastating to them. Of the 70,000 people in new Orleans' Parish of St. Bernard 2/3rds are of Isleno descent.
The Islenos were brought over en masse by the Spanish to settle southern Louisiana; acting as a buffer against the encroaching British and they've remained ever since as a close-knit community.

An interesting bit about the Canary islanders. The indigenous inhabitants (who later mixed with Spanish settlers and others) were called Guanches and their origins are mysterious. Quite a number of them were blond haired and blue-eyed which is now thought to indicate an ancient connection to the light-complected Berbers living in the mountainous regions of Morocco and North Africa. They appear to have been there for thousands of years. When the Spanish arrived there in the late Middle Ages they found the Guanches dressed in goat-skin or grass skirts wielding Stone Age weapons and living in caves in the mountains. Each island - there were 7 - seemed to have differing traditions.
Odd facts about the Guanches -
-they mummified their dead
- A Mauretanian king traveled there around 25 bc. landing on one of the seemingly uninhabited islands. He claimed that there were ruins of a civilization plainly visible.
- When the Spanish arrived the Guanches had no boats which would indicate they were either brought by others or boatbuilding knowledge had dissapeared.

No, i'm not gonna get all "Atlantean" on y'all. Regular old-time stone age humans were much more capable than we used to think....still the mystery lingers.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Van Morrison Contractual Obligation Cd

Apparently, just previous to recording Astral Weeks Van Morrison was under contractual obligation to record some songs for his former record company. My friend Bill forwarded me a site with downloads of these songs. Sounds like Van just picked up the guitar and created some "Contractual Obligations" on the spot. The results are hilarious. Check out "Ringworm" and "Have a Danish"

The irony is, I love Van's voice and delivery so much i'd rather hear one of these
choice "nuggets" than 90% of what I hear on pop radio.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Beethoven's Hair and the Girl in Hyacinth Blue

On the same day as news surfaced about Garcia's items up for sale there was a bit about a long lost first edition Beethoven piano piece recently found and up for auction for over 1.7 million. That hit the noggin like a cosmic wake-up meteor muffin because i'd been reading Beethoven's Hair by Russell Martin every night for the last 2 weeks.

The book is a true account of what is known about a lock of hair snipped from the head of the master on the day after his death by a young idolizing musician and friend Ferdinand Hiller. The hair was placed in a specially constructed locket and handed down 2 generations in the Hiller family until World War II when it passed on as payment of a young Danish doctor who had been giving medical attention to Jewish refugees. The book unravels the mystery concerning who left the hair and what became of them (caught by Nazis or escaped to Sweden?) It was recently bought from the doctor's adopted daughter (with the aid of Sotheby's)for a stupendous sum by 2 Arizona Beethoven collectors who have had the DNA analyzed. They are keeping hair and locket in a publicly accessible Beethoven museum in San Jose. Dna testing indicates that
the composer may have suffered from lead poisoning (his hair had 100 times the amount of lead found in a normal person today) and not syphilis as some suspected.

This story, in turn, reminded me of a fictional book called "The Girl In Hyacinth Blue" by Susan Vreeland. Like the "Girl With a Pearl Earring" the book also deals with the paintings of Vermeer. Although "Girl" caught more attention - a recent movie version features Scarlett Johansson as the girl and the scenes are fittingly saturated with the atmosphere of Vermeer"s interiors- "Blue Hyacinth", although spotty, has some compelling writing. It tells the story of a lost Vermeer painting that has been recently found. The book follows the painting's journey BACKWARDS - switcheroo! - in time through chapters set in different eras . Someone writing about the book compared it to opening a chinese box, The final chapter, which is the personal narrative (as i recall?) of a daughter of Vermeer and describes the inception of the painting could milk water from a least from yours truly.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Remembering to Begin


Remembering to begin.....

Heres an apt quote that i found while browsing through a magician's trade magazine:
"Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it." - Goethe

Hey, at least we can always begin. There's always another train leaving the station, metaphorically, unless there's a metaphorical railway strike. God knows they're the worst...