Sunday, December 31, 2006
Way back in the early 60's Robin Williamson, Clive Palmer, and Bert Jansch were sharing a flat and running a folk club in Edinburgh. The folk club served primarily as a place to perform their own music, which was taking "folk" down new, unpegged roads. Edinburgh was a hothouse flower bed of beatnik folk/jazz/blues with a sliver glint of psychedelic color beginning to tinge the brownstone street rain puddles.
Bert left and went on to a solo career, eventually joining up variously with Anne Briggs, or John Renbourn, and finally Pentangle. Robin and Clive hooked up with another Scotsmen, (from Perthshire) Mike Heron, and formed the Incredible String Band.
The Incredible String Band evolved from a kind of Celtic East Indian Old Timey Jug Band playing a mix of traditional tunes and originals to something even more defiant of record bin placement. Clive moved on and Mike and Robin added their girlfriends Rose and Licorice to the mix; tentatively with the release of 5,000 Spirits Or the Layers of the Onion and full on with The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter. Dylan's head was already bent by Robin's "October Song" (from their first record) and "First Girl I Loved" from "5000 Spirits" became a classic covered by many. Stevie Winwood's praises and inspiration were manifesting in Traffic's first record and Paul McCartney named "Hangman's" his favorite record of 1967.
Still, for various reasons, the String Band remained way on the outer fringe of the public ear. They were no virtuoso vocalists, and their lyrics ranged from absolute gems, to simpleton or arcane, circuitous, and precious annoyances. Increasingly, every record was a crapshoot with a guaranteed masterpiece (or three) in the crackerjack box.
I first saw them at the Aquarius Theatre in LA when I was about 16. Subsequent shows were memorable but this one was the capper. They came out on the stage in exotic clothes and beads, onto an Indian rug with nigh on 30 instruments scattered about like a stoned gypsy royal court and proceeded to tune it all up for what must have been 10 minutes. Others in the audience might have been fidgeting and leaving the premises to have a smoke - but I was in heaven. It was a slow, beguiling ceremony for what turned out to be a mesmerizing evening of great songs.
I confess that my teenage heart reserved a very warm space for Robin's girl Licorice (I'm sure he understands). I suppose, in a Jungian anima way, Licorice embodied the ideal hippie/folkie/psychedelic brownrice-eating girl-goddess that i was looking to project on some unsuspecting and unattainable female.
With the group Licorice played a bit of harmonium, guitar and such but mainly contributed a childlike angel voice to the oft ragged proceedings. You can hear her voice adding harmony to "Painting Box", announcing "amoebas are very small" on "A Very Cellular Song" from "Hangman's" and contributing the lovely solo part in "Fair As You" from I Looked Up.
According to Wikipedia Christina "Licorice" McKechnie (also called "Likky")was born in Scotland in on October 2nd, 1945.
Here's the mystery:
As time went on, Rose left the group and Robin and Licorice broke up - amicably it seems as she remained with the group for a few albums. Licorice settled in Los Angeles, was briefly married to guitar-player Mike Lambert and still played a bit of music here and there - along with a stint of waitressing and other quotidian enterprises.
I'd heard she did a bit of collaboration with Chick Corea but nothing came of it.
The String band as a whole had been involved with Scientology midway thru their career, but apparently Licorice was the first to become disillusioned. We might assume that would discount any connection with what happened next.
Licorice was last seen hitchiking through Arizona in 1987, although her older sister Frances, reports having received a letter "certainly sent from Sacramento" in 1990.
I sincerely hope that she is still on the planet, having started a new life but I have to accept the possibility of a sadder or darker ending. Peace be with her.
This letter from a former friend of Likky's courtesy of the "Likkie Shrine" site
From: David Evans:
"I knew Likki and her husband Brian Lambert in about 1980 in Los Angeles. She was not in the music business at the time, but still incredibly talented and musical. She and I made some attempts at writing together.
I took guitar lessons from Brian. Likki still had Robin's nylon string painted guitar he had written many ISB songs on. I offered her every cent I had but she wouldn't think of parting with it. At a party at her house in the Hollywood Hills, she sang a song called Old Songs And Cottages which was so amazing I had to learn it. She felt so close to that song that she refused to teach anybody how it goes. I still remember the first two chords and have been playing with them for the past 18 years. She was incredibly sweet."
* aside from the Likkie Shrine site there is a little youtube soundtrack/video clip with pictures of Licorice, and the song "On the Banks of Italy" with a taste of her singing http://youtube.com/watch?v=011w7n_-EY8
* the sound of most of the clips of the ISB on youtube is fairly crappy but there's one fairly decent one of Robin and Mike in 1968 performing "The Half-Remarkable Question" on the Julie Felix Show in England. Julie sings with them on "Painting Box", and you can get a glimpse of the painted acoustic guitar that Licorice inherited from Robin.
* for some excellent full-length renditions of the String Band from their records go to myspace.com and check out
Friday, December 01, 2006
A brief hats off to the great Anita O'Day who passed away this past Thanksgiving morning at age 87.
Over and over I've been watching her set at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival as captured by film-maker photographer Bert Stern in Jazz On A Summer's Day.
I can't recall when I've ever derived so much from a performance of two songs.
Anita displays all so eloquently what jazz, not just jazz-singing, is all about here.
Over and over I've been watching her set at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival as captured by film-maker photographer Bert Stern in Jazz On A Summer's Day.
I can't recall when I've ever derived so much from a performance of two songs.
Anita displays all so eloquently what jazz, not just jazz-singing, is all about here.
Of course her oddly hip attire and demeanor are an exclamation mark on a stage littered with a day-long parade of, sometimes elegant, sometimes "another day at the office" jazz-suits - but the baraka she gradually transmits to the listener comes from her vocal phrasing. Not blessed with an incredible vocal range or stamina, Anita's power lies in knowing what it is to dance and play with the beat by phrase placement; off the beat, on the beat, balanced but without symmetry, pushing, pulling, and cajoling it until it SWINGS!
...and this all with complete nonchalance - as if it was just happening of itself, which it is. This the outcome of a natural sense and 20-some years of long nights performing together with some of the great improvisers.
...and this all with complete nonchalance - as if it was just happening of itself, which it is. This the outcome of a natural sense and 20-some years of long nights performing together with some of the great improvisers.
*youtube has a clip from the movie with Anita doing Sweet Georgia Brown and also Tea for Two.
There are also clips on the anitaoday.com website which are very clear visually although shorter in length.
Thanks to Sharon for informing that Anita had died and also turning me on the NPR broadcast of Terri Gross' interview with Anita..
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
One foggy morning in November 1966, almost 40 years ago to the day, the Rolling Stones. manager Andrew Loog Oldham, and photographer Gered Mankowitz piled into 2 cars from Olympic Studios at dawn and drove to the top of Primrose Hill, the vast public park in Northwest London.
The Stones had been up all night putting the finishing touches on their new record, Between the Buttons, and the plan was to breathe the fresh air and take some photos for the cover.
Between the Buttons was a quirky departure from the usual R&B and Blues driven fare the Stones dished up; these tunes had a Kinkish, vaudevillean/music hall whimsy, sprinkled with some driving rockin rhythms with just a touch of Charlie Watts' subliminal offbeat jazz drumming that evoked the diaphanous pop-flash of moddish swinging London. "Connection", "Amanda Jones", "Yesterday's Papers", and "Backstreet Girl" were some of my favorites - now little heard on the radio by Stones fans generations removed, and forgotten by all but the hard-core fans from the era.
The record was notable for the almost complete disappearance of Brian Jones from half of the numbers; he was embarked on a more precipitous slide into the vapor of stonedom. However, here he surfaces as "colourist" on the tunes, adding marimba, recorders, flute, trumpet, piano, harmonica, organ, sax, and sitar in just the right places.
That morning when the gang arrived on Primrose Hill they chanced on a bearded hippie flute-player poised on one foot and oblivious to the celebrity status of the Stones. Mick Jagger offered him a joint and he accepted it offhandedly, with a mere "Ah, breakfast!".
Gered Mankowitz took a number of pictures that morning in the mist and added to the atmosphere by rubbing a bit of vaseline on the camera lens. He recalls Brian Jones as being a difficult subject; burying his head in a newspaper or mugging in the group photos. Nevertheless, the resultant photos carry on the distinct flavor of the Stones as five individuals; Watts and Wyman craggy, calm and indifferent, Jones cocooned in impenetrable mischief, Jagger (open-mouthed of course) and Richards off to the left somehow in motion towards the future- albeit Richards in a hazed motion, fully immersed in the the vaseline sector of the lens.
A few months after the Stones photo-shoot, Paul McCartney, along with pal Alisdair Taylor and his sheepdog Martha, drove up to Primrose Hill around sunrise. McCartney often brought Martha for walks up there and was delighted that other dog-walkers recognized him only as one of them and freely chatted on about their dogs.
That morning as the sun rose McCartney and Taylor were commenting on the beauty of the view, and even waxing philosophical about the existence of God when Paul noticed that Martha had gone missing. He turned around and there. as if out of nowhere, stood a middle-aged man in a stylish raincoat. They exchanged greetings and the man commented on how beautiful the view of London was. Paul, again, looked out but when he looked back seconds later the man was no longer there. Taylor was also witness to this and they were perplexed as to where the man went as they were in an open area and the nearest trees were too far to have been reached in a few seconds. (Of course Martha returned, lest we forget "Martha My Dear" on the White Album)
They continued to talk about this incident the rest of the day and were resigned to the fact that people would assume psychedelics were involved - not the case here.
That day McCartney began working on his song "Fool On the Hill". Some months later, when he and Lennon were working on "It's Getting Better" (a phrase that came to him on another Primrose Hill walk) McCartney played John a sketch of "Fool" on the guitar. John said it was a great song and encouraged him to write it down immediately.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
I was saddened to hear that a longtime idol of mine, much beloved by all who follow Irish music, Micheal O'Domhnaill, had passed away this July ( I hadn't heard until a week ago) as the result of a fall at his home in Dublin.
Micheal was a singular guitar stylist as well as a fine singer, often in Gaelic, of little heard traditional tunes passed down from his family who hailed from the gaelic-speaking sector of Donegal.
His great gift was to accompany virtuosos such as Tommy Peoples, Paddy Keenan, Paddy Glackin, Matt Molloy, and Kevin Burke and make them sound even better. He strummed with a subtle drive that propelled the melody forward like a polyrhythmic wave rather than a steady predictable chunk-beat. His choice of chords was almost modally jazzlike - minor 11ths and 9ths derived from DADGAD tuning and others that would have bent the ear of a Ravel or Bill Evans - but it was accenting and painting the tonal backdrop of the melody of the tune that was his priority.
He was also a soft-spoken and considerate person, an excellent foil for the laconic wit of his story-telling fiddler par excellence partner of years past, Kevin Burke.
I've a very fond memory of briefly meeting Micheal back in 1980 when he and Kevin came to came to Santa Cruz Ca. on their tour of the States (they soon made Portland their home for many years).
They were to play in a church/venue that night. Sheryl, myself and our 1year old daughter Laurel were in a long line outside waiting to get in. Micheal and Kevin, themselves, came up alongside us and asked where they might find (what else?) a pub within walking distance for a quick drink and we pointed them in the right direction.
Just before the doors opened, the guys came back and they were very appreciative. Micheal said there were actual "cowboys" sitting next to them at the bar and described their attire wide-eyed as if he'd seen the Second Coming of Hopalong Cassidy.
Inside, they took to the stage and tore down the house. This audience was already hip to these guys and their former stardom with the Bothy Band (and this was way before Riverdance and other near collisions with utter Celtic schlock)and they were so taken by them it seemed they wouldn't let them go; the encore was like another show unto itself.
When we started Subterranean Jazz back in 1997 (?) I'd been thinking about improvising off of trad irish tunes for some time. In particular, I'd been greatly inspired by the jazz-like arrangement O'Domhnaill and Burke made of the slip-jig tune Promenade from the same-titled album from 1980. I fooled with merging Promenade (with different chords) and another slip-jig, Kid On the Mountain, and we all threw together a tune called The Irish Kid that made its way to our recording, Subway Sonnets; at the very least, a sapling transplant from O'Domhnaill and Burke sprouting up from the Great West home of gunfights and rugged trails.
* here is a recent recording of Micheal O'Domhnaill accompanying Paddy Glackin on fiddle found on youtube. You also get to hear a bit of gaelic spoken after and some playing from the group Altan who were also there.
* above, an early picture of Micheal (in the bright shirt at top right)
with the Bothy Band circa 1976. Kevin Burke far left, Donall Lunny, Paddy Keenan with the pipes, Matt Molloy with flute, and Micheal's sister Triona O'Domhnaill at the top.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Bud Powell's mumbles from the piano chair on Our Man In Paris are audible throughout the record and I love it. They are part of the in-the-moment risk and ABANDONEMENT that is jazz. They should be sampled, I think, and stand as art.
Though considered to be past his prime by some, hollowed-out and cast upon shores of oblivion by drugs, electro-shock, and police beatings, Bud emerges here triumphant in raw brilliance.
Francis Paudras reminisces from (again) Dance of the Infidels about this period when Dexter Gordon and Bud were staying with him in Paris:
"If we left together, we would go for long walks through the silent streets. Sometimes Dexter Gordon came with us and I can remember his warm and resonant voice echoing through the streets. he walked on one sidewalk and Bud on the other: while I took the middle of the street.
Dexter didn't speak to Bud. He sang, in a perfect imitation of Billy Eckstine's langorous vibrato. Bud laughed til he cried. We wandered aimlessly. Time didn't matter. I remember those moments as something unreal. Dexter was blessed with eternal youth. Even close to death, nothing ever eroded his natural good humor.
Bud's and Dexter's language, like their music, had a special sound, a kind of swing based on an inner tempo. They had recorded together very early. I owned the records of the Savoy sessions of January 1946, and I had listened to them until I wore out the grooves. It seemed inconceivable to see them there together, like two kids, strolling through the night."
* pictured above, Bud Powell
Dexter Gordon made this record in Paris in May of 1963, using a rhythm section that featured two American jazz legends, long since expatriated to France, pianist Bud Powell and drummer Kenny Clarke, along with the French bassist Pierre Michelot.
The first cut on the album signals the proceedings, laying out in clear terms what lies ahead so you can strap in for the ride or clear out.
After the humorous intro to Scrapple for the Apple where Dexter plays the riff from
Dragnet (? doubtless a reminder of scuffles in the Big Apple), he plays the jaunty Charlie Parker head. Here immediately; the paradox of a lighthearted but solid melody, stated by a saxophone sound that can barely contain itself within the allotted notes, breaking at the edges, and gnawing like a wild animal at the cage bars to have at it.
When the melody has been stated, and one expects the usual intricate bop lines, Dexter starts out like a sonorous taxi with the horn of a train, driving everyone from the intersection to state his case, beating/telegraphing out single notes as if to say "don't worry yet about the fancy licks, HERE IS THE SOUND and i am in LOVE with the SOUND!". Once the sound has been revealed, he proceeds to unfurl his graceful exuberant lines, and tears the tune to shreds.
Friday, October 27, 2006
Another Lester Young anecdote.....
Francis Paudras wrote Dance of the Infidels a wonderful, intimate account of his friendship with the troubled-genius bop-pianist Bud Powell. Powell lived with Paudras and his family in Paris for some time in the latter part of his life. Bernard Tavernier's film 'Round Midnight, starring tenor "saxOPHonist" Dexter Gordon as "Dale Turner", was based on Paudras' reminiscence of Powell melded together with the life of Lester Young, also a friend, who spent a great deal of time in Paris during his final years.
Paudras' has this bit about Lester in his book:
"Lester was one of those people who couldn't pronounce ten words without interjecting two or three juicy curses. People from the south of France have a reputation for swearing a lot, but even they are no match for Lester. In situations where decency compelled him to avoid such words, he would express himself by savory turns of phrase that bordered on the surreal.....
Ray Brown relates that during a bus trip with Jazz at the Philharmonic, some prankster had hidden the bottle of whiskey that Lester always kept in the overhead baggage rack. When he noticed the disappearance of his precious brew, he went through all the racks with a fine-tooth comb. Then he sat down without a word and announced in a quiet voice: 'Whoever it is who swiped my bottle, I want him to know I am an intimate friend of his mother!'"
* pictured above, Lester being serenaded by a flautist at a Paris street cafe.
* thanks to Honkytone for a soundclip of Prez playing "These Foolish Things" made after his army discharge, with Nat King Cole on piano and Buddy Rich - doubtless on elephant tranquilizer - accompanying on drums.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Got into work the other day and turned on NPR in the back room. They announced an interview coming up in an hour with Charles Frazier about his new book,
Thirteen Moons, on Diane Rhem's show.
I'd read Cold Mountain twice - a rare feat for me in these years exiled from idle youth; nowadays every hour an opportunity - or scramble - to get something done. Now his second book was out after 9 years. No freakin' way was I going to miss an interview with Frazier, so I concocted a "switch" in my work schedule which enabled me to work in the backroom and listen to the radio.
Weeks before this, strangely enough, I found out that an acre of land had come down to my cousins and I from my mother's side of the family - that lay very near Cold Mountain. My mother Leora, and her brother Hugh, had lived in a cabin there for a short time with their grandmother as kids in the 1920's.
I was pleased to hear that Frazier's speaking voice was easy on the ears and his responses as deliberated and detailed as his writing; unassuming, polite, and natural in the southernly-at-best manner. For a guy with an 8 million (!) advance on Thirteen Moons (following his success with Cold Mountain) he sounded like he would be a considerate conversationalist if you met him at a cafe. You might even hit him up for an extra shot...
The idea for Thirteen Moons came about while Frazier was working on Cold Mountain, which is primarily set in the Civil War years. While doing some research through old North Carolina newspapers circa 190O he came across an article about a white man that had recently died in an insane asylum speaking only Cherokee. Frazier put a bit about it on a notecard but left it aside as he realized it wouldn't have a place in the Cold Mountain story. Sometime later he was thinking on it and came across his notes on the same lone card buried among a number of blank cards.
This man turned out to be a historical figure known to quite a few Carolinians. Frazier adapted much of his life to serve for his main character, Will Cooper - with a dose of other stories, lore and history to alter our hero's path.
In Thirteen Moons, Will, a mere fledgling teen, is sent off (sold into service by his uncle) to run a trading post on the edge of Cherokee hill country. On the way there he finds himself in an all-night card game with drunken half-breeds, hillmen, and Cherokees. Will comes out of it having won the hand of a girl his own age from her father, a renegade Scots-Cherokee Chief. They meet alone for a few brief minutes - before William has to run for his life. What follows next is his gradual immersement in the Cherokee culture.
A page out of the book:
"On dark nights when I lay on my pallet listening to the sounds outside the window, I tried to match the names of creatures Bear had taught me to their various calls and signals. The peeps and creaks of insects and amphibians, a lone night roaming skunk or possum crashing through the bushes as loud as a family of bears or panthers. Night birds in the trees. Martens and minks and other dark-goers stepping crinkly in leaves. One word bothered me especially. 'Yunwi-giski'. Bear said it denoted a cannibal spirit, an eater of men. Bear's people had lived here since some dim elder time and knew this place with an intimacy and depth that could not be improved upon. Why would they bother having such a word if there were no such things as cannibals in the immediate vicinity? Example in point: they had a word for a hog bite. Not two words, one word. Satawa. My opinion was that if hogs are biting you so often that you have to stop and make up a specific word for it, maybe lack of a vocabulary is not your most pressing problem. The other thing that struck me is that this was a language with little interest in abstractions but of great particularity in regard to the things of the physical world. If they had a word like 'Yunwi-giski', how could there not be its physical correspondence out roaming the night woods hunting for the meat of people?"
"But at such times, it always calmed me to remember the girl with the silver bracelets, to think of her scent, the way she stepped inside my big wool coat and shivered against me. Two forlorn children finding comfort with each other. More than once I went and buried my face in the coat's lining, and every time the smell of lavender was fainter than before. As if the girl who had stood within its compass was fading from the world".
* above; a view towards Cold Mountain today.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
I had to bring my car into the "tire shop" last Sunday morning before heading off to work at the library. There wouldn't be time enough for me to hang out in the waiting room, smelling the rubber treads on display, soaking up the tv football reruns, with my head in an Us Weekly while they determined how they effed-up their tire diagnosis the first time and made amends.
There being no courtesy shuttle service from the shop, and no timely bus to catch on Sunday, I stepped outside and called a yellow cab so as to get to work in 15 minutes.
Standing there on the corner, the perennial grumble-loop that runs through my head in such situations began rolling; "...goddam glorified slurpie-slurpin suburban hick-tropolis waste of my freakin life..."
The cab pulled up and an extraordinarily ordinary gent behind the wheel who looked to be a retired hardware store owner was listening to Broadway musical selections on the radio. Turned out it was a syndicated show that ran for only two hours on Sunday
and my driver was storehouse of Broadway history and a passionate admirer, in particular, of Lerner and Loewe. I was able to throw in a bit of trivia he didn't know - that in the movie of My Fair Lady, "Freddie", Eliza's boyfriend, was played by Jeremy Brett who later became the quintessential (in my opinion) Sherlock Holmes on British mystery TV. We had a quick, exclamatory gabfest about the great Broadway composers
we loved and agreed that the output of the last 40 yrs sucked.
When I alit from the cab it was a beautiful, breezy day and there was a spring in my step.
I skipped the elevator and tap-danced backward up the stairway....
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Jimmy and I were rehearsing for an upcoming gig with our pal Daniele who is, primarily, a gypsy-jazz style player native to Italy but more recently residing in New Orleans prior to Katrina. We were talking about rhythms in Latin and New Orleans music when he mentioned that the Caribbean island of Martinique was a place where many of these styles had remained in their "original" state.
We were playing Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" that night; high up on my long-time favorite list and a favorite of jazz musicians from Django Reinhardt to Charlie Parker. After our session I was doing a little research and I was surprised to find (serendipity, baby!) that the "beguine" was a dance/rhythm originating in Martinique. The dance is described as close to a rhumba; "It is characterized by the rocking back and forth of the hips while the girl throws her arms around her partner's neck. His arms loosely clasp her about the waist. The steps have been incorporated in both the Haitian Merengue and Calypso."
During the late 20's and early thirties the beguine music and dance became a great craze in Paris where a number of black "Martiniquais" musicians had settled (Martinique being a longtime French colony). The beguine was typically played in small combos with clarinet, trombone, violins and sometimes banjo and a "shakebox" for percussion. Improvisation was a prime ingredient and this lent the music something of a New Orleans flavor.
Cole Porter wrote Begin the Beguine in 1935. The are a few differing versions of the song's origin. Here is one of his likelier takes;
"I was living in Paris at the time and somebody suggested that I go see Black Martinquois, many of whom live in Paris, do their native dance, the Beguine, in a remote nightclub on the Left Bank of the Seine. This I did quickly, and I was very much taken by the rhythm of the dance. The rhythm was that of the already popular rhumba but much faster. The moment I saw it i thought of "Begin the Beguine" as a good title for a song, and put it away in my notebook, adding a memorandum as to its rhythm and tempo...." "About 10 years later while going around the world we stopped at an island in the Lesser Sunda Islands, to the west of New Guinea...A native dance was started for us, of which the melody of the first four bars would become my song. I looked through my old notebook and found again, after ten years, my old title 'Begin the Beguine'. For some reason the melody that I heard and the phrase that I had written down seemed to marry. I developed the whole song from that."
His co-lyricist Moss Hart recalled Porter working on the tune at the piano in his cabin while sailing for the Fiji Islands. The song is an astounding 108 bars in length (!) and Hart had thought it had come to an end halfway through. However, despite its length, Hart "was much relieved that our chief love song was not to be about koala bears or a duckbilled platypus which he [Porter] had found entertaining."
"Jubilee", the Broadway show it was featured in, was a bit of a flop but "Beguine.." caught enough ears to become a tremendous hit subsequently by Artie Shaw (swing version) and all the big bands at the time.
For many, the high point of the tune's life was its placement in the Fred Astaire/Eleanor Powell film musical "Broadway Melody of 1940" where it provided the background for a famous tap-dancing routine featuring Fred and Eleanor on a mirrored floor. Paste up this link and check it out! Great stuff...(go to the bottom).
One of the interesting versions of this song was performed by Pete Townshend, who, taking a break from a rollicking good smashing of his guitar onstage, covers it on a "Happy Birthday" album (c.1969,that also features Ronnie Laine from the Small Faces) dedicated to his guru, the mystic Meher Baba, who claimed Beguine the Beguine to be his favorte tune! Those hippie survivors of the 60's may recall a card with a worn picture of Meher Baba captioned with "Don't Worry, Be Happy!" often plastered on head-shop walls and VW vans, etc.- later to be copped by Bobby McFerrin.
My own personal number-one version is that rendered by alto saxophonist Art Pepper on his mid-50's record, "The Art of Pepper" just prior to an extended prison stay (almost a decade) for narcotics. With the rhythm section laying down the perfect surf-ride, Pepper weaves in and out of the melody, positively BURNING on this cut, and just when he seems on the verge of being consumed by his own flames he returns to the gorgeous melody like a lover to the beloved...
* pictured at the top; "By the Seashore" painted by Paul Gauguin in Martinique c. 1887
just above, song sheet from "The Broadway Melody of 1940"
Saturday, September 30, 2006
Ok, now a personal rave about a musician who is QUITE UNdisintegrating and has actually made this particular KNOCK-OUT punch In One Round (cause for seein' stars, angels, boi-oi-oingin bedsprings, bells, and tweety birds circlin around the head of the floored-in-the-best-sense-of-the-word listener) record in 2004 and is still touring under the snowballing rep from it.
I'm talking about Let It Die by the chanteuse canadienne Feist otherwise known as Leslie Feist. Feist, now living in Paris, is accompanied by her musical partner, Chilly Gonzales, a veritable WIZARD of restrained electronica and together they serve up something rare. The record evidences how much can be done with the deft placement of a DJ style record scratch, or acoustic guitar juxtaposed with claps, and simple keyboard grooves that shift in shape and tone - all seducing the ear with surprise. When you find yourself at the end of the record you've been guided by a voices and whispers through a house of colored rooms accessible through sliding doors, staircases that disappear behind you, liquid mirrors, and hidden locks. You're out the back door into long grass of the yard, giving the dog a pet and ready to head back in the front door and do it all over.
This is one of those records I play in the car and then circle around the neighborhood - at a suspicious, curtain-lifting 10 miles an hour - because I don't want to get home quite yet...
Every song is an unpredictable variation of Folk-Pop-Trip-hop-R&B originals and re-workings - if you need to nail it with a label. Despite the forbidding title, Let It Die is largely a euphoric feast but no piece of fluff emotionally.
Feist has a gorgeous voice and delivery that has drawn a slew of comparisons but my first take on it was a taste of Dusty Springfield. In past musical configurations Leslie was heavy on the screaming and 'threw out' her voice. During her sabbatical from singing she practiced guitar and slowly worked her way back into - well, fuhchrissakes, you really gotta check it out!
* i like this live clip of her singing Secret Heart on youtube
Thursday, September 21, 2006
- charcoal/watercolor by Henri Matisse
"When I wake up early in the morning,
Lift my head, I'm still yawning
When I'm in the middle of a dream
Stay in bed, float up stream ......"
Up for auction at Christies a year ago, were some scribbled lines in blue felt pen on the back of a car "radio-phone" bill sent to John Lennon by the post office in April of 1966. They were to become the lyrics for "I'm Only Sleeping", a mysterious wisp of a tune which, a week or so later, commenced recording on the UK version of Revolver.
That song has always stood apart, off the beaten road, in the unmapped place. It captures that twilight sliver just between sleep and waking where the dreamer KNOWS he's dreaming and doesn't give a hang about the pressing issues of the waking world.
The only other song that Lennon wrote that gives me a similar feeling is "Julia" - not, as some might expect, "Strawberry Fields", which is really a different alteration of mind-place altogether.
In my head, the lyrics of "Julia" and "Sleeping" meet and blur as one:
"Her hair of floating sky is shimmering, glimmering,
In the sun" and
"Keeping an eye on the world going by my window
Taking my time"
become that place where the shadows of clouds on a rainy day flicker against a storefront window or puddle in the street - again, the omnibus-shuttle service between waking and dreaming.
When mentioned at all, "I'm Only Sleeping" is referred to as the song where "the backward guitar' of George Harrison makes it's debut. In the fascinating memoir of Beatle sessions by participating sound man Geoff Emerick, "Here, There, and Everywhere", much is made of the exasperatingly long time spent by Harrison getting mere 4 bars or so of guitar just right. Apparently George composed a melody, had it recorded backwards, and then learned it in its backwards form to be played "straight" on the recording. Hard to believe it's "live" in the recording but my hat's off to George for carrying it off. Any artist knows that the absorption in a creative conception, obliterates time (or sleeping, eating, and paying the phone bill as well), so 14 hrs for 20 or 30 seconds of recording is a trifle. Paul too, was caught up in the the backwards guitar bit and the resulting "duet" with George at the end of "Sleeping" is a gem - a bouquet of sonic nerve-end tendrils that suggests bagpipes, hurdy-gurdies or the South Indian shehnai.
Strangely enough for the Beatles, this song always seems on the verge of, or down-right dipped into, the realm of jazz. Paul's walking bassline (with passing tones!)and John's melody give it the lilt of swing. I spent a long walk thinking of an ideal "put-together" jazz quartet to do the song justice - with as little "alteration" as possible; no diminution of the melody by bullshit jazz cliches, just cool and crisp blowing with a sense of breathing space. I'd have Miles Davis circa 1954 on muted trumpet (ala Solar or If I Were A bell) - or maybe Tony Fruscella on straight trumpet - then Jimmy Jones on piano (Sarah Vaughn's brilliant accompaniment for many years) and a straight-forward but swinging rhythm section; Percy Heath on bass and Conny Kay on drums.
"Please don't wake me, no
don't shake me
Leave me where I am
I'm only sleeping
Everybody seems to think I'm lazy
I don't mind, I think they're crazy
Running everywhere at such a speed
Till they find, there's no need
Please don't spoil my day
I'm miles away
And after all
I'm only sleeping
Keeping an eye on the world going by my window
Taking my time
Lying there and staring at the ceiling
Waiting for a sleepy feeling
Please don't spoil my day
I'm miles away
And after all
I'm only sleeping
Keeping an eye on the world going by my window
Taking my time
When I wake up early in the morning,
Lift my head, I'm still yawning
When I'm in the middle of a dream
Stay in bed, float up stream
Please don't wake me, no
don't shake me
Leave me where I am
I'm only sleeping"
- John and music critic Ralph Gleason in 1966
*thanks to Jimmy and Steve for mention of Geoff Emerick's "Here There and Everywhere"
- also of interest to UK "Revolver" fans:
"Every Sound There Is" edited by Russell Reising - a compilation of writings about the "Revolver" sessions.
Monday, September 18, 2006
since poetry is the only nightclub
where anything can happen
let's take a look at it
if you go to the right you're wrong
if you go left you're incorrect
if you go straight you're a fool
poetry is a swimming pool
no it's a diving board
this drink is so good I could dive right into it
you've got to avoid
......................the ice cube
- Howard Hart from "The Sky of Orange Whispers"
mentored by kenny clarke
left for paris in '46 and met django
who asked him to audition but howard let it slip as
he found baudelaire's flowers of evil at a kiosk by the seine and wasted the hours
in epiphany then and there poetry was as important to him as music
returned to nyc in 47 studied composition with mills and bernstein
hung with charlie parker and delmore schwartz
roomed with and read alongside kerouac and lamantia
blew some wigs
shuttled twixt coasts
passed through worlds in 2002
over to the other side
Howard Hart wrote poems of unusual subtlety and color and I'm having trouble putting down
"The Sky of Orange Whispers" which is in a slender pocket-size volume that i take everywhere
amazon.com and your local inter-library loan to get hold of his others
Sunday, September 17, 2006
late in the game photo of poets Howard Hart and Bob Kaufman in the basement of City Lights Bookstore circa 1980
Howard Hart and Bob Kaufman were the among last unsung poets influenced by jazz idiom and cadence. They were contemporary with the likes of Jack Kerouac and Ted Joans back in the 50's and migrated from New York to longtime residency on the "Left Coast", North Beach, San Francisco.
Bob Kaufman, in particular, was steeped beyond the others in the sound of jazz. "Crootey Songo" featured "meaningless" words created as one would blow a jazz solo over a rhythm section; not the "oobie-doobie la wah doo-bah" of scat singers but more along the lines of;
DEEREDITION, BOOMEDITION, SQUOM, SQUOM, SQUOM.
DEE BEETSTRAWIST, WAPAGO, LOCOEST, LOCORO, LO.
VOOMETEYEREEPETIOP, BOP, BOP, BOP, WHIPOLAT.
However most of his poems were accessible and spoke immediately to the listener/reader;
I climb a red thread
To an unseen existence
Broken free, somewhere,
Beyond the belts.
Ticks have abandoned
My astonished time.
The air littered
with demolished hours.
I become a ray
From the sun
Deflected into hungry windows
Boomerang of curved light
Ricocheted off dark walls
The ceiling remembers my face
The floor is a palate of surprise
Watching me eat the calendar
(from a Kaufman compilation called "Golden Sardine" supposedly found on brown wrapping paper rolled up and found in his room)
Kaufman was born in New Orleans of mixed heritage. Touring the world as a merchant seaman he ended up in NYC and then San Francisco where he became a mainstay on the North Beach poetry scene. Styling himself a Buddhist and incapable of self-promotion, he
performed his poetry from memory and only reluctantly, on his wife's insistence, wrote anything down. His most famous haunt was the Co-Existence Bagel Shop on Grant Street where devotees would flock in the hopes he would show for an extemporaneous "reading".
He became more reclusive as the 60's ended; taking a vow of silence during the War - although friends would point out, with some levity, that he would break it occasionally to ask "Got any speed?"
Worn down and ailing from years of drug addiction, police confrontation, and shock therapy, Bob passed away in San Francisco Jan 12, 1986.
Though he was published by New Directions and City Lights, respected and held in awe by his peers, "the hidden master of the beats" never quite fit in to the beat movement or any any movement - an individual to the last;
'...i know of a place in between between, behind behind, in front of front, below below, above above, inside inside, outside outside, close to close, far from far, much farther than far, much closer than close, another side of an other side...it lies out on the far side of music...that darkling plane of light on the other side of time...it begins at the bitter ends..."
Bob Kaufman in younger days
* thanks to dear pal Sarah of Waterville for sending me some Kaufman just when the soul needed it most!
check out Bob Kaufman's poetry books:
Solitudes Crowded With Loneliness
Friday, September 15, 2006
A strange happenstance in the story of European language that continues to fascinate me and 12 other odd souls in the world;
The division of the Celtic Languages into those who will use a "P" sound for the same word that another Celt will use the "Q" (or more modernly expressed hard "C" sound).
So, on the P team we have the Welsh, the Bretons, and in days gone past; the Cornish, Cumbrians, the Gauls (for the most part), the Lepontic Celts (Northern italy) and a few other stragglers. The Picts in Scotland are thought to have spoken a Pre-Celtic language that was later melded with. or superseded by, a P-Celtic dialect
On the Q Team we have the Irish, the Scots, the Manx, and in days gone by; the Celtiberians of Spain - now represented by the Galicians, Asturians, and to some extent, the Portuguese (presently, respectfully, speaking dialects of Spanish and Portuguese influenced by their former Celtic tongues).
as an example;
four and five in Welsh are "pedwar" and "pump"
in Irish they are "ceathair" and "cuig"
son in Welsh is "map"
in Irish it's "mac'
"head" or "headland" in Welsh is "Pen" - thus a large number of place names beginning wwith "Pen"
in Irish it's "Ceann" - ausually anglicized into "Ken" or "Kin" (thus Kenmore and Kintyre, etc.)
.....and so it goes. No one knows for sure how, why, and when the division began.
What is even more interesting is that a similar division occured within the Italic languages (Latin was a "Q" language and the long-gone Oscan-Umbrian languages "P").
The division was also evident between Latin and Greek. Thus prefixes for five derived from Greek use "penta-" (ie. pentagon, pentacle) while Latin uses "quinta-" (think of quintuplets and quincunx).
There is some postulation that the P-Celts on continental Europe lived in areas near the P-group Italics and Hellenics and there was some exchange of language pattern.
We know from Pre-Roman inscriptions that the Celtiberians of Spain spoke a Q-celtic language and this may give credence to the ancient Irish oral tradition that claims a major Celtic settlement via the sea from Northern Spain some 2500 or more years ago. A friend of ours from Galicia is fond in pointing out that her family could easily pass for Irish.
* now, for an almost unrelated diversion; I've heard it said that some scholars claim that "the eeney, meeny, miney, moe" of "catch a tiger by the toe" is derived from the Pre-Celtic language of Britain. Then there is the old language of the tinkers in Ireland and Scotland...
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Epistle To Derroll - Donovan
Come all ye starry starfish
living in the deep blue sea
crawl to me i have proposition to make thee
would you walk the north sea floor
to Belgium from England
Bring me word of a banjo man
With a tattoo on his hand.
The spokesman of the starfish
spoke as spokesman should
"If’n you met our fee then
certainly we would,
If you cast a looking-glass
upon the scallopped sand
You'll have word o' this banjo man
with a tattoo on his hand."
"Come ye starry starfish
I know your ways are caped
maybe its because your astrologically shaped,
Converse with the herring shoals
as I know you can
Bring me word o' the banjo man
with a tattoo on his hand."
The eldest of the starfish
spoke, after a sigh,
"Youthfull as you are young man
you have a 'Wisdom Eye';
Surely you must know a looking-glass
is made from sand?
These youngfish are fooling you
about this banjo man."
"Come then aged starfish
Riddle me no more,
for news I am weary
and my heart is sore;
All on the silent seashore,
help me if you can,
Tell to me if you know
of this banjo man."
"All through the seven oceans
I am a star, most famed,
Many 'leggys' have I lost
and many have I gained,
Strange to say quite recently
I've been to Flemish Land
And if you are courteous
I'll tell you all I can."
"You have my full attention"
I answered him with glee,
His brother stars were twinkling
in the sky above the sea
So I sat there with rapt
attention, on the sand,
very anxious for to hear
of the banjo man.
"I have seen this tattooed hand
through a ship port-hole,
Steaming on the watery main
through the waves so cold,
Heard his tinkling banjo and
his voice so grand
but you must come to Belgium
to shake his tattooed hand."
"Gladly would I come oh
gladly would I go,
Had I not my work to do
and my face to show,
I rejoice to know he's well
but I must go inland,
thank you for the words you brought
of the banjo man."
I walked along the evening sand
as charcoal clouds did shift
revealing the moon shining
on the pebble drift
Contemplating every other word
the starfish said
whistly winds they filled my dreams
in my dreaming bed.
(below, a little about the man behind my favorite Donovan song - off of "For Little Ones" in 1967)
Derroll Adams was one of those peripheral legends whose name was threaded in and out of the music and commentary of some of the musical idols who really turned me around to playing and composing (yes, even in the jazz realm)- notably Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, and Donovan Leitch.
Derroll came over to Britain in the 1950's on tour with his pal Ramblin Jack Elliot -and together they really had an impact on the British folk scene.
Derroll wrote a famous song much covered in the folk world "Portland Town". He had a deep singing voice, a magnetic stage presence, and a simple but original, "up-picking" banjo-style that even guitarists like Donovan and Bert Jansch were drawn to and incorporated into their guitar styles. On his 2nd record, Bert Jansch actually recorded his only solo banjo tune, "900 Miles", which he learned from Derroll.
Derroll remained in Britain throughout the 60's and 'retired' with occasional appearances to Antwerp, Belgium where he lived til his death on Feb 2,2000.
* kind readers -as someone said, Derroll's life reads like a full-length Wallace Stegner novel - and i wouldn't know where to begin to pick up all the bits and pieces.
here are some nice links.
A must-see video clip of another legend, English guitarist/ singer Wizz Jones singing and playing (with a bit of Derroll's influence on guitar) a tribute to Mr. Adams
a simple and affecting song "The Man with the Banjo"
The site of the incredible Belgian blues and roots musician Hans Theessink featuring plenty of great pictures of Derroll Adams. Hans contributes some great renditions to "Banjoman: A tribute to Derroll Adams" which also features Arlo Guthrie, Donovan, Ralph McTell, and even Dolly Parton among other luminaries!
discussion and soundclips regarding Derroll's banjo style and songs.
...is currently under revision; as I remember seeing it many months ago, very impressive.
* special thanks to Hans Theessink for the picture off Derroll and his "tattooed hand" featured above
Sunday, September 03, 2006
In the 1840's, the Hotel de Lauzun, on the Ile de St Louis in the heart of Paris, rented out rooms to the Club De Hashiscins. The Hashischins counted among their members some the most respected novelists, painters and poets of Paris of the time.
Theophile Gautier, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Gerard de Nerval, Eugene Delacroix were regulars but Gustave Flaubert and Balzac dropped by.
Charles Baudelaire was the most notorious member, although he was not a frequent "paricipant" he rented an apartment in the building and worked on his famous "Artificial Paradises" book which described (more from observation and conversations with the "Club" members than his own experience) the effects of hashish intoxication.
Gautier recounts his initial experience at the Hotel:
"One December evening..I arrived in a remote quarter in the middle of Paris, a kind of solitary oasis which the river encircles in its arms on both sides as though to defend it against the encroachments of civilisation. It was an old house on the Isle the Ile De St.Louis the Pimodan hotel built by Lauzun..."
Gautier comes to room where, "several human shapes were stirring about a table, and as soon as the light reached me and I was recognised, a vigorous shout shook the sonorous depths of the ancient edifice. 'It's he! It's he!' cried some voices together; 'let's give him his due!' "
In their rooms at the hotel, the "Club" would don Arab clothing. Before dinner they would drink a strong coffee laced with hashish. Called 'dawamesk" by the Arabs, this concoction, featured a mixture of hashish, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, pistachio, sugar, orange juice, butter and cantharides. Hash smokers must take note that in this "paste" form the drug was far more potent.
"The doctor (Jean-Jacques Moreau, a founding member)stood by a buffet on which lay a platter filled with small Japanese saucers. He spooned a morsel of paste or greenish jam about as large as a thumb from a crystal vase, and placed it next to the silver spoon on each saucer. The doctor's face radiated enthusiasm; his eyes glittered, his purple cheeks were aglow, the veins in his temples stood out strongly, and he breathed heavily through dilated nostrils. 'This will be deducted from your share in Paradise,' he said as he handed me my portion..."
Dinner follows and then the hashish begins to take effect. Gautier notices the others appear "somewhat strange. Their pupils became big as a screech owl's; their noses stretched into elongated probosces; their mouths expanded like bell bottoms. Faces were shaded in supernatural light....a deadening warmth pervaded my limbs, and dementia, like a wave which breaks foaming on to a rock, then withdraws to break again, invaded and left my brain, finally enveloping it altogether. That strange visitor, hallucination, had come to dwell within me."
What then transpires in each of the participant would depend on whom one asks...
Baudelaire introduces his comments in Les Paradises Artificiel by what now appears to be common knowledge, that the hasheesh eater "
will find in hashish nothing miraculous, absolutely nothing but an exaggeration of the natural. The brain and organism on which hashish operates will produce only the normal phenomena peculiar to that individual - increased, admittedly, in number and force, but always faithful to the original."
Baudelaire's personal experience was fascinating and otherworldly but ultimately nightmarish, as if he had been reading nothing but Poe for a decade.
Balzac, who claimed to have heard celestial voices and beheld divine paintings remained a loyal unadulterated coffee-fiend: he was known to drink 20 or more cups a day.
Gautier's love affair with the drug was short-lived, and he quit "after trying it some ten times or so,... not that it hurt me physically, but because a real writer needs no other than his own natural dreams, and does not care to have his thought controlled by the influence of any agency whatever."
Amen to that!
..and yet, wouldn't I like to venture down to the local time-travel rental on a foggy evening, tear out of the 21st century lot, and make my way (my vehicle now transformed to a horse and carriage), down the avenue Quai d'Anjou to number 7, the Hotel de Lauzun, adjusting my fez as I wend up the staircase and take a corner chair in the dark? Sipping on strong coffee, of course...
* thanks to the ever-eloquent persephone2u for reacqainting me with Baudelaire and De Quincey.
Saturday, August 26, 2006
beauty is a shell
from the sea
where she rules triumphant
till love has had its way with her
sculptured to the
tune of retreating waves
the ear and the eye lie
down together in the same bed
The standard ballad “Body and Soul” has long been a common musical podium where jazz improvisers step up to make their own signature testament – not necessarily with that intent, but certainly with an awareness of the different takes on it that have come before.
My personal favorite is baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff’s version from his “Boston Blow Up” record. As I see it, Hawkins, Rollins, Coltrane and the rest need to step aside for this one.
Chaloff’s statement; alternatively tender, raw and harrowing – like someone suddenly overcome with memories of a love affair long put aside in the interest of “carrying on”.
Serge stood apart from other baritonists (ie. Mulligan, Pepper Adams, Cecil Payne etc.) in that he consistently chose to play the full range of the instrument high to low. The varying textures in different registers give drama to the change in dynamics and emotion in his “story line”.
There are times when he moves too suddenly from a gentle line to a harsh, blasted note. Having heard this version a thousand times over 30 odd years, I now anticipate it and prepare myself, but in the totality of the song it makes perfect sense – it almost breaks from “music” and becomes a voiced, unpremeditated confession.
Serge tops off his masterpiece, ending the with a short a cappella cadenza: he descends deftly down a stony stairway after having made his statement on the windy heights and jumps headlong into the bottom Bb – disappearing into a jazz eternal night, leaving naught but the ripples.
(did I just say that?)
* 2 landmark records of Serge have been released in one cd package by Definitive records out of Spain: his masterpiece, Blue Serge – with Sonny Clark, Philly Joe Jones, and Leroy Vinnegar; together with Boston Blow Up (with a stellar cast of Boston bebop players of the time), not as great in its totality but worth it just for Body and Soul
Friday, August 18, 2006
Nine Liverpool Streets
Nine Emanations of Favorite Byrds Tune
She Don’t Care
She Don’t Care About
She Don’t Care About Time
.......Don't Care About Time
................Care About Time
Nine North Carolina Rivers
Great Pee Dee
* pictured above; liverpool ladies cleaning doorsteps, 1954
and graffiti from Bologna, Italy - photo by Aly Artusio-Glimpse
Thursday, August 17, 2006
An apt-titled record if there ever was one...but not only in the,"If you remember the 60's you weren't there" sense you might think.
The solo album of David Crosby from 1970-71 still cycles round to my playing lists after lengthy sojourns, like a long-lost friend who travels the world. No amount of obligatory prattle about Crosby's personal-life excesses will budge me an iota from marvel at his musical accomplishments here. In homage to Crosby, who just had a 65th birthday a few days ago, I recall the aphorism of some grizzled Indian seer, "What cares the lion about the croaking of frogs?"
The review of the record by a fan like Scotty Ryan leaves me laughing but eloquently strikes a chord;
"If every speck of weed were to disappear from the planet tomorrow, it would still be possible to get stoned just from this CD. (Strictly speaking, you wouldn't even have to listen to it; you could pick up a contact high just from holding it in your hand.)"
"If the first thirty seconds of "Tamalpais High (At About Three) doesn't leave you stunned and transfixed, then you and I aren't from the same home planet -- and I don't especially want to visit yours."
Now, I might tarry a little longer on some of these planets than Scotty but...
In the spirit of the proceedings I might add, taking first a swig from my own poteen, "In the last 30 seconds of 'Song Without Words' the Guitars of Garcia, Kaukonen, Crosby, and Casady, gently collide and collapse into harmonic shards...there is a silent pause and then the
acapella voices of "Orleans" knead the already realigned cranium into starry-eyed humility. If this doesn't move you, I'll be the first to put a dollar in the jar for your soul transplant."
The record was produced by Stephen Barncard at Wally Heider Studios in San Francisco, while he was simultaneously working "American Beauty" with the Dead. Barncard still speaks with amazement at the focus and inspiration of Crosby at these sessions, but his own contribution - free of the later over-kill of 70's rock/pop records - really makes for a sonic milestone.
"If I Only..." has a cast of thousands of Cosby's musician friends, but the steady- core group that really gives the record its character consists of Crosby on guitars and vocals (sometimes harmonizing with himself), Garcia on lead guitar and pedal steel, Lesh on bass, and Kreutzmann on drums (all from the Grateful Dead), with the addition of Jorma Kaukonen sharing the leads with Jerry, and, also from the soon to dissolve Airplane, the great Jack Casady on bass.
The stellar cast doesn't crowd and jostle the proceedings, which are far more intimate and elegant than the works of their "home" bands. What I would've given to see this ensemble make a few more records.
Master-touches of the session:
Garcia's understated but majestic pedal steel solo on "Laughing" - enhanced seamlessly by Barncard's sound chamber.
The harp and (?) dulcimer of Laurie Allan weaving around Crosby's vocals and guitar on "Traction in the Rain"
The chordal vocal harmonies of Crosby and occasionally Nash on "Tamalpais High", "Song Without Words", the title track at the end, and "Orleans" - the borrowed french folk-song melody sung in french - which turns out to be a mere list of cathedrals....(some residual memory of the Byrds and "Bells of Rhymney"?)
The idosyncratic guitar tuning that Crosby uses on "Tamalpais.." and "Song.." - EBDGAD - the same which lent uneathly beauty to "Guinnevere" on the 1st CSNY session.
Last but not least, Crosby's use of silence to great effect. An oft-forgotten musical
* thanks to Scotty for his kind permission to use his quotes
Monday, August 14, 2006
Back in the wayback I hardly gave a wink at Raoul Dufy's paintings. I'd take a peripheral glance and decide that they were just naive, superficial cottony fluff that must have dashed off his brush while he was mincing about in his pajamas and munching on a pink ice cream bon-bon.
Some time later, in the early 80's I saw quirky movie shot in black and white with some surrealistic premise. Now I don't remember the name of it but I do recall Bill Murray had a cameo role as a bus driver who(don't ask me how) took tourists on a jaunt to the moon. One of the main characters was a young artist who was obsessed with Raoul Dufy. Somehow this got me round to looking a little closer at Dufy's work and i wasn't displeased. But, I didn't pursue it further.
(By the way, if anyone out there has seen this movie and knows the name, I'd be grateful if you'd let me know because I've scoured cinephile brains in vain)
Then about 4 years ago I saw a major collection of diverse painters at the Phoenix Art Museum - when I came into the room with the large Raoul Dufy painting of his studio, I was transfixed and had to continually return and bathe in the holy light of it.
Then and there he finally reached me - the lines and colors were so simple but filled with grace and light like a breeze from another planet.
So what does Jean Dufy have to do with it? Well, I kind of blundered across some of Jean's paintings while looking through a catalog of Raoul's. Of course Jean was a younger brother of Raoul and he revered him as a master teacher - among others - and, at first glance there is little to distinguish Jean's paintings from Raoul's. After awhile, a subtle difference can be seen.
Interestingly, though Raoul's paintings were often musically inspired Jean actually was a musician; he played classical guitar and jazz bass.
So in honor, of guitarists, jazz bassists, painters, and - perhaps - lovers of pink ice cream bon-bons, I dedicate this blog to the littler-known Jean Dufy.
Jean and one of his paintings above....
Sunday, August 13, 2006
Edith Piaf's La Vie En Rose is a song that has been popular long enough, far and wide enough, to be a cliche and fodder for amusing parody, while retaining the soul to still sneak up, unsuspected, at just the right moment and pierce the heart.
For the French who lived through the German Occupation Edith Piaf songs have a special emotional pull because of her efforts to help the Resistance and prisoners of war.
Edith Piaf was essentially a child of the streets, rising up from a near homeless existence, singing as a sideshow to her sidewalk-acrobat father. She managed to educate herself, reading on the fly, amid a torrid, mixed-up life. When she died in 1963 "her funeral procession drew hundreds of thousands of mourners onto the streets of Paris and the ceremony at the cemetery was jammed with more than forty thousand fans. Charles Aznavour recalled that Piaf's funeral procession was the only time, since the end of World War II, that Parisian traffic came to a complete stop."
So it is doubly affecting to note that, basically, she herself came up with the melody and lyrics.
Many Americans have only heard the English version of the lyrics, as sung by Louis Armstrong and others:
"Hold me close and hold me fast
The magic spell you cast
This is la vie en rose...." and so on
Actually the original lyrics are quite different, though similar in sentiment.
Here is the begiining of the French/Piaf version - the intro in the first paragraph and the familar melody beginning with "Quand.."- and a very literal English translation after:
Des yeux qui font baisser les miens
Un rire qui se perd sur sa bouche
Voilà le portrait sans retouches
De l'homme auquel j'appartiens
Quand il me prend dans ses bras
Il me parle tout bas
Je vois la vie en rose
Il me dit des mots d'amour
Des mots de tous les jours
Et ça m'fait quelque chose
The eyes that make mine lower
A laughter that gets lost on his mouth
There is the portrait unretouched
Of the man I belong to
When he takes me in his arms
He speaks to me low
I see life in pink
He tells me words of love
The every day words
And that made me something
* at the top, Raoul Dufy's painting "La vie En Rose"
Thursday, August 10, 2006
We came to the Italian hill town/city of Orvieto in western Umbria on our jaunt to the coast. It was one of the "unscheduled" delights of the trip - winding medieval streets with walls bedecked with flowers, shops, bars, bookstores, restaurants, young people dressed in everything from solid colors, punkish, scarved, or neo-hippie threads all in an an unassumingly elegant styl, (sprezzatura, again);everywhere friendly laid-back people, patient with my earnest but creaky italian, who went out of their way to guide and give directions.
Beneath the city, dating from Etruscan times, lies a "subterranean city", a staggering maze of paths, cellars, grottos and shelters, carved from the resilient volcanic tufa stone that is the base of the town's buildings.
We left with a contented mellow buzz, reflecting, even now, on our luck. As we left we gazed back at Orvieto from a distance through the rolling hills of fruit trees and cypresses, looking like a town from a fairy-tale, nestled outside of time, high on the steep cliffs.
It was only after we got back to Arizona that I found out that Orvieto was a Slow City , one of some 50-plus Italian cities belonging to the "Citta Slow" movement. The Cittaslow grew out of the "Slow Food" movement which still thrives and was, essentially, a reaction against the burgeoning fast food "americanisation" of Europe. Cittaslow encourages an appreciation of the individuality of place rather than quick-fix global, corporate, sameness running roughshod over the unsuspecting. At the same time, it acknowledges the use of 'green' technologies and does not intend to step aside from the modern world and turn these towns into quaint tourist museums.
Quoting an article from The New Internationalist magazine Mar 2002,
"The Slow city program involves enlarging parks and squares and making them greener, outlawing car alarms and other noises that disturb the peace, and eliminating ugly TV aerials, advertising posters and neon signs.
Other priorities include the use of recycling, alternative energy sources and ecological transportation systems. The movement rejects the notion that it is anti-progress and holds that technologies can be employed to improve the quality of life and natural urban environment."
Of course "indigenous" traditional crafts, and cuisines are encouraged, and support of local growers.
Though obviously a tourist draw, these cities are managing to use the influx to benefit the continuity of local culture. Many younger 'exiles" of these towns are returning to work in the revived economy. If anything, a shortage of available workers has been a concern.
There are still a lot of kinks to work out but the movement seems to be gaining ground, slowly...
for more info on Cittaslow;
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Saw the movie "Joe Gould's Secret" last night (with Ian Holm as Joe), the homeless NY writer of "The Oral History of the World". There's a great scene in the movie where Joe and Joe Mitchell from the New Yorker magazine enter a Greenwhich Village poetry reading. When the proprietor sees Joe enter, he mutters in disgust something about Joe, "..only coming in for the food". A rather stodgy elderly woman is droning on with a reading as Joe is in the rear, back turned from the podium, scarfing up a storm at the snack table, mumbling disparaging remarks in between bites. Joe's running chatter grows more disruptive; pandemonium ensues as the proprietor and outraged patrons try to usher Joe out the door. Joe breaks free and runs to the front of the room. "I HAVE A POEM!" Things seem to quiet a bit, as people stare in disbelief....
In the winter
I'm a buddhist
In the summer
I'm a nudist!
(actual picture of Joe above)
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Found a Lester Young story i hadn't heard in the (updated) Jazz Anecdotes: Second Time Around by (bassist) Bill Crow - published by Oxford University Press -
Lester went into a jazz club to hear some friends play. He didn't bring
his saxophone. He just wanted to listen. he intentionally sat in a dark
part of the room, hoping not to be recognized, but someone noticed him
and he heard them whispering, "Wow, that's Lester Young!""Maybe we can
get him to sit in!" Lester leaned over to the table and whispered,
"i don't dig being dug while I'm digging."
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Pete Browning was Tod Browning's uncle. Neither seemed to have any relation to the poet Robert Browning - that would've been too much on the odd juxtapositions meter.
Pete Browning was one of the greatest batters in 19th century baseball. He had a lifetime batting average of .341 - the 4th highest of any righthander in history. More famously - though there is some dispute about it - Ol' Pete was known as the original "Louisville Slugger". His moniker adorns the most famous type of bat in baseball, made by Hillerich and Bradsby. Pete gave Biblical names to his bats and "retired' them when he felt they'd exhausted all the hits fate had allotted them - only fitting that baseball's most famous bat was initially (it is conjectured) made for him.
Pete was not "running on the beaten path" shall we say...a severe case of mastoiditis left him almost entirely deaf since childhood. This condition indirectly lead to pain-numbing alcoholism (a flask of whiskey habitually tucked in his baseball jersey, and one local paper continually addressed him as "Pietro Redlight District Distellery Interests Browning"), a reputation as a bumbling fielder, and the adoption of a defensive position that involved standing on one foot and sticking the other outward in the air - Monty Python Ministry of Silly Stances? No, he was defending himself against oncoming runners or fielders whom he wouldn't hear.
Now on to the nephew, Tod Browning (pictured at the top, and note the Browning ear similarities), who lived 2 houses down from Pete in Louisville.
Under the spell of a "side-show queen" Tod left home to join the carnival and shine in such roles as the Hypnotic Living Corpse - he was put in a trance and "buried alive' on the carnival grounds to be miraculously disinterred 3 days later. From there it was on to vaudeville, movie-acting, and finally, behind the camera, as an assistant to D.W.Griffith. He struck out on his own and teamed up with Lon Chaney, "the Man of a Thousand Faces", to make a series of bizarre and incomparable films - long on improbable plots and high on the atmospheric. The Unholy Three,West of Zanzibar, and The Blackbird are still raved about in silent film circles.
If Tod Browning is remembered by J.Q.Public at all today it is as the director and creative force behind Dracula(with Bela Lugosi) and Freaks (which was altered to be a more of a "horror" film than he intended, by the studio heads).
I don my rose-colored spectacles, and like to remember Tod as the nephew of Ol' Pete and I imagine they tossed a few balls around and shared some stories. Of course there's no record of it....
Monday, July 24, 2006
Came across an article in an Utne Reader about the early, pre-hippie days of LSD research.
Psychiatrist Oscar Janiger was funded by the Sandoz Corp. to administer the drug to a variety of personages in the Los Angeles area in the late fifties and report back their experiences. Among a fair assortment of artists, writers, and performers selected for the "sessions" was the great -attempting here to describe the ineffable-"beat monologist/comedian" Lord Buckley.
After his first "trip", Buckley reported the effect in relation to events of the following day: (some familiarity with the singular voice and countenance of Buckley is proper requisite for full impact of this vignette)
"I was opened up to the beauty in people who had never seemed beautiful before. The next morning at the Pancake House, I walked up and bowed to four nuns. I had never spoken to nuns before - i couldn't penetrate their cloak of reverence. I walked up to them, and loved them, and they were sure I owned the place, and gave me their orders for breakfast. When the waiter came and I sat down at my table, it shook them.
But i spoke to them again and told them i saw them as Sisters of Beauty. They tittered and giggled and blushed, well-pleased."
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
I just stumbled across a very cool record, "Balance" by singer/songwriter, Sara Tavares. Sara is from Portugal hailing from second generation Cape Verdean immigrants. Her music is a mix of Cape Verde and Portuguese styles with the modern sounds of Soul, Bossa Nova, and Funk. Very gentle, but it kicks.
Check out the nice little videoclip of Sara doing the title track at
(scroll down to the bottom of the page)
Sunday, July 16, 2006
Ok, a break from my Italy raves -
Here are my top song rotations for the last 2 Weeks;
I'm Waiting For the Man - Velvet Underground from
The Velvet Underground & Nico 1967 -
I gotta hear this one continuously. Wish the whole record was like this,; I'm guessing this cut in particular was an influence over many.
Night and Day - Joe Henderson from Inner Urge -
Joe is really talking through the horn here and playing the tune in a lower key (sonorous for him) than normal. Exquisite Elvin jones laying down the carpet. Its rare carpet from the Mountains of the Moon.
With A Song In My Heart and Time On My Hands -
from Sonny Rollins (various titles) 1951 -
I live with this record ALL year round; these 2 tunes in particular. Sonny's sound and feeling here are like bread, water, air, rain...and wine.
Bruce Cockburn; The Instrumentals -
A friend compiled this for me. Cockburn has a great original guitar style and is always a delightful surprise.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
The Tarot Garden of Niki De Saint-Phalle lies just off the coast of Tuscany in a wooded area connected to an old quarry.
Niki De Saint-Phalle was initially inspired by the Park Guell of Gaudi in Barcelona which she visited as a child, as well as the fabulous garden of Bomarzo outside of Rome. With the help of many artisans and laborers from around the world, Niki spent 18 years planning and constructing the sculptures of the Garden - basing them on figures of the Tarot. For a time she lived inside of the giant Empress figure - known also as the Sphinx - designing and supervising construction. Her husband, the artist Jean Tinguely, assisted with much of the work and built kinetic sculptures that are motion activated by your strolls in their proximity.
The Garden was must-see goal of our trip to Italy and we drove many miles from Assisi to see it one day. We stopped in the old Umbrian hill-town of Orvieto on the way and, as the hours drifted by, we realized we were "cutting it close"! It was almost 7pm when we made it to the coast and, after despairing of finding the place at all, we arrived at the Garden parking lot nestled in at the end of a country lane. I bounded up the hill and jumped for joy to see that we still had a half-hour before closing!
To visit the website of the Tarot Garden, go to www.nikidesaintphalle.com
There are many books on the work and life of Niki. Notably, Niki De Saint Phalle:
My Art, My Dreams an autobiography with assistance by Carla Schulz-Hoffman, and
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Summer in Venice took me quite by surprise. I thought I'd been there enough in my mind after a lifetime of cliched gondola-and-canal imagery. It wasn't like that. I was surprised that the anomalous beauty of the place almost made me forget the hordes of summer tourists.
The buildings and bridges in winding pathways and along the water lie suspended between forms finely crafted in simple lines or oriental arabesques by human hand - in an array of colors never repeating - and patterns of time and decay making a meal of the material world. This, set against the milky green canals and the lagoon, turning different shades by the hour.
In his "The City of Falling Angels", John Behrendt captures arrival there in a nutshell:
"I had been to Venice a dozen times or more, having fallen under its spell when I first caught sight of it twenty years before - a city of domes and bell towers, floating hazily in the distance, topped here and there by a marble saint or a gilded angel."
"On this latest trip, as always, I made my approach by water taxi. The boat slowed as we drew near; then it slipped into the shaded closeness of a small canal. Moving at an almost stately pace, we glided past overhanging balconies and weatherworn stone figures set into crumbling brick and stucco. I looked up through open windows and caught glimpses of painted ceilings and glass chandeliers. I heard fleeting bits of music and conversation, but no honking of horns, no squealing of brakes, and no motors other than the muffled churning of our own.
People walked over footbridges as we passed underneath, and the backwash from our boat splashed on moss-covered steps leading down into the canal. That twenty minute boat-ride had become a much-anticipated rite of passage, transporting me three miles across the lagoon and five hundred to a thousand years back in time."
Friday, July 07, 2006
Me in front of a poster of Lyda Borelli (aforementoned Italian silent film actress) in the Piazza Maggiore, Bologna c. June 19.
I may look pensive - wandering down a philosophical backroad - but what i'm really thinking is, "I reckon I'd like to have some more of them fried fritters."
While in Italy I was reading "The Lost Painting" by Jonathan Harr. It's a true story presented as an "art detective-style" thriller (if such things thrill you) centering on a painting of Caravaggio's thought to be lost, "The Taking of Christ". I finished the book on the plane from Venice to JFK and, fittingly, "lost" it somewhere along with a journal I'd kept - probably in those damn pocket-pouch things that swallows up my stuff. (It was one of those "couldn't put it down, but when i did....." books)
Only in recent years has Caravaggio achieved his placement high up in the pantheon of classic Italian painters along with Raphael, Da Vinci, Botticelli, Titian, Michelangelo et al.
His neglect for centuries is due partially to the unconventional subject matter and style of his paintings. Though he was paid stupendous sums by his patrons, late renaissance and early baroque Italian art critics were not ready for him. It fell to the Dutch painters of the 17th century to carry his torch. Many appreciated and adapted his chiaroscuro, and dramatic natural style; most notably Rembrandt, through his teacher Peter Lastman.
During his lifetime and soon after his death Caravaggio was condemned for using prostitutes and street people as models. His combative personality was another strike against him.
Caravaggio left very little in the way of documentation about his personal life. After hearing the documented quotes of artists writing to their patrons, ie "I have completed the 10 cherubs on the border and, as you desired, included the gold leaf inlay on the robes..." - I take perverse enjoyment in relishing one of the few quotes attributed to Caravaggio. Apparently he was accosted by police for a carrying a dagger and sword. After presentiing his permit for them, he shot back in Italian, "Ti ho un culo!" - "Shove it up your ass!".
Thursday, July 06, 2006
Sent my friend, poet David Chorlton, a postcard from Bologna, Italy after i visited the Museum of painter Giorgio Morandi there 2 weeks ago. Early yesterday morning, having returned to Phoenix, I heard something drop in the mailbox and found this poem hand-delivered from David...
Postcard from Bologna
with thanks to Tom
A postcard arrives from the province of Morandi
whose borders are the walls
of the room with a population of one
and whose army consists of bottles
standing to attention in coats of grey paint
applied by the man who directs them.
He invents a horizon, places an arrangement
before it, and dresses his imagination
in camouflage. Morandi is the minister
of interior space, discipline,
defence, and modesty. His daily routine
is to declare peace by wrapping
simple objects in light from a bulb
that hangs on a cord
from the sun at the center of his ceiling.
- David Chorlton
David Chorlton's poems and paintings can be glimpsed at
Monday, June 12, 2006
11 years before Decasia, Dutch film-maker Peter Delpeut released Lyric Nitrate , a poetic, personal tribute to silent film, assembled from movies and clips (spanning 1905-1915) long hidden in the attic of an Amsterdam moviehouse, where the noted collector, promoter, and distributor of old movies, Jean Desmet, had gathered them together for reasons only known to himself.
Like Decasia, Delpeut's film is made up of old nitrate footage in various states of decay - where it differs is that while Morrison's Decasia seems to focus on the interaction of decay with the figures of the film intensified by the mod-minimalist soundtrack, Delpeut takes a subtler route; choosing to linger over "intact" meditative, or dramatic, hand-tinted sequences before the final scenes that dissolve and flare into absolute abstract decay - with colors suggesting a high-speed flight across the surface of Jupiter.
Quoting movie critic Vincent Canby, "'Lyrical Nitrate' is the kind of homage that is best appreciated by people who are at a loss for words to express their appreciation for silent movies."
"By speeding up or slowing down the rate atwhich the clips are projected, he effectively deconstructs the original images, removing their meanings, in order to call attention to the delicate beauty possible, it seems, only with nitrate stock."
Using carefully selected musical pieces, and scratchy recordings of arias sung by Caruso (as does Woody Allen in "Match Point", come to think of it), interspersed with silences, Delpeut deftly underlines the sentiment, longing, and mystery of the scenes.
Among the most mesmerizing sequences assembled by Delpeut are scenes from the long lost Italian film (tinted in twilight blues) Fiore Di Male made in Italy in 1910. This movie features the opera singer/diva turned actress Lyda Borelli (pictured below), who pauses dramatically or moves with a natural physicality, as if she feels the scenes "musically"; sensible for an opera singer, and, in any case, silent movies were often filmed with a string quartet there on the set. There is a long sequence where Borelli falls to her death from a stab wound - Delpeut slows down, hold still the images, and starts again the film to accentuate her movements.
Delpeut was, in particular, moved by these Italian diva/films enough to later "assemble" another film from various films featuring Borelli, Pina Menichelli, and Francesca Bertini called Diva Dolorosa.
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
As the Arizona summer settles in and turns the brain to custard, I think on days and nights back in Los Angeles spent sitting in and around the Inverted Fountain at UCLA.
The Inverted Fountain sits on the far east side of the campus.
The fountain's architects/designers (I believe, primarily, Howard Troller of Jere Hazlett)were challenged to come up with a fountain that departed from the usual water-shooting-upward format. Howard Troller was inspired by the potholes and hotsprings in the bubbling waters of Yellowstone Park;
"Unlike traditional fountains, the water of the Inverted Fountain flows inward across a bed of mutli-colored rocks, handpicked by Troller in Claremont, Calif. The current then meets at an off-center well, creating a miniature waterfall plunging into a 12-foot wide, 5-foot deep center that recirculates the water at 10,000 gallons per minute. The water’s movement adds a natural, yet distinct, sound to the south end of campus –that of a flowing mountain stream." (this from http://www.uclahistoryproject.ucla.edu/Fun/ThisMonth
On the periphery of the fountain was an inset area that was perfect for sitting and letting the water wash over you. That fountain was a nourishing source, vivid to this day, that I, and I'm sure countless others can at least return to in their imagination.