Saturday, August 26, 2006

William Carlos Williams; Song

beauty is a shell
from the sea
where she rules triumphant
till love has had its way with her

scallops and
lion's paws
sculptured to the
tune of retreating waves

undying accents
repeated till
the ear and the eye lie
down together in the same bed

Serge Chaloff: Body & Soul, April 4, 1955

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

Three Nines for Mr. H.

Nine Liverpool Streets

Lapwing Court

Ash Crescent
Rymers Green

Pimbley Grove
Penny Lane

Nine Emanations of Favorite Byrds Tune

She Don’t
She Don’t Care
She Don’t Care About
She Don’t Care About Time
.......Don't Care About Time
................Care About Time
........................About Time

Nine North Carolina Rivers

Hominy Cree

Great Pee Dee

French Broad

* pictured above; liverpool ladies cleaning doorsteps, 1954
and graffiti from Bologna, Italy - photo by Aly Artusio-Glimpse

Thursday, August 17, 2006

If I Could Only Remember My Name

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

Jean Dufy

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

La Vie En Rose

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

Orvieto: Slow City

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

Joe Gould's Poem

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

Lester leaned....

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."