Thursday, December 15, 2011

House of Mingus, Music of Mell


Just back from Arizona, the Phoenix/Scottsdale area: a one-week getaway from clouds and rain to Southwest sunshine, which is what we had for the most part. Nice digs, good food, visits to several key sites but especially happy for the browse-time at two of the nation’s prime bookstores, used and antiquarian haven The Book Gallery, and then The Poisoned Pen for mysteries new and old.

We returned to clouds and drizzle and too-many-hundred emails, but discovered therein some information pertinent to two recent posts:

1) Document Records, once based in Austria and run then by a fanatic completest Blues expert named Johnny Parham (something like that, anyway), now from its current British base, has issued a digital remastering of Son House’s 1941 and ’42 recordings for the Library of Congress--which have a critical reputation somewhat greater than I allowed them in the House post. But that’s what makes for horseraces (Son’s fleeter version of Charlie Patton’s
“Black Pony Blues,” for example).

Check out some old-school House-wrecking for yourself at www.documentrecords.co.uk . You’ll find Patton and Hurt, Skip James and several Johnsons, and a host of other Blues greats there too.

2) The “Mingus on Mingus” fundraising, to complete financing for the so-named documentary film that one of the great bassist’s sons is directing, continues at an accelerated pace now, with only a week to go in the allotted window of time; read about the project at http://www.orangethenblue.com .

Meanwhile, it seems that some controversy has arisen, due to a conspicuous absence of support (money and otherwise) from the actual Mingus Estate led
by strong-willed later wife, and then widow, Sue Mingus. Filmmaker Kevin defends himself and his approach to father Charles’ complex history at http://orangethenblue.com/open-letter ; and he claims to have the support of other Mingus children as well as his father’s musician friends.

Let’s hope family bickering doesn’t derail this long-awaited documentary.

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The key event of our Scottsdale stay concerned Music too, but in a bigger and overwhelming way... to whit: some hours spent wandering the opened-not-long-ago, not-yet-complete Musical Instrument Museum (MIM), housed in a sleek Desert Modern building complex, with many of its permanent mini-exhibits still being assembled. The MIM collection comprises thousands of
representative instruments arrayed in three hundred informative displays (so far) from over 200 countries--from all corners of the world in other words: santur, sarod and ‘ud; mbira, berimbau and Hardanger fiddle; talking drums, temple bells and didjeridoo; conch shell, shakere and shakuhachi flute; banjo, bandoneon and 15-foot-tall contrabass; the whole alphabet of instruments from Alpenhorn to French horn, Celtic bagpipes to Jewish klezmer, Chinese pipa to Dopyera National resonator, Hawaiian ukulele to Hungarian zither.

A publicity slogan claims it to be “The most extraordinary museum you’ll ever hear,” and who could come away doubting that claim? Seattle’s famed Experience Music Project in Frank Geary’s astonishing melted-guitar construct might win for the Rock
genre, but only because MIM is busy educating and tracking down audio/video samples and creating interactive displays for … oh, maybe, Brazilian capoeira and Balinese gamelan, Jamaica’s Maroon calaloo and Egypt’s Oum Kalthoum (still the queen of pan-Arabic vocalists) alongside major exhibits of Steinway piano-building, Martin guitar-making, and Fender-amping-it-up over the years.

MIM’s got it covered from Cuba to Quebec, Paraguay to Pakistan, Burkina Faso to Burma, Tonga to Tibet to Timbuktu. Whether hot Chilean or chilled Lapp, found along the Silk Road or somewhere in the Seven Seas, the museum embraces Old World, Third World, Brave New World, and Out of This World... Music.

So I offer another slogan, gratis: “I joined the MIM to hear the World… and did.” I also look forward to the next visit.

* * * * * *
There’s more to Arizona than highways and Hillerman, cowboys and canyons, First Americans and Mexican migrants, turquoise, Tucson, Tombstone, and trouble. The illustrations I’ve chosen reproduce a few of the hundreds of gorgeous paintings by contemporary Southwest artist Ed Mell; amazing how his Desert Deco subjects--earth-and-skyscapes, distant and vast; prickly blooms in giant close-up--can evoke such a wealth of experiences: elation, beauty, simplicity, anger, relief, implacability, serenity, silence.

2 comments:

JoshWGrobansGirl said...

I really like your beautiful artwork. Just amazing!

"But Not For Me" said...

Thanks. Sorry to be so late posting and responding--was off to sea the Southeast coast this time--saw no art to compare with the great Ed Mell, but I do happily honor the grits, hushpuppies, blackened fish, interesting new take on succotash, and other Ca-ahlina Sunshine eats we consumed!