Hello, friends, confidants, and total strangers--anyone, I guess, who's been wondering if I am alive, or dead, or merely asleep at the switch. All I can say in my defense is: a day without blogging is sometimes as good as a year without Trump.
In reality (if such there be in this post-DT's world) I needed a break, and then the break kept getting longer and longer. But now it's been so long, I've grown a beard, outlasted a phase of Parkinson's and, as the big-time applers say, "landed a book deal." Yes, it's true, I am writing (or maybe EDiting) the text for a big picture book dedicated to the amazing and amazingly varied works of illustrator and artist William Stout. (Those with a long memory, or an interest in popular music, may recall that some years ago I wrote the Intro for a book of Bill's called Legends of the Blues.) And now I am rewarded with a longer challenge, a 300-page beauty published by Insight Books, presenting several hundred illustrations retracing Bill's 50-year career as comix artist, film designer, Disney Imagineer, defender of Antarctica, paleo-artist of the museum murals of prehistory, etc., etc., etc.
'Tis a puzzlement why Stout's not a household word. (He is, actually, in certain circles, where he is known as the "dinosaur man.") Anyway, I'm working to change all that... and my minor blog will just have to limp along as we see where Fantastic Worlds: The Art of William Stout takes us.
a politically progressive blog mixing pop culture, social commentary, personal history, and the odd relevant poem--with links to recommended sites below right-hand column of photos
Monday, March 20, 2017
Saturday, October 29, 2016
In the mid-Fifties his (reluctant) military career took us to Turkey, where I proceeded to contract--or so the family legend goes--one of the world's first recorded cases of Asian flu. Whatever it was, my fever kept going up and my body kept drying out, so I was sent to the local military hospital to recuperate. While I was recovering, then, I kept hearing this strange music, rhythmically percussive and sweetly keening, emanating from elsewhere on the floor; and I soon went in search of the source.
What I found was a young airman, quarantined, with his Fifties-style portable record player and a few records by a group called the Dave Brubeck Quartet which he was playing repeatedly. The brief Modern Jazz primer he gave didn't make much of an impression on the 13-year-old rock 'n' roller I was then--I don't even remember for sure which albums he owned--but the exciting sound of Brubeck's live recordings must have stayed with me because when I did begin a rest-of-my-life fascination with Jazz a few years later, the quartet was at the center of my random, uneducated buying.
Over the decades I played and played and replayed the Storyville LPs, wearing out two or three copies of each. I reveled in the joyful abandon of "Crazy Chris" and the tender beauty (Dave practically alone for 13 minutes) of "You Go to My Head" and "Summer Song/Over the Rainbow"; those were the highlights on Fantasy, while the Columbia LP was just well-nigh perfect, first note to last--"On the Alamo," "Don't Worry About Me," "Gone with the Wind," "Back Bay Blues," "Here Lies Love," and "When You're Smiling"--which I certainly was.
There's some minor repertory overlap with other Brubeck albums (and announcer Hentoff works too hard at being both erudite and amusing), but any Brubeck fan can easily welcome the new old versions of "Stardust," "Undecided," and "All the Things You Are" plus uncommon bongo bashments ("Body and Soul"), frenzied fingerings ("Frenesi"), and rippling reminders of then-recent success ("I'll Remember April" and "I Didn't Know What Time It Was")--a total of more than 40
No matter, I have them all now. It's been 60 years since the Asian flu brought me to Brubeck, Desmond and, eventually, Boston's Storyville. With this three CD set now as witness, I believe I'm as close as I'll ever be, this side of heaven, to that first magical encounter with something called "Modern Jazz," and with the Brubeck Quartet's exciting version of it.
Posted by IWitnessEd at 1:20 PM No comments:
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Springsteen snuck in and out of Seattle this past week, a stop on his book tour which I learned about only after the fact. I had seen him on Colbert's Late Show a week earlier, where he appeared oddly subdued and diffident. (Different spotlights make for different stagefrights, I guess.)
At least Bruce's book must offer some solid workingman's politics along with the Rock 'n Roll braggadocio; for example, he's already identified Donald Trump, correctly I'd say, as a "moron"--a judgment I'll bet that Pete Townshend of the Who would also render. Like Bruce, Pete and his lead singer Roger Daltrey were both known for their lippy, working class attitude. When I wrote about them a few years ago, it was in connection with the Who's lengthy masterpiece, the rock opera Tommy. Here's that three-parter revived:
1) Part the First.
2) Part Two.
3) Third Part.
Posted by IWitnessEd at 10:34 AM No comments:
Monday, September 26, 2016
Anyway, here are some thoughts I keyed-in some time ago...
Posted by IWitnessEd at 12:14 PM No comments:
Thursday, September 15, 2016
I'm a hundred pages into The Unknown already, fascinated by the unbridled flow of Jack's prose; it's not all essential of course, but the volume and variety can't be denied. (One timely aspect is the insistence by editor Todd Tietchen and translator Jean-Christophe Cloutier that Kerouac was acutely, painfully, aware of being treated as an unwelcome refugee, for speaking and occasionally writing a demotic version of French. Like the Cajuns who moved to Louisiana, the 900,000 French Canadians who migrated to New England had a hard time of it.)
And this gives me an excuse to call the reader's attention to my earlier posts on Jack. Together they cover most of the Kerouac items issued in the past 45 years. You might read them in this order:
1) Good Beat
2) Always Beat 2
3) Jack: The Crack Up
Jack and his pals and the many he influenced, past and present... the Beats go on.
Posted by IWitnessEd at 10:51 AM No comments:
Saturday, April 30, 2016
Who's That Writin'?
Idly internetting recently, I found and bought what are sure to be the two best Blues albums of 2016, Blues & Ballads--A Folksinger's Songbook: Volumes I & II by Luther Dickinson, and God Don't Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson performed by a group of solid re-senders. (If I find any other candidate LPs with longer, wordier titles, well, I guess the Blues Millenium really will be upon us.)
But for now, if you know your Blind Willie Johnson, there's only one right answer to the question posed up top: "John the Revelator, wrote the Book of the Seven Seals." Of course, an equally accurate response might be "Blind Willie himself"--the great
Meanwhile, serving as a suitable path to the Blues & Ballads CD is a hill-country
And so, skipping ruthlessly over another five or ten gems, we fetch up against the haunted final track, "Horseshoe"--multiple guitars, fond memories of Junior Kimbrough, Otha Turner, and others, and more harmonics ringing out to the very end. Blues & Ballads... & the Best of a whole vanishing tradition. Way to go, Luther!
Posted by IWitnessEd at 10:20 AM No comments:
Sunday, April 17, 2016
In Dublin's Fair City
Madelyn ("Maddie") is a senior in high school and a regionally, perhaps nationally known rower; long and lovely, she's also the team captain of her rowing club. She loves the ocean and would go to Hawaii for college if it were in the coral, but she has chosen the University of San Diego as next-best. There were many schools competing; as with her older sister, every college she applied to said Yes. (Or as Mrs. Leopold Bloom might say: "yes I said yes I will Yes.")
Lliralyn ("Llira") in contrast is a college sophomore--attending Bucknell University actually, in Lewisberg, Pennsylvania. Another smart and beautiful young woman, she's given up soccer in order to major in some version of Chemical Engineering (huh?) and will soon get to experience her junior year abroad, at University College,
Naturally, family matriarch Sandie and I hope to visit Eire's umpteen green fields while Llira's resident there--both of us for the sightseeing, and me for the Modern Lit-inspired, romantic visions derived from the works of James Joyce and William Butler Yeats, Seamus Heaney and Sean O'Casey. (Ireland remains the most conspicuous gap in my stamped-to-overflowing passport. How have I so cavalierly neglected the land of leprechauns, the Easter Rising, Galway Bay, and Guinness Stout? I even walk with the aid of a modified shillelagh these Parkinsonian days!)
So... as short and sweet as an April morn in County Clare... Slainte!
Posted by IWitnessEd at 5:37 PM No comments:
Monday, January 11, 2016
Then his place in Jazz seemed to vanish. The Fusion/Disco/Rock Drums/Death of Jazz era came crashing down, maybe more on Erroll than others. His exuberant, happy piano was ruled fatuous and simplistic, partly because he couldn't read music. (So every session was truly improvised, first note to last.) The style he had devised--long, quizzical, inventive introductions followed by a kind of theme-and-variations dissection of the song, ending (usually) in a percussive, emphatic, slowing-to-a-stop of the music--was finally rejected as more ignorant than original, and his habit of grunting along with the melody sneered at (before Keith Jarrett brought a whole barnyard of ecstatic noises to the recording studio). Because the diminutive, elfin Erroll needed telephone directories to lift him higher on the piano bench, even this quirk was held against him. Yes, he couldn't "get no respect."
Garner died in the Seventies before the digital era and multiple-reissue CD sets brought artists back from Jazz obscurity. But throughout the decades of his eclipse, Concert by the Sea kept selling. I first heard Garner in the early Sixties, another college kid more ignorant than hip, drawn to the bouncy joy of his records, and then I got to see Erroll in action at the Seattle World's Fair. I didn't know anything about Jazz back then, but I had no trouble enjoying Garner at the keyboard; I subsequently learned of his proficiency (able to record enough tracks in one three-hour session to produce three separate 12-inch LongPlay records!), and I even loved his deluxe two-disc set of tunes celebrating Paris and France, many of them played on harpsichord. My vinyl copy of the Carmel concert had to be replaced a couple of times as the years passed, and I finally gave up imagining an expanded issue. But a couple of months ago, without much fanfare, The Complete Concert by the Sea suddenly appeared, 60 years on.
Also, recreating the "new" full-length concert rearranged for a chronological placement of tunes, seems to destroy the structured rise-and-fall, the careful build-up to a musical climax, that I believe one can hear in the 11 selections as originally presented. (This arrangement you can hear on Disc Three of the new set. I suppose there must be hundreds of concert albums that silently offer a selection arranged for effectiveness, but being able immediately to compare the two versions I'll bet is uncommon.)
I don't want to belabor the matters mentioned. This three CD set is a veritable feast for sore ears. (As we used to say in Spanish class, Punto final.) Instead, I'm going to end the brief review right here by advising all Garner and Concert by the Sea fans to proceed with abandon rather than caution. What was for 60 years a concise source of piano pleasure has belatedly and amazingly become an embarrassment of riches... even if henceforth I may personally choose to program Disc Three ahead of the other two.
Posted by IWitnessEd at 2:56 PM 3 comments:
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
In the mean-between, here's a plug for the best TV series I never knew about during its six seasons on cable, the coal-blooded, Kentucky-fried, hick-but-hip Harlan-County Western called Justified, starring lean, lanky, laconic Timothy Olyphant as U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, riding herd and drawing down on modern-day do-badders hiding out in the hoots and hollers of mountain bluegrass country. This is the first and finest on-going film production ever truly to capture the sights and sounds and surreal mess-arounds of an Elmore Leonard reality. Oh, there've been superior versions of single novels (as well as crapulous misconceptions), but no regular series capable of recreating Leonard's irreverent characters mouthing his inimitable, pared-down, sly'n'wry dialogue.
Yeah, quick-draw Raylan's the real thang, and he ain't alone. There's boss marshal Art, brazen gift-of-gab villain Boyd Crowder, several sexy-yet-cerebral women (Ava, Winona, Rachel, Loretta, and maximally more), and two-bit bad guys caught up in cool mischief, coal mines, and cold-blooded murder. I binge-watched all fifty-plus hours one recent Netflixed week, and when the fine fun was over, I entered that storied, many-roomed mansion... justified.
Posted by IWitnessEd at 12:07 PM No comments:
Monday, August 24, 2015
Fairport, RT, and Me
These Dog Days instead are a perfect time to check out the music, new or old, being offered at your local CD store, Download site, or Amazon supplier-subordinate. I've been especially song-conscious (see why below); here are five of my current favorites, lifted from five different albums:
Leading off--but dating from the fifteen-years-gone centenary, "Kurt Weill 2000," celebrated 'round the globe--is Karen Kohler and her version of "River Chanty," the
The Weill piece sounds like a 19th century folk tune, while Martin Simpson's astringent new love song "Dark Swift and Bright Swallow" (from Topic TXCD591, Murmurs as by super folk trio Simpson-Cutting-Kerr) could have come from any alert Romantic poet, and been written down at any time in the past 300 years.
April sun on Slapton Ley, between the lagoon
and the haunted sea,
I was thinking of war and cruelty when
Spring's first Swallow split the sky
swung through the salted air,
Come from Savannah and desert and sea to
mark another year for me...
And for you my Love and Eternity.
Love, death, war, two birds of Britain, and a birthday ditty too; at awards time this one should win song and performance of the year.
One remarkable sidebar of the British invasion of 1964 or so was the "trad arr": out-of-the-distant-past discoveries rendered 20th century-friendly by real green-fields, Blessed Isles Folk/Rock groups like Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span. Fairport will soon celebrate 50 years together; only Simon Nicol remains from the original group whose list of important ex-Fairporters includes Richard Thompson,
Just a day another day, beneath a Belgian sun
Past grave on grave, row upon row, until I see the name John Condon...
And all around the harp and crown, the crosses in the ground
Stand up in proof, the bitter truth, the waste of youth that lies forgotten...
Heroes that don't come home
Sing out for all their souls
Here they lie in Belgian fields and Picardy.
Bitter, resigned, Simon quietly nails the coffin lid shut.
No lack of originality and brilliance on any album by the great Richard Thompson ("RT" to his fans); and his new one, Still (Proper PRPCDX131), offers solo guitar
I don't blindly love the new album yet, but here's one folk-related gem, its opening track, "She Never Could Resist a Winding Road," which has the melodic familiarity and Scottish "drone" that anchor his finest songs in the patented RT "doom and gloom":
In the old cold embers of the year
When joy and comfort disappear
I search around to find her
I'm a hundred miles behind her
The open road whispered in her ear
She never could resist a winding road
Maybe just around the bend
The rainbow waiting at the end
She never could resist a winding road.
The last song that's been tugging on my aural sleeve is, I confess, a ringer. Over the course of 40 years, I've written a handful of songs (the lyrics, that is) with Bruce Lofgren, my guitarist/big bandleader friend living in L.A., and Bruce has just released the latest album, Wind and Sand (Night Bird NB-4), featuring his terrific Jazz Pirates band, playing six originals, two covers (a great version of Bronislaw Kaper's
Still, I can't get them out of my head, so here's a sample of the words to the frisky, some would say racy "Sheet Music":
My daddy's a master musician,
He rocks and rolls me right,
With close harmony,
Sweet sheet music every night...
Jazz me, Papa, that bed time song,
Rhythm followed by blues.
Write me some inner chorus
I can put vocals to.
Dot my sweet half-note, baby,
I'm treble and bass for you.
And further deponent sayeth not.
Posted by IWitnessEd at 12:21 PM 2 comments:
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Red Garland, Bill Evans: Miles Apart
I guess you could say he was Jazz's first superstar (post-War anyway, ignoring the popularity versus cash sales of Satch and Bing, Benny and Glenn and the Duke). Did anyone ever actually count the number of copies of Kind of Blue and Workin' and Sketches of Spain that echoed from the dorm rooms of college kids in the late Fifties and throughout the Sixties?
At the very least he knew a top side-man (and potential leader) when he heard one, whether Paul Chambers or John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter or John Coltrane, Tony Williams or Jack DeJohnette. Just think of his main men at the keyboards: Wynton Kelly, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Joe Zavinul, and the two I'm about to celebrate here, Red Garland and Bill Evans.
A pair of recent 2CD sets (recorded live in 1972 and 1977, respectively) remind us of the post-Miles stature of Bill and Red. Listening to Evans' Momentum (Limetree MCD 0043) and Garland's Swingin' On the Korner (Elemental 5990426) both
Check out the long first track here, "Love for Sale," to hear the essence of Red. An
After the stellar success of Bill's short-lived trio with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motion, he wanted all of his sidemen/partners to sound that convincingly complex and freely independent, every threesome blessed with big ears and greater understanding, the players somehow going their separate ways but still communicating with one another and moving the melody or changes forward.
When Bill Evans draped himself around keyboard and bench, an evening would typically be filled with single notes and silences; but when he took a deeper breath and sat up marginally straighter, the chords and substitute chords and sideman-chasing harmonies would fly fast and furious. The list of tunes here ("Emily," "Quiet Now," "My Romance," "Turn Out the Stars," "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your
Maybe, to return to the initial question about Miles' pianists, it was as simple as that. The rhythm section of his first quintet had become too familiar, too
But if that's the case, why was there no further development, no second act, no encore? Because Miles chose not to follow up on it, Kind of Blue remains a miraculous one-off. Instead Miles went listening for a new quintet while, on their own, Red Garland just kept swinging and Bill Evans too kept on, exploring, reshaping the sound of Jazz piano, each man enjoying his own certain momentum.
Posted by IWitnessEd at 12:12 PM 3 comments:
Monday, May 18, 2015
Encore for Ozzie Bailey
Here), somehow I touched a nerve. Both the Bailey essay and its sequel several months later (that one archived Also, Here) proved to be among the most-read pieces I've written in over a decade of blogging. (The Duke still makes a difference, it seems.)
Prior to that I wrote about another Ellington curiosity, his valiant attempt at composing in long-form, that odd
No version much pleased the Jazz critics and popular culture reviewers. Read about the Duke's long and painful experience Here As Well.
Prior to that I wrote about another Ellington curiosity, his valiant attempt at composing in long-form, that odd
No version much pleased the Jazz critics and popular culture reviewers. Read about the Duke's long and painful experience Here As Well.
Posted by IWitnessEd at 1:38 PM No comments:
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Kurt Weill and Gil Evans
I wrote extensively about both Weill and Evans and their remarkable, long and
Part One is a disguised Introduction to the European years, but including 40 or so photos of Weill LPs. Parts Two and Three take up Weill's career in America (on Broadway and off) together with his burgeoning impact on Jazz. Then Evans assumes the lead in the Fourth and Fifth sections. Finally, as a bonus and sort-of Sixth Part, comes a follow-up essay/review of 2012's "new" (but also old) Evans album, which of course also featured Weill--and which later won the Big Band Grammy award.
Centennial was a suitable conceptual name for that release, but for some unexplained reason this new one is called Lines of Color, its exterior offering an abstract pretty picture on the front cover, tiny print obscuring Evans' name, and no identifying photo of the man. Commercial this packaging isn't--Blue Note was just asleep at the switch--which is really too bad because the music is terrific, another excellent selection of previously unrecorded charts dating from the Thornhill Orchestra days up to Gil's more experimental bands of the 1960s. Centennial had
Some long numbers revive and/or revise previous Evans tracks; "Time of the Barracudas" and "Davenport Blues" crackle authoritatively with dramatic solo work from trombonist Marshall Gilkes, tenor saxman Donny McCaslin, and trumpeter Mat Jodrell, while "Concorde" and the medley ("Easy Living/Everything Happens to Me/Moon Dreams") play the master's measures either more lightly, or layered more intricately. That last is certainly one of the album's highlights, with pianist Frank Kimbrough and tenorist Scott Robinson quietly leading the charts.
Other tracks sound like what they are, Claude Thornhill specialties from the early Forties ("Gypsy Jump") to the post-Bop Fifties ten years later ("How High the Moon"), two of them yet meriting special mention--"Greensleeves" for its one-take trombone solo by Gilkes, eradicating memories of Kenny Burrell's feature (on his 1965 album with Evans, Guitar Forms), and a chipper little ditty called "Sunday
One last note: conductor-visionary Ryan Truesdell once again provides exceptional annotation, and on "Moon Dreams" he writes convincingly about the Impressionist classical influences on Evans (Ravel, Prokofiev, et al), some of whom found a spot in Weill's wheelhouse as well... or at least that's still my Impression.
Posted by IWitnessEd at 11:28 AM No comments:
Monday, April 6, 2015
10 Ways of Losing Track of a Rock 'n' Roll Song
1. "It's only as important as your life." So claimed Van Morrison quoting James Brown, the hardest working man in show business--never caught with his pants down or even split, a becaped crusader of grit 'n' soul always on his toes and maybe yours too, sucking every cubic centimeter of air from any room he occupied. If you still can't breathe, recite "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World" 13 times and then mutter, "Uncle."
2. Walt Whitman was a nurse. Emily Dickinson was a recluse. They met serendipitously in Ralph Waldo Emerson's daylight basement. "I need some Transcendental work," she said. "Where's Waldo?" responded Walt.
the Viennese Secessionists chose to paint
with schadenfreude, but also Freud
in shades, filling every inch of canvas
with 33-and-a-third degrees of die blauen.
4. I ate the big bowl of borscht. Forgive me, but the gruel was not only good, it was Beat.
5. In the still of the guitar drag, she was crying, waiting, hoping to shake some action. "To know him is to love his transmission," she said. All I could do was cry out, "This magic money changes everything! That's momentarily what I want."
6. "Anthemic" as a term in rock criticism had no meaning until Jimi Hendrix digested his Wheaties on July 4, 1969. Sadly, he still thought six was nine and so missed his golden opportunity. Ninety-nine and a half wouldn't do.
7. So much depends
upon his readers
possessing the full
complement of kunst
und kultur too
arcane to be obscure
9. The day the music died, eight-and-a-half-year-old Billy Jim Murray bounced his bicycle through frozen flower gardens around Willamette. He was dispirited... seeking earthly confirmation of that infamous airplane crash. He wished he lived in suburban Lubbock, or Shreveport, or Cincinnati, anywhere but the northwest environs of Chicago. That'll be the day, he thought, the dark day I light out for the territory ahead...
But you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Except maybe in this case. Because 34 years and 9 days later, Bill as "Phil""--brother under the fur to stuck-in-his-rut groundhog "Punxsutawney Phil"--did that time warp again for the first time.
How could any fan of rock 'n' roll not feel the chill that touched their heartbeat that day (and everyday one re-views the music of film)? Yes, unseen but present in fraternal dispensation, and sharing the stage with both of the on-air Phils, were the
And if that don't change your way of seeing and hearing, buddy, you ain't got that mood indigo.
10. Ike Zimmerman is to Robert Zimmermann as Bob Dylan is to Dylan Thomas as Thomas Aquinas is to Greil Marcus Aurelius.
Posted by IWitnessEd at 3:03 PM No comments:
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