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Ira Sadoff
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Like your agenda this week Jeffrey, in praise of the irrational and mysterious, which is at the heart of almost all great lyric poetry. The transformational line for me here is "I make like a dead saint," raising and changing the stakes of the poem. The embodied spirit. I'm assuming this Prado poem is translated by Ellen Watson. She's a wonderful translator of Prado, one of my favorite poets too. Ira
Thanks again for this thoughtful take Jeffrey and of course I agree wholeheartedly about the encounter with the inexpressible. My guess is that for Dickinson in her humility is unsure about what she has permission to express, as a woman in the 19th C. of course, but also she knew very well her feelings spilled over in ways that were not sanctionable (I think of Higginson being exhausted by ten minutes in her presence). But it's also true, more than true, that when we encounter a moment of enormous urgency there aren't words to express that feeling, and feelings like flowers, are transient and slip through our fingers.
Thank you Mary for your thoughtful post. I don't know the Beethoven, though Rysanov has the sweetest, most romantic tone in a Brahms trio I know. I love the arpeggione, but prefer it, inauthentic as it might be, on the cello, especially on the Bows of Queyras, Rostropovich and Starker. Glad you enjoyed the music. Ira
Thanks for your sweet note, Laura. Sharing great music's one of life's inexhaustible pleasures, so I appreciate your generosity.
Last day of blogging and “I’m sweating a lot by now” which is a line from O’Hara’s tribute to Billie Holiday and arguably the best elegy about jazz ever written (“The Day Lady Died”). In my less than grand finale, I want to throw some tunes at you: Ballads, sad tunes that acknowledge the love affairs, troubled or done for, seeming deprivations and losses that plague us, feelings elegiac or just those inexplicable moments where a dark spot shadows us and that feelihng needs to be expressed and shared. I count myself among the multitudes of jazz fans who love Holiday’s late recordings (52-56 especially) where her voice and heart are broken.She has maybe an octave left in her voice, but she’s so incredibly expressive it hurts all the more. She accomplishes so much with her phrasing and the grainy quavering in her pitch that you’d swear, even when singing Ellington tunes like “Sophisticated Lady,” she was singing her autobiography. Ben Webster, maybe the greatest balladeer, plays behind her. Skip the ten second ad when you can. Billie Holiday "Sophisticated Lady" Though I’ve been extolling the virtues of adventurous jazz this week I don’t want to forget that I also love jazz and poetry of yore (how’s that for diction), art that speaks to the heart seemingly more directly with melancholy or longing. When someone else’s sadness speaks to mine I don’t generally feel “down” but rather I feel less alone. I frankly don’t understand people who don’t listen to music that’s sad or who avoid movies that deal with difficult (as in real) emotions. And I see no contradiction in being transported by art that grows out of another time just because I aspire to write adventurously. After all, we love to listen to Bach and Mozart, and who but the most rigid formalists would think we should still compose like them (for a less glib response, my HISTORY MATTERS confronts some questions about composition, time and flux). So I’m open to the “breath-taking” solos of Ben Webster, in tunes like “Where are You?” and “Ill Wind” and let them break my heart(again and again). You’ll have to put up with 10 seconds of an ad for dishwasher ads in a number of these cuts (I swear: this is such a great country) to listen to this beautiful version of “My Romance.” Ben Webster ":My Romance" And no one can play “Laura” like Don Byas (I alluded to his work in the James Carter entry yesterday). Don Byas "Laura" Then there’s Dexter Gordon, though I think he coasted through his later years: the tunes are still pretty. There’s Benny Carter’s “Flamingo” and “Blue Star” (he was lively right to the end), Gene Ammons’ “Goodbye”; there’s any ballad by Lockjaw Davis; late in his life Stan Getz became a beautiful ballad player, and Ike Quebec’s tear-jerker, “Blue and Sentimental” with guitarist Grant Green in the background could melt an iceberg. Ike Quebec, "Blue and Sentimental" But perhaps no one... Continue reading
Posted Sep 27, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
The lyrics of two of my favorite jazz standards, “My Favorite Things” and “Tea for Two,” are cheesy, insipid, even infantile bourgeois fantasies; the original vocals seem to me to be sung in that sunny psycho-killer demented spirit: Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens Brown paper packages tied up with strings These are a few of my favorite things and Day will break and I'm gonna wake and start to bake a sugar cake for you to take for all the boys to see. We will raise a family, a boy for you, and a girl for me, Can't you see how happy we will be. Let’s put aside the sexism of the Fifties for just a second, though these lyrics, written by men and sung by women, obviously exude the insularity and privilege of sexism. These lyrics also bring to mind one of my favorite Chekhov quotes from “Gooseberries,” one I use to introduce a section of TRUE FAITH. “The happy man only feels at ease because the unhappy bear their burdens in silence, and without that silence happiness should be impossible.” For I believe the darker explorations of Coltrane and the skepticism of Monk engage more complicated feelings and deeper truths. Coltrane and Monk did not produce an art of consolation, of pure transcendence in the Christian sense (rising above the body. It seems inherent in their Modernism that truth must be embodied, that it lives in the body and the spirit grows out of struggle, out of that writhing in pain and pleasure. “My Favorite Things” has a simple five note theme which works off a number of variations; “Tea for Two” alternates three and four notes in its insistent theme. I can’t stand Julie Andrews’ and Doris Day’s smile-button versions of the song. But John Coltrane, in his first soprano sax album of the same title (1960), transformed the melody into a compulsive, Eastern snake-charming nudging out the melody and then leaving it by playing two notes played in many octaves. What’s marvelous about Coltrane at this stage in his development as an artist is that he authorizes the hesitation, the holding pattern, the coming to, as part of making more transparent his musical process. In this first recorded version he often returns to the theme to ground his improvisations; retrospectively the leaps and shifts of this first recorded version seem accessible and it became one of his most popular albums. I know of close to twenty recorded versions Coltrane made of this song: each has its range of moods and tempos (in one interesting version -- where Roy Haynes replaces Elvin Jones -- oddly has more drive than most of the versions that precede it). But perhaps my favorite version is the 18 minute version at the Antibes Jazz festival in 1965 (the second Live at Antibes album on France’s Concert label, released more than 20 years after his death). His first solo’s relatively familiar, but the... Continue reading
Posted Sep 25, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
John Coltrane’s 1960 album GIANT STEPS changed the path of modern jazz. Using inverted chord structures,accelerated tempi, changing his reed and ambature (contributing to slightly nasal tone), and, most of all, searching out increasingly complex harmonies, he found his way to his famous “sheets of sound.” I’ve loved this album for –gasp-almost fifty years. Generally when anyone else covers a John Coltrane tune, he or she generally can’t -- to paraphrase Nicanor Parra,-- improve on the blank page. Horn players understand the challenge just as poets must surely be wary of writing about sitting under a tree and translating a fleeting bird song: it’s been done, said better with more originality than most can muster. One exception, I think, is David Murray’s 1988 version of “Mr. P.C.” (a tune Coltrane wrote for the great bassplayer Paul Chambers) from Murray’s album DEEP RIVER. Picking up where pianist Dave Burrell’s virtual two-finger solo leaves off, Murray’s solo is a model of endless driveand invention. From the opening statement of the theme, endless melodies build associatively, with great fluidity, from Murray’s horn. Though this comparison may seem absurd, the continuous flow of melodic ideas reminds me of Mozart’s late symphonies and quartets. So many tunes in the service of one piece. Withpropulsive drive, rhythm and speed (using the technique of circular – non-stop– breathing), honks and squawks, moving with great facility from the deepest low notes to high pitched whistles in seconds, Murray never loses the spirit of the tune. In this five-minute solo he gets more and more adventurous, travels so far from where he began without repeating a single run, until he triples an inversion of the melody: the solo doesn’t resolve itself going back to the head, but there the bass player recognizes a place where he can jump into the conversation. The solo accomplishes what Lorca implies in his essay "on the Duende," and what any artist who wishes to unsettle an audience hopes with all his heart to do: he de-familiarizes the familiar so we hear/see the world anew. Murray began as an outside player, influenced by Albert Ayler as well as Coltrane. Here’s his solo paying tribute to Ayler: David Murray "Flowers for Albert" In his great work, from 1986 to the late 1990s, he combines outside and inside playing: he’s grounded in the blues, “the tradition” (listen to his wide vibrato in playing the beautiful Ellington ballad “Cheslea Bridge”) as well the rough-hewn highly structured improvisations of the World Saxophone Quartet (he was one of the founding members). As an example both of his drive and his connection to the blues listen to this 1986 appearance at the Village Vanguard with the great John Hicks on the piano: Murray at the Village Vanguard Murray has great technical skills and an amazing pair of lungs and can play the bass clarinet with authority, an instrument really only mastered by Eric Dolphy and, more recently, James Carter. But as poets and musicians know, chops alone make for artisanship... Continue reading
Posted Sep 24, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Thanks David. Probably Saw O'Hara there but was too green to know who he was. "The Day Lady Died" is one of my favorite poems of all time. Wrote about it in HISTORY MATTERS.
Roy Haynes, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins and Ahmed Abdul-Malik at the Five Spot Cafe NYC, September 1958 Everyone has an initiation story and some version of mine may seem familiar, but I want to begin this blog with how my early jazz experiences obliquely opened a door to poetry. During the summer of 1961 I was a prisoner of the suburbs, shipped out to an inverse Siberia on Long Island, light years away from my Brooklyn neighborhood. I hated the suburbs then and hate them now for obvious reasons: they’re parochial, isolated, materialistic, high on status and low on diversity. Most of my Black and Puerto Rican friends had been left behind in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Glen Cove was divided into three discrete sections: Italian, African-American, and Jewish. Most of the Jews, like my parents, were high-holiday Jews for whom a Bar Mitzvah was a crowning achievement and an elegy to ceremony (virtually my only suburban experience of ritual). But my friend Allen Sandler offered me an escape route. One Friday night, a month or so after Allen had introduced me to Ahmad Jamal (somehow he had also obtained a warped copy of MEET THE BEATLES when the album had only been released in the UK), we took the LIRR to wander around the East Village. The whole milieu spoke to me for what we now call its alternative culture: black turtlenecks and jeans replaced the button-down shirts and my classmates’ obsession with Brooks Brothers clothing. Blacks and whites held hands. Male gay couples at least kissed. Bob Dylan was playing at the Café Wha right next door to the Café Wha Not? But it was at the Five Spot Café at the corner of Saint Marks Place where, with my phony ID, I received my primary education. The plaster was held up with stapled record covers and you could sit at the bar for three and a half bucks. I only owned two albums: Miles Davis’ KIND OF BLUE and Erroll Garner’s CONCERT BY THE SEA, but that summer I saw in person Monk, Mingus, Rollins, and Raashan Roland Kirk. And on the other side of the Village Coltrane was playing with Eric Dolphy. Coltrane was too far ahead of me back then (I’m just catching up now), but Monk changed me. His style, his talking to himself, his walking around the piano when Charlie Rouse soloed, his using three unpredictable notes where some pianists might use twenty with trills, seemed to me an act of magic.Though I’d been to museums and concerts, this was my first internalized experience of art. He walked on to the small stage in his fur hat and raincoat maybe a half hour late (no one could compete with Mingus in his full length pea green army jacket: he always kept us waiting at least an hour for the first set and then growled at everyone,including members of his band). Monk played original tune after original tune; retrospectively I believe I was drawn... Continue reading
Posted Sep 23, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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Sep 22, 2012