The 62nd Monterey Jazz Festival: Much Pleasure under Some Distress

I began the first of my last two Bill’s Blog posts saying that “medical issues” had required a break from writing the Blog, adding that I was sorry about that (and would  save a more detailed account of the medical adventures for another time)—which, by rights (and that promise) I should be presenting now. In my last blog post, I said that a (medical) treatment program I was undergoing had not prevented me from work on another writing project I was engaged in—a memoir: “Unfolding: Aspirations and Attainments”—and I posted an account from that manuscript of the year and a half (1962-1963) I spent in graduate school at San Francisco State College.

I was going to continue with my graduate school “adventures” on Bill’s Blog, but another (unanticipated) medical issue intervened—and also the 62nd Monterey Jazz Festival (which I was determined not to miss attending, no matter what). In December 2018, I underwent a biopsy. In February 2019, I posted the following on my Facebook page: “I’ve got a fight on my hands—so I believe I will post one of my favorite songs by Paul Simon: ‘The Boxer’—for I had received the results of my biopsy and I learned that I had prostate cancer. They took tissue samples from fourteen spots (“suspicious” on the MRI, matched with what they found on Ultrasound—a fascinating procedure!) and whereas nine of those spots were benign, five of them were not. Between Christmas and the New Year, I had a full-body bone scan, because of “prominent internal iliac chain nodes” also found on the MRI (“Possible bony metastatic disease”). Radiation Therapy treatments would be necessary—and I was scheduled for 45 of them: nine weeks, five mornings a week.

As for “The Boxer,” growing up just outside of Detroit as I did, Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson had a heavy influence on my young life. A skinny kid, when I finally made 155 pounds (“Super Lightweight”), I was not only an avid fan of boxing, but a participant. I “mastered” the smooth moves I found in the Barnes Dollar Sports book on boxing, but learned the hard way that the “sport” required more than finesse—because every time I took on someone bigger and stronger than myself, he managed to land a sudden solid roundhouse punch that had me on the ground, and “out” (TKO). I did learn how to “take a punch,” and having quit the sport years ago (in favor of sparing with books rather than opponents), I felt ready, metaphorically, to step back in the ring for this medical adventure. Paul Simon’s “The Boxer” was a source of inspiration.

“In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down or cut him
‘Til he cried out in his anger and his shame
‘I am leaving, I am leaving’, but the fighter still remains.”

To cut this side of the story short … In September, 2019, I “graduated” from 43 (not the full 45) radiation therapy sessions at Community Hospital Cancer Center—in time to attend the 62nd Annual  Monterey Jazz Festival, which proved to be a bit of a “test” for me—the mobility (making my way through the crowds) portion of which was not at all easy (the return of a 27 year old vestibular neuritis–vertigo–condition accompanied the cancer treatments; and after the 4th radiation treatment, I was also hospitalized for three days with diverticulitis.). The music I witnessed at the Jazz Festival did serve as a saving grace, and that’s what I’d like to write about now—although attendance would also include duress occasioned by my medical “adventures,” which did affect the manner in which I “received” the music—so I would like to include that aspect of the experience also, for it provided a unique perspective.

Here’s a poster for the 62nd MJF—and a photo of the Jimmy Lyons Main Stage, once the action was underway (Photo credits: montereyjazzfestival.org)

monterey_jazz_poster_2019

Monterey Jazz Fest, Friday night 9/29

Logistics had been a major concern for me the previous year, at the 61st Annual Monterey Jazz Festival, and I realized that logistics would be even more of a concern for the 62nd—just getting from one venue to another, and nine different venues offered music this year. I had to choose those close to each other, which meant the Pacific Jazz Café (which has a raised platform that serves as a handicapped seating section), the Jazz Theater (next door to The Pacific Jazz Café last year, but moved to behind the Vendors strip this year)—with shuttle trips to Dizzy’s Den and the distant Jimmy Lyons Stage for sets I did not want to miss located at each.

I set up a tentative schedule of sets that might work well together—beginning with a program entitled “MJF 101: A Festival Primer,” an innovative feature intended to acquaint Festival newcomers (or anyone eager to learn the best way to “maneuver” the many musical offerings over the weekend). Two journalist friends—Andy Gilbert (from the San Francisco Bay area) and Pamela Espeland (from Minneapolis) had been asked to conduct this session, and I was curious to see how they handled the task—which they did well, in a casual, informative, and comprehensive manner. The session was set for 5:30, Friday afternoon—and I planned to pick up my Press credentials at 4:30, enjoy an early “dinner,” and listen to the Allison Au Quartet, which was slated to appear on the Garden Stage, just next door to where I would be eating unagi (a  sushi dish of white rice with fillets of freshly grilled eel, seasoned with homemade unagi sauce), served at the Maido Japanese Catering Service stand.

The meal was enjoyable—accompanied by music provided next door by the Allison Au Quartet: the saxophonist/composer noted for her “mosaic of influences,” “seamless and soulful sound,” and a “gift for layering voices and rhythms … melodies cascade and collide” (from program notes). I was impressed by her, and her pianist, Todd Pentney, who lent his talents to the combo handsomely.

Here are photos of Allison Au, Andy Gilbert, and Pamela Espeland (Photo credits: https://theurbanflux.wordpress.com/; KQED; linkedin.com)

Allison Au Andy Gilbert Pamela Espeland

When I arrived at the Pacific Jazz Café, I joined my friend Bob Danziger (with whom I have collaborated on three YouTube videos), and we enjoyed and appreciated the approach taken by the two MJF 101 hosts, who began their session by discussing “trends” Festival attendees could anticipate this year, combined with some previous history of the event, which included a brief account of their own attendance. Andy Gilbert had published an article (in San Francisco Classical Voice) in which he said: “The big story at the Monterey Jazz Festival last year was the precipitous inclusion of female instrumentalists. Like a dam bursting, an unprecedented wave of women players flowed through the fairgrounds, touching every corner of the festival”—a revolutionary “sea change.” This year, he said, would provide an “exciting carry over” from that event—“Lots of women doing amazing work.”

Both hosts cited the MJF as a “leader” in this trend, Andy stating that the event still packs its “institutional punch”; Pamela saying the Festival continued to offer “something everybody is going to like,” mixing up “established jazz masters with less well known performers.” Both hosts asked for a show of hands of “first time” attendees, and many hands went up—so advice on how to handle waiting in line at 5-6 venues where “overlapping” sets are offered ranged from “Get there early” to “If you hear something good, follow your ears.” Both hosts acknowledged having made fortunate “discoveries” that way—so “Just let yourself get sucked in.” And if the set proves exceptional, and others will follow at that site, “Stay there … plant yourself.”

Another “trend” of this year’s Festival cited was “contemporary” or “smooth” jazz  (“Double Vision Revisited”: Bob James, David Sanborn, Marcus Miller; The Yellowjackets, Chris Botti) and special projects such as a tribute, “Soul on Soul,” to Mary Lou Williams (the “den mother” of jazz), and the Christian McBride Big Band  commissioned piece: in memory of Roy Hargrove.  Andy and Pamela mentioned, individually, specific sets they looked forward to this year: Pianist Gerald Clayton on the Garden Stage; tenor saxophonist Chris Potter at Dizzy’s Den–and sets featuring Artists-in-Residence Alison Miller and Derrick Hodge.

“Monterey mixes it up” became a key phrase—a former appearance by Pete Seeger mentioned, and this year: guitarist Donna Grantis, a protégé of Prince. And Andy emphasized that the MJF still “draws on its history”—citing this year’s appearance of old pros, absolute masters of their respective instruments, Kenny Barron (piano) and Dave Holland (bass) performing together.

After, Bob Danziger and I agreed that “MJF 100: A Festival Primer” was a worthy addition to the annual event—hopefully a permanent one. Bob himself had offered a “Monterey Jazz Festival Prep and Pizza” course through OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at California State University Monterey Bay)—“Course Description: If it’s your first time to the Monterey Jazz Festival or even if you’re a festival veteran, planning your listening is half the fun. Hosted by Bob Danziger, join journalists Andrew Gilbert and Pamela Espeland [who not only offered a session similar to that which we’d just witnessed at the Festival itself, but provided “sound bites”: recordings of the artists they were talking about] for an illuminating and educational primer on the music and styles of Monterey Jazz Festival artists playing so you can know what to expect this year. Pizza and a Q&A will be included.”

The Monterey Jazz Festival was touting a new “vision” for itself—releasing and promoting a mission statement “to reflect a three-year planning effort to attract new and younger audience members to the event … to produce a successful annual event it is necessary to dip into the current contemporary marketplace of jazz.” When I first read this statement, or declaration, I had reservations regarding dipping into “the current contemporary marketplace”—but I had a full weekend ahead for myself to witness the results of that “dipping into,” so I will reserve my opinions or conclusions until after I describe what I actually heard each day and night.

Just after the “MJF 101: A Festival Primer” session, I was eager to hear the Chris Potter Circuits Trio, with James Francies on piano, Eric Harland on drums, and Potter on tenor sax. They were set to perform at Dizzy’s Den, which was not too far from the Pacific Jazz Café, but as I approached the venue I encountered my first major problem of the evening: there was a line of “customers” who also wanted to hear Potter that seemed as lengthy as the Great Wall of China, and just as forbidding in its many twists and turns. In my new nearly immobile state, I cannot stand (without support that goes beyond my cane) for more than a few minutes, and I knew I didn’t stand a prayer in this line, which also seemed as stationary as the Great Wall.

By way of compensation (having decided to pass on Potter, who’s one of my favorite saxophonists, and whom I truly wished to hear and see), I decided to find the Jazz Theater, which would be running whatever was happening on the Jimmy Lyons Stage, the main arena. Indeed, it had been moved from the spot it had occupied the previous year, next door to the Pacific Jazz Café, and it took a while, and some effort on my part, to find the new location—but when I did, I caught a healthy portion of the “Soul on Soul: Tribute to Mary Lou Williams” set by drummer Allison Miller and bassist Derrick Hodge, 2019 Artists-in-Residence, who provided ample backing for two pianists: Shamie Royston and Carmen Staaf (Staaf was superb later, on Sunday afternoon in Dizzy’s Den, with Miller’s Parlour Game). A vocal trio was harmonizing quite handsomely on “It Ain’t Necessarily So” when I arrived and found a seat: one song featured in the original (recorded in 1963) Black Christ of the Andes album of Mary Lou Williams—along with the title piece itself, which was offered next in this opening set at MJF.

“St. Martin de Porres, his shepherd’s staff a dusty broom
St. Martin de Porres, the poor made a shrine of his tomb
St. Martin de Porres, he gentled creatures tame and wild
St. Martin de Porres, he sheltered each unsheltered child
This man of love, born of the flesh, yet of God
This humble man healed the sick, raised the dead, his hand is quick
To feed beggars and sinners, the starving homeless and the stray
Oh Black Christ of the Andes, come feed and cure us now we pray

Spare, oh lord
Spare my people
Lest you be angered with me, forever
(Lest you be angered with me…”

Here are photos of Mary Lou Williams at the piano—and the album Black Christ of the Andes (Photo credits: Wikimedia Commons; newarkwww.rutgers.edu)

Mary Lou Williams 6 Mary Lou Williams 5

Mary Lou Williams Black Christ of the Andes

I did some research and found the following on this exceptional piece in a NPR Music article by Jenny Gathright: “In 1962, the Catholic Church canonized a new saint: A Peruvian brother of the Dominican Order named Martin de Porres, the son of a freed slave named Ana Velazquez and a Spanish gentleman who refused to recognize him because he was born with his mother’s dark features. St. Martin de Porres was a gifted healer who was dedicated to the poor — today, he is the patron saint of those who seek racial harmony. His canonization was inspiring to [Mary Lou] Williams, and so Mary Lou Williams Presents Black Christ of the Andes, a devotional work composed in his honor, was born. The composition is rooted in both Catholicism and the black American music tradition — and it undoubtedly found critics among those who adhered exclusively to one of those schools or the other. Williams performed the full piece for the first time at Saint Francis Xavier Church in New York in November of 1962, and she recorded it in October 1963.

“The opening hymn, ‘St. Martin de Porres,’ begins with a choir singing a cappella. The chords — dense and full of satisfying tensions — showcase Williams’ previously underutilized aptitude for vocal arrangement. As they sing the saint’s name, the choir slows down, masterfully swelling on the vowels as if to prove their devotion. When Williams finally enters on the keys, she does so with an Afro-Latin groove, perhaps a nod to the heritage of the hymn’s subject.

“It is the perfect, haunting invitation to the world of this recording, which feels unexpected and refreshing at every turn. ‘Mary Lou Williams is perpetually contemporary,’ Duke Ellington once said. ‘She is like soul on soul.’ Black Christ of the Andes feels like soul on soul, perhaps in ways beyond what Ellington intended by the phrase. The entire composition is concerned with salvation, the wellbeing of our souls. And the sound, which draws upon blues, gospel and jazz, can certainly be described with the word ‘soulful,’ that adjective we so often use to talk about the music that comes from enslaved black people and their descendants … After the recording of Black Christ of the Andes was released in 1964, Williams started distributing a one-page handout titled ‘Jazz for the Soul’ at her performances. The last paragraph tellingly says, in all caps: ‘YOUR ATTENTIVE PARTICIPATION, THRU LISTENING WITH YOUR EARS AND YOUR HEART, WILL ALLOW YOU TO ENJOY FULLY THIS EXCHANGE OF IDEAS, TO SENSE THESE VARIOUS MOODS, AND TO REAP THE FULL THERAPEUTIC REWARDS THAT GOOD MUSIC ALWAYS BRINGS TO A TIRED, DISTURBED SOUL AND ALL “WHO DIG THE SOUNDS.”’ Not unlike St. Martin de Porres, Mary Lou Williams was a healer. Her musical ministry belongs at the center of our canon.”

The 2019 MJF opening set did justice to the extraordinary range of Mary Lou Williams’ work: the two subtle beautiful pieces I’ve mentioned, and then rich, wild two piano call and response offerings, very “free” (reminding me of a double LP album I have, Embraced, a 1977 dual-piano concert at Carnegie Hall concert Williams gave with Cecil Taylor). “Everyone erupting,” I wrote in my notes, also quoting Psalm 100: “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with a song.” I also acknowledged Allison Miller’s hot “cool” backing (the steady accretion of her solo) and the hard-driving yet subtle contribution of Derrick Hodge—a range of effects worthy of Mary Lou Williams—“First Lady of Jazz,” a pianist, bandleader, arranger, and composer who wrote hundreds of songs.

Here are album covers from the time she was with Andy Kirk’s Clouds of Joy, the band she truly swung—and her Zodiac Suite recording: arrangements, mastered every jazz genre (gospelswingthird streambebop—and beyond),and recorded more than one hundred records. She was literally “The Lady Who Swings the Band”—any aggregate she performed with.

Mary Lou Williams Marys Idea 3 Mary Lou Williams Collection 1927-59

Mary Lou Williams Zodiac Suite

Directly following the Mary Lou Williams tribute, two old pros—Kenny Barron on piano and Dave Holldand on bass—offered the sort of perect set only two old pros such as Kenny Barron and Dave Holland can provide—and I was garetful that I’d kept my seat in the theater. Neither Barron nor Holland is a stranger to the Monterey Jazz Festival. Kenny Barron, described in the program notes as “Jazz royalty,” made the first of his eight appearances in the early 1960s with Dizzy Gillespie. In 1990, he appeared with Stan Getz, and blessed as I have been at the Festival, I saw that performance and wrote about it, in Monterey Jazz Festival: Forty Legendary Years: “1990 was the year Dizzy Gillespie came out to perform with Stan Getz. Spying a pack of cigarettes in the ailing saxophonist’s back pocket, Gillespie extracted it and threw it into the audience. The well-meaning act proved futile, however. While Getz provided a memorable set with pianist Kenny Barron in 1990, he would die of cancer in June the following year.”

Barron would perform at the Festival again, in 1999, as part of an “Eastwood at Monterey” program that featured artists Diana Krall, Chris Potter, Joshua Redman, Russell Malone, Clark Terry, and Regina Carter. Barron appeared with his own quartet in 2007; with the Monterey Jazz Festival All-Stars featuring Regina Carter and Kurt Elling in 2009; again with an All-Star group in 2010–and in 2017, with his own trio in a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ella Fitzgerald.

Dave Holland first appeared at the MJF in 1969, as a very young member of Miles Davis’ quartet (which also included a very young Chick Corea). In 1973, Holland released Conference of the Birds, an all-time avant-garde jazz classic, a “one-time-only team-up of two avant-garde legends: the fiery, passionate Sam Rivers and the cerebral Anthony Braxton.” Holland returned to the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1996, performing with Herbie Hancock. In 2001, he was asked to provide a commissioned piece, ”Monterey Suite” (with his Big Band); returned again in 2007 (in a quartet with Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Chris Potter, and Eric Harland); and performed at MJF again in 2013 with PRISM (Kevin Eubanks, Craig Taborn, Eric Harland), offering an original composition, “The Empty Chair”—a homage to his late wife.

On Friday night at the 62nd Monterey Jazz Festival, joined by Nasheet Waits on drums, Kenny Barron and Dave Holland offered Thelonious Monk’s lively tune “San Francisco Holiday (Worry Later)”—Holland smooth up and down the frets, offset by Barron’s funky, spunky, good fun interpretation which invited and was quick to draw the others into its spirit. This tune was followed by “Secret Places,” a composition by Sumi Tonooka, another of my favorite pianists who I had the good fortune (blessed again!) to interview when she first appeared at the 36th Monterey Jazz Festival in 1993. Suitable coincidence: she studied in New York with Mary Lou Williams (“I like to talk about Mary Lou,” Sumi told me in our interview. “I was about eighteen, before I went to college … I just called her up one day and asked her if she taught and she said, ‘Sure.’ My mother went with me to my first lesson … Mary Lou was living in Harlem in a flat she’d occupied for some time. Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell had hung out at her place, and used to play her piano … I played the same piano they’d played. It was very inspiring. Mary Lou said to me, ‘You don’t need to study. All you need to do is get out there and play.’ And all she did was play for me. I watched and learned a lot, just by that. She didn’t work on technical aspects at all. It was all feeling. A lot about the blues, ‘cause that’s really what her playing stems from, even though she’d always had this incredibly modern, fresh, approach to everything she did. She was very warm, beautiful, very spiritual.”). Later, Sumi Tonooka herself taught piano, at Bard College, and she worked as an assistant at Rutgers University to… Kenny Barron! The original album Secret Places was recorded in 1989 and released in 1998 on Kenny Barron’s Joken Records.

Here are individual photos of Kenny Barron and Dave Holland, of Sumi Tonooka, and of Willard Jenkins in a Saturday afternoon “Conversation” at the Pacific Jazz Café with Kenny and Dave (Photo credits: The Mercury News; WUWM.com; sumitonooka.com; Sdvoice.info).

Kenny Barron

dave_holland_  Sumi Tonooka 4

Kenny Barron and Dave Holland with Willard Conversation Voice and Viewpoint

Once the theme of Sumi Tonooka’s title tune had been established at MJF, Dave Holland took hold of the “top” (Barron comping handsomely underneath), fast melodic runs mixed with full chords of his own devising, rich triplets—all the “tricks” of his trade (each move as it should be: predictable beauty, rhythmic shifts (Nasheet Waits there just as he should be); Kenny Barron back in: lyrical, lush extended runs similar to those of Sumi Tonooka—a playful engagement of all three (four?) performers, zestful up tempo: strong steady hard bop piano, Kenny offering every lick capable on his instrument—a sweet, fully melodic again ending.The next tune was a Barron original, “Seascape,” up tempo, joyous, suitably liquid—a vivid portrait of what one would hope to find on a good day at the beach—a playful piece built on solid sand, a mix of sharp accents and flux, flow—maximum rapport again, risk-taking acrobatics, and back to full unison on the theme. The trio next offered the beautiful ballad “Warm Valley”—an “harmonic masterpiece,” with its exquisite sequence of chords: Bbmaj7, E7, Eb7, E-7b5/A7, D7, D-7b5, G7, C-7b5, Bbmaj7, C-7, F7sus4, Bbmaj7 (C-7, F7#9) (Bbmaj7, B7) —the bridge of equal invention and (difficult) charm: Emaj7,  G#-7, Go7, F$-7, B7, B-7, E7, Amaj7, E-7b5, A7, Dmaj7, c#-7, C-7b5, F7.

There’s no other way to truly play this piece than beautifully–and that’s exactly the way the trio let it unfold: each note (melodic/harmonic) clearly, cleanly articulated—and Barron’s improvisation a respectful reinvention—majestic, “delicious” in its lines, with Holland contributing an equally tender, tasteful solo. After, Kenny Barron said, “There are time constraints, so this will be the last one,” and the group offered another Baron original. “Speed Trap,” which was just that: a rapid-fire ride: up up up and away tempo, agility in every nerve cell, non-stop—Holland alongside him all the way, flying! A Waits drum solo did not sacrifice the pace in any way: a tasteful Papa Jo Jones fade built to a sudden masterful quick STOP on everyone’s part!

On account of my own “time constraints” (and spatial), I am going to jump to Saturday afternoon and another superb (perhaps my favorite of the weekend) performance: Luciana Souza and her “The Book of Longing” (based on her recent CD) set featuring Luciana on vocals (and readings) and percussion (a snare drum and hi hat), with Chico Pinheiro on guitar and Scott Colley on bass.

On Saturday afternoon, once Stu Brinin (a photographer friend who lives in Oakland, and stays with my wife and me in Pacific Grove at Festival time) and I arrived at the fairgrounds, I took a shuttle to the main arena and heard two groups, Larkin Poe and Cha Wa (groups I will write about in a subsequent, my next, Bill’s Blog post), and I wanted to stay in the Jimmy Lyons Arena for Tank and the Bangas (advertised with “No group better captures the head-spinning, time-warping maelstrom of Crescent City.”), but realized that the set at the distant Night Club featuring Luciana Souza (who IS a favorite performer of mine I was determined to see and hear) would begin at 5:00, and I’d better get back there early if I hoped to get a seat (Logistics again, and again!)—so I passed on Tank and the Bangas and took a shuttle again, to the Night Club.

I was pleased that I’d come early, for a sizeable crowd turned up for Luciana Souza–after a Commanders Jazz Ensemble (United States Air Force Band of the Golden West) set. I was able to find a seat a comfortable distance from the stage, a straight shot to where Luciana Souza would stand behind a microphone for a sound check, stand beside a snare drum and hi hat cymbals she would put to effective use throughout her set. I’d met her before, when she was at MJF accompanied by an excellent pianist, Edward Simon, and she looked as I remembered her: a pleasingly petite, poised, highly focused woman—adorable. I’d heard Scott Colley in various settings at MJF, often. Guitarist Chico Pinheiro (who would prove to be an absolute “monster” on his instrument, a miracle-worker) struck me as quite young.“Tonight we are celebrating poetry,” Luciana said, when the group’s set commenced, and I jotted down the words “deepens the humanity in us” (when she mentioned the effect of reading poetry)—a statement I could flesh out later, when I had seen a video she made on the making of The Book of Longing CD, and was able to write down accurately: “Poetry has always been a window—a window offering possibilities for viewing the world, or enlarging our understanding of ourselves. Sometimes poetry is a mirror that reflects our own revelations; sometimes it is a healer, a teacher.” You can find the video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVQXuqgSzoA

The trio then offered a poem by Bertolt Brecht which Lucinda had set to music: “In the dark times / Will there also be singing? / Yes, there will also be singing. / About the dark times.” Her own singing was reinforced well by Colley and Pinheiro. The next poem offered was one she had written herself, “These Things”: “These are the duties of the heart / These are the words we’ve come to call our Gods / These are the books we read … These are the roads less traveled by / These are the roads that took us nowhere / Or somewhere / I don’t know how to get back / to you … These are the songs we sing at times of loss / These are the tears we shed.” Again: beautifully, movingly rendered.

The absolutely fitting accompaniment of Pinheiro and Colley (bright attractive “fill” and perfect rhythmic counterpart: soulful, stark, sweet—Pinheiro amazing, as if he were playing two, maybe even three, guitars—not just one!) continued throughout two songs she sang in Portuguese, laced with scatting—the whole a plea, a cry, a supplication, a prayer ending with a poignant fade. With Scott Colley providing steady bass work, she offered a poem by Charles Simic: “Dismantling the Silence”: “Go inside a stone. That would be my way. Let someone else become a dove or gnash with a tiger’s tooth. I am happy to be a stone … From the outside the stone is a riddle: no one knows how to answer it. Yet within, it must be cool and quiet … I have seen sparks fly out when two stones are rubbed, so perhaps it is not dark inside at all; perhaps there is a moon shining from somewhere, as though behind a hill – just enough light to make out the strange writings, the star charts on the inner walls.” Once again, the musical backing–and Luciana Souza’s vocalizing—served the poem perfectly.

Of her CD The Poems of Elizabeth Bishop and Other Songs,” Luciana Souza has said: “In Bishop’s poetry I hear a deep voice, honest and dignified. She sees clearly, and tells so simply. I borrowed her words for my music, and wrote melodies and harmonies around them. Her travels continue. I know I have places to go.” The trio offered “One Art,” a sestina by Elizabeth Bishop, set in up tempo Brazilian rhythm, Luciana scat singing, fine quick passages with occasional keen “bleating” outcries or vocal ejaculations, after she offered a portion of the poem: “The art of losing isn’t hard to master; / so many things seem filled with the intent / to be lost that their loss is no disaster … Lose something every day. Accept the fluster / of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. / The art of losing isn’t hard to master … I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster, / some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent. / I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster … —Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture / I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident / the art of losing’s not too hard to master / though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.” And Chico Pinheiro provided another brilliant guitar solo.

This was followed by Leonard Cohen’s (whom she had mentioned she would like to celebrate also when she first announced her intent to celebrate poetry) “The Book of Longing: Prologue”: “I can’t make the hills / The system is shot / I’m living on pills / For which I thank God … I followed the course / From chaos to art / Desire the horse / Depression the cart … I sailed like a swan / I sank like a rock / But time is long gone … But I’m not allowed / A trace of regret … For someone will use / What I couldn’t be / My heart will be hers / Impersonally … For less than a second / Our lives will collide / The endless suspended / The door open wide … I know she is coming / I know she will look / And that is the longing / And this is the book.”

The vocalist ended the set with a song about Brazil–a song she accompanied on tambourine (rounding out her percussive chores), scatting in unison with Chico Pinheiro’s spectacular guitar work, and a handsome solo by Scott Colley—and anthem ending, a magnificent denouement: all three musicians magicians with fingers, thirty fingers, and Luciana’s soaring scat to a sudden STOP! And this wondrous set had come to a close.

In the liner notes to The Book of Longing CD, Luciana writes: “Making music with Chico and Scott is a thing of wonder. They have bountiful hearts, incredibly able hands, and abundant musical intelligence”—all of which was readily on display at the 62nd Monterey Jazz Festival.

There’s no way I could not appreciate–no, love–everything Luciana Souza and her trio offered throughout their set. Not so long ago, I offered a blog post that focused on the “marriage” of poetry and music—with an emphasis on the thoughts of my favorite 20th century poet, Osip Mandelstam, on the topic. In the best book I’ve read on Mandelstam, An Essay on the Poetry of Osip Mandelstam: God’s Grateful Guest, author Ryszard Przybylski writes, “Opinions of professional musicians about a poet’s attitude towards music should be considered authoritative,” and he goes on to cite composer Artur Sergeyevich Luriye saying that Mandelstam “loved music passionately, but he never talked about this love. He kept it deeply concealed.” Przybylski concludes that Mandelstam “listened to music and said nothing about it. He said nothing and he wrote. And thanks to that writing he entered the history of Russian music.”  Mandelstam wrote about it (brilliant writing on poetry and music); Luciana Souza SINGS it!

 Here are photos of Lucians Souza—in performance at MJF (photo taken by good friend Stu Brinin, and given to me as a gift); another MJF photo—and one of her reading poetry “at home.” (Photo credits: Stuart Brinin; culturalattache.co—Craig Byrd)

Luciana Souza MJF Stu luciana-souza-reading poetry KQED (2)

Luciana Souza The Book of Longing

Przybylski writes, “[Mandelsgtam] treated everything he did as flight and song … a poet who heard existence … who felt he was filled with rhythm, the fundamental form-creating element. He was incapable of separating poetry from music because he was incapable of separating form from content. For him art was music, which, as Boethius explained, sometimes makes use of instruments and sometimes creates poetry.”

Pryzybylski quotes musicologist Paolo Carapezza: “In ancient times music and the living logos [phonic organization of words as language] were an inseparable unit, and what is more, the former was considered to be the conscious and deliberate perfecting and refining of the latter, the revelation of its internal essence; the living logos was music in raw form, like gold in the form of ore.” Carapezza also cites a time of “esthetic transformation” when music stopped being “an extract of logos” and became “that in which the logos swims and by which it is surrounded.” Music was no longer structured on a plane equal with the word, “not according to the word,” but “appropriately according to its own patterns.” Music began to be constituted “independently of the word.”

Mandelstam, according to Pryzybylski, understood the meaning of this process well. In his essay “Pushkin and Scriabin,” the poet wrote: “The Hellenes did not allow music any independence: the word served them as the requisite antidote, the faithful sentinel, and the constant companion of music. Pure music was unknown to the Hellenes; it belongs completely to Christianity. The mountain lake of Christian music grew calm only after the profound transformation which turned Hellas into Europe.” And Pryzybylski adds, “The symbol of this unity of music and logos was, for Mandelstam, Aphrodite, but … before she swam out of the ocean foam, when she was still living in the foam or, better yet, when she was foam. For among the Greeks love was an initial movement and very quickly it became a unifying force. Thus, it fused meaning with song, intellect with rhythm, communication with expression. Thanks to love music was born of the natural prosodic melody of the word. Each thought arose out of music, all music gave birth to thought.”

Here is a drawing I did of Osip Mandelstam, based on a photograph of him as a young poet, age 26; and the cover of the book, An Essay on the Poetry of Osip Mandelstam: God’s Grateful Guest, by Ryszard Przybylski.

Mandelstam 1    Mandelstam 5

I also discovered that the first love poems set to music come from Egypt, 1300 BC (1000 years before the Biblical “Song of Songs”): the first poems to celebrate “the union of lovers for the delight it brings’—the ordinary joys of human intimacy … “Up until the thirteenth century … there was no separation between musical language and poetic language; there was no poetry without melody … It is important to remember that at that time, if not everyone learned to read, everyone did learn to sing.”

And now, Luciana Souza, in several of her recordings (Neruda, The Poems of Elizabeth Bishop and Other Songs, The Book of Longing) has made her own very significant contribution to that “lost” tradition or art—poetry as song.

There are four more sets at the 62nd Monterey Jazz Festival I’d like to write about: a Saturday evening performance by the Christian McBride Big Band—a commission piece: Roy Anthony The Fearless One: In Memory of Roy Hargrove; Sunday afternoon’s Parlour Game (featuring Jenny Scheinman on violin; Carmen Staff, piano; Tony Scherr, bass; and Allison Miller, drums); Roberta Gambarini and pianist Jeb Patton at the Pacific Jazz Café on Saturday night; and pianists Tammy L. Hall and bassist Ruth Davies at the same venue on Sunday evening: “Re-imagining music from Charlie Haden and Hank Jones’ classic recordings Steal Away and Going Home”—Spirituals, Hymns and Folk Songs—but I will save that material for a subsequent Bill’s Blog—in which I will also attempt to make good on my intention to evaluate the results of the Monterey Jazz Festival’s new “vision” for itself—its mission statement “to reflect a three-year planning effort to attract new and younger audience members to the event.”

I began this Blog with some thoughts on the realization that logistics would be even more of a concern for me at the 62nd  than at the 61st Festival: “just getting from one venue to another,” in light of my “medical” situation–and I shall offer more thoughts on my new “unique” perspective also.

I will be with you again on Bill’s Blog–then!

Author: William Minor

I am a writer and musician who has published thirteen books: most recent Going Solo: A Memoir 1953-1958; also Gypsy Wisdom: New & Selected Poems; The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir, a comic novel (Trek: Lips. Sunny, Pecker and Me); three books on jazz (most recent: Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within), and six other books of poetry. A professional musician since the age of sixteen, I have released three CDs (most recent: Love Letters of Lynchburg--spoken word and original musical score commissioned by the Historic Sandusky Foundation in Virginia). I was educated at The University of Michigan, Pratt Institute, The University of Hawaii, UC-Berkeley (MFA in Painting and Drawing), and San Francisco State College (MA in Language Arts). I taught for thirty-two years (English, Creative Writing, Humanities) at The University of Hawaii, Wisconsin State University-Whitewater, and Monterey Peninsula College). Originally trained as a visual artist, I have exhibited woodcut prints and paintings at the San Francisco Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Smithsonian Institution. I have been married to Betty for sixty years and we have two grown sons: Timothy and Stephen. We live in Pacific Grove, California where, retired from teaching, I just write and play music, both of which I love.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s