Poetry and Disinterestedness, John Keats, William Hazlitt, Bianca Stone, and Gothic Grief

I’m back (from blogs on jazz) to thinking lots about poetry lately (and writing some): thinking focused on what makes poetry worth writing (and reading): what makes the act of writing poetry truly meaningful, truly necessary (required to be achieved, needed; essential, imperative, indispensable, incumbent). In 1955, sixty-four years ago, I began to read contemporary poetry with the serious attention it deserves. I attended “live” readings in New York City, and I spent a considerable amount of time listening to the then available Caedmon recordings: Dylan Thomas, T.S. Eliot, e.e. cummings, Edna St. Vincent Millay, W.H. Auden, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, Archibald MacLeish, William Carlos Williams, Gertrude Stein, Robert Graves, Stephen Spender, et cetera.

I spent considerable time attempting to determine just what made poetry “truly meaningful,” essential, true–rather than a gratuitous (“not called for by the circumstances not necessary, appropriate, or justified UNWARRANTED”) act—and over the past sixty-four  years, I have read, heard and more than likely written work that might be regarded as spurious “creativity”: just showing off, displaying well-schooled (too often workshop well-schooled?) verbal finesse (or what one has been taught as finesse—playing “the game,” clever, “cute”); mistaking therapy (getting “stuff” off one’s mind, or chest–unloading) for The Real Thing; a martyrdom that sacrifices original thought and feeling for overt political purpose or persuasion (adopting a stance or “position”—a specific party platform the language of which is not one’s own); self-aggrandizement (overestimating one’s own importance or power—an attitude that might be present, and detrimental, no matter what activity one is engaged in); or the worst offense against genuine poetry perhaps: outright fakery—deceit, dissimulation, dissembling, enjoying being thought of as a “Poet” (capital “P”), pretending one is a Poet, but not necessarily producing much that resembles the art form itself.

I’ve never had the courage of conviction of the totally committed, uncompromising Osip Mandelstam, who, when an aspiring young poet read his poems to him (“everything that I could”), listened attentively (“his face showing neither approval nor disapproval”), and finally said, “It doesn’t matter how gutta-percha [rigid natural latex produced from the sap of a Malaysian tree] a voice you read those poems in—they are still bad.”—and on another occasion, when the wannabe poet V. Kaverin read his work to Mandelstam, the poet spoke to him “sternly, with passion and conviction”: “There was no room for irony. It was important to him that I stop writing verses, and what he was saying was a defense of poetry against me and against those tens and hundreds of young men and women who were amusing themselves with the game of words.” (from Mandelstam, by Clarence Brown). Kaverin gained his first “intimation of the fact that poetry does not exist for itself alone, and that if it does not strive to express life, to give it lasting form, no one has any use for even the cleverest gathering of rhymed lines.”

I’ve read and heard some open to doubt, debatable “poetry” over the years, but I’ve never had the nerve to respond as Mandelstam did, although … on occasion, I’ve wished I had.

So … What IS The Real Thing? Whenever, now, I feel a bit uncertain, I go back to what I recognized, experienced as “The Real Thing” when I first read it—this a few years before I got serious about the art form in NYC: when I discovered the work of John Keats. As Andrew Motion writes in his excellent Keats: A Biography: “Keats confirms his ambition (his appeal to posterity became increasingly emphatic as he failed to find short-term success), and asserts his necessary independence. If he is to make his name as a poet, he says, it will be because he develops his individual gifts, rather than adapting them to suit the expectations of a ‘fierce miscreed.’ He pledges his loyalty to an aesthetic which is highly personal, rather than one which is determined by conventional readers or specific social forces … It is only by resisting the temptation to tease ‘the world for grace’ that poets can achieve their ambitions. Identity depends on calm self-possession.”

Here are four portraits of John Keats—the first a painting by William Hilton; second a sketch by Benjamin Haydon; a life mask by Haydon, and a piece by Joseph Severn (the artist who accompanied Keats to Rome, where the poet died at age twenty-five). (Photo credits: Wikipedia; The Thanatos Archive; keatslettersproject.com; amazon.com)

john_keats_by_william_hilton  john-keats-sketch

john keats life mask by benjamin haydon  john keats sketch sleeping by joseph severen

And here are words from the man himself, from The Selected Letters of John Keats: To John Hamilton Reynolds, 3 Feb. 1818: “Every man has his speculations, but every man does not brood and peacock over them till he makes a false coinage and deceives himself … We hate poetry that has a palpable design upon us—and if we do not agree, seems to put its hand in its breeches pocket. Poetry should be great and unobtrusive, a thing that enters into one’s soul, and does not startle it or amaze it with itself, but with its subject—How beautiful are the retired flowers! How would they lose their beauty were they to throng into the highway crying out, “Admire me I am a violet!—dote upon me I am a primrose! … I don’t mean to deny Wordsworth’s grandeur and Hunt’s merit, but I mean to say we need not be teased with grandeur and merit when we can have them uncontaminated and unobtrusive.”

Here are a few more insights from Keats: A Biography, by Andrew Motion: “Inevitably, some aspects of the age influenced him more than others, and some hardly affected him at all. This means that distinctions have to be made, as well as associations emphasized, in placing his story within its context. But even when his poems struggled to overrule time, they reflected his particular circumstances. He was born with the City at his back, among clamorous commercial interests, Volunteers training, radicals protesting, hospitals expanding, and suburbs spilling into open country. He spent his adult life paying very deliberate attention to these things, and to other national and international issues as well. In some respects they persuaded him that he was an outsider. In others they gave him confidence. He could insist on independence because he knew that he belonged nowhere precisely. He looked beyond everyday events because he understood how they might confine and disappoint him. And he realized that in striving to achieve various sorts of cohesion in his work, he could never ignore the stubborn facts of paradox and contradiction.”

Reading Shakespeare “religiously” provided John Keats a sense that “the most powerful poetry does not make its effects by hectoring, or even candidly expressing the author’s personal opinion, but by creating a self-sufficient imaginative universe—a universe in which readers are invited to make independent critical decisions and moral judgements.” Poet/critic Matthew Arnold understood that Keats’ work was ‘not imitative, indeed, of Shakespeare, but Shakespearean because its expression has that rounded perfection and felicity of loveliness of which Shakespeare is the great master’ … Keats’ affinity with Shakespeare depends on thoughts about poetic identity; about the overriding need for it to remain fluid, to have no trace of the egotistical sublime, to have in its extreme suppleness and empathy ‘no character at all.’”

This paragraph anticipates Keats’ theory of impersonality or Negative Capability. Contemplating his own craft and the art of others, especially William Shakespeare, writing to his brothers in 1817, Keats proposed that a great thinker is “capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” A poet, then, has the power to bury self-consciousness, dwell in a state of openness to all experience, and identify with the object contemplated. The inspirational power of beauty, according to Keats, is more important than the quest for objective fact; as he writes in his “Ode on a Grecian Urn”:”‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Writing to his friend Benjamin Bailey in the same year, Keats said: “Men of Genius are great as certain ethereal Chemicals operating on the Mass of neutral intellect – but they have not any individuality, any determined Character … I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of Imagination – What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth – whether it existed before or not – for I have the same idea of all our passions as of love: they are all, in their sublime, creative of essential beauty … The imagination may be compared to Adam’s dream, – he awoke and found it truth.”

The approach, or philosophy, is one John Keats shared with (and was perhaps inspired by) another friend: the older, more “well-established” (highly respected lecturer, critic) William Hazlitt, whose core or major principle was disinterestedness in all its modes: detachment, equity, evenhandedness, fairness, impartiality, justice, neutrality, nonpartianship, objectivity (the autonyms for which are: bias, favoritism, nonobjectivity, onesidedness, partisanship, and prejudice).

Here’s a self-portrait by William Hazlitt, and the cover of his Selected Writings: (Photo credit: en.wikipedia.org)

william hazlitt self-portrait wikipedia    william hazlett selected works

[The] ability to respond to imaginative and rhetorical power, “even in those cases where one might disagree with the ideas so movingly expressed,” was evidence of the disinterestedness which Hazlitt prized.—or as David Bromwich [in Hazlitt: The Mind of a Critic] emphasizes: “Hazlitt’s concept of disinterestedness did not mean lack of interest or strict judicial impartiality, but rather, the capacity to enter sympathetically into interests or positions other than one’s own. Disinterestedness did not preclude partisanship, or Hazlitt would not have been able to achieve it!” … In his early foray into philosophy, ‘’An Essay on the Principles of Human Action’”(1805), Hazlitt argued that “the imagination was essentially disinterested – as capable of responding to the predicament of a friend, neighbor, or stranger as to one’s own predicament. Habit, of course, would in time render us more self-centered, but innately, our imaginative capacities were boundless … The imagination required to appreciate the plight of this yet-nonexistent self, he argued, was akin to the imagination that appreciated the plight of all other selves – mine, thine, his, and hers. Hazlitt’s theory directly challenged the prevailing Hobbesian idea of man’s innate selfishness, a belief which was often used to justify social repression (society must limit individual selfishness), or, in more Malthusian fashion, to justify a laissez faire attitude in which the selfishness of each person was presumed to be balanced by the selfishness of everyone else.”

Here’s William Hazlitt in his own early-19th century words (from “An Essay on the Principles of Human Action”): “Would it not be strange if this constant fellowship [of a child, in school] of joys and sorrows did not produce in him some sensibility to the good or ill fortune of his companions, and some real good-will towards them? The greatest part of our pleasures depend upon habit: and those which arise from acts of kindness and disinterested [italics mine] attachment to others are the most common, the most lasting, the least mixed with evil of all others, as a man devoid of all attachment to others, whose heart was thoroughly hard and insensible to every thing but his own interest would scarcely be able to support his existence, (for in him the spring and active principle of life would be gone), it follows that we ought to cultivate sentiments of generosity and kindness for others … The advantages of virtue are however to be derived, like those of any liberal art, from the immediate gratification attending it, from it’s necessary effect on the mind, and not from a gross calculation of self-interest. This effect must be the greatest, where there is the most love of virtue for its own sake, as we become truly disinterested, and generous.”

On Keats’ “authenticity,” David Bromwich writes: “The sumptuous details, Classical references and painterly gestures would all become trademarks. And there is something else too—something that again anticipates his mature work. The ‘beauties’ of the ‘Imitation’ are not merely a lovely escape from the world; they enact a form of engagement with it. By setting his ‘emerald’ island ‘in the silver sheen / Of the bright waters’, Keats describes a miniature England that belongs in a specific historical context. Its seclusion is an emblem of peacefulness in general, and the result of a particular Peace—the Peace between England and France, which was signed in Paris at the time it was written.”

I’ve carried The Real Thing, the poetry of John Keats with me throughout eighty-three years of existence now, and a single poem of his, “Bright Star,” came in quite handy, stood me in good stead, with a few old girl friends and even with my wife of sixty-two years, Betty (whom I’ve known for seventy-two years!). I still love this (to my ears, eyes, heart, and soul) perfect poem, and here it is:

Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art—

Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night,

And watching, with eternal lids apart,

Like Nature’s patient sleepless Eremite,

The moving waters at their priestlike task

Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,

Or gazing on the new soft fallen mask

Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—

No—yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,

Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,

To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,

Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,

Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,

And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

I return, frequently, to the work of poets I have relished in my lifetime, and regard as The Real Thing: the Russian poets Osip Mandelstam, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Anna Ahkmatova, Marina Tsvetaeva, Boris Pasternak; the Greek poets Georgos Seferis, Yannis Ritsos, and Odysseus Elytis; Americans Robert Lowell, Theodore Roethke, Jack Spicer, Elizabeth Bishop, James Scheville, Richard Wilbur, Carolyn Kizer, John Logan, Philip Levine, Paul Zimmer, Li-Young Lee, Amy Gerstler, Mary Ruefle, Robert Sward, Sandra McPherson—and a recent “discovery,” the multi-talented Bianca Stone.

Since “finding” her, I have acquired four books by Bianca Stone (an accomplished visual artist as well as poet): Someone Else’s Wedding Vows, The Mobius Strip Club of Grief, Antigonick (a collaboration with translator Anne Carson), and Poetry Comics from The Book of Hours. She is also the chair of the Ruth Stone Foundation, an organization that honors the work of her grandmother, poet Ruth Stone–whose 1999 book Ordinary Words won the National Book Critics Circle Award, soon followed by other award-winning collections, including In the Next Galaxy (2002), winner of the National Book Award; In the Dark (2004); and What Love Comes To: New & Selected Poems (2008), a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

The first book by Bianca Stone I read was Someone Else’s Wedding Vows—and a single poem there, “Reading a Science Article on the Airplane to JFK,” nearly stopped my heart (and brought empathic tears) because my sister Emily, six years younger than I (active, joyous, loving, a soul-mate at whose bedside I would sit, when she was a teenager, to play “quiet chords from my guitar,” and sing her favorite folk-songs), had just died of pancreatic cancer. Here’s a portion of Bianca Stone’s poem:

“… You have experienced profound grief—

how do you react to this?

Down on the ground your family

writhes. Down on the ground

you are surrounded at Starbucks

with a terrible glow.

And you have seen someone you love,

with a colossal

complex vehemence, die.

And it is pinned under glass

in perfect condition.

It is wrapped around you

like old fur. You’ve looked at the sky

until your eyes touched

zodiacal fantasies—right there in the void.

You know this. That the body lays down

while the mind bloats

on intellectual chaos …”

Here’s a portion of a review of The Mobius Strip Club of Grief  (the second book by Bianca Stone I read, and admired, extravagantly) by Jaime Zuckerman (It appeared in The Kenyon Review): “The Möbius Strip Club of Grief builds on the intellectual work of its feminist forebears and offers a vision of womanhood that is raw, raging, sad, and beautiful. The women in Stone’s poems don’t fit any of the definitions of woman that society has neatly provided; her poems blur, challenge, and outright erase those definitions completely. In their place, Stone offers a womanhood in which we can find some sort of personal freedom from all the grief of simply living. A womanhood that will last long after the current trends have lost their shine and we still need to be heard … Stone’s first collection of poems, Someone Else’s Wedding Vows—as well as her collection of poetry, comics, and several chapbooks—are full of falling in love, being lost and found, sometimes desperate, sometimes joyful abandon … The Möbius Strip Club of Grief begins as an elegy for Bianca Stone’s grandmother, the poet Ruth Stone, and becomes an elegy for America … [Bianca Stone] asks herself about the collection, ‘Why am I writing this psychosexual opus to the mind of my women?’ Because, Bianca, we need to hear it. We need all the inspiration we can get right now … It is through the ‘genius’ or the creativity of women—grandmas, mothers, daughters—that we can find some salvation or solace. It’s poetry itself that gives us our agency and helps us overcome our multitude of grief.”

Here’s a photo of Bianca Stone, of Ruth Stone, a sample of Bianca Stone’s art work, and the cover of her book Poetry Comics from the Book of Hours: (Photo credits: Facebook; poetryfoundation.org/poets/ruth-stonewww.essaydaily.org: Visual Essayists: Bianca Stone)

bianca stone 11  ruth-stone poetry foundation

bianca stone art work bed and upside down lovers      bianca stone poetry comics cover

I let John Keats and William Hazlett speak for themselves, and their work; here’s Bianca Stone on being a poet/artist (interview by Ariel Kahn in The Ilanot Review): “There’s so much that can be expressed with visual images that just can’t be in words. And what’s powerful about words alone is that the reader can create the visual in their mind. This of course is a well-known fact about the power of poetry. And why so many people get it wrong trying to ‘understand’ it. But in any case, I try in my poetry comics to not take away that negative capability [John Keats!]that mystery in the words, and instead think of the images as I would a line of a poem … I’m more apt to allow for irony in the juxtaposition between playful and dramatic. I like to counteract the tones; they come from the same place, but translate differently once out in the open. Writing poetry requires a certain amount of something–not necessarily work, but something– in the head; even two words coming together, that power when they are beside one another–it’s a very specific mode of the brain that’s turning on. Whereas with images I feel I can let my mind wander while I do it. There’s a totally different area sparking when I’m doing this. Different demands of mindfulness …  like the forms of poetry that make it poetry, it’s a necessary confine … that white space (gutter) between panels. The blank space creates meaning. That space where we don’t see what’s happening is where the magic is. It’s just like Keats’ negative capability. It’s just like a line break. Like the poetic form, or just the form the poem makes on the page: stanzas, etc. So I know that space, and the confined space, is important … Letting imagination cross the border of what you want to convey to the reader—what is perhaps appropriate or literal—and the unknown, the enigmatic. That is what I am most interested in.. I encourage readers to smile in curiosity! But also to surrender themselves to The Not Knowing. There’s a power in not asking what something means, the irony being that the question becomes relevant only once you stop asking it. And also perhaps, in some ways, answered … Giving something a term, however undefined, can be life-altering … And there’s so much imperfection in labels, but that too is what’s so fun about it … So after I heard this term [“poetry comics”] I began to combine poetry and art with great intention. And calling it something gave me permission to bring my art into my (let’s call it) ‘professional’ life as a writer. I mean, here were these two arts I’d loved doing ever since I could hold a pen, and now I could experiment with what it really meant to combine them; how to do both justice; how to complicate and further the power of each medium.”

When I think of Bianca Stone’s work, I find the rightful “grief” that Jaime Zuckerman recognized and commented on, but I also find an appropriate, unique, original, witty, a bit ghoulish, disturbing “stance” that I think of as “Gothic”—thus the phrase “Gothic Grief” in my title for this Bill’s Blog post. I’ll take a little time, here, to establish a definition of what I see as a tradition I feel she “carries on,” and represents well. The phrase “Gothic art” arrived on the cultural scene in the 12th century AD, a style of medieval art developed in Northern France, inspired by the development of Gothic architecture. The Gothic period included sculpture, panel painting, stained glass, fresco and illuminated manuscripts. Here are some examples:

gothic sculpture 1    gothic sculpture 2

From Wikipedia: “The earliest Gothic art was monumental sculpture, on the walls of Cathedrals and abbeys–illustrating stories of the New Testament and the Old Testament side by side. Saints’ lives were often depicted. Images of the Virgin Mary changed from the Byzantine iconic form to a more human and affectionate mother, cuddling her infant, swaying from her hip, and showing the refined manners of a well-born aristocratic courtly lady.”

From Wikipedia again: “In literature, Gothic fiction (largely known by the subgenre Gothic horror) would come about in 1764 (at the hands of English author Horace Walpole, with his novel The Castle of Otranto, subtitled in its second edition ‘A Gothic Story’)–a genre that combines fiction, horror, death, and at times romance. The genre had much success in the 19th century, as witnessed in prose by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the works of Edgar Allen Poe, and in the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Lord Byron.” Another novel in this genre, dating from the late Victorian era, is Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

From architecture to literature—quite a journey! As is: from the 12th century to Bianca Stone. Here are some more lines from one of her poems, “Emily Dickinson”—lines I feel express “Gothic Grief”:

“She applied her passion like a hot iron sword.

And no one can take off her clothes, ever—she comes

and her language takes them off of us,

not piece by piece, not fumbling buttons,

but all at once in a single shot,

her tiny poems like grenades that fit in the hand.

And we here bask in the debris,

stripped down to our private parts,

the snow white of the bone, the authentic corpse in heat.

The absolute original.”

To my mind (and heart, and soul), Bianca Stone is an “absolute original,” The Real Thing. I rarely, if ever, attempt to contact poets I admire or have just “discovered,” but I was so impressed with Bianca’s brilliant mix of poetry and visual art that I sent her the following (and received a gracious “Thank you, William!” on Facebook): “I am relatively ancient and relished an exciting era (mid-50s: abstract expressionism) at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn (and playing jazz piano there). Because I loved both art forms, I attempted to combine (and do justice to both) poetry and graphic art: woodcut prints of Classical and Modern Greek and Russian poems—but I did not possess the imagination, originality, and “great intention” you offer in your poetry comics, Book of Hours, Antigonick—and all you do with visual art and words. Thanks for advancing, so handsomely, a tradition that began for me with appreciation of the work of William Blake, Kenneth Patchen, and Shiko Munakata.”

Gratitude for disinterestedness, John Keats, William Hazlitt, Bianca Stone, Gothic grief, and poets who enrich and sustain our lives with The Real Thing seems a reasonable way to close out this blog post. Yes, Thanks!

 

 

 

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Two Who Form a Multitude

Walt Whitman was not the first person to claim to contain multitudes. In Greek mythology, Deucalion and Pyrrha were instructed by Themis to replace the loss of mankind (after the end of an Iron Age flood) by casting stones of the earth (reinstating men and women) behind them. The couple claimed, “Nos duo turba sumus” (“We two form a multitude.”). In our era, Larry Constantine, an American software engineer considered one of the pioneers of computing, has said, “A dynamic duo who work well together can be worth any three people working in isolation.” And I once wrote a poem celebrating thirty-eight years of marriage to the same person (now going on fifty-nine years with my wife Betty) by citing the names “Lea & Perrins, Proctor/Gamble, Tom & Jerry, Yang and Yin” as forerunners among other memorable duos.

Turning to the world of jazz (the focus for this particular blog): with on-the-spot improvisation at its heart, and once favoring late-night cutting contests and show-stopping solo excursions, the art of jazz might appear to be fiercely contestual, competitive—but it also fosters cooperation not often found outside an institution such as marriage (where, given the divorce rate, it does not always, obviously, reign or rule): a unique partnership in which superior talents set their egos aside and collaborate like Siamese twins who know each other’s thoughts, gestures, and whims by instinct, by heart—anticipating and responding to each other with ease and skill.

I drew up a list of my own favorite great jazz duos, and that list was long: Stan Getz and Kenny Barron, Hank Jones and Charlie Haden, Don Byas and Slam Stewart, Joe Pass and Ella Fitzgerald, Don Cherry and John Coltrane (or Coltrane with Thelonious Monk), Bill Evans and Tony Bennett, Marcus Roberts and Bella Fleck,  Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron, Gerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond, Gary Burton and Makoto Ozone … the list goes on and on and on …

arriving at, for the purpose of this blog, bassists David Friesen and Glen Moore.

On the foundation of their fifty year association (they first met in Seattle in 1965) and paths that continued to cross (on tour in Europe and the USA, but also, when both were at home in Portland, Oregon); acknowledging their first record, In Concert, for Vanguard in 1977, and another duet recording, Returning, which followed in 1993; a special duet concert in Portland in 2013, touring Arizona playing concerts and presenting music clinics in February of 2015, and 13 concerts in Europe in March (one result of which is the recently released CD Bactrian, which I will attempt to do justice to, verbally, in a moment)—bassists David Friesen and Glen Moore take their rightful place among the great jazz duos: the CD fully supporting David’s belief that “this new recording represents something very special … not only representing some of what we both feel is the very best recorded music we have played together … but something else inside the notes that only happens when you must endure the wait of over 50 years.”

David Friesen and Glen MOore     David Friesen and Glenn Moore 3

I first heard David Friesen perform at the Monterey Sheraton’s Bay Club and wrote about him for our local Monterey newspaper, The Herald, in March of 1988—and I have maintained twenty-seven years of constantly increasing admiration and respect for David and his work. The piece I wrote in 1988 was entitled “Jazz with Extra-Musical Purpose,” and that’s exactly what first attracted me to his considerable gifts (plural!) at the time. I felt that every note he played was infused with significance and intentionality; I felt that David saw the music, and humankind, not as ends in themselves, but as a means to celebrate the “gift” of life itself.

When I first heard David Friesen, he had played in the distinguished company of Joe Henderson, Stan Getz, Sam Rivers, and Duke Jordan. That evening at the Bay Club, he performed with a trio made up of himself, 22-year-old Phil Dwyer (sax and piano) and 25-year-old drummer Alan Jones. An inspiring, stunning instrumentalist, David was about as self-effacing as a leader dare get, yet always at the epicenter of the music. The trio offered a family tapestry filled with intricate and loving accord. I heard David Friesen again about a year later, with Paul Horn’s Quartet at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz, California. David’s solos were wonders of design: on-the-spot invention that swung, intelligence free of any hesitation. The group offered two Friesen originals: “Pathways” and “Festival Dance” (the latter just that: a syncretistic gambol, a joyful noise made unto the Lord).

David Friesen9    David Friesen Star Dance(Photo credit: Burnside Records)

In April 1995, Down Beat magazine published an article I wrote on David Friesen’s recorded work up to that time. The piece began: “What do Michael Brecker, Clark Terry, Denny Zeitlin, John Scofield, Bud Shank and Airto Moriera all have in common? The answer is David Friesen, a veteran Oregon bassist with a prodigious output of recent CDs.” I quoted what David told me was the rationale behind his abundant recording activity: “So I can survive. Basically, that’s the truth. Also, I have lots of ideas. I’m pretty diverse in what I do. There are so many styles of music I enjoy, and I’ve been fortunate to find record companies that will support my projects.”

At that time, a series of recordings for ITM Pacific included duets on Two For The Show and a trio on Three To Get Ready. David Friesen cited four criteria for selecting the artists for both CDs: individuality-independence, dedication to the music, the ability to “listen,” and variety. Two For The Show featured Friesen in duets with the fine yet disparate talents of Brecker, Terry, Zeitlin, Scofield, Shank and German guitarist Uwe Kropinski. Regarding this CD, I wrote about David Friesen’s resilience, saying that, like a marriage without children, a duo could be a dangerous undertaking: all focus and responsibility placed on the partners’ reciprocity—a difficult art or balancing act that required each participant to truly listen constantly, and respond fully. And that’s just what each of these duos did!

Throughout the years, from the time they first met in Seattle in 1965 until 1993, when David Friesen and Glen Moore recorded their second duo album together, Returning, Glen was engaged in a number of successful enterprises of his own. In the words of writer Lynn Darroch, “As founding member of the pioneer chamber jazz group, Oregon, Glen Moore helped redefine jazz in the late twentieth century.” Trained on both acoustic bass and piano, he cultivated, as a child, fondness for the European symphonic tradition. At age eighteen, he met guitarist, pianist, and composer Ralph Towner at the University of Oregon. Having earned a B.A. in history and having studied bass for a year in Copenhagen, Glen Moore went to New York in 1967, where he and Towner performed at Woodstock (with singer Tim Harden) and then, in 1970, created Oregon (with Paul McCandless: oboe, soprano saxophone, English Horn; and Colin Walcott, percussion, sitar, tabla)—a group Moore called “an improvising orchestra.”

Glen Moore and Oregon2      Glen Moore and Oregon.jpg 1

Oregon recorded twenty-seven albums together—a double CD (Oregon in Moscow) among them, a recording made with the Moscow Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra. The group’s other accomplishments include its music allied with an Apollo mission to the moon (craters there bear the names of two of Oregon’s songs: “Icarus” and “Ghost Beads.”)—and Glen’s individual credits include collaboration with vocalist Nancy King; the debut of his “Firebat Suite” by the Philadelphia Symphony; and music composed for theater (Henry VI) and to accompany poets (Galway Kinnell, Joe Stroud, Al Young, Robert Hass, Philip Levine, etc.) at the Mountain Writers Center in Oregon.

After twelve years in New York and Europe, Glen Moore returned to Oregon in 1980, and took up residence in the Portland area. Reunited with David Friesen in 1993, they recorded the album previously cited, Returning, Moore’s acoustic Klotz bass (crafted in the Tyrol about 1715), on which—in the words of Lynn Darroch again—“he has made extensive use of a unique tuning with both a low and a high C string” merged with David Friesen’s circa 1795 N. Guignot (Mirecourt, France) and the Hemage bass, made by Hermann Erlacher, who offered expert craftsmanship after a solo concert in Innsbruck. Friesen–once an avowed acoustic purist–said the instrument allowed him to play “the music I hear within myself; a very warm, sustaining sound that’s not like an electronic bass. I’m not fighting the sound anymore. The whole course of art is dreams. You’ve got to be flexible enough to evolve; to allow the music to go where it’s supposed to go in life, and be flexible enough yourself to follow that.” –this matched with Glen Moore’s own words regarding the sound he prefers: “Using the technique of the classical guitar in order to expand the vocabulary of pizzicato bass is probably the thing I’ve spent most of my life learning and teaching.”

In the liner notes to Returning, W. Patrick Hinely wrote: “That David Friesen and Glen Moore would both live in the same city [Portland] in itself defies the laws of probability; think of all the regions on Earth which have zero bassists per capita, much less such giants of the instrument operating on their level—but then, since both so make their family homes in Portland, it then follows naturally that they’d record together on home ground, betwixt and between the frequent international travels necessary to make their livings.”

David Friesen and Glenn Moore 5 (1977)David Friesen and Glenn Moore10David Friesen and Glen Moore 4  (Photo credits: Glen Moore Archives (oregonmusicnews.com); Klaus-muempfer.de)

The recent CD I want to focus on now–Bactrian–is the result of both that international travel and “home grown” opportunity. It was recorded and mixed at Fattoria Musica, in Osnabruck, Germany; and post production took place at the hands of Dana White (Specialized Mastering) back in Portland. On it, both artists play piano, David Friesen Hemage Bass, and Glen Moore acoustic bass made by Heiner Windelband, Schloss Neu-Barenaue, Bramsche, Germany.

I won’t go through the CD track by track (there are eleven in all), but because these great artists are also great storytellers (as superior musicians from Beethoven and Hector Berlioz to Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis have been!), I will attempt to describe a few tracks, to give you a sense of the tales they tell and how David Friesen and Glen Moore go about inventing and then telling them (or do so simultaneously!). The first track, “Still Waters,” suggests just that: the placid waters of a lake upon which the notes, the timbre of each bass, provide concentric circles that spread, compatibly, throughout the piece. When David’s Hemage bass sings out, Glenn’s acoustic bass seems to nod in fully harmonious approval, the patterns accessible, simple, a perfect blend—“Still Waters” indeed, W.B. Yeats’ “Lake Isle of Innisfree” (“And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow … for always night and day/I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore …I hear it in the heart’s deep core.”).

I also thought of one of my favorite Zen koans, as retold by Shunryu Suzuki in his book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind—about a “very interesting” frog: “He sits like us, too, you know. But he does not think that he is doing anything so special … A frog also sits like us, but he has no idea of zazen. Watch him. If something annoys him, he will make a face. If something comes along to eat, he will snap it up and eat, and he eats sitting. Actually that is our zazen—not any special thing.”

Effortless ease—or so it seems, but with years of practice, rigorous training, road trips, and homegrown performance behind it. The next track on Bactrian, “Free Play,” is also just that from the start: David’s bowed bass, Glen on piano, more suggestion than statement (yugen), handsome counterpoint, each artist taking his polite turn even within the overlay, providing not just decorative but truly meaningful stratum. The pace picks up: slapped bass, vamps, “hand drum” percussion, exciting, enticing rhythms emerging, gracefully yet forcefully—then back to a more discursive, soft, conversational mode, laced with David’s rippling finger work and a sudden close. Again: “Free Play” indeed!

Tunes such as “Hoe Down” and “Smooth as Silk” tell the stories the titles suggest (a gentle Appalachian “groove” to the first, Glen’s “big voice” bass, heavy boots on a well-swept floor; David’s agile “tabla” (percussive) patterns; David on piano for the second: a delicate silken texture to this tune, evocative melodic lines, tasteful respect and rapport—the restraint of Glen’s large sound that seems to melt back into the piano. Together, they do full justice to two standards, “Caravan” and “Summertime,” but I’d like to describe what I hear in two more original tunes: “Return,” with Glen Moore on piano, featuring his fine touch and a tasty melody over David Friesen’s embracing vamp, the piece taking us “from swerve of shore to bend of bay,” and bringing us “by commodious vicus of recirculation” (words of another Irish author: James Joyce) home. And, on “Time and Time Again/Brilliant Heart,” David plays solo piano: the entire piece flowing with beautiful heartfelt homage, a sense of loss, and the consolation of love.

The CD’s title piece is called “The Bactrian”–a camel, “a large, even-toed ungulate native to the steppes of Central Asia,” a creature gifted with two humps on its back (in contrast to the single-humped dromedary), a “beast of burden” in its region dating back to the Achaemenid Empire (559-330) which preceded Alexander the Great’s arrival in the area that is now Afghanistan—a handsome creature with a tolerance for “cold, drought, and high altitudes,” a characteristic that made it fit for caravan travel on the Silk Road, wearing its long, wooly coat of sandy beige and possessing a handsome beard and mane, sealable nostrils and extended protective eyelashes.

Bactrian Camel

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Expert storytellers that they are, David and Glen capture a sense of all that in the music itself: a camel lomp (I think I just coined a word!), a vamp on the part of both artists at the start that contains the slow and steady accretion of Hector Berlioz’ “Marche des Pelerins” (the second movement of his symphony for viola, Harold en Italie) or the persistent percussion of Ravel’s Bolero (“one long gradual crescendo,” in the composer’s own words): an intriguing, infectious melody and abiding harmony to take along on the 8:23 minute journey, abetted by particles of sand and wind-bowed additional background or ambiance over and beneath a beautiful arco solo (melodic, melancholy)—the trek appropriately symbolic of the journey these two musicians have made together, with an inviting (not concluding) fade as the caravan moves off into the future’s distance at the close. Perfect!

In his book Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks quotes neuroscientist Daniel Levitin on the “multiple attributes or ‘dimensions’ we perceive when we listen to music,” and lists those Levitin cites: “tone, pitch, timbre, loudness, tempo, rhythm, and contour (the overall shape, the up and down of melodies).” People enjoy attending concerts (of whatever nature or genre) because they anticipate the added musical ingredients of spaciousness, voluminosity, richness, resonance—additional dimensions, just as folks occupying an art gallery are there not just to appreciate chroma and texture, but depth and distance as well, the perceptual and emotional dimensions that stereoscopical vision affords.

All of these attributes are present in the music that David Friesen and Glen Moore make together, intimate as it is in a duo setting for instruments that generally take a back seat in music, provide “rhythm section” support for trumpets, trombones, saxophones, etc. The two bassists are truly “orchestral” in scope—in execution and invention.

I have been privileged to write three articles on David Friesen, and also write about his scene-stealing, noisy-audience subduing performance with Ted Curson at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1977 (Monterey Jazz Festival: Forty Legendary Years), his performances with Paul Horn in the Soviet Union (Unzipped Souls: Jazz Journey Through the Soviet Union), a five hour interview we undertook published in two sections in Cadence magazine in 2005, and liner notes for six of his CDs: Departures, Three To Get Ready, Four to Go, The Name of a Woman, Five and Three, and Where the Light Falls.

David Friesen and Glenn Moore 6      David Friesen and Glenn Moore7

(Photo credits: Courtesy of David Friesen; Ron Hudson)

After listening to Bactrian, I realized that most of what I had written could apply equally to what David and Glen play together. About the 1995 Burnside CD 1,2,3, I said that the discovery of the brilliant German guitarist Uwe Kropinski and the alert work of young pianist Randy Porter and drummer Alan Jones proved Friesen a master talent scout, but the same can be said of Glen Moore, who has performed with a host of international artists: Celtic singer Loreena McKinnet, oud player Rabin Abou-Khalil, sitarist Ravi Shankar, tabla player Trilok Gurtu, and the Kronos Quartet. And after all, early on, the two discovered each other!

For Where the Light Falls, I wrote that some individuals can only improve, get closer to a state of perfect performance rather than slow down or fall short with age. In philosophy, Aristotle called the act “entelechy”: the genuine fulfillment of potential. In theology, Thomas Aquinas applied Aristotle’s concepts to pure being in a state of complete realization (in both essence and existence). In our time, the phrase “self-actualization” was much tossed around—but most of us would more than likely settle for the simple hope of getting “better and better” with age. Getting much better with age is not only true of David Friesen, as I wrote then, but David and Glen Moore now.

I’d once written that David had gone from being “an exceptional bassist” to being “a veteran virtuoso whose technique and passion inspire not just admiration, but awe”—so how can one add to that, or go beyond that now? I believe the answer is: the virtuosity of David Friesen and Glen Moore on the Bactrian CD no longer calls strict attention to itself but serves, at present, the import of every note they play, providing work that fully embraces and embodies maximum emotional and spiritual significance on every level. How does one “better” the “best”? By setting the standards even higher, “ascending” a notch or more by virtue of fully matured skill and soul. In other words: absolute fulfillment, or “entelechy.”

For the 2009 CD Five & Three, I wrote, “‘Only connect …,’ E.M. Forster wrote as an epigraph to his novel Howards End. Connection – or heightened musical (and human) interaction – is the hallmark of David Friesen’s newest CD. I have praised David as a distinctive stylist on bass, a master musician who infuses every note with extra-musical purpose; a passionate performer, a prodigious composer, and a leader highly regarded for the company he assembles and keeps. Just when I think I’ve used up all the terms available to describe him (diverse, resilient, fiercely concentrated, totally dedicated, innovative, unique), he brings out fresh work full of the rich ‘collective’ rewards of Five & Three. It’s one thing to be a first-rate talent scout capable of finding the best musicians to work with; it’s another to shape such groups so that each individual stands out yet inspires the whole – and to do so by providing fully arresting and stimulating compositions and performance oneself – all done, as David told me, without set arrangements OR rehearsals! What you will hear is completely spontaneous, improvised interaction – collaboration on the highest most congenial level; on the spot work fully awake to every imaginative possibility: ‘play’ freely yet unavoidably laced into closer and closer union.”

And every word said there is equally true of what David and Glen Moore have accomplished in Bactrian.

David Friesen8          David Friesen and Glen Moore11

David Friesen and Glenn Moore 2

(Photo credits: Jorg Detering; Hiroshi Iwaya)

Glen Moore and David Friesen are two musical artists who have consistently produced excellence: true giants operating on the highest level. Year after year (and for fifty years now) they have raised the bar of expectation and fulfillment, until it would appear that they can ascend no higher—yet I will not be at all surprised when, possessing the seemingly infinite talent they have (the extent of their rare gifts, their compatibility and natural consonance) they do so: offering future work we shall all be privileged to hear. Thank you, David Friesen and Glen Moore!

Preview of a Coming Attraction

I was pleased to discover that an essay of mine (“The Poet’s Audience: Part Two”) was posted on WordPress Reader (between an article on Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids, adapted by Showtime–about her relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe–and the “playful foreignisation” of Peter Manson’s English in Mallarme), along with a photo of the first reading I gave in Monterey (when we returned to California and I published the book Pacific Grove in 1974). Consequently, I seem to have gathered some “traffic” for my blog (71 “views” between August 24 and August 31, from the U.S., United Kingdom, Japan, Netherlands, France, New Zealand, Botswana, and Germany). Thanks everyone!

I don’t know how many people might be able to make the trek from New Zealand or Botswana, but on Sunday, September 13 (2:00 PM), I will be giving a reading from Gypsy Wisdom: New and Selected Poems at Old Capitol Books in Monterey (559 Tyler Street). I will be reading with an excellent poet from Santa Cruz, California with whom I’ve had the pleasure to read before: Maggie Paul.

Maggie is the author of Borrowed World, a collection of poems published by Hummingbird Press, and the chapbook Stones from the Basket of Others (Black Dirt Press). She earned an MA at Tufts University and her MFA at Vermont College. At present, she teaches writing at Cabrillo College and works as an educational consultant.

Here’s a photo of Maggie Paul, the entrance to Old Capitol Books in Monterey, and me:

Maggie Paul   Maggie Paul at Old Capitol Books   Author Book Launch

Bob Danziger has posted the first review of Gypsy Wisdom: New & Selected Poems on the book’s amazon.com site. I am grateful to this fine writer (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Energy Independence; Steinbeck and the Sounds of the Filipino American Experience; for the National Steinbeck Center Exhibition “Filipino Voices Past and Present”; Japantown in Chinatown; for the National Steinbeck Center Exhibition “Japanese History in Salinas Chinatown”) and Musician, Composer, Arranger (Brandenburg 300 Project: “jazz-classical crossover version of the Brandenburg Concertos using instruments and recording techniques not available in Bach’s time.”). Here’s the review:

“DEEPLY TOUCHING

William Minor communicates. Poet, journalist, painter, musician, composer, translator, producer, teacher and performer, he shares his deeply lived life through all of these mediums. He wears each comfortably, letting the extraordinary experiences and earned insights be the events they are without the ego assumptions many artists need to sustain themselves … The latest in a long line of my favorite works by William Minor (Love Letters of Lynchburg, Unzipped Souls, Some Grand Dust, Monterey Jazz Festival; Forty Legendary Years), GYPSY WISDOM reflects William Minor’s thoughts as he takes his place as senior member of Monterey’s corps of great artists.

You must feel this:
‘From the whole divided heart
(the only kind we mortals can possess)
the sound of recognition and love
emerging from pressed fingers.’

And from the translation of an Osip Mandelstam poem (in my opinion a translation of absolute genius):
‘No, never was I anyone’s contemporary . . .
A hundred years ago, on a rough cot
with soft white pillows, this age of clay awoke …
What a vulnerable bed that was, if you
contemplate the slow creaking trek of time.
But what of it? We cannot invent a substitute era.
We must age in this one as best we can …’”

We had a Book Launch for Gypsy Wisdom: New & Selected Poems on July 25 at the Museum of Monterey. Vocalist Jaqui Hope offered poems I’d set to original music (with Heath Proskin on bass and me on piano). Unfortunately, the “troupe” is not available for September 13, so I’m going to go my portion of the reading alone—even to the point of singing some of the song/poems myself. In 2002, Mac McDonald reviewed a CD on which I sang (Bill Minor & Friends: For Women Missing or Dead, Poems Set to Music), and Mac said I was “a skillful pianist … with a pleasant [italics mine] voice.”

I will do my best, on September 13, to make that voice as pleasant as possible—accompanying myself on my faithful Yamaha, and reading other pieces from Gypsy Wisdom: New & Selected Poems. The book can be found for sale at: amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Gypsy-Wisdom-New-Selected Poems/dp/1935530976/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1438124136&sr=1-1&keywords=gypsy+wisdom+new+%26+selected+poems+by+william+minor) –and also, locally, at Old Capitol Books and at the Gift Shop in the Museum of Monterey (5 Custom House Plaza, next to the wharf).

It will be wonderful giving a reading in the company of Maggie Paul again, so I hope that those of you who can make it will come hear us at Old Capitol Books. Just to flesh out the invitation I will include, here: the cover of Gypsy Wisdom, the flyer I sent out for the event, and a repeat of the (distant in time) photo taken in 1974.

Gypsy Wisdom Final Cover  Maggie Paul and William MInor Flyer  Bill First Readin in PG 2

 

Old Capitol Books Coming Attraction July 13, and Beyond

This may be a somewhat “selfish” blog (coming after a post in homage to my friend, the writer Jeff Whitmore), focused as it will be on a public service announcement for an upcoming event this Sunday, July 13–and also another pitch for my book, The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir, by way of a favorable review I received some time ago, have permission to reproduce, and would like to!

This Sunday, July 13, I will be giving a “reading” of recent poems–with lifelong friend, Santa Cruz poet Robert Sward–at Old Capitol Books in Monterey (2:00 PM): an event sponsored by the Monterey Bay Poetry Consortium. I put “reading” in quotes because I have been writing lots of original music lately and have set most of my recent poems to music. I now regard them as “song” (where poetry started in the first place, with the Singing Neanderthals and, of course, the Greeks, whose poems were at one with music—had a musical counterpart).

I will be assisted on Sunday, July 13, by vocalist/actor Jaqui Hope, also a friend–who sings in many genres (jazz, soul, gospel, rock); has collaborated with much of the Monterey Peninsula’s creative community; and is gifted with a voice much like what someone once said about Ray Charles: “a voice like warm sheets on a Sunday morning.” Jaqui and I had a rehearsal this past Saturday that went very well, and I am excited (I’ll be on piano) about presenting the songs which the poems have become. Here’s Robert, Jaqui, and myself:

Robert Sward        Jaqui Hope 2        Bill Author

I’ve been attempting to branch out in the Brave New World of social media, and I am now on Red Room (http://redroom.com/member/william-minor), and you can find two of the pieces Jaqui and I will do together there: under Videos, Audio, and Images (“My Fingers Refuse to Sleep”) and under Writing, “My Father Sings.”

Robert Sward is a Guggenheim Fellow; was chosen by Lucille Clifton to receive a Villa Montalvo Literary Arts Award; and recently published New & Selected Poems: work culled from more than 50 years of writing (unpublished poems and selections from his 20+ books of poetry).

I am looking forward to this Sunday afternoon very much–to presenting an afternoon of poetry and song which, I feel, should be enjoyable, meaningful, engaging.

Old Capitol Books is situated at 559 Tyler Street in Monterey, just across from the Transit Plaza at the end of Alvarado Street. There’s a $5 fee–but that’s a bargain (if I do say so myself!). Hope to see you there!

And here’s my book again: The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir–available at Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Inherited-Heart-American-Memoir/dp/1935530712/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405007331&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Inherited+Heart%3A+An+American+Memoir

Inherited Heart Blog Cover

And here’s the review by Marge Ann Jameson, which appeared in The Cedar Street Times, January 10, 2013 (three days before my birthday!):

“I grew up in a home where legends greeted one everywhere: on the walls…on book shelves…and in everyday speech…”
– Bill Minor

The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir–© 2012
ISBN 978-1-935530-71-8
Park Place Publications, Pacific Grove

There’s an American proverb that claims, “A man who prides himself on his ancestry is like the potato—the best part is underground.”

That’s probably the case for most of us, and gentle, unassuming, witty and self-effacing William Minor might claim it’s so for him, too. But if you’ve met him, or watched him perform, or read any of his prose or his poetry, you’d probably say the opposite is true of Bill. His ancestry, which he has the privilege of tracing back as far as the 1500s, all funnels down to the talented, generous writer, artist and jazz musician we know. He is the fruit of his family tree and the loving gardener of it at the same time. He says, “What a thrill, in the course of this project, to discover all of these relatives – distant or fairly close at hand – who were writers and left such remarkable accounts of their own lives! And to think that they, given the reciprocity of all things, are somehow part of me and I of them!”

The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir is his autobiography. Self-published and dotted here and there with tiny errors, it is still beautifully written and well worthy of being read over and over. Appointed the repository of the photographs, letters and even books written by members of his family, and the owner of what must be hundreds of pictures dating from the Civil War forward, Bill Minor has woven them all into what he calls an autobiography, but is more a series of brilliant, stand-alone short stories and essays, loosely organized by subject if not an actual time line.

His stories and his memories behave as our own thoughts and memories might: Sitting before a warm fire, the family album on our lap, we leaf through it, gazing at pictures and now and then explaining them to a grandchild, we are taken back and forth in time and memory, each image or story leading to another and then back to the first. We might not have been present but we have the tale, handed to us, of uncles and great grandparents, children buried too early, lovers lost and famous people our ancestors might have known, and, in turn, of stories they, themselves told. If we’re lucky, as Bill is, they wrote them down and didn’t trust the proof to capricious memory or some uninterested descendents.

A Pacific Grove denizen, he named his first “multi-media” piece after our city. It was a collection of poems and woodcuts, published in 1974.

Bill grew up in Michigan and graduated from high school in the early 1950s. He tells of his childhood in those hopeful years and his coming-of-age in a family where he was the middle child and beset by insecurities and allergies.

Bill in a coat closet, winning a round of Spin the Bottle: “There in the dark (in more ways than one) I groveled like the rank amateur I was and ended up kissing what must have been Fred Schittler’s raincoat – something very slick and rubbery and out-of-doors. Perhaps it was a pet seal the family kept in the closet; I don’t know. It certainly wasn’t Patti, or so I hope.” We know the disappointment of girlfriends who left him standing on the doorstep or never let him even that close, so we’re the more pleased to remind ourselves that he has been married for 56 years to Betty, a girl he lost but regained later.

How does one compete with an older brother named Launcelot, mentioned again and again as “precious” in his father’s diary whereas Bill is termed “sickly”? He says they have become closer in these late years, but not, probably, as close as he is with his younger sister, Emily. Nonetheless, the stories of the family of five resonate with those of us who have siblings and who grew up in those years of this century when change was the norm and we awakened every day to something new.

He seems not to have taken after – or to – his father. There’s a loose comparison to Willy Loman, Arthur Miller’s Salesman, and an echoing of the word “loss” in connection with his father. But it’s clear he admires his mother, referring to her as the true ruler of the roost chez Minor. She is still alive and still beautiful, he says, at the age of 101.

But it is Bill who shines through the stories of his family in The Inherited Heart, as hard as he tries to steer us toward the generals and priests and physicians and authors in his family tree. We probably identify more closely with the kid who touched Harry Truman’s sleeve when he passed through Birmingham, MI than we do with any president’s close adviser, so distant from our own lives as to be unattainable.

When you have the chance, and you will Friday evening when he performs (with Heath Proskin and Jaqui Hope) at The Works, go listen to Bill Minor caress the piano keys. Find one of his CDs (they’re listed in the book) and above all, purchase a copy of this book for your own. But don’t ask to borrow my copy of the CD “Love Letters from Lynchburg” or The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir. I lent out “Love Letters” and can’t remember to whom, and my well-thumbed copy of The Inherited Heart awaits another reading on my bookshelf.

Bill’s Uncle Cabell (James Cabell Minor, M.D.) wrote a book, published in 1917, called The Plan o’ The House o’ Man, Sir! Or The Parts Water and Position Play in the Prevention and Treatment of Physical Disorders of the Body. It sold for $1. Bill has a copy he inherited. Bill’s book costs $14.95, and surely you’d rather own The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir. You can order it from Bill by writing him (he’s still that old-fashioned) at 847 Junipero Ave., Pacific Grove, CA 93950 and adding $5 for shipping. Or you can buy it at The Works [now Bookworks again], 667 Lighthouse Ave., Pacific Grove [and also at Old Capitol Books, 559 Tyler Street, in Monterey–and also on Amazon.com].

Thanks again, Marge Ann! And thank you to all those who have a copy of this book–or soon will! I’ll close with some photos (from the book) of my mother, Dorothy, at age 21; my father, Lance, at age 14 (looking much older, having gone to work on Arkansas road crews at 13); and me when I began to play the piano at age 14.

Mom at 20      Dad at 14      Bill as fledgling pianist

Next Bill’s Blog: I will return to my revised “game plan,” and post an account of the trip to Virginia for the performance of Love Letters of Lynchburg in Lynchburg (the piece for two voices and original musical score that is a spinoff from The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir–and available as a CD at: http://www.historicsandusky.org/shop.htm)–and then: a full account of the JAM (Jazz Age Monterey) “Jazz Bash by The Bay”–its present and its future, and other thoughts on the state of jazz in Monterey, California.

Blog Baroque

I have two purposes for this post: one is to let you know that Jaqui Hope, Heath Proskin, and I have two more songs “up” on YouTube (more videos filmed by John Mount at the Museum of Monterey reading/performance described in the second-to-last post); and the second purpose: to honor a multitalented artist I much admire and respect–someone who submitted  favorable commentary on two songs we performed that night and who made me aware that I am not capable of such a customarily cryptic blog response as “Cool, Dude, thanks,” by way of Comment myself  when someone I admire and respect submits a Comment–so I would like to turn the occasion into a complete post and devote “Testimonials” space to Bob Danziger (much more on him coming up!) and express my own feelings about brevity when it comes to gratitude.

First, here are two photos of Jaqui (vocals), Heath (bass) and me (piano) “in action,” and URLs for where the new YouTube videos can be found:

It's a Wonderful World    Jaqui Singing

“It’s a Wonderful World”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLHVwizEvNA&feature=youtu.be

“‘Round Midnight”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBynYTsvv8A

When I decided to enter the Brave New World of “self-presentation,” of multi-faceted digital, relational communication–and mostly at the time, in the hope of letting a wider audience than I had at the time know about a book I had out (The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir)–I entertained two reservations. The first was focused on strong feelings I had when it came to “friendship.” I’ve long regarded friendship as a sacred matter (not an “institution”), a condition that comes about naturally, spontaneously, and often accidentally, but once set in motion, a state that should span a lifetime. Consequently, when it came to my own work, I found the thought of having to choose “friends” formally and “officially” and asking them to represent themselves that way online (especially for the purpose of selling my own books) appalling. At the same time, I realized that today, refusing to become publicly “relational,” a writer doesn’t stand a prayer in hell as far as promoting her or his own work goes–so here I am, blogging away (and enjoying it!), and finding myself represented on Goodreads and Google+ as well.

The second reservation related to just how, once I was “on board” in this Brave New World,  I would respond to “Comments” if and when they started to come in regarding what I was posting online. I’d previously had a blog on a jazz site, but my entries proved to be so prolix that the editor and publisher took to calling me his “William Faulkner,” an epithet that was by no means intended as flattery or approval. I didn’t last long, and my next shot at call and response in the  digital world came when I had a poem published on a site which appeared to have a corps of “greeters” for each new participant, sending quick and concise word (“I enjoyed this Bill,” or “These lines really clicked for me,” the lines cited), to which I attempted to respond in kind, but found myself so grateful that I tended to go on and on (and on and on) by way of response or thanks–painfully aware that I was not playing the “game” as it should be played, but unwilling to go against my own nature. When someone from the site quoted four words from my poem and wrote “I like that” in response and I replied with five long paragraphs, I realized I was helpless.

So … to move this “story” along, I have now begun to receive “Comments” on my blog, and as W.C. Fields said about the blonde who “drove him to drink,” I will be eternally grateful “ever since.” But faced with the task of responding–succinctly, briefly, concisely, pithily, tersely, cryptically,  laconically, cogently (but with brevity)–I’m not sure I can do so without employing eight adverbs in place of the single best one.

My answer to this dilemma right now is not to try–but just go on being my old Baroque self, without apology. As a matter of fact, I was just about to congratulate myself on having invented a whole new genre when it came to blogging: Blog Baroque (the inversion intentional to give it more class, as in “Eggs Benedict”), when the situation of responding to Comments arose–that is, the challenge of doing so with suitable brevity, rather than as who I am.

And that’s where Bob Danziger comes in. The Comment he made on Jaqui Hope singing a song I wrote (“My Fingers Refuse to Sleep”) and one by Hoagy Carmichael (“The Nearness of You”) is a model of clear, concise, insightful approval or praise, and this coming from a man who knows the world of music, even the “industry,” inside and out (along with a host of other things I’ll tell you about). So when approval comes from such a knowing source, I feel it would be inappropriate (or even rude) to respond with a quick “Cool, Dude, thanks!” or “I enjoyed that, Bob!” I feel he deserves a more extensive response.

Bob Danziger is a gifted musician, composer, sound sculptor, inventor, author, entrepreneur, and a key player in the alternative energy industry for over thirty years. You can check out his amazing string of achievements at:

http://www.linkedin.com/in/bobdanziger

http://www.bobdanziger.com/

http://energylaughs.com/

He has recently completed a remarkable series of CDs that make up his Brandenburg 300 Project. More information on this can be found at: http://www.brandenburg300.com.

After the first album from the project came out, Brandenburg 23: Six Variations, I wrote, “Bob Danziger contains multitudes, but he does not contradict himself, as Walt Whitman boasted of doing. Recently, he has turned his all-embracing but fully consistent attention to adapting Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto to his own unique ‘vision,’ and the result does not merely bring the music up to date, but places it within all ages or eras with solid emphasis on our own–and the future. It’s an ambitious undertaking, but one for which he possesses not just the vision and creative means to fulfill potential, but friends as well.”

At the time I may have suspected, but lacked full foresight to comprehend all of the multitudes Bob Danziger contains—just how ambitious his undertaking was, how inclusive, how comprehensive his vision and creative means would prove to be, and just how many friends he had to assist him in carrying out this project. That initial single album—Brandenburg 23: Six Variations—now resides in the company of ten other albums, ranging from one containing a medley of sixteen songs from the complete project to duets, trios, and “hybrids”—the tracks on all of the albums named for Honorees who, in Bob’s own words, “were selected because the world would be a better place if there were a lot more people like them, and because they represent something to aspire to, to measure oneself against.” This extra-musical (or inter-musical) intention resides at the center of the wide range of tribute to Bach himself that makes up the project as a whole: a generosity, a commitment to excellence for its own sake (“not for glory and least of all for profit,” in William Faulkner’s words), a genuine altruism or agape that runs through every phase of the project—something rare (if not unheard of) in the music “industry” today.

Throughout this blog I have attempted to call attention to the two fine musicians I’ve been working with–vocalist Jaqui Hope and bassist Heath Proskin–in our readings/performances to promote my book The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir, and in the last post I paid homage to important people in my life such as poet Paul Oehler ( “On the Nature of Literary Friendship: Paul Oehler, by William Minor” in Writers Friendship, edited and compiled by Robert Sward: http://webdelsol.com/f-friendship.htm), editor Chris Hebert, drummer Akira Tana, my friend Yuri Kochiyama, the musicians–Tiger Okoshi and Daniela Schachter–with whom I was “on tour,” and the members of the Albatross Swing Jazz Orchestra in Nikko, Japan. After, I thought, “I should have a special category called ‘Others,’ one in which I can honor such excellent folks and more” (the way Bob Danziger paid homage to his Honorees), and I then decided to do so in the “Testimonials” category already set up for word about my books–now promoting the work of others as well as my own “stuff.” And that’s just what I hope to do here, starting with Bob Danziger. What better way to make this blog truly “relational,” then to establish a Mutual Admiration Society of sorts, one in which we can all pay a large measure of respect–and love–for one another’s lives and work?!

I’ll close this post with two album covers from the Brandenburg 300 Project, and three paragraphs of appreciation for that work I included toward the end of an article I’ve just completed on Bob Danziger’s extraordinary project as a whole.

Brandenburg 23- 2  Brandenburg 12-3

Bob Danziger’s Brandenburg recordings offer both horizontal and vertical mobility—the music unfolding or even sprouting at a joyous (occasionally breakneck) up tempo pace, but also disclosing layer upon layer of slowly absorbed meaning. Listening to the complete gathering of recordings, I felt as if I were on some endlessly progressing trek or “trip,” a voyage of discovery, an archaeological or spatial “dig” that eventually brought to light abundant unanticipated treasures and resultant wonder—an encyclopedic tapestry of sound.

Marcel Proust wrote about a musician whose piano performances were so fine that we, as listeners, are “no longer aware that the performer is a pianist at all,” that the “apparatus of digital effort,” all that “splattering shower of notes,” drops out, and what we are left to experience is a performance “so transparent, so imbued with what he is interpreting, that one no longer sees the performer himself—he is simply a window opening upon a great work of art.” All of the particulars, the parts, “flow into lakes of sound vaster than themselves.”

This is what I found happening to me as I listened to the complete Brandenburg 300 Project. If my own attempt to describe the effect tends to have become a bit “Baroque” itself, it’s because the music I experienced became so delightfully diffuse yet in accord, so “epic” in its inclusiveness, so wild yet comforting in its “reach,” so overwhelming with the full range of emotion it offered (from, yes, joy to sorrow to rage—and Bach himself was no stranger to rage!), that I myself became “imbued with what [it was] interpreting,” and for many delightful, truly meaningful moments I felt a bit vaster than myself. Thank you, Bob Danziger.

Next post: I hope to write about more amazing musicians I’ve been privileged to see and hear–this time at the recently attended Monterey Jazz Festival. Next time, I’ll take you there as best I can!

YouTube, Book Tours, and Beyond

This may end up another “Mostly for Fun” somewhat miscellaneous post that I’ll place under “Testimonials” (for reasons to be explained) and “Music,” but I’d like to let you know that the August 24 performance of “The Best of The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir and New Poems and Prose Set to Music” at The Museum of Monterey filmed by John Mount provided two fine YouTube videos–of Jaqui Hope singing a song I wrote (“My Fingers Refuse to Sleep”) and Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness of You.” In my last post I said the results would be ready soon and–“nothing promised that is not performed”–these two videos can now be found at:

“My Fingers Refuse to Sleep”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLqjmDeiz2s

“The Nearness of You”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lJKRAftpvM

I’d like to place these songs, an account of a genuine “book tour” I was once fortunate to undertake, and some leftover “blurbs” or testimonials for the book responsible for that tour (Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within) under “Testimonials,” for that’s obviously where the latter belong; an account of the tour might prove entertaining (and maybe even “instructive”); and what can express better evidence of, witness to or testimonial about the worth of a work of art than the Thing Itself? I hope you enjoy Jaqui offering these two songs, with Heath Proskin on bass and me on piano providing accompaniment.

A book tour is–like starting a blog–an adventure, and one that writers seem to like to hear about, in hope perhaps that such “news” might assist in planning their own. I’d only traveled “afar” twice before I set out to promote Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within: the first time when poet Paul Oehler and I gave a reading from Natural Counterpoint (a book of poems we collaborated on) at Kelley House–now Kelley House Museum–in Mendocino, California, after having read in Paul’s hometown Sacramento.  We felt that if folks could hear the poems (and liked what they heard!), they might be tempted to take home a copy of the book–and it worked (and still works!). (For Natural Counterpoint, look under “Other Books” and also at “On the Nature of Literary Friendship: Paul Oehler, by William Minor” in Writers Friendship, edited and compiled by Robert Sward: http://webdelsol.com/f-friendship.htm). The second “trip” was a solo flight South to Pacific Palisades, California, where a comic novel of mine, Trek: Lips, Sunny, Pecker and Me, had been adopted by a book club and I read at Village Books there. (See Trek: Lips, Sunny, Pecker and Me under “Other Books” also).

The Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within tour had been arranged by Mary Bisbee-Beek at The University of Michigan Press, which published the book (as part of its Jazz Perspectives series: Lewis Porter, Series General Editor; Christopher Hebert editor of the book, and the most simpatico editor I’ve ever had!).  I was paired off with musicians, alternating readings with their music: the first time at the San Francisco Library with drummer Akira Tana’s trio. Akira, who’d written an ethnomusicology thesis on “jazz in Japan” at Harvard,  had been of immense help to me with regard to my own work, so this was a perfect “fit” (there’s a chapter on him in the book), and the occasion was made additionally joyous by the appearance of a friend of mine from my mid-50s Brooklyn days, Yuri Kochiyama, a remarkable woman I’d also written about.

Here are some photos from that July 14, 2004 event at Koret Auditorium : of me more than likely reading about Akira (or perhaps Yuri), embracing the woman I hadn’t seen in forty-eight years, and Akira himself on drums.

Bill at SF Public Library   Yuri Kochiyama   Akira Tana

I’m not sure, overall, with regard to the “tour,” how musicians felt playing alongside some guy reading from a book (except perhaps, Akira, who’d been of so much help throughout the book’s “construction”). If I may have been concerned that reading might compromise (rather than enhance) their performance somehow, I was also aware that most of what I was reading was–after all–about them. When the concept of “performing” myself alongside musicians was proposed, I thought it was very cool, and doing so was–obvious to me now–a forerunner of forming the “troupe” (vocalist Jaqui Hope, bassist Heath Proskin, me on piano and reading) I work (play) with now, where music itself resides not just alongside but within, around, and about the text.

The risk for a writer, I suppose, is that the means of promoting the book may become more interesting–or at least immediately entertaining–than the book itself. Unlike hearing a few poems read by Paul Oehler and myself at Kelley House in Mendocino, with what I’m doing now, an audience may feel they’ve heard enough, have seen a whole show (which they have) and be less inclined to take the book itself home as a souvenir. But “so far so good,” for if there’s any “instruction” for writers involved here, it may be: Let people hear what you write, enhanced by whatever means (music, visual art work, photographs) you find suitable. If I may attempt a baseball analogy, I think the “batting average” has been good–for me so far: 26 copies of The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir purchased by a standing room only audience of sixty-some folks, and even three copies sold when we had a small (but richly appreciative!) “crowd” of thirteen. Five of those present already had a copy of the book.

Returning to my “tale” of touring, a few months after the San Francisco Library “gig” (with some activity in between I’ll also tell you about), my sister Emily–who lives in Old Lyme, Connecticut– and I drove up to Manchester, New Hampshire for a February 11, 2005 Northeast Cultural Coop event at the Palace Theatre–advertised as “Jazz by Tiger Okoshi Quartet & Readings by William Minor,” an adventure that would turn out to be the highlight of the “tour” for reasons I could never have anticipated. I’d first met Tiger in Hawaii, when he performed alongside Toshiko Akiyoshi at the Hawaii International Jazz Festival, and I interviewed both of these great artists (the result: two chapters, one called “The Tiger …”, the other “… And the Lady”) on my way to Japan. Extraordinary musician, inexhaustible teacher, humanitarian, and just a great human being, Tiger Okoshi furnished much fine material–and I was looking forward to seeing him again in Manchester.

My sister and I attended a late afternoon rehearsal at the Palace Theatre (“New Hampshire’s Home to the Performing Arts Since 1915”) and Tiger greeted us warmly, immediately, and introduced us to the members of his quartet: Justin Purtil, bass; Jordan Perlson, drums, and a pianist whose fine touch and taste impressed me from the start, Daniela Schachter, from Sicily: all three musicians who’d graduated from or were attending Berklee College of Music in Boston, where Tiger teaches. He outlined a program he had in mind for that night, then asked me if I played an instrument. I said I played piano, but quickly added, “but not when Daniela’s in the room!” (She is that good!) Tiger then asked me if I sang, and little did I know, when I said, “a bit,” that I would end up singing “St. James Infirmary” with this extraordinary group that night–but I did! After the performance, I phoned my wife Betty and said that I’d just had one of the “peak” experiences, if not “the peak” experience of my life–and it would all more than likely be “down hill” from this point on, for I’d now done just about everything I’d ever dreamed of doing in this life. Here are photos of me on stage singing “St. James Infirmary” (Daniela Schachter playing harmonium) and Tiger alone with his muted horn.

Manchester3      Flugelhornist Tiger Okoshi

This wasn’t the full extent of the book tour adventure, but that evening, and spending time with the members of the quartet, Tiger, and his wife Akiko before (at an improvised “dinner” for Daniela, on her birthday!) and after (running into Tiger and Akiko checking out of our hotel the next morning) had certainly been a thrill for me. And I’m happy to say that Daniela Schachter has made an excellent name for herself in New York as pianist, vocalist, composer and arranger. If you want a source for some first-rate music, check out her website: http://www.danielaschaechter.net/.

In October, 2004 I’d flown to New York City to give two lectures–“Jazz in Yokohama: Past and Present” and “Yosuke Yamashita–A Musician Who Has Made a Difference” at the Japan Society on East 47th Street, the talks given just before concerts by pianist Yamashita of music from his then recently released Pacific Crossing CD. On February 16, 2005, I gave a reading at Chapters Book Store in Washington D.C., with jazz critic Willard Jenkins serving as host; talked with Hiroshi Furusawa, Director of the Japan Embassy Information and Cultural Center (discussing a possible fall program that didn’t pan out); and met Chris Hebert with a University of Michigan Press booth display of the book at an AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference in Vancouver, Canada (March 30-April 3, 2005).

Lining up radio “appearances” never hurts, and the “tour” was fleshed out with radio interviews and presentations of music in and from Japan: with Kevin Kahl (Magic 63, Station KIDD, Monterey; CA); Megan Marlena (Station KKJZ, Long Beach, CA); Alisa Clancy (“Morning Cup of Jazz,” KCSM, San Mateo, CA); Mike Lambert’s KUSP jazz show in Santa Cruz; Amy Cox of CNN, and Sasha Rush at Harvard University’s WHRB, who presented a “Tokyo Jazz Orgy” in May, featuring interviews and LOTS of recorded music. These occasions were coupled with booksignings and talks at IAJE (International Association for Jazz Education), in New York City, January 2004; Cody’s Bookstore in Berkeley, CA (reading/signing with Al Young) in July; at the Valona Deli in Crockett, CA in November–and conferences in Palo Alto, Long Beach, Pleasanton, and at a National Symposium of Critics in LA in May, 2005–two years of mostly delightful activity in behalf of a book I still strongly believe in–and one that is still available:

JJJ Cover
Click on cover to purchase from AMAZON.COM

I was not just fortunate but “blessed” to have much of this activity arranged for me by Mary Bisbee-Beek at The University of Michigan Press, but as someone who has done his share of self-publishing, I realize that much of such activity also comes about by word-of-mouth, other “connections” or “networking” (IAJE, AWP, the Jazz Journalists Association, the Monterey Jazz Festival), some hard work “hustling” on my own (perseverance: faith & patience!)–and solid friendships and acquaintances: the support of people who care!

I’ll close out with the testimonials I said I’d include here–and with praise for “Japan’s special adventure in jazz,” the remarkable music that’s been played over the years in and from Japan. And here are two photos from Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within: one of my wife Betty and I with our son Steve’s wife Yoko’s relatives, the Kawagishi and Nakamura families, in Nara (an upright Yamaha piano, which received frequent use, in the background); and a photo of me standing with some members of the Albatross Swing Jazz Orchestra of Nikko (one of the best of thousands of such amateur big bands playing the music in Japan).

Yoko's Relatives in Nara   Albatross Swing Band in Nikko

“Anyone who has read William Minor’s Unzipped Souls: A Jazz Journey Through the Soviet Union knows the rare combination of talents he brings to his writings on music, from his sustained observation of a culture’s internal dynamic to his skill as an interviewer. He has a poet’s knowledge of the creative process as well, an insight that allows him to engage musicians at a special level. All those abilities are apparent in his new book, Jazz Journeys to Japan: The Heart Within … It’s a penetrating study of Japan’s special adventure in jazz, including remarkably insightful interviews with Tiger Okoshi (who talks about teaching rhythmic sub-divisions to a large group of autistic children) and other major figures like Masahiko Satoh, Makoto Ozone, and Yosuke Yamashita.”–Stuart Broomer, Coda Magazine

“Based on years of immersing himself in Japanese culture and two trips to the country, Minor shares his ’take’ on the Japanese jazz scene and what makes it unique or different from other countries … If you never miss the Monterey Jazz Festival and/or are interested in all aspects of Japanese culture, this is a must-read.” –Silas Spaeth, Salinas Californian

“Armchair Traveling at its Finest: You don’t have to be a fan of jazz, Japan, or anything else to enjoy this book! The author’s own insights and enthusiasm, captured in deft prose, will have you eating sushi and browsing the jazz section of your local music store in no time. Read it for the fascinating view it gives into both the jazz and Japanese cultures, or simply read it because it is extraordinarily well written.”–A satisfied customer; amazon.com

More Than Just Leftovers

If you read the last post on Bill’s Blog–“Books Before The Inherited Heart”–you may well think I’ve exhausted my store of testimonials and have nothing of worth left to include under the actual “Testimonials” category–but that’s not the case, because (ho ho) there’s “plenty more where that came from” (as folks say). As I said in the “Sound Check/Getting Started” section, I’ve removed or taken off that broad-brim hat, or bushel, I once wore (hoping to remain “humble” in its shade) and, having decided to let more than just a little light shine, I’ll try to undertake “full disclosure” of whatever resources, external and internal, I may possess.

What I left out of the previous post are some gracious words I managed to gather from writers I truly respect, testimonials or “blurbs” for The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir. I do have a few more commentaries on the other books–the “jazz” books–but I’ll save those for a future post.

On Tuesday, July 23, 2013, our local paper, The Herald, ran a headline that read: “It’s a boy! UK’s Kate gives birth to royal heir.” This morning, I had an appointment with Patricia Hamilton of Park Place Publications (who published The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir, and also the comic novel Trek: LIps, Sunny, Pecker and Me–and who’s assisted me enormously on setting up this blog). Arriving at her office, feeling my oats with regard to the progress we’ve made (still very much trial and error on my part) meeting “high tech” demands necessary to get Bill’s Blog off the ground, I said, “Did you see the headlines in this morning’s Herald?”–and before she could  think back to the day’s actual fare (“New delay for water plans,” focused on a serious local issue, plus “Sharing a Moment,” with a picture of the Pope kissing a child on his South America visit), I recited, “Bigger and better than news of Kate’s baby: fourth entry is posted on Bill’s Blog!” 

I don’t think it hurts, and actually feels quite good, to get carried away like that on occasion (William Blake’s “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom,” “Exuberance is Beauty,” and “The pride of the peacock is the glory of God.”), for you know there’ll always be something close at hand to bring you back “down” to earth again. And there has been for me.

Not everything has proved to be a roaring success so far. When I fist came out from under my bushel (to let my little light shine), I worked up the nerve to do something friends, for years, have been telling me I should do (because they felt our work was compatible): contact Garrison Keillor and send him my “stuff,” which I did, by way of a “contact” friend and poet Robert Sward of Santa Cruz suggested (Robert’s work has been read on Keillor’s morning Writer’s Almanac radio show). I wrote a cover letter and sent both The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir and the Love Letters of Lynchburg CD I’ve mentioned on this blog. A couple of weeks went by and I assumed (as I had in the past, the reason I’d never followed through on the suggestion from friends and well-wishers before) that my “stuff” was either peacefully adrift in some “Show Biz” limbo, or had ended up in a trash bin–but then, out of the blue, I received a kindly “personal” (addressed to me, and not just “Occupant” or “To Whom It May Concern”) e-mail letter stating that both book and CD had been “placed in Mr. Keillor’s office,” and that If he should select anything from what I sent, they would contact me for “obtaining the permission rights.”

I never heard from Prairie Home Companion or Writer’s Almanac again, but it was a thrill to think that–aside from the encouragement of friends and well-wishers and the fact that my acquaintance with Garrison Keillor went “way back,” back to when I used both Happy to Be Here and Lake Wobegon Days in a course in American Humor and Comedy I taught for eight years at Monterey Peninsula College–he just might have taken a cursory look at the book or a quick listen to the CD.

I also contacted a writer whom I’d accompanied on piano while he sang blues at the Foothill Writers Conference, when we both were guest faculty members there: Alan Cheuse, who’s been reviewing books on NPR’s All Things Considered since the 1980s (about the time I met him). I wrote Alan about The Inherited Heart and its spinoff, the Love Letters of Lynchburg CD, and he responded immediately, saying he found the joint project “lovely,” and said that, if I sent him copies (which I did), he would pass word of their existence on to his producers–but once again, that’s the last I heard.

Close maybe, but no cigar. “One never knows, do one?” as Fats Waller used to sing. I might have been inclined to sing some blues myself over what failed to pan out (my favorite stanza is one Jimmy Witherspoon came up with: “If fish can love in water, moles love underground;/ If fish can love in water, moles love underground;/ If rats can love in a garbage can/Woman, you better not let me down!”), but I recalled that Dick Maxwell, who initiated and then successfully ran the Foothill Writers Conference for years, and taught creative writing at the college, used to pass out, on the first day of class, a T-shirt to each of his students that read: “No Disclaimers”–so I am trying (along with learning everything there is to learn about this Brave New World of digital self-presentation  and interaction) to adopt an unapologetic attitude as well.

As writers, it seems we need to remember that, in baseball, if a batter gets a hit three out of ten balls pitched to him, he’s doing fine. And a neural surgeon: three out of ten successful operations? Well, odds for success obviously vary for each occupation–so I won’t try to figure out what they come down to for writers.

I do have, by way of compensation, a number of responses to The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir–testimonials from writers I respect very much–so here’s that book again, along with some photos that can be found in it: my mother at age twenty, with her Eton Crop hairdo, this photo taken when she attended Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School in New York City and won a “1st Prize” gold medal for speed typing; my father at age fourteen, looking as if he were in his mid-twenties, having gone to work on Arkansas road crews at age thirteen, after his father died; my grandfather (my dad’s dad) at age sixteen, who joined the Confederate Army at fourteen, was shot and thought dead at Cumberland Church two days before Appomattox, but survived to manufacture my father at age fifty-seven; my maternal grandfather, a “Yankee” surgeon in the 18th N.Y.V. Cavalry; and me at age nineteen, when I took off from Detroit on my own to attend Pratt Institute, an art school in Brooklyn.

Inherited Heart Blog Cover  Mom at 20    Dad at 14

Grandfather Minor at 16    Grandfather Gail    Me at 19 when I went to Art School in NYC

“Like the family it celebrates, The Inherited Heart is a bold and fascinating book. William Minor is a charming and endlessly generous chronicler, and his love for these ghosts from his past is truly contagious. Every page is an irresistible trip back in time.”–Christopher Hebert, author of The Boiling Season

 “What makes Bill Minor’s memoir a page-turner is its steady, authentic wisdom. Minor’s narrative is guided by an aesthetic of experience, in which peril and risk inform the maturing self. Raised in what he calls lovingly ‘a house of metaphor,’ Minor skillfully combines the hard-knocks world of boxing with the ‘robbed-time’ effects of jazz, to tease euphoria and joy out of pain and loss. This book is a shining gift to a culture adrift in affect and hungry for meaning.”–Dustin Beall Smith, author of Key Grip

“When one reads a book by Bill Minor, the stories themselves are as colorful and fascinating as the way he writes. His command of the English language mixes together the universal with the esoteric, the witty with the insightful. The author’s storytelling in The Inherited Heart is a consistent delight, filled with original personalities, surprising twists and turns, and humanity. His tales about growing up and discovering and savoring the mysteries of life are so detailed and vivid that they are well worth reading several times.”–Scott Yanow, author of ten books on jazz including The Jazz Singers, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76

“Bill Minor is a writer, teacher, musician, poet, and producer. He brings all of this to The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir. He bravely explores the good and bad of over 400 years of family history – one ancestor who may have captained a ship that carried slaves, and another who fought for their emancipation—and he is also humble. That his family knew Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, General Ulysses Grant, Mark Twain and Walt Whitman gets buried beneath his determination to tell the whole story … In some ways this book speaks with two voices: one to people like me who are fascinated with the sweep of history seen through the eyes of the everyman who happens to be close to the events that shape history.  The other voice speaks to his children and their children and their children yet unborn.  This voice waits patiently to be discovered many decades from now. For these generations of his family yet to come, finding this book will be discovering a treasure.  To them I say – your ancestor William Minor was a very nice man, a great artist, and funny … He comes by his humor honestly and academically (he taught a college course on American Humor and Comedy for eight years).  Describing his mother: ‘Our favorite Dorothyism, however, is her response to a visitor who, when my father was quite advanced in years, praised him for not looking his age, saying that my father had very few wrinkles on his face. My mother thought about this for awhile, then said, ‘That’s because he never uses his face”‘ … What a complete pleasure it was to read this book and experience the breadth of a great American family.”–Robert Danziger, author of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Energy Independence

“Deny it as one may, our hearts are part and parcel of our lineage. As Bill’s title suggests, the emphasis here is on heart and how one is formed by ‘ghosts,’ one’s brethren who, over time, one learns to acknowledge and affirm if not embrace. At once a memoir and a meditation, The Inherited Heart traces Bill Minor’s family history back to 17th Century America, and the author, distinguished poet, painter, musician and storyteller, does justice to a cast of characters that includes Thomas Trowbridge (b. 1590, ‘the first of his family to come to America’) and his descendants. This is a wonderfully rich, deeply moving and evocative family saga–one of the most insightful and humorous I have read.”–Robert Sward, author of New & Selected Poems, 1957-2011

“In a not-so-dark or smoky lounge, a white-haired and bearded, hipster-looking pianist belted out stories as glorious as the sounds bouncing from the keys. After reading Bill Minor’s The Inherited Heart, I discovered it wasn’t the beer we’d been drinking that had done the talking. In this memoir, Minor reveals succulent and surprising strings of history by weaving a colorful and intricate tapestry of his past.”–Dan Linehan, author and poet

“William Minor’s The Inherited Heart: An American Memoir is a candid look at one man’s individual journey through nearly eight decades of life. Using historical documents, ancestral correspondence, and numerous photographs, it also draws upon his family’s collective journey through 400 years of United States history … The Inherited Heart goes beyond autobiography or history. Like life itself, it’s serious, raucous, reflective, dramatic, and often hilarious … Minor’s background is as impressive as it is eclectic: professional jazz musician from the age of sixteen, amateur boxer, artist, poet, novelist, college teacher, and chronicler of jazz on three continents … In the opening paragraph of his preface, he lays out his goal: ‘When I was seventeen years old I was, aside from St Paul, the most serious human being ever to walk the face of the earth. When I was seven years old, I was a precocious clown, entertaining my family at dinner with imitations of Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny and material I stole from Milton Berle’s Joke Book. I am now of somewhat advanced age and attempting to reconcile not only these two discordant elements in my life–solemnity and playfulness–but others as well’ … Writing in an engaging, highly readable style–one that’s always informed by warmth, humor, and intelligence–Minor succeeds admirably. The Inherited Heart comes from an open heart, and it tells not only a great American story but a great human story as well.”–Sterling Johnson, Author of Dangerous Knaves.

The joys and sorrows of writing books are not just confined to the books themselves–and occasionally a joy will arrive that had not been anticipated. I mentioned–in a previous blog (“Bill Has a New Book Out!”)–the CD, Love Letters of Lynchburg, I recorded for the Historic Sandusky Foundation in Virginia, a script for two voices and original music I composed as a spinoff from chapters in the book (http://www.historicsandusky.org/shop.htm) . A similar spinoff or side effect took place when, sixteen years after Monterey Jazz Festival: Forty Legendary Years was published, I was hired to provide copy for an amazing project, a collaboration between the Monterey Jazz Festival and Monterey/Salinas Transit: three JAZZ BUS lines that feature bright orange vehicles decorated with lively “jazz” designs, thirty-three handsome shelters (I provided copy for 28 of them, and the Festival’s graphic artist, Phil Wellman, supplied fine historic photos)—and, an added touch: if you have a “smart phone,” you can make a connection with a bar code and listen to music from that year (each shelter represents a different year of the Festival)  while waiting for your bus! Talk about State of the Art ways to get word out about a worthwhile “product” (both Festival and the transit system!). Here’s a photo of one of the buses, one of the shelters, and one of me standing beside 1963—a “very good year,” with Jack Teagarden, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Dave Brubeck all on hand to perform!

MST-Bus-1 JAZZ-Shelter   Bill at JAZZ BUS Shelter

And speaking of music … the next post will be devoted exclusively to that!