As Time Goes By: Kurt Elling, Lynne Arriale, and Philip Levine and The Poetry of Jazz, Vol. 2

I have been fortunate to know, interview, and write about three extraordinary artists: jazz singer/songwriter Kurt Elling, jazz pianist Lynne Arriale, and poet Philip Levine—the voice of the latter, who died in 2015 at age 87, celebrated by saxophonist Benjamin Boone on two CDs: The Poetry Of Jazz, Volumes One and Two. For this Bill’s Blog post, I’d like to express—with “examples”–the admiration and respect I feel for their work.

First: Kurt Elling. I have been corresponding with his publicist, Trudy Johnson-Lenz. Back in September, 2018, she let me know about a livestreamed broadcast from Dizzy’s Club in Lincoln Center of “Kurt Elling and Friends Celebrate Jon Hendricks,” featuring special guests Aria and Michele Hendricks (Jon’s daughters), Kevin Fitzgerald Burke, and vocalist Sheila Jordan.

The program was special because of Kurt’s solid friendship with Hendricks. He wrote about that friendship in a JazzTimes piece: “The first thing—always—was the smile. Immediate-upon-recognition, and wholly spontaneous. Bona fide. Beatific. And big? I’m talking little-kid-on-Christmas joyful, light-up-the-world big. Generous, in a way that would always be entirely beyond your deserving … Then the gesture would come: the arms thrown wide open to welcome you home. It was an indication that revealed an invitation—to embrace, and to admire … Here, my friends, was a self-made man. Here was a man who started out just another kid among 15 in one family. Except he wasn’t ‘just’ anything. He was the seventh son. As such, he would choose his own fate, standing out for the rest of his life … As a boy he sang for nickels and dimes in the bars: ‘Hey, mister, don’t waste that nickel on the jukebox! Give me that nickel and I’ll sing you any song that’s there. I know ’em all!’ As an adult he sang, by invitation, for the crowned heads of Europe. What’s more, he would write his own songs and lyrics—lyrics like none that had ever been heard before. This was a man whose ingenuity and artistry propelled him to combine Shakespearean-level lyrics with mother wit and acrobatic, atomic, urbane 20th-century swing and bop.”

The September 8 live-streamed show was great—a handsome tribute to Jon Hendricks in every way. On February 28 of this year, I heard from Trudy Johnson-Lenz again, letting me know of the world premiere of “Kurt Elling’s The Big Blind,” his “noir radio-style drama with live Foley sound effects and a 23-piece orchestra, at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City.” Again, two performance (March 1 and March 2) would be livestreamed. The theme of this show was “What happens to a person who’s been given an artistic gift and has the temperament, but the avenue of expression is obliterated?”

Trudy Johnson-Lenz gave me a complete run-down on the performance: “Kurt co-wrote the book, eight new songs, and the lyrics to four more with Grammy-nominated songwriter and producer Phil Galdston. The Big Blind’s stellar cast: Kurt Elling, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Ben Vereen, Allison Semmes, and Ian Shaw. Guy Barker conducts the ‘Jack Lewis Orchestra,’ which is actually drummer Ulysses Owens’ New Century Big Band. Ulysses is the musical director.  Terry Kinney is directing. The Foley artist is Jeff Ward.”

Here are photos of D.D. Bridgewater, Kurt Elling, and Allison Semmes (Photo credits: http://english.cri.cn; http://www.tdf.org; http://www.broadway.com/buzz):

D.D. Brigewater 5    Kurt Elling for Blog

Allison Semmes 4

I had to miss the first offering because of a gig of my own (playing piano for an event in Cannery Row), but I saw the second complete performance, and it was grand—again, a special consideration adding to my appreciation. Back in 2009, I had written an article for Jazz West on “Kurt Elling and the Beat Generation,” and Kurt had told me then of his plans to write and produce the work I’d just seen. Here’s what he said, then: “I’ve had an idea that for a few years has been gestating. It will be somewhat autobiographical, but it will also be based on Joe E. Lewis and The Jokers Wild: just using that as a very basic skeleton, but doing it in a very contemporary context and in that way sort of embracing history, because I have all these deep parallel experiences to Joe E. Lewis. The Green Mill was the club he was working in when they [mobsters] cut his throat. I know the tunnels. I know the ghosts of that place, and that it’s still a functioning club and it still has all this energy and it’s living. I’m not that interested in the old-time gangster thing. That seems real corny to me, and I want to present contemporary music as a heavy part of this, so we’re talking about a contemporary setting of an artistic tragedy—one that features a live and semi-spontaneous score.”

Me: “Will it work that way: as a legit ‘Greek’ tragedy, hubris, denouement and all?”

Kurt: “I’m working on the form. I’m not sure how its going to end, whether he pulls himself out or what the thing is, but I’m sure you can well imagine what an intensely mental game … well, I don’t know if ‘mental game’ is the right way to put it, but it’s something for me to contemplate: his life and the lives of people who have an artistic gift in a very special frequency and for whatever reason have that gift taken away from them. And then, what do you do with the rest of your time? If you can’t have your work in the Smithsonian and play music … if you don’t have a diversity where you’ve got back up things—then what?”

Me: “When people ask me if I ever get ‘writer’s block,’ I say, ’No, I just go someplace else,’ [to play and compose music] which is a fortunate option I think.”

Kurt: “Yeah! I think this kind of idea goes to not only the questions that would specifically haunt us, but questions of regeneration, questions of self. The choice of one’s identity, and the creation of identity. I want to say that’s an American thing. It’s not just that of an individual artist. This is not just a genre-wide phenomenon. Here are all these musicians who are creating themselves by creating music. They’ve done discipline, they’ve learned history; they’ve learned about music and now they are declaring themselves. And that’s an American thing.”

The March 2 performance of Kurt Elling’s The Big Blind jumped off to a very “cool” start. We’re back in Chicago, 1957, with Kurt as band leader/vocalist Jack Lewis (who loves to shout out to his audience, in appreciation for their applause, “Without you, I’m nothin!”). He is in conference with Ian Shaw as Tony Mongoose,” a “wanna-be” manager. Jack already has one: D.D. Bridgewater as Veronica, who “owns” him in ways and means beyond their contract, but Mongoose (who says of Veronica: “She’s a colored woman, at that.”) asserts, “You been stuck in neutral, goin’ nowhere fast! You got to be ready to jump, to jazz, to jive the world, get yourself in the groove; what’s that sound? That sound, my son, is opportunity knocking!”–and he then claims, “I’ll dig you up as a real singer … Star billing, get you your own room, you open in one week … in Vegas! Everybody wins!”

The classic 50’s Show Biz jargon and fake (Mongoose) or self-conscious (Jack Lewis) “hep talk” (jive talk) is a kick, and reminded me of something else Kurt Elling talked about in our 2008 interview. I had mentioned young MFA in creative writing candidates I met at a writers conference who, when I talked about living in San Francisco in 1958, said, “You were a Beatnik! To us that was the Golden Age!”—and I told them I was not fully aware, at the time, that I was a “Beatnik,” and that my wife and I and one-year old child were dirt poor to boot and it was no “Golden Age.”

Kurt: “Yeah, it’s all the Golden Age, and none of it’s the Golden Age. You know, frankly, musicians on the jazz scene in Chicago, certainly the people I was hanging out with, well, I gravitated toward the older musicians because I wanted jazz father figures, and I wanted to have their blessing and their encouragement and their love and their acceptance. I wanted to touch the past through them, and that’s how they talk! [laughs] So I wanted to be like them. It’s a little bit like what Gary Grant said: he became Cary Grant by pretending to be him long enough so that he did! He became him! So, now it’s just part of the thing, and I think it’s cool. It’s become an organic part of me, and even here at the [Monterey Jazz] Festival, I’m not the only one, man. Talk to Joe Lovano for a couple of minutes. Some of us just want to be a part of that. We want to continue to manifest that energy, because it’s good to be a slick, you know? It’s chic! It’s not ordinary.”

I quoted another portion of Mezz Mezzrow’s Really the Blues, previously mentioned, for which Mezzrow even provides a glossary, and a translation, at the back of his book: “All I got left is a roach no longer than a pretty chick’s memory. I’m gonna breeze to my personal snatchpad and switch my dry goods while they’re [his lady friend is plural!] out on the turf,” etc. I told Kurt that, as I kid, these words became embedded in my head (and are still there, indelible), even before I learned the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence.

 Kurt: [laughing] “There you go!”

In the The Big Blind performance, Ben Vereen–as tenor saxophonist Eddie Freeman–functions as narrator (setting the frame for Jack’s life), and D.D. Bridgewater is spectacular as manager Veronica—coming on like “gangbusters,” calling Mongoose a “oil street pimp, tryin’ to impress all the boys … he learned whatever songs he knows in a prison shower,” whereas she, who loves to spend time (on an expense account) in Paris, is “building a continental  identity” for Jack, hobnobbing with French stars like Charles Aznavour and Edith Piaf—which leads her into a song about Paris, the “city of eternal love”—a song which includes some catchy lyrics (“What if forever is never … Never enough time is there—for forever.”) and a message: “Don’t matter who you love, or the color of your skin.”

Jack has reservations regarding his role as “lover,” and when Eddie enters, saying “What’s that all about?”, Jack says, “Play along will you Eddie”—the latter saying, as an aside, “Lady V found him when he was a singing waiter.”

Here are photos of the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge in Chicago (outside and in); Joe E. Brown; and two photos of Kurt Elling singing at the Green Mill (Photo credits: www.choosechicago.com;  http://uplup.com/music/green-mill-chicago; www.doctormacro.com/; Wikepedia;  www.facebook.com/kurtelling/)

Green Mill Cocktail Lounge 3

Green Mill Cocktail Lounge 2  Joe E. Brown 2 Kurt Elling at the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge  Kurt Elling at the Green Mill 2

All of the acting in Kurt Elling’s The Big Blind was solid, the story line unfolding as somewhat familiar (solid 1950s “stuff”), enticing, accurate—and good fun. And the unity of it all (the big band backing very effective—in terms of mood and forward motion) reminded me of one more set of statements Kurt Elling made back in 2008:

Kurt: “Well, again, if as an individual artist you could do anything from ranting to soliloquy to vocalese to straight up extemporaneous communication, I think that one already probably has a natural consciousness that is syncretic, one that wants to pull things together and see how they  combine. The most interesting thing is not to try to combine everything with everything; it’s to combine this interesting thing with this very disparate interesting thing, and to have a new viewpoint on everything else because you never would have thought of those two things together. So when the commissions started, who am I to say no? I gave it my best shot. They were always on a shoestring budget and they were only meant to run one or two nights at a time, but I’d give it my best shot because it was just a great creative challenge to try to figure out how these things would work together. I’m really proud of the results. I feel like I have a good organic sense of the way that dance and music and spoken word would go together, especially if I’m familiar enough with the choreographer’s work. Because a lot of times, if I’m seeing someone who has a great choreographic gift, and insight, that often inspires stories in me, so I’m adapting my thing to something that goes with this. It’s that kind of call and response, if you will.”

He held to these principles in the work I was watching. The scenes that followed were somewhat predictable, but handled with originally within each context. Jack meets a “young chick,” Jill (Allison Semmes, who took over as Diana Ross in Motown and led the 1st and 2nd Broadway national tours of that musical—and she’s adorable!)—taking photos for “a negro paper.” At the club he’s working, she asks Jack, “You a waiter?” “No, I’m a musician.” She’s impressed by, and takes photos of his performance, while he’s thinking (in Show Biz terms): “Hmmm, Jack and Jill … we may have to work on that.” She sings: “The faces I find … if I can stop the wheels of time and freeze the frame … the picture that never lies … In old age, every wrinkle’s a page …I can see so deep in you.”

The lyrics, the dialogue—everything was so cool in the overall performance, I’m tempted to try to quote each line (I took copious notes I hope are accurate!), but I haven’t space in this Blog, unfortunately, to do that, so … I’ll lightly touch on some lines that carried the performance to a very dramatic first-act conclusion: the scene having shifted to Chicago’s legendary cocktail lounge, The Green Mill, “The Pearl of Uptown … islands of love awaiting.” Jill is there, and saxophonist Eddie is “diggin’ on the light-skinned sister in the room,” saying, ironically, to the Shutter Bug (when she asks to take his picture), “They say it’ a free country,” telling her when she claims his saxophone “preaches” that he “plays the sounds that’s me,” and, when she asks, “Is it always like that for Jack—the autographs and attention?”: “Jack’s the front man, and front men are stars … stars get the honies,” adding, in a song, that other players on the stand are  “professional unsung heroes … you’re married to the music, for the music understands.”

After the show, Jack, promising “no complications,” cries, “Let’s go dancing!” Jill claims she’ll stick with “doing what she knows is right,” he claims “I’ll show you that I’m worth the risk”; and they do dance, both feel “sudden sensation,” and, in the midst of what Eddie labels “Jack’s Golden Hour” … the phone rings. It’s Veronica, of course, an “overseas call” in which she, again, promises him a gig in Paris, in “that little club over by Sacré-Cœur, Piaf’s favorite café”—then breaks off: “Jack, who’s that?” She screams accusations (D. D. Bridgewater is perfect, powerful in this role), “And in our bed!” Shouts, “I know what’s best for us,” and when Jack asks, “What’s that?”, responds, “ME!” Her jealousy drives her to song: “Be mine. Be careful! You are mine. Hear me, and you should fear me!”

But Jack has been anything but careful. At the close of his show, having asked (to her dismay) Jillie (not Mongoose) to be his new manager in Vegas, he cries out, “Special night here, Green Mill. Love!”—singing (a la Frank Sinatra), “All the Way,” and adding, “Without you, Baby, I’m nothing!” And that’s when we learn that Veronica did not call from Paris, “overseas,” but she’s there, in the Green Mill, and she’s heard everything. The radio announcer proclaims, “Take five, ladies and gentlemen.” Intermission.

Part Two of the noir radio-style drama resumes with a brazen Big Band burst, totally fit for the reentry, which is restless. Kurt (as Jack) appears in a while shirt and loose tie, phone in hand. Eddie also appears, with Mongoose. Eddie reminds Jack that Veronica “has an eight-inch blade in her boot,” and Mongoose tells Jack (who feels he’s “gotta find Jillie”), he’s “better off” (“ridding ourselves of all complications”). The next scene discloses Jack alone at the Green Mill, after hours, and Veronica shows up—on the warpath. “And now Las Vegas,” she says with a hiss; and when Jack protests, saying “Vegas is good business for me,” she snarls, “Mama’s talking! You don’t tell me, I tell you!” She slaps him, hard—saying, “You singing waiter!” She calls Jillie “a little whore.” A traumatic experience from their past slips out (“Our baby was born dead”) and when she attacks, slaps him again, it’s with a swipe of the blade she carries in her boot. Jack falls, choking. We hear a door slam, and the next scene takes place …

In hospital. Jillie is there. Jack’s throat has been cut and he can’t breathe. Jillie sings: “Let me sit beside you for a minute … Why can’t we just break free?” Nearly voiceless, Jack mutters, “Get Tony [Mongoose]!”—who appears as if on command, but turns cynical, saying, “Nothing left to manage … a lame horse … when the going gets tough … I’ve seen ‘em come and go …if he wants to stay in Show Biz, he can get a job as a drummer’s ventriloquist”—arrogantly adding “I’m the real star of the show!”

Eddie assumes a more prominent role as narrator from this point on. “Tony split town, leaving Jillie and me. And what’s left of Jack’s … voice.” Eddie tells us that the doctors say they don’t know if Jack will ever sing again. Jack “won’t rat on Veronica.” The two women, the rivalsfor what’s left of Jack, literally bump into each other on a visit to the hospital. Veronica asks Jillie if she’s there to see her “father”—then, “What is he … your sugar daddy?”

Jack’s voice gone, he takes to drink—and turns on Jillie: “You and your bloody street pictures.” He claims that Tony (Mongoose) was his “ticket to everything.” Jillie says, “I believed in you, not just your singing.” Jack strikes her, breaking a bottle of booze. Mournful music follows. Eddie shows up at Jillie’s place, saying he hasn’t heard a word from Jack, but has heard that he’s become “a running bum at the end of the bar”—and we shift to that scene, Jack singing (surprisingly well!) a song about “memories like old movies … moaning, slurring over words unspoken.” And then attempts the classic “Angel Eyes” (“I Try to think that loves not around / But it’s uncomfortably near / My old heart ain’t gaining no ground /Because my angel eyes ain’t here … So drink up all you people / Order anything you see / Have fun you happy people /The laughs and the jokes on me.”).

Eddie’s narration continues as Jack’s deterioration does: “Jack went on a real bender … library stairs, staring at strangers.” The wicked witch Veronica appears “somewhere in the fog, in the shadows,” in a “blur,” and sings: “I know your desperate wish, I know your darkest fear. Why am I still here? Survival!” And thinking of rival Jillie: “I’ll show her how a woman fights back when she’s black and blue … This is not the end … he’ll come back to me again, and we’ll laugh … I’ll laugh … Love: it’s never fair!” But it’s her “survival.”

Here are two photos of Kurt Elling in his role as Jack in The Big Blind (Photo credits www.pastemagazine.com/;  /www.southbankcentre.co.uk ):

Kurt Elling in Radio Drama The Big Blind  Kurt Elling in The Big Blind (2)

Eddie finally gets caught up with Jack, “passed out in a park.” Eddie attempts to lure him “back,” saying, “I believe the boys are gonna raise the roof tonight.” And not just “three chords” stuff (“ain’t gonna find me playing that shit”). He reminds Jack of Jillie, “The one gal who would have loved you”—and when Jack responds “It’s all gone … How am I supposed to live, Eddie?”, the latter sings a plaintive refrain on “love”: “You just have to feel it … when the world seems suddenly still … that soft-spoken melody will find its way to you … when hope is lost, give your words up to the great unknown … the sounds of the street and the voice of your soul.” And Eddie offers Jack a gentle sermon on rehabilitation: “Practice till you find something worth playing … Show up! Show up! When love is lost, or only exists in a dream … the melody remains in your heart, when pain fills you up again.”

The immediate result is good. Eddie tells us that “Jack came to stay with me for a while,” and Eddie “kept tabs on Miss Jillie,” who, returning to art school, has found success in NYC, a show of her photographs “opening Sunday afternoon at the Two Deuces.” Jack returns, momentarily, to “the joy box,” asking to sit in (“Could you loan me the piano for a minute?”) and tells his audience, “I haven’t been doing much singing, folks … This is new.” He sings, “They say dreams never die; I think that’s a lie … How can a dream live on, after the night is gone? … What becomes of the soul when the story is said and done … the music we hear will all disappear … on swallow wings.”

When he finishes the song, he sees Jillie—but walks out, just giving her a “little wave.” He tells Eddie: “See ya back at the crib,” but Eddie knows he’s just witnessed Jack’s “swan song … He just walked out into the night and disappeared.” Years go by. Eddie receives postcards depicting mountains and pine trees and the only words are: “It’s a good life up here.” Word comes he’s worked as a deck hand … he still listens to the radio—broadcasts from New York and Chicago. He signs off all contact: “Take care of yourself, Jack.”

At the close of the radio-drama, Eddie reflects: “We were two swinging cats at the opposite ends of our prime … Jack Lewis was my friend … he was the voice of Chicago: the sound!”

The voice of the announcer introduces the full cast, to rousing Big Band music and raucous applause from the audience. Kurt Elling is alive and well! He has added another “chapter” to his own story, his exceptional multi-faceted career. Congratulations, Kurt and friends on an excellent production: brilliant music, meaningful lyrics, a perfect balance between music and words, accessible story line, fully engaging drama, exceptional acting—the works! And thanks, again, Trudy Johnson-Lenz, for letting me know in advance about this important event.

 

Pianist Lynne Arriale recently sent me her latest CD, Give Us These Days, featuring her trio with Jasper Somsen on bass, and Jasper Van Hulten on drums. Going through previous recordings I have of hers, I realized we “go back” a long long way. I have: The Eyes Have It (1994), When You Listen (1995), With Words Unspoken (1996), A Long Road Home (1997), The Pleasure Of Your Company (with Richard “Cookie” Thomas: 1998), Melody (1999), Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival (1999), Inspiration (2000), Arise (2002), Come Together (2004). Other recordings by this prolific artist I do not have are: Lynne Arriale Trio: Live In Burghausen (2006), Lynne Arriale Trio Live (2011), Convergence (2011), Live at B’ Jazz (2014), Nuance:The Bennett Studio Sessions (2017), Solo (2017).

If I remember correctly, I first met Lynne Arriale, and heard her play, at the Jazz Bakery in Santa Monica—perhaps as far back as the mid-1990s. Fellow jazz writer Scott Yanow took me there, and introduced me to Lynne (whom he’d written about). In 2002, an article I wrote about her (based on an interview I had with her after she performed at the Jazz & Blues Company in Carmel) appeared in the March/ April issue of Coda. When Marian McPartland played at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 2004, she did so, in piano duets, with Jason Moran, Bill Charlop, and Lynne Arriale—and I contributed an article, “Piano Abundance: Marian McPartland, the matriarch of jazz piano, highlights a constellation of keyboard stars,” to that year’s Festival program. Lynne was one of the “keyboard stars” I wrote about. I also recall a concert she gave at a walkdown venue I don’t remember the name of in Pacific Grove, CA, where I live—Lynne performing solo on a white grand piano.

I wrote the following in the Coda piece: “[Lynne Arriale] opened her second set at the Jazz & Blues Company in Carmel, California with “Bemsha Swing”–Monk with a vengeance, amply demonstrating that she’s at home with all forms of jazz and can richly interpret anybody’s tunes. No easy task in the case of Monk, given the individuation that giant himself possessed, and the host of genres (from stride to blues to bop) he too had absorbed and transformed … Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge prized the sort of individual artistry that could ‘dissolve, diffuse, dissipate in order to re-create.’ Coleridge, and Monk, would have been pleased with what Arriale did with “Bemsha Swing.” With unabated force and skill, she broke up the rhythms in a manner that might have surprised Monk, adding some cutting-edge cragginess of her own–wild clusters, sudden glisses, insinuating phrases and pauses that might have made Cecil Taylor smile, had he been in the house! The audience was kept alert, alive, and appreciative by it all until, the tune–the avalanche–resolved, Lynne Arriale sat back and smiled herself, saying, “It’s great to feel the presence of listening.” … She then exchanged the appropriate power (and joy) of Monkish “attitude” for the deceptive ease and serenity of William Walton’s “Touch Her Soft Lips and Part,” a tune that contained classical elegance.”

The first tune on the Give Us These Days CD is Joni Mitchell’s classic “Woodstock.” A somewhat solemn vamp leads into the theme, and the solely instrumental respectful rendering more than suggests the words (getting the soul “free,” and “back to the garden”); deft, direct, clean, carefully selected notes capturing the mood (along with Jasper Van Hulten’s accents and cymbal washes); a keyboard sweep followed by a percussive mode reassessing the event (bombers turned into butterflies—or “camping out” turned muddy?); a measure of frenzy in the celebration—chordal variation on the theme, and then back to it, mixed with an anthem (a touch of Jimi Hendrix?) “feel” and out, sweeping the keys again.

The next tune, “Appassionata,” features Van Hulten with a host of drum effects (all over the kit percussion), side by side with Lynne Arriale’s passionate but spare (subtle!) Flamingo melodic touch, handsome interplay, a lively yet over all lightsome conversation, dialogue, exchange … piano and drums back off for an subtle, agile bass solo by Jasper Somsen. Lynne’s ingenious rhythmic comping transforms itself into alert, alive melodicism for the close—followed by the lyric refrain of “welcome” in her composition (all but three tunes on the CD are her own), “Finding Home”; handsome lower register  chords beneath a lovely “no place like home” melody, offered as if cherished, caressed (her masterful touch!).

In his liner notes to Give Us These Days, Lawrence Abrams writes: “Above all, Lynne remains unfailingly a melodist. Her improvised musical sentences, or lines, are strong, lean, and lyrical. But whether they are rhythmic or motivic, as in Over and Out, or as in Finding Home, luxuriously long and complex, they fairly glow with her passion for melody.”

Here’s a photo of Lynne Arriale and the cover of the “Give Us These Days” CD (Photo credit: https://twitter.com):

Lynne Arriale 3  Lynne Arriale Give Us These Days

When, in the 2002 interview, I talked with her about her penchant for unadorned melody, Lynne Arriale offered a fitting analogy to speech. “‘Just because you know more words [substitute “notes”?], does that mean your speech is going to be more profound, or your writing? And the answer is ‘No,’ of course not. We all know that, yet it’s funny that, in music sometimes, doing more to something is considered hip, or whatever. But if we dress it up, we won’t be able to see the forest from the trees’ … Elsewhere, in the liner notes to Lynne Arriale Trio Live at Montreux, she’d said she wants an audience ‘to experience the widest range of human emotions,’ absorbing ‘many different colors, many different moods, many different directions.’ It works. Such generosity of spirit endeared her to the audience in Switzerland, and they loved her for it in Carmel too.”

Lynne Arriale generally works in a trio format. On that night in Carmel, I interviewed her with miracle-working drummer Steve Davis, who had provided percussive support for the past eight years and seemed to anticipate the pianist’s every musical move (for example, in their rapport on “Seven Steps to Heaven” with its stuttered Satie-like close). On the night I saw, heard, and interviewed her, Lynne Arriale’s plane had been delayed in Chicago, and she arrived at The Jazz & Blues Company just ten minutes before the trio’s gig began. Nevertheless, a slender, beautiful woman with auburn hair (which, tossing it in time to “Steven Steps to Heaven,” flared red) and stunning blue eyes, she carried a black “pillow” or cushion to the white piano bench (a cushion that looked as if it might be used for displaying jewels at Tiffany’s), and she performed without a trace of haste–or hunger (after her sets, when she, Steve Davis, and I retired to the Rio Grill, I would learn that she hadn’t had time to eat–an activity she undertook with zeal). I wrote, “Lynne Arriale’s appearance matches the range of her music, for it also suggests a completely winning, slightly waif-like quality that quickly converts to a tough, no-nonsense and fully articulate manner. All of these aspects turn up in her music.”

The title tune on the Give Us These Days CD (introduced by mallets on cymbal, establishing at the start a very comfortable “setting’) is again a piece that delivers sublime melody, again featuring Lynne’s brilliant bright touch, this time the mood arising from gratitude. The piece was inspired by Jim Schley’s poem, “Devotional,” which pays homage to every human cycle from marriage and inception (“confiding as never before /with body-sundering confidence;/ the sealed secrecy of youth”) to aging and treasured simple senses: “Hear one plea / when I say, let each of us three / live to be old … the sense of smell is ravenous / as you know, for these / blessed scents of kin: / the cotton jersey you work in, / or stockings for nights of singing / translucent as fragrance, / jade dress and cream-colored blouse, / mine to hold as I fold them … If I might be /so bold … if I may —Give us these days.”

Lynne Arriale “translates,” embodies such feelings into an instrumental prayer, reference for “the things of this world,” faith: the dialogue this time taking place between her left (chordal) and right (melody line) hands, totally at peace, at ease with one another, delicate at times to the point of appropriate silence (“stillness”), heartfelt devotion enhanced, again, by her melodic poise.

Here’s another photo of Lynne Arriale, surrounded by a few of her other recordings (Photo credit: http://www.wuwm.com):

Lynne Arriale Inspiration Lynne Arriale Milwaukee

Lynne Arriale Convergence 2

The tune “Slightly Off Center” is just that! It’s “Free up!” time, and the trio does, with ease—prancing, proud, uncompromised expression, extension—and another fetching melody: sprightly, playful, leaning to the left, leaning to the right, but keeping, always, its difficult balance—truly swinging! Dexterous, mellow hard bop—with a sudden stop! “Another Sky” offers a beautiful panorama established by the first few notes: soft spacious reflection, restraint, taste, and a grand “view” of the world. As is the “acceptance” (in the Zen sense of “mindfulness”) of the Beatles’ “Let It Be” (“There will be an answer … Let it be.”): not a trace of competition or cynicism (with or about the original) in Lynne’s improvisation, but her own “space” taken possession of; her lyricism, laced with her gracious “touch” always, present without strain … Let it be.

“Over and Out” is a perfect instrumental close out piece, which displays each artist in the trio at “the best” (just as the bass and drum solos have been throughout the recording), “Gospel funky” here (as the liner notes say); a joyful noise served with gladness; Jasper Somsen soloing handsomely, subtly; Jasper Van Hulten quick and clean (Lynne churning it up in the background, frisky, free play) and all three back into a unison funky close out.

“Take It With Me” is my favorite Tom Waits song—and it was a delight to hear Kate McGarry sing it so beautifully here, with Lynne providing perfect (exquisite, tasteful, imaginative) backing. “It’s got to be more than flesh and bone / All that you’ve loved is all you own … I’m gonna take it with me when I go.” Human promise, hope, experience—transmuted, transcended … Congratulations, and thanks, Lynne Arriale and friends!

 

The third artist I would like to celebrate is Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award (twice!) winner and Poet Laureate of the United States  (2011-1012) Philip Levine—and by “extension,” saxophonist Benjamin Boone. I was fortunate to become friends with Phil, under unusual  circumstance. We discovered we had attended the same Art Tatum/Erroll Garner concert in Detroit the mid-1950s, and we discovered we shared the same disease (vestibular: vertigo)—but the collaboration between Philip Levine and Benjamin Boone came about in a more “natural” manner. Both teaching at Fresno State University (Phil Creative Writing, Benjamin Music), they paired off for a recording, The Poetry of Jazz, which featured Levine reading his own poems (many related to music), Boone providing musical backing (as composer, arranger, performer). The first CD includes further musical assistance on the part of “super star” instrumentalists Chris Potter, Tom Harrell, Branford Marsalis, and Greg Osby—whereas for a second CD, The Poetry of Jazz: Volume Two (recorded between August 2012 and October 2018), Boone assembled a first-rate ensemble of local talent. Philip Levine reads poems that are favorites of mine, because they focus on the lives (the sort of existence Levine shared) of working-class Detroiters–and the readings resonate with my own experience of that city.

The first piece, “Let Me Begin Again,” opens (musically) with a cymbal wash, piano flourish, subtle alto saxophone, and Philip Levine steps in: “ … begin again as a speck / of dust caught in the night winds … Let /me go back to land after a lifetime of going nowhere.”; and it ends “Tonight I shall enter my life / after being at sea for ages, quietly, / in a hospital named for an automobile [Henry Ford Hospital, where Levine was born, and at which my own grandmother was once Head of Nurses!] … A tiny wise child who this time will love / his life because it is like no other.” Benjamin Boone matches or complements each shift in mood, tone, and time passing handsomely.

The second piece, “An Ordinary Morning,” is introduced by a soft acoustic bass pattern, then Philip Levine: “A man is singing on the bus / coming in from Toledo,” his “hoarse, quiet voice” … “tells / of love that is true, of love /that endures a whole weekend.” [Music: melodic sax in background]: The entire bus joins in song, even the driver: “One by one my new neighbors … accept / this bright sung conversation … We are / the living newly arrived / in Detroit, city of dreams … each on his own black throne.” Once again, Benjamin Boone “comps” each shift in mood or to another character adroitly (an apt sax fade at the end)—and assists in establishing the irony as well (“Detroit, city of dreams”).

Here are photos of the covers of the two The Poetry of Jazz CDs:

Phil Levine The Poetry of Jazz Vol 2  Phil Levine The Poetry of Jazz

I met Philip Levine when a teaching colleague of mine at Monterey Peninsula College, George Lober (who had Levine as a teacher at Fresno State University), invited him to give a reading at MPC. George told me that Phil was having vertigo “issues,” and would like to talk with me about the condition, which we did—at some length at a party after the reading, and thereafter in letters. We would correspond from April 2003 through August 2005, and not only discussed our mutual vestibular “affliction,” but jazz, the poetry scene in general, and living in New York City (where Phil was also teaching at the time).

I’ve had a vertigo condition for twenty-seven years now (brought on by a viral infection that did permanent damage to my inner ear), and when I met Phil in 2003, I had collected a stack of articles on the condition as thick as the Bible (both Testaments), much of which I passed on to him. Here’s a portion of a letter I would receive not long after his reading in Monterey: “Thanks for all the advice re the vertigo. I went off to Nashville last week prepared for trouble & got almost none … I’ll try most anything. I have had several episodes of loss of balance but no vertigo since I saw you. During my last reading I caught myself about to make a rather large gesture which would have evolved looking up–which is what I did in Monterey–, & I did not make said gesture. I’ll see how things go, & and if NYC is OK I’ll stick with what I have. If not I’ll try to locate someone as good as your Dr. Schindler [a San Francisco otolaryngologist who realized I had an inner ear problem, not Meniere’s Disease, with which I had been mistakenly diagnosed elsewhere for three years!]. I’ve been going to a gym most days; I use an exercise bike.”

I’m pleased to report that by the time of our final correspondence in 2005, Phil had done something I’ve never been able to do: he beat the vertigo “rap,” telling me, “We made a trip to Pragu, & I managed to get a low-salt menu anywhere I went … It’s now more than a year since I’ve had any loss of balance & almost two years since I had vertigo. I stick to the diet & try to avoid stress, which isn’t always possible.”

Phil Levine was the same candid, upfront, open, forthright presence in person (or in his letters) that he is in his poems (and that, unfortunately, has not always been the case with poets I’ve known). I treasure each of the letters he wrote to me, and what he had to say about poetry has proven invaluable. “I can’t stand people who think they are owed an audience of thousands & untold wealth because they write poetry. I went into this shit with my eyes open; I knew the chances of any success, commercial or otherwise, were about zero; I did it because I loved writing, I simply wanted to do this & nothing else. Well, life has given me the opportunity to write. And on top of that I lucked in & got a good publisher, a great editor, & some prizes, all more than I expected. If I’d never won a prize would I still be writing? Yes, If I’d never published would I still be writing? I don’t know. Thank God my character never had to face that test … The poetry thing is so intense here [NYC] you have to get away. Too many people on the make … It reminds me of Nathanial West on Hollywood. He’s got a character who can only think of everything in terms of: Will it film? Here it’s, would this make an anthology & who would publish it? Horseshit.”

I was thrilled when I sent him a book of my own poems, he responded favorably: “Thanks also for Some Grand Dust [We had talked about this book the night I met him]. Several of the Moker poems are special. He’s not Kees’ Robinson or Berryman’s Henry. He’s really your own Moker with a fuller inner life from either of those two. He’s also much more accepting of life as it is than they are. It’s a collection that deserves much more attention than it’s probably had, but the poetry world is like the rest of the American worlds: a mess … Good luck, & thanks again for your help & your gifts … ps. I’m still astonished that we were both at that Tatum night. I saw him two days later talking baseball & got a poem out of it about 30 years later.”

His Tatum poem is a gem (I was surprised it was not on either of the The Poetry of Jazz CDs. It’s called “On the Corner,” and the great blind pianist is presented as passing by “blind as the sea, /heavy, tottering /on the arm of the young / bass player, and they /both talking / Jackie Robinson.” The bass player say, “Wait’ll / you see Mays,” how fast he is too first, like Jackie Robinson—and the last line has Tatum speaking, “I can’t hardly wait.” In another letter, I mentioned Tatum and blind vocalist Al Hibbler having “driving” [an automobile!] contests, and Phil replied, “Art Tatum & Hibbler driving! My mother was almost as bad. When she was in her eighties her sight began to go–macular degeneration–but she didn’t let that stop her from driving, though she did stay off the freeways–by this time she lived in LA. Finally she couldn’t get a renewal on her license, couldn’t pass the vision test, couldn’t get insurance, & sold her car. She never seemed to take into account the fact she might kill a dozen kids–she lived only two blocks from a big high school.”

Here are photos of Philip Levine, with Benjamin Boone, and solo (Photo credits: www.nytimes.com; jazzdagama.com; The Fresno Bee; artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com):

Phillip Levine 3

ben-and-phil

Phillip Levine with Benjamin Boone 2  Phil Levine NY Times

We talked lots of jazz in our correspondence, and I’ll give one more sample here—and then provide a couple more examples of tracks from the The Poetry of Jazz: Volume Two CD. I’d mentioned serving on a panel at the Monterey Jazz Festival with Charles Mingus’s wife, Sue—and Phil wrote: “Have you read the book by Sue Mingus about Charles the maniac? It has a name like ‘Today at Midnight’? [Tonight at Noon: A Love Story].The parts that are good are so good that everyone who cares about jazz or human behavior ought to read it. How she stuck with Mingus is beyond me, except he was fascinating as well as monstrous … You mentioned combining music & poetry. I did several concerts with a great percussionist named Steve Schick; I once rehearsed with two of the cats from the Paul Winter consort, the cellist & the pianist, but their playing was far too soft for what I was reading–Garcia Lorca’s toughest stuff from POET IN NEW YORK, “Offices & Denunciations.” And the cellist said flat out, You need a percussionist, & within a day we had this guy Schick, & he was superb. This was for a Christmas thing in a cathedral, & working with these guys was fun. They were real pros.”

And now we have recordings of Phillip Levine reading his poems within a totally compatible musical setting created by Benjamin Boone. Two more of my favorite tracks on The Poetry of Jazz: Volume Two are “Belle Isle, 1949” and “The Conductor of Nothing.” The first, after a synthesized “spring” atmosphere is established musically, describes a adolescent “swim” in the Detroit River (the “voice” of the poem and “a Polish highschool girl / I’d never seen before” run down, “in this first warm spring night” to “baptize ourselves in the brine / of car parts, dead fish, stolen bicycles, / melted snow.” The ending is classic: “ Back panting / to the gray coarse beach we didn’t dare / fall on, the damp piles of clothes, / and dressing side by side in silence / to go back where we came from.”  Alternating piano notes and soft melodic alto sax refrain close out the piece, and I couldn’t help but think (or feel), O Yes, memories of those Michigan “first warm spring nights”!

The second poem, “The Conductor of Nothing,” opens with delicate wire brush drum work and soft saxophone trills, a wavering mood; then Phil with a complaint in the voice of the narrator himself: “If you were to stop and ask me / how long I have been as I am, / a man who hates nothing / and rides old trains for the sake / of riding. I could only answer / with that soft moan I’ve come / to love. It seems a lifetime I’ve / been silently crossing and recrossing / this huge land of broken rivers / and fouled lakes, and no one has cared enough even to ask for a ticket / or question this dingy parody of a uniform.” We get a considerable portion of the conductor’s existence, and the poem ends: “Thus / I come back to life each day /miraculously among the dead, / a sort of moving monument / to what a man can never be– / someone who can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ / kindly and with a real meaning, and bending to hear you out, place / a hand upon your shoulder, open / my eyes fully to your eyes, lift / your burden down, and point the way.” The musical close out consists of gentle piano accents, and a wavering saxophone, to point that way.

If you feel the need (and in our present era, that’s a very legitimate need, I feel) for poetry with real meaning–poetry filled with genuine care, insight, and compassion–accompanied by a musical setting that contains the same, The Poetry of Jazz: Volume Two (and the first volume!) awaits you.

And what a joy for me: to have known this truly great poet and human being, Philip Levine—just as it’s been genuine joy to have known and written about Kurt Elling and Lynne Arriale. I hope you have taken pleasure in this blog devoted to their latest accomplishments.

 

 

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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!

 

 

 

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