King OliverMy iPod isn’t always a subject for philosophical contemplation.  More often it’s merely a calming talisman in my battle against airplane claustrophobia and tedium.  But recent experiences have made me think about it as more thought-provoking than a twentieth-century version of the transistor radio and cassette player of my past. 

It began when I unintentionally erased not only the contents of my iPod but also my iTunes library.  How that happened is not a subject for this blog, but I erased eight thousand tracks.  (Or, to use “the male passive,” I could write “eight thousand tracks had been erased,” but no matter.)  Preparing to go off on vacation far from my CD collection, I began to stuff compact discs into my iTunes library.  This, as readers will know, is a nuisance, and at times I wished for a youthful niece or nephew to whom I could say, “Want a hundred dollars?  Put each of the CDs in that bookcase into iTunes for me, will you?”  The computer did its job well, but it required me to check on it every six or seven minutes.  I began with the tail end of my collection — that’s Lester Young, the Yerba Buena Jazz Band, Ben Webster, Lee Wiley, and so on, and worked my way back to the Allens, Harry and Henry Red, in the space of ten days. 

And a King — Joe Oliver, pictured top left.   

This combination of obsessiveness and diligence resulted in an iPod with more than fifteen thousand tracks on it — the Hot Fives and Sevens, the Basie Deccas, the Lester Verves, the Billie Vocalions, the Teddy Wilson School for Pianists, the Blue Note Jazzmen, Fats Waller from 1922 to 1935, Mel Powell on Vanguard, Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins . . . all I could desire, more than a hundred full days of music.

But I kept silently asking myself, “What do you need all this music for, knowing that you couldn’t listen to it all in the space of the next twelve months?”

King LearAnother King kept insisting that I pay attention to him.  He didn’t play cornet; he would have been out of place at the Lincoln Gardens.  I had taught a course in Shakepearian tragedy this summer, and ended it with KING LEAR — adding a few scenes from the 1982 Granada television presentation with Sir Laurence Olivier.  

Early in the play, when Lear still thinks he has imperial powers (even though he has renounced the throne), he bargains with his daughters about whose house he shall stay at first, casually letting them know that he will arrive with a hundred knights.  Although Goneril and Regan are cruelly inhuman, I always feel for them at this point, as they ask their father, with some irritable reasonableness, why he, no longer King, needs a retinue.  Lear responds:    

O reason not the need! Our basest beggars

Are in the poorest thing superfluous.

Allow not nature more than nature needs,

Man’s life is as cheap as beast’s.

In the most commonsensical way, I take these lines to suggest that the difference between a reasonably privileged person and a Maltese terrier is that the person, when the impulse strikes, can go to the kitchen cabinet and have another cookie or pretzel.  Choice is at work here, unlike the dog who has to wait for the owner to fill his bowl.  “Need” is constricting; luxury is the freedom to transcend mere needs.  Or, in other terms, to have merely “enough” — the spiritual equivalent of eight hundred calories a day — is emotionally insufficient.

I knew that I didn’t “have to have” Ella Fitzgerald singing MY MELANCHOLY BABY (Teddy Wilson, Frank Newton, Benny Morton, 1936) in the same way I need food and drink.  I could capably replay most of that performance in my mind.  But not having it accessible provokes feelings of inadequacy, of being separated from my music.  To some, this will seem like an exercise in superfluity: I know there are people in other countries who don’t have clean water, let alone alternate takes of the Albert Ammons Commodores, and I feel for them, but the sensation of having more music than I can possibly listen to is luxuriant bliss.  It means that if, upon awaking, I really NEED to hear Dicky Wells and Bill Coleman play SWEET SUE . . . there it is.

Which leads me to the most brilliant feature of the iPod — not the ability to reproduce album cover artwork (!) but the ability to shuffle songs.  I plugged it in here and started it up . . . so that Dizzy Gillespie followed Mamie Smith who followed the West Jesmond Rhythm Kings who followed Hawkins . . . . a floating Blindfold Test, full of surprises and gratifications.  And no worrying about the hundred knights drinking up all the milk in the refrigerator. 


Olivier and Oliver, in perfect harmony.

12 responses to “KING JOE / KING LEAR

  1. Pingback: KING JOE / KING LEAR

  2. Amen, my friend. Pressing the shuffle button on my Ipod is always an invitation for surprise. Hot Lips Page…followed by Frank Sinatra…followed by Arnett Cobb…followed by Howlin’ Wolf? I’m sorry, but I’m not going to find that on any radio station in the world!

    For a fun experiment, you should invite your readers to hit shuffle on their Ipods, and report on the first 25 songs that come up. I recently took part in such an “experiment” on Facebook with the likes of Augustin Perez and Fernando Ortiz de Urbina and it was fascinating seeing everyone’s different lists…no two remotely alike!


  3. Can I just say that I think you have excellent taste? Dicky Wells and Bill Coleman playing Sweet Sue is indeed, awesome! And count me in for the iPod shuffling game!

  4. Dear Trevor,

    How about HANGIN’ AROUND BODOUN? And, since Ricky has already hinted at the contents of his iPod shuffle, do you feel like sharing yours? Anyone else care to reveal the results of their jazz grab-bag? Should be most interesting . . . .

  5. sam parkins

    I will say – and as you know by now, this is rare indeed – that this leaves me speechless. My single word is, “PERFECT !!” – particularly the 100 thirsty knights at the end…sp

  6. Okay, I’m in… I only have part of my collection on my iPod, but these are the first 25 that came up:

    John’s Idea(Live at The Famous Door) – Count Basie
    The Sheik of Araby – Fats Waller
    Copenhagen – Earl Hines
    Little Joe From Chicago – Andy Kirk
    The Dirty Dozens – Count Basie
    Disappointed in Love – Earl Hines
    Balboa Bash – Stan Kenton
    Git – Andy Kirk
    I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me – Teddy Wilson
    Margie – Mary Lou Williams
    Ebony Rhapsody – Count Basie
    Diggin For Dex – Count Basie
    Close to Five – Andy Kirk
    Jivin With Jarvis – Lionel Hampton
    I Want a Lot of Love – Earl Hines
    Bearcat Shuffle – Andy Kirk
    The Blue Room – Freddy Johnson
    Special Delivery – Cab Calloway
    Stealin Apples – Fletcher Henderson
    Limehouse Blues – Chu Berry
    Dear Old Southland – Erskine Hawkins
    Diga Diga Do (alt take) – Cootie Williams
    Blues in Teddy’s Flat – Teddy Edwards Quartet
    I Want to Be Happy – Benny Goodman
    I’m A Good, Good Woman – Una Mae Carlisle

    I quite like that list actually!

  7. Red Colm O'Sullivan

    How about “Bill Street Blues” and “Rose Room” in Paris, Coleman w/Django…? Sublime!

    How, though, did you come to erase the 8,000?

    Red(writing from Ireland).

  8. A case of pressing the wrong button, agreeing to something that — had I thought about it for a moment more — I wouldn’t have done. Not once, mind you, but more than once. One should never approach the computer when one is tired! But that’s all I’ll say. Cheers to you, Rossa!

  9. I give that list an A+!

  10. Here goes…

    Easy Does It – Buddy Rich
    Bugle Call Rag – Stuff Smith
    Chicken Rhythm – Slim & Slam
    If I Were a Bell – Red Garland
    One Sweet Letter From You – Bunk Johnson
    Hobo, You Can’t Ride This Train – Louis Armstrong
    That’s What I Like About You – Jack Teagarden
    Pennies From Heaven – Louis Armstrong
    Goodbye – Erroll Garner
    Old Man Blues – Sidney Bechet
    El Viti – Duke Ellington
    If I Didn’t Care – Lester Young with Count Basie
    My Reason For Living – Big Joe Turner
    Moonlight in Vermont – Frank Sinatra
    Shadrack/When the Saints Go Marchin’ In – Louis Armstrong
    St. Louis Blues – Roy Eldridge
    I Cover the Waterfront – Lester Young
    What’d I Say (Live 1959) – Ray Charles
    At McKie’s – Sonny Rollins
    Swingin’ Them Jingle Bells – Fats Waller
    Sweethearts On Parade – Cozy Cole’s Big Seven
    Exactly Like You – Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz
    Savoy Blues – Kid Ory & Red Allen
    Hamp’s Walkin’ Boogie – Lionel Hampton
    Saturday Afternoon Blues – Johnny Hodges

  11. THAT ain’t no stage joke, Ricky!

  12. Robert Greenwood

    “Need” is constricting; luxury is the freedom to transcend mere needs. Or, in other terms, to have merely “enough” — the spiritual equivalent of eight hundred calories a day — is emotionally insufficient.
    Sir, I applaud your express refusal of austerity at a time when the morally & politically bankrupt great & good are trying to get us all to embrace it. You also have great taste in jazz, and, yes, Bill Coleman & Dicky Wells’ Sweet Sue is something we all need. We are privileged to be human beings. Music is uniquely human. Enjoy it. Here endeth the lesson…Best wishes!

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