Daily Archives: January 21, 2013

THOMAS McGUANE’S JAZZ COLLECTOR

Thomas McGuane’s short story, THE CASSEROLE, published in the September 10, 2012 issue of THE NEW YORKER, is short, sharp, and hard.  It begins on page 93, with the nameless narrator and his wife — and by the end of 94, the story is over, the narrator is by himself, not knowing what has hit him.

I was so struck by the story — and I mean that phrase in the literal sense — that I may bring it with me tomorrow morning when my semester begins and read it to my students.  But what also struck me is this short passage early on in the story, which I reprint here:

I had an extensive collection of West Coast jazz records, including the usual suspects, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Stan Getz, and so on — not everybody has  Wardell Gray and Buddy Collette, but I did — and if I’d had a bit more dough I could have added a room on to our house specifically to house this collection, with an appropriate sound system.  But when I complained about things like this to Ellie, she just said, “Cue the violins.”

Now, if you read this without any context, it may well seem that our sympathy is with the narrator.  Poor fellow, his unsympathetic bitch of a wife doesn’t understand his love for jazz.  But the hubris of his boasting to himself that he knows what the real stuff is — I own Wardell Gray records! — comes to bite him a page later, for he is one of those characters (modeled on real people) who don’t see the train coming until it had flattened them.

I don’t present this as an example of how jazz collectors are represented in fiction, nor do I see it as an overarching commentary on marital relations when the soundtrack is jazz music.  (By the way, the narrator still has his records at the end of the story: this is not a fictionalized reading of BLACKBOARD JUNGLE.)

Incidentally, trusting the author is slippery business, but McGuane said this in a brief interview (on the magazine’s website), after calling the narrator a “twit,” “I think he has nearly everything wrong. He is a peevish fault-finder who gets what he deserves.”

This passage simply caught my attention not once but twice, and I suppose it is worthy of note when Wardell Gray shows up in THE NEW YORKER now that Whitney Balliett is dead . . .

I am sorry I cannot reprint the story for everyone to read, but you surely can find this issue in your local library or find someone who subscribes to the magazine.

May your happiness increase.

AVALON, WITHIN REACH: THE MUSIC OF LORING “RED” NICHOLS and HIS FIVE PENNIES at WHITLEY BAY (October 27, 2012)

I hope sufficient time has passed for cornetist / bandleader / composer Loring “Red” Nichols to be assessed fairly, his music heard and appreciated for its merits.  Let us hear no more of Nichols as an uncreative Bix imitator, a musical martinet.  Since I first heard a selection of the Nichols Brunswicks forty years and more ago, I have wondered at the mean-spirited attacks on him.

Of course he committed the great sins in Romantic Jazzdom: he expected his musicians to read charts; he was successful; he wasn’t an alcoholic; he lived a reasonably long life.  More power to him.

His music is receiving the recognition it should have gotten decades ago as an engaging mixture of the ornate and the heated, the arranged and the free-wheeling.  Here at the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party (on October 27), a great band takes on some of the best Nichols music: Andy Schumm, cornet; Michael McQuaid, reeds; Alistair Allan, trombone; Keith Nichols, piano; Martin Wheatley, banjo / guitar; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Nick Ward, drums.  If you hear reverent evocations of Miff Mole, Jimmy Dorsey, Vic Berton, Pee Wee Russell, Chauncey Morehouse, and Eddie Lang, it’s not by accident.

And “watch the drummer,” please: heroic Nick Ward!

AVALON, that magical island celebrated in a 1920 song whose melody borrows substantially from Puccini:

THAT’S NO BARGAIN (Alistair sits this one out):

Fud Livingston’s marvelous IMAGINATION, well-named — in a performance that makes me wonder if Lester Young had heard this record in his youth:

A 1919 hit, ALICE BLUE GOWN:

With thanks to Frans Sjostrom, doing his best Rollini — IDA — dedicated by me to my Auntie.  And Michael McQuaid’s playing is beautiful and unusual both:

SLIPPIN’ AROUND, for Miff Mole, the underrated master:

A diversion: Alistair’s I’M GETTIN’ SENTIMENTAL OVER YOU, or JAZZ BY THE FOOT.  When faced with such brilliance, what can one say?:

Duke Heitger, Rico Tomasso, trumpets, came along for ECCENTRIC:

Now that you’ve had a chance to hear this contemporary evocation of 1927-30 “modern sounds,” aren’t they rewarding music, full of innovative harmonies and orchestral variety — how much is packed into THAT’S NO BARGAIN, for instance.

The whole subject of Nichols and his music and these performances is, to me, another lesson: listen to the sounds rather than the ad hominem portraits or the biased ideologies that sustain them.

This post is dedicated to one of my mentors, the eminent A. J. S. Figg, who is sustaining the musics all the time.

May your happiness increase.

ELEGANCE, FLYING: MARTIN LITTON PLAYS TEDDY WILSON at WHITLEY BAY (October 27, 2012)

Whenever I have seen Martin Litton perform, I have always hoped that I would have the opportunity to hear him play solo.  And this year at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, my hopes took shape in a Saturday-morning recital by Martin of music associated with Teddy Wilson.

Martin is exceedingly articulate and well-versed in jazz history, so his introductions to the songs are poised and informative.  And he’s introduced by the man who imagined this Party and makes it spring to life year after year, Mike Durham.

MEMORIES OF YOU:

AIR MAIL SPECIAL:

LIZA:

Wilson’s playing was properly described as impeccable.  I think the adjective well applies to Mr. Litton.

May your happiness increase.