Tag Archives: Emerson

ALEX OWEN’S SAVORY HOT CUISINE

I know that many of my metaphors and analogies are about food (the result of blogging-while-hungry) but in this case I have good reason: listening to and celebrating the second CD, THAT’S MY HOME, by The Messy Cookers Jazz Band, led by trumpeter Alex Owen:

MESSY COOKERS JB cover

and a photograph of the band caught in its natural habitat:

messycookers

Here you can listen to samples from the CD — ideally, while you read about it below.  (The CD stands up wonderfully without my text, I assure you.)

There is a certain kind of “modern performance practice” that I like and admire very much.  It’s based on a deep reverence for and knowledge of a beloved tradition, where the musicians treat the music tenderly but with light hearts, knowing that the way to show love for an innovative art form is to gently innovate within its idioms.  (As an early unpublished draft of Emerson’s “The American Scholar” points out, “Krupa was never made by the study of Krupa.”)

So while this amiable twenty-first century approach to jazz classics isn’t imitative, it isn’t self-consciously “innovative,” either.  RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE is light and energized, not recast as a samba or a dirge.  Jazz scholars can very well appreciate the sounds of the Messy Cookers — they are expert, passionate, and precise — but so could an audience that doesn’t have a wall of E+ Halfway House Orchestra 78s, an audience in the mood for lyrical syncopated dance music.

It isn’t atmospheric but amateurish busking.  And it isn’t repressed archaeology.

One of the nicest aspects of this CD (and of the Cookers as an organization) is their subtle flexibility.  The collective ensemble has Alex, trumpet / vocals; James Evans, clarinet, saxophone, vocals; Benjamin “Benny” Amón, drums; Andy Reid, bass, vocals; John Eubanks, guitar; Albanie Falletta, guitar / vocals; Steve Pistorius, piano.  Notice, no trombone, tuba, or banjo.  And as Alex explains in his notes, the instrumentation shifts from song to song — with smaller units within the band for variety and liveliness, also to reflect the different ways in which the Cookers reconfigure themselves for actual gigs.  The overall effect is streamlined but fulfilling: I never missed the instruments I was supposed to miss by the laws of jazz orthodoxy.

And although the songs on this disc might qualify for Social Security and Medicare, coming to us before the Second World War, everything is happily energized here.  “Play it like you mean it!” seems to be the underlying principle, vocally and instrumentally, and the results are charming and convincing — not a group of people who have tried to become “authentic” in an intensive weekend. I love the group vocal congregational responses on HESITATION BLUES and MILENBERG JOYS, and even though I’ve heard BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE often enough, Albanie’s tangy singing makes it come alive for me. Alex gets plus points for including THAT’S MY HOME on his disc, making it the title cut, singing it naturally and soulfully, refusing to imitate Louis.  James Evans’ ferocious alto and intensely satisfying singing make WHO’S SORRY NOW? a modern evocation of the Rhythmakers, which is a great thing indeed.

Some of the names on this disc — Reid, Amón, Eubanks, Falletta, and even the leader — might be less familiar than Evans and Pistorius — but the band is delightfully unified at the highest level.  Alex is a splendidly casual player and singer, and by that I mean he makes the difficult seem matter-of-fact; his lines ring and sing.  Everything he does has a rhythmic bounce, no matter what the tempo, and he is a superb leader, letting everyone have a turn, creating witty, varied ensembles that rock in the best modern way.

When I was finished with my first playing of this disc, the only natural thing was to play it again.  It’s delightful music.  And not only would I suggest that you indulge yourself in purchasing a copy, but perhaps one for a younger person who likes jazz — so that (s)he can be reminded that this lovely raucous delicate art is still being practiced in the most exultant ways in this century.  And for us, it’s a wonderful hopeful sign of vibrant life in the art form we cherish (and worry about).

Oh, and in case “Messy Cookers” makes you wonder whether the rangetop is a war scene of burnt-on food, take heart: I am sure that Alex and company mean it as the best sly compliment to music and musicians who create something loose, exuberant, spicy, and tasty.

Visit here to purchase the disc, or, better still, find the Messy Cookers at one of their gigs.

May your happiness increase!

IN THE MOMENT WITH THE SPIRIT OF LOUIS

Here are four delicious performances from a concert at the Aneby Konserthus in Sweden — last month, March 2015, by the JAZZ CLASSICS, honoring Louis — with the special guest Duke Heitger, trumpet; Jens ”Jesse” Lindgren, trombone; Klas Lindquist, clarinet / alto; Holger Gross, banjo, guitar; Göran Lind, dtring bass.  Recorded for us by Claes Jansson, to whom we are most grateful.

These are four songs are taken for granted as overworked within the “Dixieland” repertoire.  But three of them (I am leaving aside DOLLY as a sentimentally affecting but not terribly dense composition) are complicated, full of small twists and turns to waylay the musician who’s forgotten an interlude. They are dance-like, elegant and hot at once.

And this band — the JAZZ CLASSICS with guest Duke Heitger — does them justice.  Pay attention to the ensemble interlude in the middle of MUSKRAT, where Duke picks up his plunger mute, and admire the way everyone so neatly takes those racing turns in BARBECUE and CORNET as well.  Louis and Jelly Roll Morton didn’t get along, but these often-delicate performances make me think of “Sweet, soft, plenty rhythm” as the highest aesthetic goal.

STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE:

MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

CORNET CHOP SUEY:

HELLO, DOLLY!:

Emerson writes in Nature that everything, closely observed, is beautiful. These performances are transcendental embodiments of that.  The most overplayed song can be made fresh and lively when it’s visited again with heartfelt expertise. The lessons of Louis, of course.

There is a wonderful concert CD of this band from 2013, which goes beyond the Twenties in the most delightful fashion: Holger Gross would be happy to tell you more about it.

May your happiness increase!

BEWARE OF THE REPEATER PENCIL

Most people are other people. Their thoughts are some one else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation. (Oscar Wilde, DE PROFUNDIS)

I think Wilde’s despairing indictment is far too sweeping, but it is often true in jazz, ironically a music that so vigorously presents itself as celebrating originality, singularity, individual utterance.  Improvisation, inventiveness, and the like are exceedingly difficult. But I witness three varieties of “mimicry” often in the art form I love: imitating an individual artist’s style; copying a recording; copying oneself. Obviously, they overlap.

This post has been simmering in my mind for a long time, motivated by people who try to sing exactly like Billie, play like Bix or Bird or a hundred others.  On a technical level, I occasionally admire such mastery but confess I also find it upsetting — rather like a TWILIGHT ZONE episode where the Halloween mask is so perfect yet so energetically malicious that it cannot be removed from the wearer’s face.

I revere the artists who deeply move me, and I understand that one might opt to copy Billie Holiday as closely as possible because, in the act of imitation, the singer can perhaps make it appear that Billie has never died, has never left. The singer can hope to move an audience not only by her own vocal skill but by the thrill of recognition, the doubling of emotion we have when we see the Present and the Past simultaneously appearing to occupy the same space.

But is this act of duplication truly reverence or desecration?  Would Billie have admired the copyist as someone paying homage or someone who hadn’t yet found her own voice and was seeking to hitch a ride on someone else’s style and fame?

I have also asked this question when it comes to the recreation of beloved recorded performances, and have annoyed some people, perhaps to excess, so I will leave that for now.  I know there is indeed something exciting about hearing a favorite solo or recording reproduced “live,” but for me the pleasure is limited.

Copying an artist — in moderation — has its virtues for the young or inexperienced performer, someone whose identity is still malleable. As a way of finding out who one is and who one was meant to be, it can be rewarding. For an amorphous artist to find someone from whom (s)he can “steal” is part of the long process of self-education and self-selection. Young poets and painters in centuries past were set to imitate Horace or Rodin. At the very least, practicing Bix’s SINGIN’ THE BLUES solo over and over means that you are listening to something beautiful, enduring, something beyond your own improvisations.

But creating a self seems to be a process both of accretion and divesting: of taking on models, to be reproduced to the best of one’s ability, and then gradually sloughing them off so that one’s “authentic” self, grown silently, can be revealed in all its shifting iridescent beauty. I wonder if the desire to wholly take on someone else’s essential self is destructive to the borrower.

I have read many reminiscences where The Great Man or Woman (Louis, Bird, Pres, Jo) is approached by a young follower who then plays or sings exactly a cherished chorus that the GM/W has recorded in the past . . . and the Master’s reaction is either gentle puzzlement or strong annoyance, “What are you doing all that shit for? What is the matter with you?”

Benny Goodman did not need clarinet players to be Benny Goodman onwards in to the future.  He was Benny Goodman; he is Benny Goodman. Nothing more needs to be said.

“Who are you?” is the larger question. If you play SEVEN COME ELEVEN, if you sing STRANGE FRUIT, what do you have to offer us that is yours?

My thoughts are motivated by more than one singer devotedly attempting to be Billie Holiday, slowing down the tempo during the performance so that a cheerful song becomes a despairing moan, ending phrases with a large vibrato and downward slides, choking an otherwise open voice into a constricted meow.  I believe that these singers are genuine in their admiration, but the result sounds as if they are offering a product — “Get your Billie Holiday right here!” — for sale.

I do understand such acts as outpourings of love. When I was given a cornet and I could croak through a melody statement of HUSTLIN’ AND BUSTLIN’ FOR BABY, I felt very proud that I could play something remotely like the sounds I adore, though I was aware of the mighty distances between what I heard in my memory and the sounds emerging from the bell — and I sent it into the air as a thank-you to my dear benefactor and an offering to Louis.

But ultimately I think, should I have succeeded as a player, that I would want to be my own original synthesis of everyone I’d ever admired, mixed into a concoction that sounded, for better or worse, like Me — reflecting my love for Louis, for Joe Thomas, for Bobby Hackett, mixed together in what I would hope was a pleasing way.

It is not only musicians who aspire to be their idols; I think of those fans who are most happy when their favorite band reproduces their favorite performance, heard numberless times before. I have been seated in a festival audience when the leader announces that the Romano Bean Famous Players will now offer their version of “WIND MY SPRING AND WATCH ME GO,” and the crowd both sighs with pleasure at something they all know and love and cheers for the same reason. It’s rather like the joy (or is it relief?) one finds in going to a favorite restaurant and finding that the long-imagined dish tastes just as one remembers.

Sometimes this desire to have Everything The Way We Like It has a sharp edge. I recall Buddy Tate, heroic improviser of the Count Basie band and his own orchestras, telling the story of an angry fan who came up to him after a set, saying accusingly, “You didn’t play that the way it was on THE RECORD!” When Tate attempted to explain to the young man that such variations were jazz, he was met with uncomprehending irritation.

I think of the man who sat next to Tate for two years in the Basie reed section, Lester Young.  Ironically, when Lester became famous and his style clearly recognizable, he was imitated by people who made more money doing it than he did, playing himself.  Lester told either Chris Albertson or Francois Postif, who asked why he, Lester, didn’t play in the old style with his old friends, that he didn’t want to be a “repeater pencil.” People have puzzled over this singular phrase, and I submit that what Lester was speaking of was his own blending of “mechanical pencil” and “repeater pistol,” a device by which one could reproduce the same object — a factory assembly line for art — but with deadly effects. (It is of course possible that Lester did start to say “repeater pistol” but, always gentle, caught himself before that word emerged.)

In two words, Lester reminded us what Emerson had written a century before, that imitation is suicide. In Lester’s coinage, it’s homicide as well — not only killing off those one Reveres, but perhaps an art form as well.

I expect some disagreement with what I have written. I would not step on anyone’s pleasures. If you and your colleagues want to get together, in basement or bandstand, and reproduce note-for-note the recordings that you love, it would be impudent of me to suggest that you cease and desist. If you want to sing exactly as Billie did “on the record,” I would not try to stop you. It would puzzle me, but I would not quibble with you in person.

My question, though, would be, “Now that you can do THAT, what else could you do that would move to exploring new possibilities, giving us worlds we haven’t even dreamed of?”

May your happiness increase!

PREACHERS OF BEAUTY: “SATCHMO AT SYMPHONY HALL,” COMPLETE and HEARD ANEW

“If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, men would believe & adore & for a few generations preserve the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown. But every night come out these preachers of beauty, & light the Universe with their admonishing smile.”  — Emerson

It is a substantial irony that some may regard a new recording — or a new complete issue of an already beloved Louis Armstrong recording — as we do the stars: beautiful but to be taken for granted, because they are and will always be there.

I am listening to the new complete issue of SATCHMO AT SYMPHONY HALL (the sixty-fifth anniversary issue) with my own kind of Emersonian delight.  And my pleasure isn’t primarily because of the extra half-hour of music and speech I had never heard before, although thirty minutes of this band, this evening, is more than any ordinary half-hour on the clock.  Permit me to call the roll — not only Louis in magnificent form, playing and singing, but also Jack Teagarden, Sidney Catlett, Arvell Shaw, Dick Cary, Barney Bigard, and Velma Middleton.  Some of my joy comes from hearing music once again that has been dear to me for thirty years — the sweet ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET, the charging MAHOGANY HALL STOMP, Teagarden’s tender, delicate STARS FELL ON ALABAMA, the serious BLACK AND BLUE, the electrifying STEAK FACE and MOP MOP (formerly titled BOFF BOFF).

What strikes me once again is the beautiful cohesion of this band.  I know that others see this period of Louis’ artistic life as a gentle downhill slide into “popularity” and “showmanship”; these views, I think, could be blown away with an intent hearing of HIGH SOCIETY.  This edition of the All-Stars (with or without hyphen) is uniformly superb, happy, and focused.

Teagarden’s playing is simply awe-inspiring (ask any trombonist about it) and his singing delicious, with none of the near-fatigue that occasionally colored his later work.  Arvell Shaw never got the credit he deserved as a string bassist, but his time and tone couldn’t be better, providing a deep, rocking rhythmic foundation for the band.  Dick Cary, nearly forgotten, is once again an ideal pianist — never setting a foot wrong in ensembles and offering shining, individualistic solos that sound like no one else.  Barney Bigard is sometimes off-mike but his work is splendidly energized, his tone full and luscious.  Velma Middleton fit this band beautifully — emotional and exuberant, clearly inspiring both audiences and the All-Stars.  And readers of JAZZ LIVES should know how I revere Sidney Catlett, at one of his many peaks that night in Symphony Hall.  Much has been made of the ideal partnerships in jazz — Bird and Dizzy, Duke and Blanton, Pres and Basie . . . but Louis and Sidney deserve to be in that number, with Sid not only supporting but lifting every member of the band throughout the evening.  The little percussive flourishes with which Sid accents the end of a performance are worthy of deep study.  But this band is more than a group of soloists — they work together with affection and enthusiasm.

Louis himself is sublimely in charge.  Consider the variety of tempos — almost a lost art today — and the pacing of a two-hour show, not only so that he wouldn’t tire himself out (there is much more playing here, even on the “features” for other musicians, than one would expect) but so that the audience would be charged with the same emotional energy for two hours.  And his playing!  There are a few happy imperfections, reminding us that he was human and that trumpet playing at this level is not for amateurs.  But overall I feel his mastery, subtly expressed.  I hear a leisurely power.  Yes, there were piles of handkerchiefs inside the piano (playing the trumpet is physically arduous) but one senses in Louis the dramatized image of a jungle cat who knows he has only to stretch out a huge paw to accomplish what he wants.

Inside this package are the original notes (Armstrongians of a certain vintage can quote sections of Ernie Anderson’s text at will) and a new appreciation by our man Ricky Riccardi.  Beautiful photographs, too — several of them including the only shot known of the band at Symphony Hall for this concert — new to me.

Some discussions of this set, weighing the merits of its purchase, have focused on the question of “How much more is there that we haven’t heard?” surely a valid question — although it came to sound as if music could be weighed like apples or peanuts.  Briefly, there are a good number of “new” spoken introductions by Louis and others, short versions of SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH and I’VE GOT A RIGHT TO SING THE BLUES, complete versions of previously edited performances — BLACK AND BLUE, ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, TEA FOR TWO, and performances wholly “new”: a seven-minute VELMA’S BLUES with plenty of Louis and Sidney, a somber ST. JAMES INFIRMARY, a mock-serious BACK O’TOWN BLUES, and a vigorous JACK-ARMSTRONG BLUES.  For some readers, that will not be enough to warrant a purchase, which I couldn’t argue with.  However, this is a limited edition of 3000 copies . . . so those who wait might find themselves regretting their delay.

For me, it’s a “Good deal,” to quote both Louis and Sidney — we can’t go back to November 30, 1947, but this set is the closest thing possible to spending an evening in the company of the immortals.  Thanks and blessings are due to Ricky Riccardi, the late Gosta Hagglof, and Harry Weingar . . . each making this wonderful set possible.)

And if you can’t afford the purchase, make sure to look up at the stars whenever you can.

May your happiness increase.

THE REYNOLDS BROTHERS AND FRIENDS: DIXIELAND MONTEREY, March 4, 2011

If you’d never heard the Reynolds Brothers, you might not give them sufficient credit for being Gods of Hot Jazz.

After all — one fellow plays an amplified National steel guitar, sings, and whistles in the best Crosby manner (that’s John); his brother holds a washboard with a cymbal mounted on top, blows a referee’s whistle to signify when a musical foul has been committed, and has a fine walrus mustache (that’s Ralf).

Most times they are joined by the eternally cheerful and swinging Katie Cavera (smart hat, glowing smile, string bass, vocals) and Hot Man Supreme Marc Caparone (cornet, a wide assortment of mutes, the occasional vocal, and manifester-of-Louis).

It sounds like a truly mixed bag, and when they first appeared at the 2011 Dixieland Monterey weekend, they had the extra added attraction of clarinetist, satirist, and uninhibited man-about-town Bob Draga . . . sitting somewhere between Omer Simeon and Groucho Marx.

Here are eight hot tunes from the Golden Era, complete with odd and occasionally semi-illicit stage behavior: you’ll have to watch for it.  But do they swing!

They started with something everyone knows — LADY BE GOOD.  And it swung from the opening phrase and only got hotter:

Then, after some rodomontade, badinage, and commedia dell’arte, Bob called for HELLO, MA BABY — although from a different corner of the jazz universe, it was a success as well:

ROSETTA used to be a song that everyone played — now, it’s a rare treat.  And to hear Marc swing out on it — a la Red Allen (cornet AND vocal) — is precious:

AT SUNDOWN speaks of pastoral pleasures, and it’s so fitting to have sweet unaffected Katie sing it — one of those Walter Donaldson compositions that works beautifully at many tempos.  And the hilarious unscripted interplay is an extra bonus:

I’M CRAZY ‘BOUT MY BABY celebrates Fats Waller and 1931 washboard ecstasy — John brings us in, an utterly convincing singer:

OUT OF NOWHERE was another 1931 hit for a fellow from Spokane named Crosby.  Bob finds his way cautiously through the first chorus and is secure in time for what follows:

I love THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN, but have never been able to make up my mind about it.  Is it an exultation of life without materialism, a life lived in Nature in the best Emerson / Thoreau way, or is is another Depression-era attempt to say “You lost your job and your house and your family: isn’t sleeping outdoors with nothing at all such fun?”  Comments appreciated — but it’s a great song:

SWING THAT MUSIC begins with some fascinating dialogue, worth considering closely, and eventually goes into the most unusual clarinet / string bass duet in recorded history.  Was it the “feather-nesting” Katie sang of before, or was it Bob’s locally sourced apple juice?  One never knows.  I think I did a good turn for surrealist drama by recording this for posterity:

Thank you all for helping keep LIVE MUSIC ALIVE!

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“I WANT! I WANT!” (Part Two)

From Fernando de la Riestra (translated by Samantha Avila):

Why have so many records?

There is no reason even for necessity or for accumulation.  Simply said, I get a great amount of tranquility in knowing that they will grow old beside me.  The tranquility that comes with the knowledge of the absolutely precious existence of the music and being able to enjoy it.  There are occasions when I enjoy putting the disc in the player and I profoundly enjoy the prolonged sounds of the music, just the way it was originally presented to us.  The amount of music makes it easy to finding the rhythm that’s just right.  Tomorrow or the day after tomorrow or even next week, that may the state that coincides with the determined work of Sonny Rollins, and it is a great thing to have Sonny in my home to immerse myself in his music.  But sometimes the rhythm is very fast and other times it’s irritatingly slow.  But just to know that it’s there at anyone’s disposition, as a stimulus to ultimate knowledge — as well as the guarantee of a simple and sure life full of momentum.  I have many records and CDs but I never speculate about the possibility of being able to listen to every single one of them all the time, and I don’t speculate about the absurd question whether there will be time to listen to all of them. 

From KING LEAR:  “”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 cheap as beast’s.”

From “Willie The Weeper” (thanks to Mike Durham):  “Now tell me, what would you do? / If you could have all your dreams come true?  / There’s something tells me, you’d lock the door, / Like Willie the Weeper, you’d cry for more.”   

Three very different perspectives, no? 

Fernando de la Riestra speaks of the possibility for pleasure the sprawling amplitude of music can give us, and suggests we live in these moments of gratification and amplitude without needlessly gnawing on the darker questions: “Will I live to hear all of this?  Am I greedy?  Do I deserve to have all this?”

And since some of our musical idols are now dead, having as much of their music around us is a way to make it feel as if they never died: fantasy and fancy, but a way to stop our grief at their absence.  In my ears, Louis is alive . . .  But I am a Lapsed or an Enlightened Completist who no longer strains to have every note his idols ever recorded.  I did that often in my youth and found it frustrating: I did not have the resources to buy or trade for every Ben Webster recording (for example) and some of them were less than perfect . . . with apologies to Ben, of course.

Lear (early on in his painful path to seeing clearly) says to his hard-hearted daughters that the difference between people and animals is that we can allow ourselves more than bare subsistence. 

The anonymous lyricist of “Willie the Weeper” suggests that it is human nature to want and want more — although in the interests of accuracy, I must point out that Lear has yet to realize that a complete human being (king or not) is not defined by the number of knights in his entourage, but by how deeply and well he loves and forgives and receives the loving forgiveness of others. 

And Willie, having a wonderful time in his dreams, is driven by opium — so he might not speak for us all.

I am returning to this topic because the enthusiasm of the comments suggested to me that these were serious questions that went deep.  And I wanted to offer a musing illustration. 

In my previous post, SIDNEY CATLETT, TRIUMPHANT, I shared three images of photographs of Big Sid that had appeared for sale on eBay.  Sidney is my hero: he made everyone else sound better; he was himself; he brought joy; he was deeply loved and is deeply missed.  And he is not a recognizable figure to many beyond this world of jazz and percussion.

Now it can be told: I bid on and won the large portrait at the bottom of that blogpost. 

I am a very restrained bidder: I bid on less than one percent of the things I covet, and I set a monetary ceiling for myself: had the bidding gone up and up, I would have left the arena early.  And I am not a vindictive bidder: I will not purchase something to be the only one on the planet who has it.  If someone had outbid me — as has happened before — I assume only that my rival has more money and more desire . . . and I hope (s)he enjoys the purchase immensely! 

Did I NEED the photograph?  Certainly not. 

I need to pay my bills, have clean clothing, food and drink . . . but I could certainly have proceeded forward in my life without this purchase.  And in a world where so many people are less fortuntate, it would seem an impiety to proclaim that I needed this object.

But I did WANT it.  Why?

Some of my feeling comes from the adult desire for autonomy.  We are, as children and perhaps as adults, surrounded by people who don’t necessarily see the world as we do and disapprove of our pleasures.  In bidding on this photograph, I am not automatically responding to the people who said, sometimes angrily, “What do you need that for?  Haven’t you got enough of that as it is?” 

But perhaps part of being an adult with freedom and some disposable income (thus terribly fortunate) is the Thorstein Veblen principle in a mild, non-judgmental way: I can afford to buy myself something that won’t keep me warm or house me — but something that will please me when I perceive it. 

I no longer have to ask my mother for an advance on my allowance to buy a Louis Armstrong record I had never seen before (she was good about such things) so buying the portrait of Sidney is a way of saying, “I am adult enough to trust myself to spend a little money on something not essential to my life; I am adult enough to spend money on something that will please me whenever I look at it.”   

Another person might say, “What I want for dinner tonight is simply a bowl of cereal.  Or scrambled eggs and toast.  Why should I not please myself?”

Freedom to act with individuality, the maturity and self-knowledge to trust one’s impulses. 

And I will be able to hang the photograph on the wall at eye-level so that I will see Sidney as I go past him, and will be able to muse on his generous brilliance. 

I can never BE Sidney, but I can hope to draw something from his example: Be youself.  Be excellent at whatever it is you do.  Do it so that you give your gift to others. 

And there’s more.  I would call my bidding on that photograph a selective acquisition: were I to feel passionately that I had to have copies (or originals) of every photograph taken of Sidney Catlett, then I would be in a different realm.  Frankly, although I revere Sidney, I do not want to have him on every wall of the apartment: he would become inescapable.  There’s room for Pee Wee Russell, too, and my own photographs of living musicians.

I also think that my desire for the photograph is a quiet response to ignorance and mediocrity.  Strong words, you say.  Fighting words, even.  But my words are not idly chosen.  The world outside has very little interest in or knowledge of the music I and others love and celebrate here. 

Having a portrait of Sidney is my own way of saying to the world that ignores him, the world that raises mediocrities to stardom, “THIS is what you should be honoring.  I know he means nothing to you, but I refuse to forget him and what he did.”  

Having things that give us pleasure will not keep us alive a moment longer; our collections of beloved objects will have to find other owners when we die. 

But if we enter into an uplifting spiritual relationship with the things we do purchase, perhaps our lives will be enhanced by the powers they continue to possess.

And — a mournful postscript: there are so many things in our lives that we cannot control, so making these small decisions to bring beauty, elation, and solace into our existence is very important . . .

CRAIG VENTRESCO, MAGICALLY AFLOAT

On Saturday, March 27, 2010, in San Francisco, I had the good fortune to meet (in person) the tireless video chronicler of West Coast jazz, Rae Ann Berry — a delightful person, as I’d expected — and two jazz friends: Barb Hauser, the energetic friend of the music and musicians, and the peerless guuitarist and philosopher Craig Ventresco.  None of them could stay long — Barb had a date, Craig had a gig at Cafe Atlas, and Rae Ann was going to document it. 

Rae Ann and Craig once again worked wonders — so through the marvel of modern technology and YouTube, we take you now to Cafe Atlas to hear delicious music. 

Playing unaccompanied acoustic guitar is a brave act in almost any context.  Put the guitarist in the middle of an active restaurant and it rises to levels of Olympian exploits.  Craig calmly sits in the midst of traffic, chatter, and distraction.  Servers cross to and fro; drinks are consumed and ordered; cardboard boxes cross our view; the restroom door opens and closes. 

But Craig plays on, apparently immune to the nonmusical forces around him.  With his own internal rhythmic engine, he keeps the pulse going in the most restorative way, never becoming mechanical.  His little rubato digressions are priceless episodes of speculation and ornamentation.  Craig finds the chords that other musicians ignore, and his unadorned sound is an antidote to the buzz and hum around us. 

How he does it I don’t know.  I would find myself glaring at the walkers and talkers.  But he immerses himself in a sea of musical inventiveness and floats above the distractions.

We are so lucky to have him and to have Rae Ann documenting it for us!

Here’s a ruminative look at I GET THE BLUES WHEN IT RAINS, even though it was sunny at Cafe Atlas:

And a stirring affirmation of possessiveness — the 1929 pop hit MINE, ALL MINE:

Life-affirming music.  Emersonian self-reliance isn’t dead, and it even has a guitar.