Tag Archives: grief

“AT BREAK OF DAWN, THERE IS NO SUNRISE,” or THE JOY OF SORROW: ALBANIE FALLETTA, JOSH DUNN, SEAN CRONIN, KEVIN DORN, JON-ERIK KELLSO, EVAN ARNTZEN (Cafe Bohemia, New York City, March 12, 2020)

Albanie Falletta and Jen Hodge, another night at Cafe Bohemia, creating beauty.

Great art doesn’t need a museum with guards or a concert hall: sometimes it happens right in front of us, and this was one of those moments: my last trip into New York City to be transported by live music before the world we all knew began to distort in front of us, a visit to Cafe Bohemia on 15 Barrow Street in Greenwich Village for the last of the Thursday-night-jazz-prayer-meetings. March 12, 2020.

I’ve posted music and written about that ominous and uplifting evening here and here — and I can still see in my mind’s eye the stairway down into the nearly-empty subway station, the feel of a produce-section plastic bag wrapped around my hand (I hadn’t found gloves for sale yet) so that I would touch as few surfaces as possible.  A new world, and not an easy one.  But I digress.

The music.  The magical transmogrifiers I capture with my camera are — I use the present tense on purpose — Albanie Falletta, voice and resonator guitar; Kevin Dorn, drums; Sean Cronin, string bass; Josh Dunn, guitar; Evan Arntzen, tenor saxophone; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet.  The sad text that they make joyous — the great paradox of art — is Einar A. Swan’s 1931 WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE.

That paradox fascinates me.  If you look at the individual facial expressions as the alchemists below make their wise feeling ways through this venerable lament, they are not morose.  Rather, they are the concentrated faces of people intent on making the result of their work (lifetimes of practice and contemplation) come out right.  Were they to “break up their lines to weep,” to quote Yeats, the song would fail as each one retreated into their private universe of grief.  And there is always enough to grieve about.  But I think of Basie and Jimmy Rushing singing and playing the saddest song with a glint of mischief under their labors, embodying and celebrating the powers of art.

Here I’d like to quote from the unpublished journals of Sammut of Malta:

Nothing is ever strictly functional in music because all music is ornamental.

Music is not necessary for our well-being even if we come to need it on an emotional level. The fact is that if organized sound were never a thing, we’d still be here. But that’s what make something as simple as a triad so amazing. There’s really no practical reason for it to exist. But we wouldn’t want to be here without it. So that’s why I’d suggest there’s never any such thing as JUST A II-V-I progression.

We are such complicated humans and simplistic beasts all at once who can never see past our own noses. So when I hear a bass line—any bass line— I like to remind myself of its ultimate meaninglessness outside of my ears, but it makes it more special for that reason.

Or, as Hot Lips Page once told Steve Lipkins on the band bus, “Look, an Eb don’t mean shit unless you bring something to the fucking note.”

What Albanie, Kevin, Sean, Josh, Evan, and Jon-Erik bring to that Eb and all the other notes in this performance is precious — wafting past us in time, evaporating, but memorable.  Bless them for moving us so.

And I will restate some thoughts that are even more pertinent in June:

This should be obvious, but people under stress might forget to look at “the larger picture,” that others have a hard time also.  I’ve created this post for free, but what follows isn’t about me or what’s in my refrigerator.  The musicians didn’t receive extra money for entertaining  you.  How can you help them and express gratitude?  Simple.  Buy their CDs from their websites.  Help publicize their virtual house concerts — spread the news, share the joy — and toss something larger than a virtual zero into the virtual tip jar.  Musicians live in a gig economy, and we need their generous art more than we can say.  Let’s not miss the water because we ourselves have let the well run dry.  Spiritual generosity means much more than a whole carton of hand sanitizer, or a really cool leopard-print mask.

What you give open-handedly to others comes back to your doorstep.  Musicians remind us that there’s more to live for than lunch, and we must prize them for their pointing this out in every Eb.

May your happiness increase!

ANOTHER KIND OF TRIBUTE TO DUNCAN P. SCHIEDT: DUKE HEITGER, BOB HAVENS, DAN LEVINSON, ANDY STEIN, ROSSANO SPORTIELLO, JON BURR, RICKY MALICHI at JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA (Sept. 21, 2013)

I’ve spent the last few days grieving for Duncan P. Schiedt.  And my mourning and appreciation is not something I can put away neatly in the closet of emotions and say, “Oh, well, we must move on.” But I wondered if there was a way I could honor Duncan with some joy leavened into the loss . . . and I present my own version of the eternal flame of hot jazz.

What follows is not “just another set of videos I took.”

“Nay nay,” to quote the Master.

Aside from the mail — and then email and telephone — the only place I ever encountered Duncan in person was at Jazz at Chautauqua, nine years in a row (2004-2013).  And I saw him at an adjacent table (with Liz) having a fine time enjoying the music. I know that Duncan was in the room while this set was being created, and it doesn’t take much imagination to add his smiling countenance to the mostly-unseen audience.  I don’t think the musicians will mind.

Incidentally, “Jazz at Chautauqua” has now been reborn as the Allegheny Jazz Party — I’m making plans for my maiden voyage to Cleveland in mid-September.

But back to September 21, 2013.

Those musicians! Duke Heitger, trumpet; Bob Havens, trombone; Dan Levinson, clarinet; Andy Stein, baritone saxophone; Rossano Sportiello, piano; Jon Burr, string bass; Ricky Malichi, drums — in a session of Condonesque good-old-good ones going back to Porter Steele and forward to Frank Loesser, in the best way.

ROYAL GARDEN BLUES:

A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA:

MY GAL SAL:

STARS FELL ON ALABAMA (by Mister H for Mister T):

HIGH SOCIETY (wait for the riotous version of the Alphonse Picou chorus):

Our lives are so finite . . . but what we do in those brief spans is so beautiful.

May your happiness increase!

MAKING LIGHT OF OUR GRIEF

Why should someone happy sing a sad song?

This question has been part of my thoughts since Labor Day weekend.  At the 2011 Sweet and Hot Music Festival, I had seen Dan Barrett and Marc Caparone join Dan Levinson on the stand — very informally.  (Molly Ryan and Mark Shane were already there, and even though they are not the focus of this posting, they are dear to me and anyone who listens.)

Dan L. has long been making good things happen with the somewhat obscure Jimmie Noone repertoire, and he called READY FOR THE RIVER.  After the instrumental choruses, he  asked, “Want to do it as a band vocal?” — the three hornmen decided in the space of a few seconds that they all knew the words to the song, and this resulted:

I haven’t been able to get that song or that performance out of my mind.  Although my life is happier than it ever has been, at odd moments through the day I find myself cheerfully sotto voce singing about committing suicide.  Trying to plumb this mystery, I cheerfully told the Beloved once again about the song and sang it to her as we walked through Central Park this afternoon.

There’s no post-modern ambiguity in the lyrics.  The singer is planning to drown himself.  The lyrics to the bridge are “Made my will, wrote some notes.  Goin’ to keep on walking till my straw hat floats.”  But the paradox of the pleasure I am taking in this sad song doesn’t frighten me.  Rather, it opens out into broader vistas.

I could start with the simple pleasure of a catchy melody and well-crafted, surprising lyrics.  The song has an irresistibly simple melody: the “A” sections are within the span of an octave, and the bridge uses only four notes.  Easy to remember, to hum, to whistle, full of emphatic repeated notes.  They lyrics are clever: suicide never seemed so much like a nifty thing to do.  The contrast between playful melody and direly witty lyrics is intriguing in itself.  But I had heard the Noone record of READY FOR THE RIVER years ago with no particular compulsion to revisit it.  I didn’t sing it to myself when I might have had much better reason to take it seriously.

And this rumination is not entirely self-referential: two Dans and one Marc take great joy out of singing those sorrowful lyrics on the stand.  Watch them sing, and I believe you see three men singing a dark song — but they are so delighted with the music passing through them that they are having a hard time not giggling.

I am entranced by the performance and its implications.  We perceive three artists, united by common language, shared knowledge, simultaneous emotions, breaking into song — harmonizing on a shared theme.  They create a community that transmutes gloom.  In performance, READY FOR THE RIVER is so much more than sheet of music or a disc.

And, as with all improvisation, a transformation happens: something is created that did not exist before.  Marc Caparone inhales, passes his exhaled breath vibrating through the metal of his cornet, and what comes out perhaps twenty inches from his face is music.  He sends his notes out into the room — “This is what I have to tell you!” — and the sound bounces back to him.  Dan and Dan hear it; the three voices are triply individual and at the same time a choir.

In making a song about deep sadness, our feeling that nothing can be fixed, these artists turn the grieving darkness into something beautiful that will sustain us.  If we sing about ending our lives, perhaps we have defused the impulse and have purged the need to act on it.  If we can put our sorrows into song, we can endure the worst of them.  Grief that once weighed us down is now just a bubble.

Thanks to them, my straw hat floats.  Joyously.

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I had assumed that READY FOR THE RIVER dated from late 1929, a song naturally catching the mood of the country after the Wall Street Crash.  But I was mistaken: it was first recorded (according to Tom Lord) on March 27, 1928, by Emerson Gill and His Bamboo Garden Orchestra, vocal by Pinkey Hunter.

I’m always happy to have my assumptions refuted by evidence, and I now envision well-dressed men and women happily dancing to a snappy song about suicide.  I wish that the late Dennis Potter (of PENNIES FROM HEAVEN and THE SINGING POLICEMAN) were here to savor this image:

JEFF HEALEY IS STILL WITH US

One of the privileges of being who I am at this moment is the ability to burst into tears while watching a video at the computer. 

I clicked on the video below, of trumpeter / singer Jeff Healey and friends swinging through I’M GOING TO SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER and found myself crying.

I felt grief that Jeff is no longer alive and joy at the music he created and creates.  No one who can create such beauty is dead, I think, although I mourn his departure from the scene.

Here’s the music; all the details are explained at the end: