Tag Archives: Jack Kerouac

BASIE SAYS YES

Miles Davis has often been quoted as saying, “All the musicians should get together one certain day and get down on their knees and thank Duke.”

I would never disagree with this. I don’t wish to set up any competition, but I think everyone should give thanks to Count Basie — and not just once. And not just musicians, either.

It is fashionable, still, to affect hipness, and that is not limited to people under 30. And some intriguing theoretician has suggested that the qualities we praise as hip — subtlety, originality, a wry way of perceiving the world — were exemplified by Lester Young before Kerouac and the Beats took them as their own. I like this theory, although what Pres would have made of a Williamsburg or Berkeley or Portland hipster is not known.

But I would propose Basie as the original Parent of many virtues we prize. Singularity, although a loving reverence for one’s ancestors (as in Basie’s affectionate nods to Fats Waller), an awareness that joy and sorrow are not only wedded but interdependent (that the blues are at the heart of everything), and a deep emotional commitment to swinging one’s way through life.  Swinging, as embodied by Basie, his peers and their descendants, meant the maximum of grace with the minimum of visible labor.  The style later exemplified by Astaire with a Kansas City world-view. Passion and fun, no less powerful for being streamlined to their essentials. His playing and his approach have been characterized and parodied as “minimalist,” but I think of it more as a Thoreau-inspired simplicity. Don’t need that note, do we? Let it be implied. Unheard melodies and all that. How Basie knew what he knew is beyond us, but the evidence is there for us to hear.

Here’s an audible example of what Basie did. And does:

That’s the 1939 Chicago session, issued in the Seventies as “Basie’s Bad Boys”: Buck Clayton, Shad Collins, trumpets; Dan Minor, trombone (audibly?), Lester Young, tenor saxophone; Basie, piano; Freddie Green, guitar; Walter Page; string bass; Jo Jones, drums. Yes, the studio sound is foggy and dense, but the music just flies and smiles and rocks.

These thoughts are provoked by two photographs for sale on eBay — from the Frank Driggs Collection (each one for three hundred dollars plus) — of Basie and his colleagues and friends in 1941 and 1943.  Lester had leapt out, but they seemed to be doing fine on their own.  Here’s a rehearsal session at the New York studio of Columbia Records. They are apparently listening to a playback.  Details first:

BASIE IN THE STUDIO 1941 true front

The front:

COUNT BASIE REHEARSAL 1941

What I notice first, always (this is a photograph often reproduced but also often cropped) is Basie’s dreamily unfocused expression which might be deep concentration.  Jo’s nearly angry attentiveness, his thinness (that protruding Adam’s apple), his full head of hair and tidy mustache.  Walter Page’s substantial girth. The handkerchief not quite tucked away in his back pocket.  The way his vest is strained by what’s in it.  The height of Jo’s beautiful trousers, and his suspenders.  The way Page (casually?) is listening to what handsome Buck Clayton is playing.  How beautifully everyone is dressed, in an era before jeans, t-shirts, hoodies, and knapsacks.

And a more formal pose, 1943, where cake predominates:BASIE'S BIRTHDAY 1942 back

Jimmy Rushing steals the show, and all eyes are on him (although Buck is somewhat quizzical and Basie — aware of the photographer — doesn’t turn around; Jo’s smile is world-weary).  What, I must know, is Rushing saying to that forkful? “Sent for you yesterday and here you come today,” perhaps? Or “Tell me, pretty baby, how you want your lovin’ done”?  Or perhaps the plainer, “I am going to EAT YOU ALL UP!” 

BASIE'S BIRTHDAY 1942 front

I chose to title this posting BASIE SAYS YES because I believe he always did. Although Basie spent his life “playing the blues,” his approach to them was always life-affirming.  Even on the darkest dirge, there is a slight grin. “Look how sad I can make this music sound.  Isn’t it a lot of fun to play such sad music?”

Cool, swinging, affirmative.  We could follow him, a Sage, for life-lessons.

May your happiness increase! 

ENGLAND SWINGS!

“like a pendulum do,” is the Sixties refrain that comes to mind, but I have other evidence to present here. 

Our UK sojourn so far has offered many charity shops and second-hand bookshops, and a few jazz oases, potential and real.  The potential one was spotted in York: unfortunately, in the fashion of used CD shops, it didn’t open until later than we could stay, but these two photos point to its engaging possibilities:

Mildly interesting from a distance . . . better when close-up:

I will hasten to say that I don’t long for either of those records — but I admire and was amused by the sensibility that would put Bunk and Joe Pass center stage amidst the other musics.

I can’t say more about REBOUND because I never got inside.  But about the ALBION BEATNIK BOOKSTORE I can go on enthusiastically. 

We have found Oxford just delightful — varying areas of antiquity and modernity, a wide variety of people (and dogs and cats), gardens, a canal to walk along . . . .  Down the street from us, I saw both THE LAST BOOKSHOP (devoted to two-pound remaindered books — a fine thing) and across from it, at 34 Walton Street (01865 511345) the ALBION BEATNIK.  Frankly I was skeptical: could it be a UK bookstore devoted to Kerouac, Kesey, and Burroughs? 

I walked in with the Beloved, who spotted this beautifully painted door (the artist is Chris Vinz, and his design consciously harks back to the Forties) which is the first picture of this posting.  That was beautiful in itself.  But those doors swung open to reveal a thrilling collection of jazz compact discs in alphabetical order, new, fairly priced:

I’m afraid I began to pant and sweat at this display, and only Prudence (that restraining girl) held me back.  But I did buy three Chronological Classics discs that had otherwise eluded me: a Trummy Young, a Buck Clayton, and the last volume of the Putney Dandridge series, another Buck, a Bruce Turner — irresistible discs.  I saw a small shelf of jazz books, hemmed in by more popular tomes.  Then the very quiet man in charge, Dennis, pointed me to the rear of the store, where a bookshelf held what has to be the finest collection of jazz literature I’ve ever seen.  Not one book related to Louis, but nearly ten . . . and books I’d never heard of.  The two-volume set by Edward and Monroe Berger devoted to the life and music of Benny Carter, for another glowing example.  Only the thought of the weight of our luggage held me back, but I know that I could reach the shop in cyberspace at http://www.albionbeatnik@yahoo.co.uk whenever the need or the urge strikes.  Long may they prosper! 

You’ll have to see for yourself.