Tag Archives: love

HARROW, TURGENEV, POMERANTZ: “ABOUT LOVE”

Some people make themselves comfortable on the moving train, the better to admire the scenery outside their little window. Others are driving the train, decorating the cars, planting trees and painting clouds outside the same window for us to admire.  With her red sneakers securely laced, Nancy Harrow continues to be one of the most remarkable examples of the second kind of people. Her latest creation is ABOUT LOVE, inspired by Turgenev’s “First Love,” for which she’s written music and lyrics, with script and direction by Will Pomerantz.  

I first encountered Nancy as a voice coming through the radio speaker (thanks to Ed Beach, with Nat Hentoff and Buck Clayton standing invisibly in back of him) in 1970, and was intrigued.  Decades later, when Daryl Sherman and Dan Morgenstern spoke of her with pleased awe, I had the opportunity to hear her sing and to meet her — one of those magical instances where the voice turns out to have a person attached to it.  I learned quickly that Nancy was not only a much-admired singer, but lyricist, composer, and playwright as well.  Although I have seen her sit still, her biography makes it seem that I was fooled by an optical illusion.

A pause for music:

Nancy says this about the play: Turgenev’s story is so human— each character is so true to life that it lives today even though it takes place 150 years ago. That he captures the adolescent boy’s feelings completely is least surprising because it is his own youth he is describing, but he is equally perceptive about the heroine’s powers and her frailties and the father’s strengths and vulnerabilities. The whole story is masterful in its compression— in such a brief time it covers every aspect of life from youth to death and we recognize it in our own experiences and are moved. It is of its own time and place so accurately, yet it is universal and recognizable in 2020, a portrait of the essence of human relationships touching on a wide range of emotions— joy and sorrow, humor and humiliation, cruelty and empathy. Turgenev loved his characters.

I am honored to have Nancy not only as a friend but as an inspiration, and she has told me little enticing stories about the progress of this “play with music” since spring 2019.  But this year, when I asked her what translation of Turgenev she recommended for me to read — I have trouble not being a diligent student who worries about passing the final — she encouraged me to play hooky, “maybe you don’t want to spoil the surprises when you see it.”

I encourage you to join me for ABOUT LOVE.  It seems that the only way one could spoil the surprise is by staying home.

ABOUT LOVE plays a limited four-week engagement, February 25 through March 22 at The Sheen Center (18 Bleecker Street at the corner of Elizabeth Street, NYC) in the Black Box Theater. The official opening is Wednesday, March 4 at 7:30 PM. Shows are Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 PM, Friday at 8 PM, Saturday at 2 and 8 PM and Sunday at 3 PM. Preview tickets (through March 3) are $25. After opening, all evening performances are $39 – $59. Rush tickets will be available at the box office an hour before any performance for $25.

May your happiness increase!

“IT MUST BE SOME MAGIC ART”: DAWN LAMBETH, CONAL FOWKES, MARC CAPARONE (San Diego, Nov. 24, 2018)

Yes, it’s the Real Thing.

This wonderful little-known 1932 song by Fats Waller, Don Redman, and Andy Razaf, is yet another celebration of romantic devotion.

But it is one of the clever concoctions I call “backwards songs” for want of a better name.  The lyricist and singer don’t say “This is love,” because that gambit had animated a thousand pop songs even by this date.  Rather, the lyrics upend the expected conceit by asking, “If it ain’t love, why are its effects so powerful?”  The parallel song is the Dietz-Schwartz THEN I’LL BE TIRED OF YOU where the singer doesn’t state “I will never tire of you,” but proposes, “I will be tired of you when — and only when — these unimaginable cosmic events take place,” entering love’s house by the window.

Here’s a very tender performance of this song — only a few months ago — by three of my favorites: Dawn Lambeth, vocal; Conal Fowkes, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet — in performance at the San Diego Jazz Fest, November 24, 2018:

I love drama in music: Louis soaring; Big Sid and Sidney Bechet rocking the once-stable world; the Basie band in a final joyous eruption in the outchorus.  But I have a deep feeling for music like this, that tenderly caresses my soul, that comes in the ear like honey.  Dawn, Conal, and Marc do more than play a song: they beam love out at us.  And I, for one, am grateful.

May your happiness increase!

FEBRUARY 14, AT AN ANGLE

This song was a hit in 1931-2.  YouTube offers many amiable dance-band recordings.  Here I present four, two modern and two classic.

George Probert, soprano; Chris Tyle, cornet, vocal; Mike Owen, trombone; John Royen, piano; Lars Edegran, guitar; Bernie Attridge, string bass; Hal Smith, drums.  1998.  (Thanks to Chris for singing and playing from the heart.  And Hal keeps everyone pointed in the right direction, heartbreak or no.)

Bobby Gordon, clarinet; Keith Ingham, celeste; Hal Smith, drums.  1996.

THE performances, when the song was new, including the verbally treacherous verse, with Bing at one of his many peaks.

Finally, Louis and the Chicago band — with that muted lead.  “Bring it out, saxophones!” And the final bridge, a history of jazz in itself:

If Valentine’s Day is to you just a celebration of commodified love, it will pass.  When the stores close for the night, the tired sales help is already putting 50% OFF stickers on the candy boxes, but it would be gauche to bring some chocolate to the Love Object on the 15th.

The music, however, rings on wonderfully without interruption.

May your happiness increase!

ARTIFICE TRANSFORMED: CLIFF EDWARDS and DICK McDONOUGH, 1933

I spent some time yesterday morning trying to find in tangible shape what I could hear in my mind’s ear — a complete recording of what was a new song in 1933 — lyrics by E.Y. Harburg and perhaps Billy Rose, music by Harold Arlen — IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, sung and played by Cliff Edwards with accompaniment by Dick McDonough, guitar. Yes, it’s on YouTube, but because reissues removed the verse, those video postings are unsatisfying.


Since the Forties, the song has been performed without the verse, as above, and in the most famous recordings by Sinatra / Nat Cole / Ella / Goodman, at a swinging medium-up tempo, which to me undermines its sweet flavor.  The version I present here is a tender love ballad, hopeful rather than swaggering.

The Wikipedia entry notes, “It was written originally for an unsuccessful Broadway play called The Great Magoo, set in Coney Island. It was subsequently used in the movie Take a Chance in 1933.”  Wikipedia doesn’t add that there seem to have been two films released that year with that title; the other one with James Dunn and Buddy Rogers, the one song in the film by Vincent Youmans.  In his book AMERICAN POPULAR SONG, Alec Wilder notes that in its first incarnation it was called IF YOU BELIEVE IN ME, a much less lively title than the one we know.

The composer credits intrigue me: Arlen’s melody, of course, souunds so simple but that simplicity has made it memorable (thus the appeal of the song to instrumentalists).  He didn’t write dull songs.

As to the lyrics, I wonder what, if anything, Billy Rose contributed to the song. Did he say to a stagehand, “Don’t drop that!  Yeah, it’s only a paper moon, but it costs more than your salary!”  Or is it a quiet reference to the wonderful prop in photo studios of the preceding century, where couples could snuggle in the crescent curve, pretending to be miles aloft because of love?

Yip Harburg’s lyrics are a marvel, bridging contemporary and eternal in the most moving yet casual way.  Leave aside “bubble” and “rainbow,” which were cliches even then, but savor “a temporary parking place,” “a canvas sky,” — and the entire bridge, which is beautiful, affecting and sharp, ” “Without your love, it’s a honky-tonk parade.  Without your love, it’s a melody played in a penny arcade.” Urban folk poetry at the highest level.  (Wilder calls the lyrics “innocent,” which is puzzling, but he admires Arlen’s bridge . . . .)  In Harburg, I hear his sense of a whole world no more grounded than a series of stage props, created to fool an audience but clearly unreal.  His words are Manhattan-tough but the toughness is there only to convey great wistful feeling.  You’d have to live in the city to understand the resonance of a temporary parking place; not only might it disappear, but you might be punished by the authorities.

A few sentences about Cliff Edwards, who seems a sculpture with so many surprising facets that when he is looked at from different angles, he is unrecognizable each time.

There’s Jiminy Cricket. There’s the goofily appealing Twenties vocalist, ukulele player, and scat singer — “eefin'” his way through one “novelty” chorus after another, often on dim-sounding Pathe 78s.  (I suspect that if Edwards had come to prominence ten years later and had had no ukulele, he would be much better known and regarded today.)  A comic film actor. There are the party records: I LOVE MOUNTAIN WOMEN comes to mind, and, yes, you can imagine the lyrics.  Later, there’s the unstable older man capering around with the Mouseketeers, and what we know of as the terrible husband and self-destructive alcoholic who dies in poverty.

But what I’ve consciously left off of that ungenerous list is Edwards the truly convincing ballad singer, someone whose wistful voice and sweet delivery stays in my ear.  He never got the attention or opportunities to woo audiences, perhaps because he had natural comic talents, but more, I think, because he wasn’t perceived as sufficiently handsome.  He could not rival Bing or Russ in erotic power, so in films and on records he was rather a light-hearted comic foil instead of the leading man.  Alas, audiences in the  Twenties and Thirties — as they do today — tend to listen to singers with their eyes rather than their ears.  I suppose that becoming Jiminy Cricket was a great thing for Edwards’ career, but being invisible and an animated insect did not help him as a romantic singing star.

But back to IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON.

Thanks to the generosity of Laurie Kanner and Jonathan Alexiuk, I can offer both takes, complete, to be accessed at https://archive.org/details/CliffEdwardsCollection1927-1933/ItsOnlyAPaperMoon1933CliffEdwards-Take1.mp3 — a collection of mp3’s of his complete 1927-1935 recordings.

I’ve left the whole ungainly web address visible so that if the link doesn’t work for you, I encourage you to go to the archive.org site for Edwards and hear IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON and more.

I think this performance is a model of the most endearing singing — he means every word, and it’s not by rote. It’s also the gentle tempo that I hear PAPER MOON at.  I haven’t analyzed these records nuance by nuance because they work their way into the heart instantly.  Or, if they don’t for you, listen intently, without distractions or preconceptions, from the rubato verse to the hip little ending.

In preparing this post, I shared these two sides with the fine guitarist and scholar Nick Rossi, a solid sender from San Francisco, who admires Dick McDonough as I do, and he wrote, “What a masterclass it is in sensitive guitar accompaniment to a vocal.”  And — we might add — in McDonough’s staying out of the way yet never upstaging Cliff’s ukulele.

But I keep coming back to the affectionate hopeful totality of Edwards, Arlen, Harburg, and even Billy Rose, who in these recordings say — no, sing — to us, “Love miraculously transfigures artifice,” which is a wondrous thought.  Cherish its power to create new realities.

May your happiness increase!

FEBRUARY 14: A LOVE SONG BY JIMMY ROWLES and RED MITCHELL

it-must-be-true-chords

A few minutes of love in jazz or vice versa: a sweet ancient Harry Barris / Gordon Clifford / Gus Arnheim song, IT MUST BE TRUE, here performed by Jimmy Rowles and Red Mitchell, piano / voice, and string bass, respectively: July 1978 in Paris.

Rowles was the most subtly surprising pianist and devilishly intuitive accompanist, but he is not celebrated enough as a singer: what he and Red Mitchell get up to here would warm the most chilly heart.  (The song was first popularized by a young fellow named Crosby, but this version makes its own tender impression.)

May your happiness increase!

BECKY, BUCKY, BEAUTY (2014, 2012)

becky

Beauty is so rare, so precious.  And it isn’t arrived at easily.  But it is one of the ways in which we can save ourselves, especially if we understand that in its deep center, it is love in action: the love of the music that leads an artist to spend a lifetime in creating it.  And that love is sent to us.  We all need it, as a salve for the wounds the world’s rough edges would inflict on us.

bucky-2012

Here are two performances of the same touching song, TRES PALABRAS, performed at the 2014 Atlanta Jazz Party (a duet between Becky and Bucky) and three years earlier (Bucky’s solo).

Beauty never goes to waste.

Maybe these will help.  And if you hiss, “There goes Michael again, one of those people who talk so much about love and beauty,” I accept it as a compliment.

May your happiness increase!

NANCY ERICKSON’S “NEW YEAR’S EVE”: IN PRAISE OF DEVOTED MONOGAMY

Nancy Erickson

A friend told me about singer-songwriter Nancy Erickson’s new single, NEW YEAR’S EVE, and I’ve watched and listened to it half a dozen times.  Try it for yourself:

Doesn’t she sound beautiful?  Her focused, husky yet natural voice is a delight. And the song is hers, which is even nicer.  Nicest yet — for me, a true romantic — is that the song celebrates something more lasting than the first flush of what we often call love, something warming that goes on for decades.  Although much of the music of the last century-plus is about love, how much of it is about love that sustains itself?  I don’t hear this song as a gimmicky one to be tossed about between December 26 and 31, but as a real expression of feeling, something that can be hard to find these days.  Not glitter but substance.

You can subscribe to Nancy’s YouTube channel here, but you will learn more about her here.  And even here.

It takes a good deal to entrance me, but Nancy Erickson is well on her way.  I look forward to her new CD and more . . .

May your happiness increase!

“WITH A SWEET BOUQUET”: VARIATIONS ON A LOVE-THEME

A fairly well-known (now obscure?) pop song from 1951 is the text for my mellow sermon for today:

its-all-in-the-game-tommy-edwards

This ten-inch Decca recording — more than fifty years old now — which I guard tenderly — is the music of my childhood that has never disappointed me.

LOUIS and JENKINS

Another issue:

LOUIS and JENKINS one

And just because the photograph of Louis and Gordon turned up on eBay ( I know nothing about the  photograph below it) here it is once again:

LOUIS and JENKINS two

Since my dear friend Ricky Riccardi is in New Orleans for the 2015 Satchmo Summerfest, I asked his permission and checked with his legal staff and was allowed a one-time exception to create a Riccardi-style posting which, of course, is not up to his standards . . . but he’s about half my age.  More energy.

Let’s begin where it all began — Charles G. Dawes’ MELODY [or sometimes, MELODY IN A].  Dawes is the most unlikely composer I can think of, a Brigadier General who had taught himself piano and composition, a banker who became  Calvin Coolidge’s Vice President, and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1925.  Dawes lived a long time — 1865-1951, and wrote this piece in 1911.  Here is a 1924 recording with Fritz Kreisler, violin; Carl Lamson, piano:

The opening phrase — a simple ascent and descent — is what we call a hook now, although that phrase wouldn’t have applied in 1911.  It’s in 6/8, and it seems as far as one could get from a danceable pop tune in 1924 and later.  But wait.

In 1940, Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra recorded LET ME DREAM, “adapted” from Dawes — I don’t think the melodic emendations are improvements, and I note that on the Decca label no lyricist is listed.  Bob Eberly sings it pleasantly enough, but the lyricist may have wanted to remain anonymous:

Two years later — perhaps as part of the famous Dorsey rivalry, perhaps in an attempt to find non-ASCAP material — brother Tommy recorded what I consider the first truly beautiful “modern” version, on a Red Seal Victor label which meant it was (loosely) a classical recording:

I don’t know who did the string arrangement, but it is dreamily beautiful even before Tommy enters.  And the trombonists in the audience (along with the rest of us) can marvel at Tommy’s tone and range.

I can’t find other recordings of this beautiful melody, but in 1951 Carl Sigman wrote lyrics for it and changed its name to IT’S ALL IN THE GAME.  Whether he modified the high notes or an arranger did — somewhere — I can’t say.  But this is the composition and performance I grew up with: Louis and Gordon Jenkins. Note: some listeners find the pairing of these two great artists unsatisfying; others make light of Jenkins’ sound, vocal and string arrangements.  I won’t have it.  If you want to write dismissively of this side, please refrain and come back tomorrow.

Incidentally, the personnel here is more than respectable in jazz players per inch, in addition to Louis and Gordon: Charles Giffard [misspelled as Gifford in all reference works: see below], George Thow, Bruce Hudson, trumpet; Eddie Miller, Dent Eckels, tenor saxophone; Charles LaVere, piano; Allan Reuss, guitar; Phil Stephens, string bass; Nick Fatool, drums . . . plus strings.

What you’ll hear is not just a 1951 pop tune orchestrated for jazz singer, small jazz band, and strings.  It has a compositional density — Jenkins thought orchestrally, his work a beautiful offering of contrasts and similarities — and the listener who is attentive will hear beautiful sounds.  I know: I’ve been listening to this record since perhaps 1959.  I’m never bored with this 3:22 concerto.

I don’t know if the “new” IT’S ALL IN THE GAME has a verse or an elaborate introduction, so I am assuming that this one is Gordon’s creation.  And what an oddly ominous one it is: the first fourteen seconds a variation on the ascending figure with accents from orchestra bells.  It sounds to me as if a funeral is approaching, or (perhaps) a variation on the verse to WHEN DAY IS DONE — both unusual ways to approach a song that is ultimately redemptive.  Sigman’s lyrics are not about death, but a beautiful escape from emotional death: the lovers have had a serious spat and all is / can be repaired — so that the end is a love-ecstasy.  And the singer — in this case Louis — is beautifully asked to play the part of a gentle wise elder, counseling the young lover who is tearfully despondent: “It’s going to be all right.  You just wait.  I know,” which is advice all of us have needed at some time.

The minor mood gets slightly brighter when the strings enter, the top end of the violin section quite high, with beautiful shifting harmonies underneath — the most glorious waltz one could imagine.

Then, about a minute and a quarter in, one hears the jazz ensemble start to underpin the whole beautiful enterprise — the shift to 4 / 4 made clear by the addition of the rhythm section — and the horns and reeds create a simple echoing descending figure to change the key.  But before we can take this in for long, Louis enters at 1:30.  (Notice, please, that the recording is nearly half over before its Star comes on — which suggests that Gordon knew that Louis deserved the most wondrous buildup.)

The vocal is just sublime.  All the people who dismissed Louis as a romantic singer, someone who made nonsense of words, “gravel in his throat,” might do well to listen to this.  The horns play simple figures behind him and the rhythm section of LaVere, Reuss, Stephens, and Fatool — the best imaginable on the West Coast at that date) rock softly and with conviction.  And Louis treats the simple words with the utmost respect.  And close listeners well-versed in the Gospel of Louis will of course notice that Gordon’s figures are evocative of Armstrong licks.  (A liner note writer for a CD issue of this material whose name I am choosing to ignore called this practice “blatant,” not understanding that it was both an in-joke and an expression of the deepest reverence: surrounding Louis with Louis, amen.)

The strings come in when the lyrics describe having “words with him” — interesting that the singer is speaking to an unhappy young woman.  Singers, please pay attention to the rubato within “And your future’s looking dim!” — the phrasing there is worth a whole Jazz Studies degree.  And, happily, after Louis sings “above,” the strings play — written — one of Louis’ most famous scat figures.  I can’t imagine that Louis wasn’t dee-lighted to hear that.

A looser, warmer vocal conclusion follows, ending in “And your heart will fly away,” ending in a scat passage that is like a caress, like someone’s dear hand making the grief go away.

When I hear this recording, I have tears in my eyes, but they are tears of joy. Recovery is possible.

I didn’t know where in this post to place the more famous (how could this be?) recording of the song — by Tommy Edwards in 1958.  It was an immense hit and sold three million copies.  I think it is a descent from the heights, singer and orchestra, but you are welcome to enjoy it.  Quietly, please.  Use your earbuds:

If you want to understand the majesty of Louis and the gracious warm world that Gordon Jenkins created, though, go back to the penultimate version.

I will close with a little anecdote.  In graduate school, one of my professors was Dr. Spencer — a tall woman who had been born in the UK and had retained a crisp manner of speaking.  We were discussing some nineteenth-century love poem, and she said, “There was a hit pop song some years back called IT’S ALL IN THE GAME, and it referred to “the wonderful game that we know as love.” Taking her glasses off and looking at one impish and weary, she said, “Of course, love is a game.  But you must be sure you know the rules of it, and always bring the right equipment.”  Then she said, “I will see you on Thursday.”  I’ve never forgotten that.

Postscript: one of the many wonderful things about having this blog is the people who write in — not to criticize, but to add information that is true and little-known.  I bless Michael Sigman, son of lyricist Carl Sigman, for sending me this beautiful information about the song:

The most interesting story-behind-a-song saga in Carl’s career began with a phone call from a publisher. For years Carl had thought about writing a lyric for a tune he remembered from his classical training. “The Dawes Melody,” or “Melody In A Major,” was a classical violin and orchestra piece composed in 1911 by none other than Charles G. Dawes, later Vice President of the United States under Calvin Coolidge.

Dawes composed the piece in a single piano sitting. “It’s just a tune that I got in my head, so I set it down,” he told an interviewer. He played it for a friend, the violinist Francis MacMillan, who liked it enough to show it to a publisher, and Dawes was officially a composer. The tune garnered some popularity when Jascha Heifetz used it for a time as a light concert encore.

Early in 1951, Carl decided to try and write a lyric to the theme, believing that it was in the public domain, as free of complications as an old Mozart melody. He knew the two-octave range would be a problem, but figured he could fool around with the melody, take out the high notes and make it more singable.

By sheer coincidence, Warner Brothers publishing exec Mac Goldman called one day to ask Carl to consider writing a lyric to “The Dawes Melody,” the copyright for which, it turned out, was owned by Warners.

Once Carl recovered from the news that the song was in fact already copyrighted, he rejiggered the tune and realized that a phrase from another song he was working on, a conversational phrase he’d plucked from the vernacular, was perfect for this tune. Once he plugged that title into its proper place, the lyrics to “It’s All In The Game,” to quote Carl, “wrote themselves.”

It’s All In The Game

Many a tear has to fall but it’s all in the game
All in the wonderful game that we know as love

You have words with him and your future’s looking dim
But these things your hearts can rise above

Once in a while he won’t call but it’s all in the game
Soon he’ll be there at your side with a sweet bouquet
And he’ll kiss your lips and caress your waiting fingertips
And your hearts will fly away

Carl also wrote this never-recorded intro, to be sung prior to “Many a tear…”

Where love’s concerned
At times you’ll think your world has overturned
But if he’s yours, and if you’re his
Remember this…

Unfortunately, the Vice President never got to hear the lyric. On the day Carl handed in the finished assignment, Dawes died of a heart attack, prompting Mac Goldman to quip, “Your lyric must have killed him.”

“It’s All In The Game” found its way to prominence in a prototypic version, in waltz time, by Tommy Edwards. That record made the top twenty in late 1951, and the song was quickly covered by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Dinah Shore and Sammy Kaye. Seven years later, Edwards, still recording for the MGM label, re-cut the song in the contemporary 4/4 tempo doo-wop mode, and it became one of the biggest hits of the fifties, staying in the top 10 for twelve weeks, six of them at #1.

During the summer of ’58, when “It’s All In The Game” was battling it out for the top spot with another classic, Domenico Modugno’s “Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu),” I was a nine-year old attending Kings Point Country Day Camp. As I changed into my baseball uniform in the locker room every day, I’d burst with pleasure when the radio played our song, and “boo” whenever “Volare” came on.

May your happiness increase!

JOIN THEIR FUN: RAY SKJELBRED, KIM CUSACK, JEFF HAMILTON, KATIE CAVERA, CLINT BAKER (Rossmoor Jazz Club, July 9, 2015)

One of the deep pleasures of being a temporary / intermittent California resident for large chunks of the past few years was being able to savor the beautiful music created by Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs: Ray, piano, vocal; Kim Cusack, clarinet, vocal; Katie Cavera, guitar, vocal; Clint Baker, string bass, vocal; Jeff Hamilton, drums.

It’s nice to know that through the miracle of technology, I don’t have to miss out on much: Rae Ann Berry took her camera and tripod to Walnut Creek, California, just the other day (July 9, 2015) and captured an evening of Ray and the Cubs at Rossmoor, thanks to the “Rossmoor Jazz Club,” the generous invention of Bob and Vonne Anne Burch.

Here is my absolute favorite from that evening:

SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE:

Everything this band does cheers me — I want a CD devoted to Kim’s vocals! — but this performance has out-in-the-open spectacular drumming, ensemble and solo, from one of the finest on the planet, Jeff Hamilton.  The whole band rocks and soars, but Hamilton elevates it all several stories in the air.  And bring the children into the room to let them hear what a rhythm section sounds like.  It’s not too early to teach them right.

And I have a special fondness for this song because of this fellow.  I think I first heard this recording before I had a driver’s license: I can summon up the picture of the cover of the German Odeon lp which contained it:

I love everything about this 1930 recording, including Lionel Hampton’s drum accents behind Louis’ muted melody statement, the guitar obbligato by Bill Perkins behind the vocal (that vocal!) . . . . and that trumpet solo, which I would stand up against Joyce, Stravinsky, or Kandinsky.  Yeah, man.

Now, I urge you, enjoy the Cubs once again.  Yes, they can follow Louis!

Send this post to your Sweetheart.  And if (s)he says, “What is this?” you can have a good time explaining the mystery of it all, can’t you?

May your happiness increase!

LOVE, NOT DEATH. SONG, NOT HATE.

I feel immersed in the grief created by the 21-year old white supremacist Dylann Roof who killed nine African-Americans in the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, after sitting with them for an hour at a prayer meeting.  I will not show his picture or a picture of his gun.

In this immense sadness, I wonder, “Why does it seem so difficult for people to act lovingly to one another?  So many people have every advantage, every materialistic reward, the most sophisticated technology, but they still are ruled by hatred and fear of those they should recognize as brothers and sisters.”

As an antidote to hatred, I offer beauty in the shape of song.  Music is love floating through the air, an aural embrace aimed right at us. I do not mean the lyrics of these songs to be particularly relevant to our grief, but I remember the sensation of everyone — musicians and audience — connected by love and hope, optimism and joy.  It is the way we should be.

AZALEA, by Duke Ellington, performed by Hilary Gardner and Ehud Asherie at Mezzrow on May 18, 2015:

WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, performed by Terry Blaine and Mark Shane at the Croton Free Library on May 8, 2015:

I know the four musicians in these videos would not object to my offering their performances in the name of healing.

May music — embodied love — help cleanse our hearts of anger, insecurity, and rage.  Please notice I do not say “Dylann Roof’s heart,” but our hearts.

And if any of my readers find my politics deplorable, I encourage them to unsubscribe from JAZZ LIVES: there’s a place at the bottom of the post to do this.  I won’t post inappropriate comments.

If the music and the sentiments move you, please share them.

Let the air be filled with something not stifled tears.

May our griefs grow lighter.  May we remember how to love.

I HEAR AMERICA SINGING: TERRY BLAINE AND MARK SHANE (May 8, 2015)

This post is dedicated to my most beloved Big Sister, and I delight that she is around to read it and sing along.Shine-On-Harvest-Moon-1908

Here is the first part of the gorgeously expert yet unaffected concert that Terry Blaine (she of the wondrous heartfelt voice) and Mark Shane (our Swing Mozart) gave at the Croton Free Library on May 8, 2015.  The songs are HONEYSUCKLE ROSE, BREAD AND GRAVY, and MY MELANCHOLY BABY.

I knew the verse and chorus to HARVEST MOON, and many of you will, too:

First verse:

The night was mighty dark so you could hardly see,
For the moon refused to shine.
Couple sitting underneath a willow tree,
For love they did pine.
Little maid was kinda ‘fraid of darkness
So she said, “I guess I’ll go.”
Boy began to sigh, looked up at the sky,
And told the moon his little tale of woe:

Chorus:

Oh, Shine on, shine on, harvest moon
Up in the sky;
I ain’t had no lovin’
Since April, January, June or July.
‘s no time, ain’t no time to stay
Outdoors and spoon;
So shine on, shine on, harvest moon,
For me and my gal.

(I always heard “‘s no time” as “snow time,” which may make its own particular kind of sense.)

But wait!  There’s more!

SHINE ON HARVEST MOON was a theatrical presentation: the singer told a story.  So there’s a second verse.  What joy!

I can’t see why a boy should sigh when by his side
Is the girl he loves so true,
All he has to say is: “Won’t you be my bride,
For I love you,
I can’t see why I’m telling you this secret,
When I know that you can guess.”
Harvest moon will smile,
Shine on all the while,
If the little girl should answer “yes.”

I was half-weeping with joy and quietly singing along.  The experience of being in a room of people united by that impulse is wondrous.  And to be led by Terry and Mark means we were all in the best loving hands:

I saw, in the darkness behind the piano (out of camera view) the approving ghosts of Ethel Waters, Count Basie, Fats Waller, and Nora Bayes.

I wouldn’t want to go back to 1908.  No video cameras there; no blog.  But I dream wistfully of a time when everyone knew some of the same songs; when people sang along; when the common language was love, and about love.  Terry and Mark so sweetly embody that time in music.  I bless them.

May your happiness increase! 

FEELING AFFECTIONATE?

PINKY TOMLIN

Here’s the theme song for all affectionate types (which I hope is a large audience) — this on-air version from January 1935:

And later in 1935, one of my favorite recordings ever:

It was issued under the name of pianist Garnet Clark, but it’s more often presented these days as a Django Reinhardt recording.  The stars are Clark, trumpeter Bill Coleman (catch his wonderful Louis-homages at the end, two, gloriously), clarinetist George Johnson, string bassist June Cole.  Poor Garnet Clark had a short life and a shorter recording history, dying young and in a psychiatric institution.  But how he could play!

Extra credit to those who know who Pinky Tomlin is.

I hope that the air today is full of people humming and singing this song.

May your happiness increase!

A SONG FOR THE SEASON: HILARY GARDNER and EHUD ASHERIE at MEZZROW (March 17, 2015)

At the end  of their gorgeous Rodgers and Hart mini-concert at Mezzrow on March 17, 2015, Hilary Gardner and Ehud Asherie, those rebels, decided to “go rogue,” and do a song outside the R&H canon.  Luckily for us, their choice was the lovely THEY SAY IT’S SPRING, by Bob Haymes and Marty Clarke, made famous by the ethereal Blossom Dearie.

The snow in New York seems at last to have melted. Warmer weather makes everyone a little more amorous.  Being able to put one’s snow shovel and heavy boots away is positively erotic.  One thinks of lighter clothing with eagerness, and the possibility of being warm in the breeze . . . I’ll stop before I levitate.

The song is just right for the times, and it’s such a lovely performance too:

It’s a performance I want to hear over and over, which for me is the only real endorsement: art that doesn’t grow stale or give up all its secrets at once.

If you’ve missed the two songs I’ve posted from their Rodgers and Hart portion, here and here they are.  I will have more from Hilary and Ehud and Larry and Dick for you in future.

May your happiness increase!

“I’LL ALWAYS KEEP THAT.”

If you are chatting with me for more than a few minutes, it is a sure thing that the name of Louis Armstrong will emerge from my lips.  Musician, man, inspiration. And I knew very well that the superb musician (he’s too large for simply “trumpeter”) Humphrey Lyttelton felt the same way.  Humph, bless him, was able to embody his love of Louis by playing in ways that honored Louis while keeping his individual self.

Doing research for a piece about Humph in the NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD, I was delighted to come across the official Humphrey Lyttelton website, maintained by his son Stephen — so full of information, pictures, memorabilia, and drawings, good prose, and deep feeling, that it will take several days for me to feel that I had explored it all.

Two photographs and one story I found superbly touching — tribute to Louis’ character and to Humph’s as well.  Here is the page.

One photograph shows an ecstatic happy Louis in front of drummer Barrett Deems and near a British trombonist (who is also laughing) while a pair of arms are tenderly placing a crown on Louis’ head — the crown is labeled KING LOUIS. The handwritten caption (in very recognizable script, because Humph was also artist and calligrapher) reads “‘Crowning’ of Louis Armstrong, Empress Hall, 1956.”  This photograph was taken onstage, and Louis is in white shirt, jacket, and bow tie.  In the second shot, presumably posed for a press photographer, Louis has changed to a neat checked shirt, no tie; he sits happily while Humph, in white formal garb, carefully places the crown once again so that the inscription can be seen.  The crown itself is beyond description.

And the brief story, told by Humph:

Another indicator of the strength of Louis Armstrong’s character was his unshakable loyalty towards those he regarded as his friends. I have personal and proud experience of the warmth with which he responds to any action which he regards as a favour to him. At the end of his 1956 season at the Empress Hall in London, when my band was privileged to share the bill, I spent a couple of days making a crown out of cardboard, Woolworth jewellery and ping-pong balls, and inscribed ‘King Louis’. At the end of the show, when I was called up on stage to take a bow in the finale, I made the announcement: ‘On behalf of all British musicians, I crown Louis Armstrong the undisputed King of Jazz,’ and plonked the crown on his head. A day or two later, I saw him backstage at Manchester. I asked him casually if he still had his crown. ‘Of course I have – I had it shipped back home today. I’ll always keep that – you gave it to me.’

Why do I find that so touching?  Even if it were not an anecdote about people I deeply admire — revere, in truth — the emotions and their expression are clear and intensely valuable.

We live in an age of milkless milk and silkless silk, and for me the metaphor has nothing to do with soy beverages and rayon, but everything to do with the many layers of hurry and self-absorption many people wrap themselves and their essential selves in.

The true self feels love and responds with gratitude, which is a deep expression of love.

Although Humph’s gesture had a small element of do-it-yourself comedy in it (I especially like the gilded ping-pong balls) the deep love that animates the creation of such a crown is true and not purchasable at any store.  The love is measurable in the impulse to make such a crown for Louis, and the act of making the impulse real, and the time taken to make the object a fitting tribute.

And Louis’ understanding of the love in the gesture is simple in words, but deep in feeling.  It is the antithesis of contemporary entitlement (“Of course, I am the King! So your gesture is only what I deserve. It’s about time.”) and of checking-the-price-tag-scorn (“Oh, that cardboard crown? I tossed it away.  It would be very hard to pack, and it’s only cardboard.”)

Recognize love.  Send it back in acts and gratitude.

Stories like this are the reason I wrote WHAT WOULD LOUIS DO? — but we don’t have to play trumpet to be loving, grateful, or loyal.  It requires only that we slow down, breathe deeply, be open to feeling, and respond in fitting ways.

P.S.  This post is about the power of generosity and gratitude, and I could have no better example than an email I received from my friend, the superb jazz writer Peter Vacher, less than thirty minutes after my post had appeared:

The trombonist in the Louis picture, taken at Empress Hall, London, a boxing arena now demolished, on the occasion of Louis’s first return to the UK since 1932, is bandleader Vic Lewis. Vic, a sometime trombonist and guitarist, was leading a modern big band which alternated with Humph’s band as the introductory act on the Louis programme. Also on the bill were singer Ella Logan, Annie Ross’s auntie, and African-American dancer Peg-Leg Bates. They all set up and did their stuff in the Hall’s boxing ring, which rotated meaning that at one moment one saw Deems’s backside and at the other Louis full-on frontally. A strange experience but a memorable one as I should know as I was there on one of the nights, in Army uniform, having hitched down from Yorkshire where I was doing my basic training. Sat at ringside, I even managed a brief congratulatory word with the great man who responded as I remember with the immortal phrase, ‘Yeah, Daddy, yeah.’
And this just in — from Harvey Bard, friend of Bob and Pug Wilber:

Yes it is Vic Lewis – see the attached article with photo. He did play trombone and together with Humph, Freddy Randall and Cy Laurie he was one of the band leaders in the reception party for Louis when he landed at London airport on 3rd May 1956, so it’s seems likely he was also present at the Empress Hall. The regular trombonist with the All Stars at that time was Trummy Young and he did play the Empress Hall concert (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcgoJkU6t7M) but maybe as Vic Lewis was around they let him sit in!

Incidentally I was on duty at The State Kilburn when Louis and the All Stars appeared there on their 1956 tour. I get as far as the corridor leading to Louis’ dressing room and glimpsed him sitting there over the shoulders of the crowd. I had hoped to get his autograph but no luck – there were too many people in the way.

May your happiness increase!

FOR THE LOVE OF SWING (AND THE SWING OF LOVE): DANIEL BARDA, LOUIS MAZETIER, JERÔME ETCHEBERRY, CHARLES PRÉVOST: JANUARY 30, 2015

This delightful swing aubade came to me — and I hope many others — through Facebook, and I learned that this is trombonist Daniel Barda’s Super Swing Project, “Hommage à Fats Waller,” performed on January 30 of this year at Jazzclub Ja-ZZ Rheinfelden (www.ja-zz.ch).

I also must thank the recordist, Peter Gutzwiller, for making this delightful effusion both permanent and accessible to us.

Aside from Monsieur Barda, whom we know from Paris Washboard, there is the superb trumpeter Jerôme Etcheberry (of Les Swingberries), the most honored Louis Mazetier, a stride monarch, and the swinging washboardist Charles Prévost.

They pay tribute to Mister Waller in a charming and convincing way — not by offering their own faster-than-light improvisations on his compositions, not by singing YOUR FEETS TOO BIG, but by jamming in medium-tempo and a little faster on three lovely early-Thirties songs that have swing built in to them.  “Here’s another good old good one that all the musicians in the house love to jam,” as Louis would say.

I think it’s no accident that all three of these songs — if you consider their lyrics, which musicians used to do — are love songs.  One declares that they eyes are indeed the windows to the soul, and both entities entranced the singer; one wishes for a more perfect union of the singer and the Love Object; one expresses delighted incredulity that the blissful union has come to pass.  It just reinforces that love is an inexhaustible subject, and that the best music is love in action. Swing out, you lovers!

I dream of a time when one would give one’s Beloved some Commodore discs for a birthday present, for Valentine’s Day.

THEM THERE EYES:

IF DREAMS COME TRUE:

I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME:

It makes me very happy to experience these videos, and to be reassured that such beauty is taking place all around the world.  Blessings on these four gentlemen and also on the man behind the camera.

May your happiness increase! 

CONFESSIN’

Muggsy_Spanier

I just acquired the late Bert Whyatt’s bio-discography of Muggsy Spanier, THE LONESOME ROAD.  Published by Jazzology Press in 1995, it feels fresh.

I read non-fiction books haphazardly, especially when I know the shape of the narrative, but for some reason I began this one at the beginning, where Bert wrote of his connection with Ruth, Muggsy’s widow, and her wholehearted cooperation in the book, which combines his research with her unpublished memoir.

I found this passage on page 7 and think it moving beyond simple explanation. (Note: in his last years, the Spaniers lived in Sausalito, California, a town the Beloved and I came to know):

One evening, we [Bert and his wife and Ruth] returned to Sausalito from San Francisco and Ruth asked us to pull the car off the road which runs down from the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge.

“We often would stop here for a last cigarette after the Club Hangover had closed for the night,” she said.  “It helped Muggsy to unwind and we would usually sit quietly, saying little.  Sometimes he would seek reassurance that I loved  him. ‘I feel so lonely and afraid,’ he would say. I would remind him of the affection felt for him worldwide, of all his friends who loved him and, of course, that I did too.”

She paused and then said, “If we ever get that book finished, we should call it ‘Muggsy Spanier: The Lonesome Road.'”

My first reaction to this little tale was astonishment, then sorrow.  To think that a man so much at one with his art, after an evening of sharing joy through his music, could feel so desolate and frightened, was nearly shattering.

I then thought wryly that I had been wrong in assuming that playing hot cornet was armor against existential dread. . . . that a plunger mute could keep such essential anxiety at a distance.

But even as I felt sorrow and sympathy for Muggsy, I was flooded with pride and admiration.  He was born in 1901, and it might be cliched to write  that men of that generation were told it was unmanly to reveal their hearts with such openness, perhaps even to their wives.  Being male required staunchness and emotional reserve. Oh, one could say “I love you!” to one’s Beloved, one could woo the person one wanted to be intimate with by using words like those, one could say it to children.  But to say I NEED LOVE and I AM AFRAID was not something men were trained or encouraged to do. Candor like that might have seemed a confession of weakness.

But somehow Muggsy knew that his emotions were the magical element that made him able to play the blues, or the love song that he aimed directly at Ruth in their courtship, I’M CONFESSIN’. Love was at the center of his art.  And such heartfelt candid utterance.  And he found the courage to push aside his expected role and, in the darkness, speak his truths.

I celebrate Ruth also for creating an atmosphere where her husband could confess his inmost heart and receive reassurance and love, not dismissal or mockery.  She must have understood her husband’s need as genuine and commendable.  She didn’t say to him, “What is wrong with you, talking like that?”

Perhaps she knew that it takes a brave individual to openly say, “I am afraid,” an honest one to say, “I am lonely.”

Because of this anecdote, the man I admired as a jazz musician is now enhanced rather than diminished, a figure larger and more beautiful than an anxious man seeking reassurance.  Muggsy Spanier, perhaps an unlikely figure, is the embodiment of our deep need for love — a hero of that exalted emotion.  He seems to have known that without it, we wither.

His own road might have been lonesome, but I find his openness inspiring and brave.

May your happiness increase!

HAPPINESS, PLURAL: JAMES DAPOGNY, MIKE KAROUB, ROD McDONALD, KURT KRAHNKE (Ann Arbor, January 10, 2015)

I wrote elsewhere on this blog recently that so many of the songs in what we call the Great American Songbook are about the desolation of lost love, love unsuccessfully yearned for, love that has been broken past repair.

As a corrective, I offer two chamber-music improvisations on happier themes, created by James Dapogny and Strings at the Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on January 10, 2015.  This quartet — formal in aspect but lively in spirit — is Dapogny at the piano; Mike Karoub, cello; Rod McDonald, guitar; Kurt Krahnke, string bass.  No amplification requested or applied, and the lovely videos are the work of Laura Beth Wyman.

I am sure it is only a narrative I have created out of my essential romanticism and optimism, but the two songs below describe a brief play of risk-taking that is sure to bring deep rewards, and the delight of fulfillment.  May it be so for those listening as well!

Vernon Duke’s cheerful TAKING A CHANCE ON LOVE (impossible for me to hear this song without hearing Ethel Waters singing it as well):

And the full quartet returns for the Jimmy McHugh – Dorothy Fields EXACTLY LIKE YOU, a song that so epitomizes the most elated feelings of lovers at their most rapturous: “YOU are the only person I have ever wanted to be with, and our connection has been pre-ordained by both the cosmos and my Mother!”:

I have listened to these performances many times, and find them delightfully contradictory: on one hand, there is a priceless translucency, all of the component parts shining and apparently weightless — yet these performances are musically dense, and each time I listen I have the epiphanies, “Did you hear what he did there, how he responded?”  Playful brilliance at every turn, never showy or self-referential.  Thank you so much, James, Rod, Mike, Kurt, and Laura.

I have posted other performances from this gig, and here is an uplifting place to begin.

May your happiness increase!

MAX’S MOTHER

Recently I reread Max Kaminsky’s autobiography, MY LIFE IN JAZZ, which takes him from his birth in Brockton, Massachusetts (1908) to his then current life in 1962.  It’s a pleasant and revealing book, with sharp self-awareness as well as portraits of Max’s friends and colleagues — especially Billie, Louis, and Eddie Condon.

When I closed the book, the person who had made the greatest impression on me was his mother.  We don’t get to know her given name in the book: she is “Ma,” born in the eighteen-eighties in southern Russia . . . and she gives Max and his friends loving kindness and wise advice until her death at ninety. (Intuitively, she is a quick-witted compassionate friend / rescuer to Billie and Pee Wee Russell.)

Three sketches of Mrs. Kaminsky.  “Ma.”

When Max is in seventh grade (the very early Twenties) he rounds up other neighborhood children to form a “kid band,” which enjoys some success at the local vaudeville house until several members of the band turn on him and fire him:

I ran into the house and cried inconsolably until finally my mother came to my room and talked to me.

“People are bad,” she said, “but they’re bad to themselves and all the harm they do is only to themselves. Wait, and you’ll see this is true.”

and at the end of her life:

“Don’t mourn for the dead, take care of the living,” she had so often said to me. “And when I die, I want you to go out and see a movie.” 

. . . I kept remembering how I used to play Louis Armstrong records around the house night and day when I was home in the thirties and how my mother was convinced it was I on the trumpet. Nothing could shake her conviction. “That’s Maxie, but he doesn’t want to tell me because he’s so modest,” she’d say knowingly to [Max’s sister] Rose, and then turning to me she’d say, “You needn’t be ashamed. In fact, it’s very good!” Everywhere I go, I still meet musicians who ask me about my mother.

I feel that I am lucky to have known — even in these tiny glimpses — such a person.

May your happiness increase!

DUNCAN P. SCHIEDT (1921-2014): LIVING AND DYING GRACEFULLY

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I first met the jazz scholar / writer / photographer / researcher / pianist / all-around dear man Duncan P. Schiedt at Jazz at Chautauqua, almost ten years ago. Like many people who love this music, I already knew his name and work from dozens of photo credits and his writing.

Here is a biographical sketch for those who would like facts before proceeding.

The most significant fact and the reason for this blogpost is that Duncan died on Wednesday, March 12, 2014, at his home in Pittsboro, Indiana. He was 92.

At Chautauqua, I knew Duncan as a sweet-natured man, ready to talk about his heroes and the photographs he’d taken or collected of them. He laughed easily and was generous with his praise.

In addition, Duncan was very happy to sit down at the piano in the parlor and work his way through standards and obscure songs in a gently swinging manner which I told him reminded me of the lesser-known wonders Tut Soper and Jack Gardner.  My praise embarrassed him, but it was well-deserved.

I knew Duncan was aging, but he was cheerfully mobile and unhampered by his years. He always seemed to be having a good time (smiling and talking quietly with his companion Liz Kirk) whatever he was doing.

Last year — September 2013 — when Duncan began one of his informal recitals, I had my video camera with me.  The Beloved gently elbowed me and said, “Why aren’t you recording this?” I am grateful to her and to her elbow.  Here is the result.

The man and the music, the easy conversational style, and the plain-spoken elegance, are all the same.

Please delight in these performances before moving on: they are casual and eloquent, soft-spoken and melodic.

I took Duncan for granted and expected that I would see him again at the 2014 Allegheny Jazz Party. But I found out that this would not happen. On March 3, as the result of an email conversation with my friend Tom Hustad (the Ruby Braff scholar), Tom sent along this letter that Duncan was asked to posted on the website of the Indianapolis Jazz Club:

Ordinarily, I enjoy writing letters (so close to being a lost art), but today I am writing you with regrets, for this one bears bad news. Just within the past two weeks I have been told that I have terminal cancer in my abdomen, and survival through this year is not to be expected.

This whole thing came upon me all too suddenly. I spent 4-5 days in the hospital, as they sought the original site location, draining amounts of fluid accumulation caused by the tumor and thereby helping relieve shortness of breath and my abdominal discomfort. It became obvious to the doctors that is would not be practical to either radiate, or give chemo, considering my advanced age and the estimated time left to me. The idea is to make the best of what I have. At least I have some time to get my affairs in some sort of order.

I am quite accepting as it stands, and grateful for a long and healthy life, great parents, a loving sister who is six years my junior, my late wife Betty, who passed away in 1987, and two very special “kids,” Leslie and Cameron, of whose loyalty and genuine love I cannot say enough. Two splendid grandsons, Kalen and David Schiedt, complete the family circle I am now going to leave. A great companion for the last fifteen years or so has been Elizabeth (Liz) Kirk, whose breadth of cultural interests has served to enrich my life in my old age much as Betty complemented me in our thirty-seven years together. What luck this has all been for one man – who could have ever asked for more.

Some of you know of my other passions, photography, documentary films in fund-raising pursuits (about 100 of them over forty years) and my pet hobby, jazz photography and exhibitions. As for piano, it was a great release and comfort especially when playing in a small combo with friends. Golly, I never got around to reading music, did I?

That’s about it for now. Maybe we’ll have a chance to meet again before the man in the cloak and scythe comes a-calling. Meanwhile, my phone and e-mail is at your disposal. Next time you decide to hoist the glass, have one for me. Somehow, I have a feeling that we are going to have a reunion down the road, accompanied by a musician we both have loved.

Is it a date?

Duncan concluded this letter-to-his-friends with his two phone numbers and his email.

That morning, I read the letter to myself several times, on the verge of tears, and went to tell the Beloved the news.  I tried to read her the last sentences but didn’t have a voice to do so.

When I was sure I could speak, I picked up the phone and called the number — Duncan’s daughter picked up and after a few words, passed me over to Duncan.  I was concentrating on avoiding the usual pieties, but he was happy to speak and more at his ease than any person in his situation could have been.  

And he didn’t want to talk about himself.

No, he wanted to talk about a scrapbook of photographs and jazz memorabilia he knew I was interested in, and he was seriously concerned about what should be done with it — generously thinking of me and my desires first! — and the logistics of getting it to me and then my passing it on to the Smithsonian, where his collection will find another home.  

His easy graciousness was amazing on this telephone call, and he apologized for having the scrapbook at all.  “I was too old to take it,” he said.  In the course of the conversation, I found out that he had never seen the videos I’d taken the year before, “I saw you with your video camera,” he said. I was shocked that he had never seen what I had recorded and written, and promised to send him the link.  A day later I received this email:

Michael: A thousand kudos for the three cuts from Chautauqua. I have saved them for family and friends, and more as I think of them. Most of all I treasure the music of your prose accompanying the video.

Now I want to help you about the scrapbook [conscientious details followed]. 

Gratefully,

How loving it was for Duncan to turn the spotlight away from himself. How gracious.    

Another email — about related matters — he signed “Yours in friendship,” and his last email to me — a light-hearted one about postal matters — he sent on March 11, a day before he died.  

I look back on these events and his beautiful way of dealing with them with admiration and amazement.  How could he have taken so much painstaking loving care with what must have been a peripheral matter — at this time in his life, when other people might have understandably concerned themselves with themselves?

I don’t know how he found the grace to act this way in his final days, but I marvel at it.

Duncan P. Schiedt lived his life the way he wrote and the way he played the piano: with a delicate touch, a reverence for what was important — the deep melody of taking care of other people.  His modesty and sweet humility are remarkable. I am both lamenting his death and thinking, “How proud I am to know this man.”

I know some of you might think, “When you are that close to death, all the trappings drop away, and your true essential self emerges.” I can’t argue with that. But dying didn’t ennoble Duncan, nor did it imbue him with some new depths of feeling and spirit. He was that way in life.

Knowing how to live graciously and kindly and unselfishly — with love! — is the most valuable gift we can possess, and one we can share with others. Duncan had that gift well before I met him in 2004, and he showed it — without showing off — every time I encountered him, in person or in print.

But perhaps the gift, the skills, the delicate strengths of character necessary to live so beautifully are small compared to the rare art and wisdom of knowing how to leave the party with grace, with gratitude, with lightness.

If you think I am exaggerating or being sentimental, I urge you to reread Duncan’s original letter.  And then listen to his piano playing.

I know that Duncan has left this tangible world, and I will catch myself looking around for him at the Allegheny Jazz Party, but I will always feel that he is here with us.  And I will attempt to live up to his easy, loving model of how to behave. His light will continue to illuminate and warm.

I ended my telephone conversation with him with the only words I could say without bursting into tears, “Thanks for everything, Duncan.”

Yes.

MEAN.

Fats Waller said that one of his ambitions was to travel the country, preaching sermons with a big band in back of him. I feel the same tendency twice a year, so I encourage any reader who might find me even slightly didactic to turn the leaf and choose another page.

My travels in the land of jazz (and elsewhere) bring me face to face with men of my generation who affect a certain bluff, gruff heartiness as their mode of conversation with other men. It is meant to resemble comic friendliness, but it has bits of broken glass mixed in. This “being funny” has come to feel downright hurtful.  “Making a joke” isn’t amusing when it’s at someone’s expense.

I do not exempt myself from blame.  For a long time I was a small-time energetic Mocker, a Satirist, someone made fun of the failings of himself and his friends. I’ve tried to stop doing this.  It’s mean. It is the very opposite of welcoming and loving.

I guess that many men grew up believing that if you displayed your affection for another man, if you showed that you were delighted he was there, you were girlish — behavior to be avoided lest someone think you insufficiently manly.

But if “Joe, you old rascal. Tired of bothering the girls at Safeway and they let you out to come here?” really means, “Joe, I am always glad to see you and am happy you are here,” or even, “Joe, I love you,” why not say it and drop all the “funny” banter that is really nasty stuff?

I suspect that some of the “comedy” is because we feel Small in ourselves (“Will anyone notice how tiny I have gotten? Does anyone love me?”) and one way to feel Bigger is to make others feel Small.  If everyone is busy laughing at Joe, they will be too busy to laugh at Us.

But I believe that when we act lovingly, the questions of Who’s Bigger and Who’s Smaller quickly become inconsequential.  And laughter with an edge is like any sharp thing: you never know who’s bleeding once the ruckus stops.  (In this century, “edgy” has come to seem a term of modern praise. Think about it.)

Should any reader think I am being too hard on my fellow Males, I know that Women do this too — I think of Mildred and Bessie meeting on the street and one saying to the other, “I have this dress that’s too big for me.  Why don’t you take it?” which I used to think was hilarious. Now I wish they could just have given each other a hug and shut up. Love is more important than what the scale says.

I offer two kinds of music for meditations on Meanness, which you know used to mean a kind of ungenerous smallness.  Although these songs are based on the drama of the unresponsive or cold lover, let their melody and words (thank you, Roy Turk and Fred Ahlert) ring in your head before you — out of careless habit — say something Mean:

and almost a decade later:

If you show your heart to people, they show theirs back to you.

May your happiness increase!

A LOVE-DRAMA IN THREE ACTS, CREATED AND PERFORMED BY WESLA WHITFIELD and MIKE GREENSILL (Sept. 20, 2013)

I am now honored to present a love-drama in three acts — three moving musical performances by the irreplaceable duet of Wesla Whitfield (song, voice) and Mike Greensill (song, piano) — recorded on September 20, 2013, at Jazz at Chautauqua — now renamed the Allegheny Jazz Party.

Here, Wesla and Mike move through three moods of Amour:

Sweet wistful yearning for the Ideal.  

Erotic transports, enacted and imagined.  

The sadness when the relationship has faded.

Their script is musical and lyrical, sweetly intense no matter what the emotions depicted, with not a note out of place or a gesture too broad. Three dear dramas, knit together subtly yet powerfully.

They do this by reinventing three beloved songs: one, a pop hit from the 1946; a two, 1922 Youmans / Caesar song so venerable that it gets taken for granted; three, the mournful Bernstein / Comden / Green classic from ON THE TOWN:

A SUNDAY KIND OF LOVE:

TEA FOR TWO:

SOME OTHER TIME:

Whitfield and Greensill, master musicians, subtle dramatists, wise psychologists. There’s no one like them.

May your happiness increase!

DOCTOR PISTORIUS ELABORATES ON THE VARIETIES OF AMOROUS EXPERIENCE, OR TWO FACES OF LOVE (October 11, 2013)

Steve Pistorius has much to teach us — not only from the keyboard, but about the many stops on the larger journey.  Here, at Duke Heitger’s Steamboat Stomp, he gave two small but telling evocations of the moods of Love.  Fellow faculty were Duke, trumpet; Tom Fischer, tenor saxophone; Orange Kellin, clarinet; John Gill, banjo; Tom Saunders, tuba; Jeff Hamilton, drums.

The first: The Lover, in Solitude, Longs for the Music that Reminds him (or her) of Pleasing Hours Spent in the Company of the Amorous Ideal, now Presumed Far Away.  A Mood of Yearning, of Deep Nostalgia, is Conveyed:

The second: The Lover, Learning of a Betrayal, an Assault on Fidelity, Tells the Miscreant in No Uncertain Terms that his / her Presence is No Longer Welcome in the Domicile:

It’s all true.  We’ve lived through these stages, no?

But happier news awaits.  Steve, Orange, reedman James Evans, and string bass wizard Tyler Thomson have created a new CD — NEW ORLEANS SHUFFLE — which has been spinning perpetually in the JAZZ LIVES player.  I will have more news of this shortly.

May your happiness increase!