Tag Archives: simplicity

A WARM CANDID MUSICAL INTELLIGENCE: “RENDEZVOUS”: MARY ANNE ANDERSON with DOUG MacDONALD

Singer Mary Anne Anderson might not be familiar to you, but once you have heard her sing you will welcome her.

rendezvous_body_pic

In a world of singers who try too hard to be casual, who affect certain dramatic mannerisms, who draw out the lyrics rather than honoring them, Mary Anne is both deep and light-hearted, and her CD, RENDEZVOUS, is a pleasure.

I was disarmed by the speaking freshness and candor of Mary Anne’s voice and vocal delivery. When she approaches a vocal line, she allows the words to proceed in the natural order (thus the thoughts make sense), gliding from note to note without making a fuss over it (a total absence of LOOK AT ME), breathing in the right places.  She sounds like a subtle singer who knows her material but is not in the least tired of it, someone who has important things to tell our hearts without beating us over the head with her own Originality.

Here’s proof:

She and the song hold hands, delicately yet meaningfully, and proceed lightly along, having a resonant effect on our feelings. Mary Anne is respectful of the composer’s and lyricist’s intentions, and her tempos fit the material (no turning SEPTEMBER SONG into a double-time romp for her), but she is never tiptoeing her frightened way through the Museum of Great American Song, terrified that the guards will throw her out.

Her voice is a simple pleasure — emotionally-charged but never overdramatic, tenderly exploring what the song has to offer us.  She scats infrequently, but it develops naturally out of her gentle improvisations.  I am not a native French speaker, but her singing in that language seems easy, confident, idiomatic.

But all of this is more than Easy Listening: she has the poise and the lightness of a great musical truth-teller, someone delighting in simplicity. On RENDEZVOUS, she is brilliantly accompanied (in all the good meanings of that word) by the very subtle yet affecting guitarist Doug MacDonald, who never gets in the way but always, like a wonderful conversationalist, offers just the soft-voiced epigrammatic phrase that points up meaning, reminds us of the melody, deepens the harmony, swings out the underlying rhythms. They are a wonderful team, and I have written admiringly of him before.

The songs on this (excellent-sounding) disc range from the familiar I’M CONFESSIN’, AZURE-TE, HAUNTED HEART, IT MIGHT AS WELL BE SPRING (with English and French lyrics), and MY ONE AND ONLY LOVE, to newer songs that run the gamut of situations. Being someone who thinks there is still room for glorious exploration of the classics and unheard classics of the last hundred years, I sometimes grew a little restless with the “newer” songs — not their melodies so much as their lyrics . . . but my restlessness was a very good thing because in ignoring the words I could bathe or bask in the purely delicious sounds that Mary Anne and Doug were creating. I would love to hear her sing IT NEVER ENTERED MY MIND or P.S., I LOVE YOU . . . perhaps on the next CD?

Here is Mary Anne’s website, where you can purchase this CD and learn about many of her other artistic endeavors. There, you can hear more, and individual tracks from the CD can be downloaded as MP3s from Amazon, should one like that kind of music-delivery.

The CD has become a good friend on my listening orbits; when it concludes, I always start it up again.  That should tell you something.

May your happiness increase!

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!