Tag Archives: time-travel

BASIE PRINCIPLES

Paradise, 1940: Count Basie, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Charlie Christian, Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Benny Goodman at Columbia Records

I am not Miniver Cheevy, nor do I long for pay phones, Donna Reed, and the nickel subway ride.  If you offered me time-travel to 1940, I would insist on a round-trip ticket, because I’d miss my friends too much. But this century seems hard, for all its vaunted technological strides.  Modern “edginess” and self-absorption make me cringe.

Two examples from the main street in suburban New York on which I live.

One is that as I drive slowly and attentively through congested areas, people with earbuds on, staring into their screens, looking down, walk directly in front of my car.  Of course I slow down, I do not roll down my window and shout at them.  But I think, in the words of Big Joe Turner, “You so beautiful, but you got to die someday,” or in my own words, “Your arrogance is horrible, and your defiance of common sense is stupid.  Will having the iPhone 93 make you immortal, or the fact that you have just had a perfect ‘mani and pedi’ protect you from my very slow-moving car?”  Their behavior is the complete expression of “ME, only ME,” and I think it sad.

Yesterday I was walking to the local train station to go to New York City to dine with friends.  Ahead of me was a man some years my senior who had an aluminum cane and moved with some difficulty.  He, his wife, and I arrived at a section of recently laid cement — like a small rivulet — that we had to step over.  His wife went first, then the construction workers looked at him, as he was slightly hesitant, and said, laughing, “JUMP!”  Jumping was not in this gentleman’s repertoire, but he managed to extend himself across the cement and make it to the other side, hailed by mocking laughter from the workers.  (I got across without disaster.)  That’s another kind of ME: “I am in good physical shape, so if you’re not, I have the right or perhaps the obligation to mock you.”

So, self-absorption, selfishness, small cruelties, unkindness, the absence of generosity, the individual held above the community.

What does all this have to do with Count Basie?

I owe these ruminations to my admired friend Nick Rossi, who posted this music on Facebook in honor of Count Basie’s birthday, August 21:

and I, having the two experiences above in my head, wrote this:

I wish this century allowed us to live our lives the way that rhythm section played — joyously, gently, precisely, modestly making room for everyone else, graciously creating beautiful spaces. LIVE THE BASIE WAY is a motto I imagine, although perhaps too much explaining would be needed.

The Basie rhythm section was a loving, spiritually aligned community, where even though Basie got his name on the music stands, he and everyone else knew that he was merely the figurehead who had the deep wisdom to let everyone hear Walter Page, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones.  Basie modestly let his “sidemen” shine; although he could have played solo forever and been his own orchestra, he created a little republic of generous interdependence.  Kindness and equalities rather than ego and mastery, generosity rather than selfishness.  And ease.

Even though 1942 was not an easy year for the world, Basie seemed to know, without making much of it, that we could mesh with the cosmos, keep it afloat and have it keep us afloat, if we picked the right medium-tempo.  Thus, love with open arms enacted in swinging 4/4.  Brother-and-sisterhood rather than a parade of egos in the spotlight, jostling for attention.

Taking it easy, stepping on no one’s feelings, finding the gracious way, without strain.  Cooperation rather than isolation, an unstated understanding that we are all aimed in the same direction and will reach the happy goal only if we help each other get there.

Imagine a world that moved this way, an irresistible perpetual motion machine:

Basie would have been embarrassed or aghast to read this philosophical praise.  When Whitney Balliett asked him where his piano style came from, his response was, “Honest truth, I don’t know.”  So he might have been very leery of being celebrated as someone whose laconic perfections were a spiritual path to follow.  But Basie’s is an honest truth, one we could all live and live by.

And a postscript: as I write this, there is a small jazz group called the New Blue Devils working towards playing the Basie way.  You could check them out.

May your Basie-ness increase!

THROUGH THE LOOKING-GLASS: 1928-29 KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE RADIO BROADCAST

Thanks to Vince Giordano and Rich Conaty (who have given us so much, so generously, and continue to do so) for this amazing bit of time-travel:  silent film footage recorded at a Knoxville, Tennessee radio broadcast of Maynard Baird and his Southern Serenaders, and the Tennessee Ramblers.

You could spend a lovely nostalgic time just enjoying the fashions of the crowd, their happy faces (where are those cheerful girls now?  Oh, we know . . . ), the way the musicians are set up on the stand, the girl trio all holding their hands demurely clasped at their waists, the rollicking string band, the child dancer whose skinny legs are moving so fast they blur . . . I don’t know why the footage ends up with shots of elegant furniture, but what came before was an emotional banquet — a look into a vanished time.

I could swear I saw Andy Schumm and Josh Duffee in the crowd . . .

And, yes, I know many of you are poised to write, “If only it had sound.”  I agree.  But it doesn’t.  And its silence leaves us immense room to fill in what it might have sounded like . . . so we can turn an absence into a great gift.  Or at least may I suggest the possibility?

May your happiness increase.

SWINGING TIME-TRAVEL with LES ROIS DU FOX-TROT

Perfect and hilarious.  Hilariously perfect.  They remind me of the wise capers of the Anachronic Jazz Band . . . also the brilliant epigram: TIME DOESN’T EXIST.  CLOCKS EXIST.  In this case, the distance between an “Oriental fox-trot” circa 1925 and the “radical” “Chinese music” of Dizzy Gillespie twenty years later doesn’t exist: the two musics are one, and aren’t we glad?

The imperial words from the Rois:

A small musical joke : “A Night In Tunisia”, composed by Dizzy Gillespie, is played by Les Rois Du Fox-Trot in the manner of an oriental fox-trot from the nineteen-twenties…

It was on May 12, 2012, in the village hall of Puget-sur-Durance, in the South of France, where this concert was organized by Michel Bastide (from the Hot Antic), Pierre Costantini and Mr.Sage, the mayor of this small village. Thanks to them.

A “musical joke” worthy of Haydn and Mozart, and John Birks Gillespie is laughing appreciatively somewhere, I know.  We salute Les Rois!  All hail!

May your happiness increase.

“BLUE RIVER” — ANDY SCHUMM / PAUL ASARO

This is a priceless collaboration — sounding in the last chorus as if we were eavesdropping on a brilliant casual duet between Bix Beiderbecke and Fats Waller.  But it’s not jazz time-travel.  Rather, it’s cornetist Andy Schumm and pianist Paul Asaro improvising on BLUE RIVER in Davenport, Iowa, Bix’s home town, in July, 2009.  But wait!  There’s more!  That mildly recalcitrant cornet Andy peers at quizzically while Paul is soloing looks familiar.  Yes, it’s Bix’s horn, and the piano is the Beiderbecke family piano.  This is as close as we will get to what it might have sounded like in 1927 or 1929, I think.  Thanks to “bixchick007” for capturing this, and the Putnam Museum for being a congenial spot for such brilliance.