Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Yesterday at lunch I picked up Anyone for Mozart, Bach, Handel, Vivaldi?, a compilation from '64-'65 by the Swingle Singers. I had known the group from a Verve jazz Christmas comp on which they sang an effervescent, crystalline vocalise arrangement of "Carol of the Bells," which I loved. That was pretty much all I knew of them until yesterday.

Such a '60s sound! And so French -- light, airy, sophisticated, chic, cool. Two soprano, two alto, two tenor, two bass, singing the classics in lightly swung arrangements, accompanied by walking bass and swinging drums in the style of the great Modern Jazz Quartet drummer Connie Kay -- mostly brushes, mostly cymbals, impeccable swing and shimmer. I'd always loved MJQ's wonderful album Blues on Bach -- someone in my friend Jay's family had it when we were kids -- and this reminded me of it.

And what singing! A ten-minute run-through of Mozart's entire suite, A Little Night Music, sung very fast, and splendidly. And -- what's so charming -- with jazz-pop timbre, not classical belting, but amplified intimate crooning, with occasional jazzy portamentos into the notes, always enhancing the music, never compromising the listener's expectation that they will hit their pitches square on the note.

The whole thing was sounding like the sexiest hip bourgeois '60s film dream, that glamorous way of being coolly self-possessed and impeccably turned out, untouchably sensual and flirtatious, wholly attractive and yet, totally foreign to my own way of being.

I remembered reading that Michel Legrand's sister sang in the group, so when I got home I did some digging.

Christiane Legrand was not only in the group, she was the stellar soprano soloist, the one who gave the group whatever sultriness it had.

After digging some more, the reason for the sound's glamour came clearer to me. It isn't well-advertised, and the web is full of contradictory information, but Legrand provided the voice for Catherine Deneuve's role in her brother's masterpiece score for one of my all-time favorite movies, the cinematic pop-style-opera without a word of spoken dialogue, Les parapluies de Cherbourg.

Christiane Legrand later recorded with Italian modernist composer Luciano Berio, and an album of Brazilian music, Of Smiles and Tears; and, pleasing my mind's ear, the Swingle Singers also recorded with the Modern Jazz Quartet -- I haven't heard any of this music, and I want to.

It's mysterious to me why Christiane Legrand doesn't cut a wider profile. Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a widely loved movie, and her voice is a key reason for its success. The Swingle Singers sold lots of albums in the 1960s, attracting jazz, pop, and classical fans, and a less splendid version of the group tours today, 45 years after their founding. The group's ensemble sound was uniquely gorgeous, and Legrand's solos pierce with their beauty.

Searching last night, I came across an MP3 posting of perhaps the Anyone for Mozart etc. album's most gorgeous tune, a Legrand solo with accompaniment from the rest of the group, the Largo movement from Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto No. 5 in F minor. The linked site also has a YouTube clip of a later version of the group singing excellently, if with less gorgeous blend than the original group's (and with really hammy staging), Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. Their light sound does not suit the romantic Russian nearly as well as it does the nimble-footed baroque and classical styles of Bach and Mozart. I advise not watching it until after you listen to Legrand's solo. She's the woman who made Bach sexy, the woman who brought sexy Bach.
I hope somebody invites all the pianists Joyce Hatto ripped off to have a Joyce Hatto Festival, a celebration of the performances she made famous by the people who performed them.

Who knows -- this thing could be a gift to classical music.

Monday, February 26, 2007


In the week before Oscar night I got out to see
The Departed and Dreamgirls, both more notable for their performances than for their scripts, but both enjoyable.

Several commentators have written that
Dreamgirls represents the victory of soul-less pop a la Beyonce over soulful R & B a la Jennifer Hudson, but I didn’t see how soul or a diminishment of quality had anything to do with it. The Berry Gordy character, played by Jamie Foxx, was always looking for that “new sound” (echoing Ezra Pound’s modernist injunction, “Make It New”), and Beyonce’s style represented that. The movie makes no qualitative judgment in favor of the new or the traditional -- it presents both as aesthetically worthwhile. If anything, the movie favors the new.

The movie’s use of the one song which both singers sing, “One Night Only,” shows its bias towards the new. Beyonce’s disco version gets climactic pride of place, upstaging Jennifer Hudson’s R & B soul take. Most tellingly, it’s Beyonce’s version that gets played over the closing credits. A movie can’t make a more direct endorsement of one song, or one version, over another than that. Dramatically, one feels for Hudson's character Effie, simply because one is rooting for the underdog. She's Rocky, and we root for her, but that doesn
’t mean we think she’s better. (But I was always rooting for Beyonce too.)

By the time Effie gets fired, she deserves to be fired. The viewer sympathizes with her, and the way her boyfriend and manager (Jamie Foxx) treats her is despicable, but by that time her behavior is professionally undependable.

Big star Beyonce demanded a climactic show-stopping song to balance Jennifer Hudson’s in the middle of the film, and she got it, and she was right to demand it. I’ve heard the song twice now, Friday night at the movies and Sunday night on the Oscars, and I don’t remember it, but I remember the gist of its lyrics, and I remember Beyonce’s terrific intensity. Beyonce’s Deena says to her husband, Jamie Foxx’s Curtis, that she isn’t going to put up with his cruelty any more. Contrast that with Effie’s show-stopper, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” the kind of ultra-vulnerable song Judy Garland used to excel at, tinged with a pitiable and masochistic delusion. Hudson tears her song up, but Beyonce comes out on top as dramatically the stronger, more self-possessed character, and as movie singers they’re equally compelling.

Singing on film can be more persuasive than a body-less recording. D. A. Pennebaker’s wonderful documentary on the recording of the Broadway soundtrack to Stephen Sondheim’s
Company demonstrates this beautifully. Elaine Stritch gives amazing take after take of her show-stopping song, “The Ladies Who Lunch,” only to have Sondheim and the producer reject them. And Sondheim and the producer were right: The takes were theatrically effective -- brilliantly so -- but sonicly overwrought, and Pennebaker, in his only commentary during the film, remarks on the paradox of the camera loving the performance while the microphone did not. They ended up booking another session several days later for Elaine to try it again. Stritch dialed back the intensity from 11 to 10, and the resulting record is great.

Which is to say, I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that Beyonce without visuals is more distinctive and compelling a singer than Jennifer Hudson. But on screen, they both cooked like crazy.

My first reaction to the film was:

1. Great performances with the exception of Jamie Foxx, who’s not nearly charming or charismatic or mentally menacing enough for the part -- just think of the scene where he tells Deena he controls her artistic destiny -- he just comes off as a run-of-the-mill asshole, not the very smart, very shrewd, very compelling asshole that Berry Gordy must have been. But everybody else was terrific.

2. The songs -- mostly forgettable. But then I saw the Oscar broadcast, and the hook from “You’re the perfect man for me, I love you I do” has been stuck in my head all day.

3. The songs that aren’t forgettable are icky. The narrative songs -- “we’re a family” -- unpersuasive treacle. And the title song -- eww. They’re dreamgirls, they’ll always be there for you in your dreams, with heavy undertones of masturbation -- not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s hardly the stuff of wholesome pop.

4. And -- so dreamily -- in the movie they pick asshole men who treat them like crap. Except Michelle, the replacement Dreamgirl, who takes up with Effie’s handsome songwriter brother.

5. The stuff about the songwriter complaining about his songs becoming hits in versions he doesn’t like -- sure, yeah, maybe, in an artsy snobby Jonathan-Franzen-dissing-Oprah’s-book-club sort of way, but dude, you’re getting paid! Get over yourself!

6. The little girl who plays Effie’s daughter -- her stoicism -- she’s perfect.

7. The story is thinnnnnn. And the characters.

8. I’d watch it on video, just to see the show-stopping songs again. Maybe hearing them a third time will lodge them in my mind’s ear.

The Departed has terrific performances from top to bottom, but the story ends with a Shakespearean bloodbath, and I hate that when the Bard pulls it too. And the belief refused to get suspended at several points in the story. But all those stars sure are handsome and self-possessed and hardworking and charismatic. I enjoyed seeing them.

Enjoyed the Oscars. Everybody at work thought Ellen was hilarious, and I agree. I didn’t see enough of the films to have opinions about outcomes. “You’re the perfect man for me, I love you I do” should have beat Melissa Etheridge’s cliche-doomed preach-a-thon from the Al Gore documentary for best song. “Wake up” as a call to action -- No. It takes a lot more than that. Nobody’s sleeping. That metaphor doesn’t work for me.

Celine Dion is an endearingly awkward performer, with un-posed-looking facial expressions, but I don’t remember that song either.

Al Gore was funny.


Seeing a candy dispenser filled with Skittles, and noticing the "S" on each candy, the kid says, "I think these are S & M's."

* * *

Walking by a fountain, the kid says, "Daddoo, can I throw a coin in there, or a dollar bill?"

* * *

My beloved spouse, bowling the other day: "I am bowling better than I ever have in my life. The only thing thing I can attribute it to is that I have more arm strength from lifting up my son."

The kid, overhearing this remark: "Then you should carry me more."

* * *

I notice myself inhabiting my parents' patterns. My mom's (and her dad's) way of joking with the kid, the same facial expression and tone of voice, the same way of tilting my head. I sit on the floor to tie the kid's shoe, and I feel like I am my dad. So much of life is imitation, so much of it unconscious. I am happy to have my ancestors with me.

(Photo by my beloved spouse, in Chinatown a week ago.)

Thursday, February 22, 2007


Little Eva, Little Walter,
Little Richard, Lil' Kim, Little Anthony,
Lil Wayne.

I can't think of any white musicians nicknamed Little.

UPDATE, later: I remembered the hot electric mandolin player from Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, Tiny Moore, whose nickname, like Robin Hood's sidekick Little John, was ironic -- he was large. And here's jazz and R&B guitarist Tiny Grimes too.

UPDATE 2: Blues guitarist Little Charlie. Not nearly as famous as the other Little (or Lil') musicians, but apparently white. I rejected the equally obscure blues guitarist Little Ed from the All-Star list on account of obscurity, but since I asked about Little white musicians, I thought I should answer my own question when I remembered one. Tiny Moore and Tiny Grimes aren't famous either, but they're fabulous, which makes them all-stars.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I heard it on country radio Tuesday. I Googled it that night but turned up nothing -- it’s that new. Don’t remember the singer.

The words were something like this, more or less.

He was a high school star quarterback, the pride of the county high school.
He could have gone to any college he wanted.

The music had a foreboding quality, so I knew this wasn’t merely a feel-good sports song.

But after high school he enlisted.
And went overseas to fight a war in the desert.
And after a year there he came back.
Thank God and three cheers for the heroes.

“Touchdown in a small town.”

The tagline, the chorus, the one in quotes, is the only line I remember verbatim, a nice line, football and returning plane -- and the music swells with patriotic power.

The song works because its war has no reason -- which is the truth. The heroism is empty of content -- it’s pure patriotism, with patriotism defined as obedience no matter what and no matter why, with the generic cliche that virtue lives most robustly in rural areas. I cannot imagine country radio lining up in the same way behind a lying, corrupt, incompetent, crony-capitalist Democratic President who had launched a disastrous war for no reason connected with humane hopes or the national interest, for no discernable or articulate-able reason at all. People would still
“Support the troops,” but no Democratic President would remain politically viable in such circumstances -- as well he or she shouldn’t. Bush’s political viability is diminishing fast, but the Party Loyalty gene is far more likely to be dominant in Republicans than Democrats, and when songs like these turn up, Republican -- I mean country -- radio will play them. (Not that all country listeners or performers are Republican, but the genre as a whole is very.)

(Goya: Disasters of War: Is This What You Were Born For?)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The classical music world is abuzz with the news that pianist Joyce Hatto plagiarized other pianists' recordings and released them as her own.

"The Milli Vanilli of classical music," I thought, but then realized, that no, Hatto was worse. Milli Vanilli merely lip-synched to records that singers had been paid to sing; Hatto apparently stole other people's records and released them as her own.

And then I thought that maybe John Oswald should rename his Plunderphonics, "Hattophonics." But no, that's wrong too; Oswald is upfront about his sampling. (I love the piece he did using hundreds of live Grateful Dead recordings -- with their permission -- Grayfolded.)

There really is no precedent for this.

And then I thought, I'll post something about Joyce Hatto's forays into pop music, and her surprisingly husky, yet sweet, contralto voice, on this tender song I happen to have a copy of, which she called, "All My Troubles"; and I was going to post an MP3 of "Yesterday" by the Beatles, with its wonderfully apropos lyrics --

All my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as though they're hear to stay
Oh I believe in yesterday --

but I decided against it, because music-hosting services frown upon unlicensed publishing, even for a joke, and the Beatles Inc can be real hard-ass about things (ask me some time about the time I tried to get permission via a college friend who was then friends with Lisa Marie Presley who was then married to Michael Jackson who owned the Beatles' publishing for permission to use samples from a Beatles record for a charity album -- Neil Young and the Byrds and the Mills Brothers and Spike Jones and Ornette Coleman all said yes, but Elvis and the Beatles feared for their empires) -- so, anyway, in lieu of such an MP3 post, here is my excuse.

Paul's voice would sound sexy coming from a woman's body, don't you think?

You know some sampling collective is going to use the name the Joyce Hatto Experience some day soon . . .

Monday, February 19, 2007

Presidents' Day today; I have it off, and so, as usual, I stayed up too late last night, looking up these lines from Ted Berrigan.

The heart stops briefly when someone dies,
a quick pain as you hear the news, & someone passes
from your outside life to inside. Slowly the heart adjusts
to its new weight, & slowly everything continues, sanely.

It's a section from "Things to Do in Providence." I hadn't remembered which poem, which is why it took so long to find the lines.

Sometimes these lines feel true, sometimes not. Mostly they do. Going to poetry for consolation. Finding it there. Not sure about that word, "sanely," though.

Last Thursday my beloved spouse called me. J. G., our good friend and neighbor across the alley, had fallen two stories working on a rehab house. I gasped. He only shattered his femur and broke his pelvis and tailbone -- "only." We visited him in the hospital Saturday evening; my first visit to one since my dad died. The 4-year-old was a good boy and raised the spirits of our 61-year-old friend. He got home yesterday but doesn't want visitors yet.

Yesterday my beloved spouse's cousin in Germany emailed: Her mother finally died after years of Alzheimer's, age 83. The last of my wife's mother's generation, the last close connection. We can only assume that it was a mercy that she died, but sad news in any case.

Before going to visit J.G. Saturday evening, we had gone to the Chinatown / International District for a celebration of Chinese New Year, and saw the Seattle Filipino Youth Drill Team perform intricate formations for 15 minutes nonstop, accompanied by four drummers and two additional percussionists, three of whom also danced. Exciting movement and tremendous music and exceedingly well rehearsed.

Grey day today. Suitable.

Friday, February 16, 2007

I got Where the Boys Are from the library and watched it last night after reading in Ken Emerson's book on the Brill Building era (which I reviewed a few weeks ago) that Neil Sedaka and Howie Greenfield had written the title song. I always liked the song without thinking about it, but after hearing it in the movie, and coincidentally on a compilation of old "rock" songs, I've grown to like it a lot, particularly Connie Francis's sob-sodden vocal. A great singer.

The movie surprised me with its seriousness -- even heaviness. All about the wages of sex for the single girl, 1960. Major Plot Point about to be blown: one of the four main college girls, on their spring break in Fort Lauderdale, gets date-raped by a man she has previously had sex with and then lost interest in, and in that day and age, there is Nothing she can do about it, she has No recourse, and it is a stigma she will have to bear forever. And her life is pretty devastated, and her best friend grieves intensely for her. End blowing of plot point.

Aside from that heavy subplot, it's mostly a fizzy comedy, sometimes actually funny and usually but not always charming. Connie Francis is the rare pop star who, in her film debut, plays the "plain" person for comic effect. And her charm jumps off the screen.

Dolores Hart is wonderful as the main character, serious and human and warm and intense and deeply loyal to her friends. After the video my beloved spouse & I looked her up, and not only did she play opposite Elvis in '50s movies, but not too long after Where the Boys Are she became a cloistered nun. As it happens, a good friend of my beloved spouse's is a nun at the same abbey, so my beloved spouse is three people away from the King. Catholicism's gain was Hollywood's loss -- Dolores Hart was terrific.

The movie made fun of the pretensions of modern jazzmen, but they hired serious modernist Pete Rugolo (who's still alive at 91) to score the jazz combo, and it was the real deal -- dissonant cool nimble modern jazz, called "Dialectic Jazz" in the movie. Between Sedaka's gracefully longing theme and the dialectic jazz, the film provides a surprisingly tasty sampler of two contrasting musical subcultures circa 1960. The movie had two additional songs, both forgetable.

1960 -- the year my parents married as college kids 21-years-old, exactly the age of the characters and performers in the movie, exactly their milieu (though my parents weren't road-trip-to-Florida-for-spring-break types). It made me miss my dad. I had been grieving him less intensely in the last few weeks, after a friend sent me a eulogy-for-father's-funeral that a friend of his had written and read, but now whenever I hear that aching Connie Francis / Sedaka tune, I may have to fight back the tears for a while.

* * * * *

She sang a song about him, but it's really hard to imagine him in love.

* * * *

We had our first Chuck E. Cheese experience tonight, and I really did think I would enjoy it, and after the distressingly bad floor show, in which a person in a Disney-style Chuck E. costume clapped off-beat to a garishly loud recording of "Oh When the Saints Come Marching In," tooled out with new words, "Oh When the Band Comes Marching In," and then to a garish disco "Happy Birthday to You" (thereby enriching some thieving publishing company -- see the most recent post), and it was all in the American style of frantic-ness that entertainment providers have frequently mistaken for actual entertainment (really, even most of the kids were lukewarm about the deal); after all of this was over, we went into the arcade area, and while it remained overstimulatingly noisy, the games were amusing, nonviolent, and cheap, and the event as a whole, hosted by the parents of a pre-school classmate of the 4-year-old's for a birthday party, was very nice.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Marilyn Monroe
performing the most notorious rendition
of the world's most famous song

One day a few weeks ago the 4-year-old asked what the most famous song in the world was. "Happy Birthday to You," I answered. All over the world, people sing it -- millions of times a day.

I thought of it again today when I saw a blurb for a classical "crossover" album, something about "the world's most beloved melodies," and I thought, "Did Joshua Bell record 'Happy Birthday to You'?!" (I didn't check to see.)

But then, "Happy Birthday to You" might not be exactly . . . beloved; it's more utilitarian, ritualistic, like a piece of furniture. Something that, if you don't have it, you miss it, but you don't think about it very much. Like indoor plumbing. It might be the only regular occasion for polytonality in everyday life, with a group of people all starting off in different keys, usually gravitating toward the most comfortable key after a couple of measures. Personally, I'm always happy to hear it or sing it.

One memorable birthday, my 30th, an impromptu ensemble played it for me over the phone. Fractured trombone, guitar, I don't remember what else. My friends played it -- and I never did find out who all was in that band -- and then hung up. I couldn't have been happier.

If Joshua Bell were to record it, he would have to pay royalties, for a song which a company stole from two sisters and the public domain. Wikipedia tells the sorry tale. A woman named Mildred Hill composed the tune in 1893. Her sister wrote the original lyrics, "Good Morning to All," to be sung in elementary classrooms. Nobody knows who wrote the Birthday words, or even when.

The web doesn't have a picture of composer Mildred Hill. The only picture of her tombstone, in Louisville, Kentucky, is copyrighted.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Congrats to the Cleveland Chamber Symphony and Edwin London -- turtletop commenter J-Lon's father -- for the Grammy they won last night. Dr. London founded the group, a band devoted to 20th (and 21st) century music, and he was still artistic director at the time of the recording for which they won, a recording of Messiaen's Oiseaux exotiques.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Went out to a record store to hear Sean Nelson and Mike McGonigal read from their new 33 1/3 books, on Joni Mitchell's
Court and Spark and My Bloody Valentine's Loveless respectively. The readings inspired me to want to hear again, and hear, respectively, the two albums -- and to read the books. Introduced myself after the reading to M. Matos, whose writing I like very much, and who wrote a book on a Prince album (which I haven’t read), and who coincidentally left a comment on this blog recently; and it was very nice to meet him. It was nice shaking hands with Sean and Mike as well, and congratulating them. (I'd met Sean briefly before, but he wouldn't remember me; and Mike is a friend of a friend, and isn't it a small world after all -- world of laughter, world of tears).

Heard some of My Bloody Valentine in the record store and dug the gorgeous noise guitar textures; went and bought the album immediately after and enjoyed the first few songs. And Joni Mitchell, well, Joni is huge.

Must be on a record-buying kick; also recently purchased a collection of Blind Willie Johnson, only a little which I'd heard before. Ry Cooder ID's "Dark Is the Night" as the most transcendent piece of music in American history, and well he should -- Johnson should have gotten co-composer credit for Cooder's gorgeous Paris, Texas soundtrack. Johnson is a Wow. Also picked up cheap a used copy of Emmanuel Ax with the Cleveland Quartet doing Brahms's Quintet in F Minor, my faverave Brahms piece, so songful and energetic and masterfully woven -- it's the songfulness that sends me (though I must confess the amount of Brahms I haven't heard far outweighs the amount I have).

"There's never enough time to hear an excess of talent" -- B. Strayhorn.

Monday, February 05, 2007

On Friday we were driving to a lodge near Mt. Rainier to meet 30 friends and friends-of-friends for a week-end of food, music, drink, skiing, and snow-shoeing, when we decided to call our Congressional representatives to urge them to revoke the President's Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq.

We didn't have a phone book with us, so I called information.

"What city please?"

"Washington, D.C."

"What listing?"

"Congressman Jim McDermott."

"I'm sorry, there's no Congressman Jim McDermott listed in Washington, D.C."


So I asked for Senator Patty Murray and Senator Maria Cantwell, and they weren't listed either, and I explained that all of these numbers were in my phone book, and asked why they didn't have the number; and I spoke with the supervisor and asked the same thing and asked that the charge for my call be eliminated, and the supervisor was apologetic and agreeable but still did not want to do an internet search for the numbers; and so I called my cell phone provider to lodge a complaint, that the Information Service was inadequate if it does not have numbers that are in my phone book, and the Complaint Desk person was apologetic and obsequious but defensive, saying, cheerfully, "I've never had any trouble with our Information Service provider, but I'll make a note of it"; and meanwhile my beloved spouse was urging me to call her sister, who was likely to be home, so she could look up the numbers for us, and then her sister called coincidentally, and while I was talking to my wife's sister on her cell phone, getting the numbers, my brother called me on my cell phone, and my wife answered it; and we got the numbers.

I alerted my Congressional representatives that the cell phone company did not have a record of their office phone numbers. And I urged them to revoke the President's Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq, saying I was gravely concerned about the possibility of the President launching an unprovoked war against Iran, and that Congress should let him know that they would impeach him if he were to. Cantwell's staffer was completely noncommittal (no surprise); McDermott and Murray's staffers didn't want to talk about Iran or impeachment but said that their bosses were backing withdrawal legislation. Which is something. But not enough.

I'm going to call again.

* * * * * * * * *

After momentary vexation with the incompetence of my cell phone carrier's Information subcontractor, the weekend was lovelissimus. We hadn't expected much actual time in the snow, what with parental responsibilities and the kid's limited appetite for snow play, but another parent had a back problem and agreed to watch all five of the 4-to-6-year-olds, and they all had a great time, and we had a great time (my beloved spouse ski-ed, and I snowshoed, a 7-mile roundtrip hike up a hill); and the music was a blast, and the food was terrific. I walked with a group of acquaintances and friends-of-friends, and on the way up I mostly walked by myself and worked on a song, and on the way down we sang camp songs as a group, instigated by two of the people I've known for years (seeing them once or twice a year, sometimes thrice) and whom I hadn't thought of as music hounds, but music hounds they were, and I was happy.

During the Friday night hootenanny, I played a song I hadn't played for years, about a former boss in Chicago who recently turned up in the political blogs playing the jerk in a political squabble with a lefty indy journalist. This guy was a jerk then and now he was a nationally known (on political blogs) jerk, and as I recalled the song I realized I had forgotten (and never recorded) the 2nd verse. I have a vague memory that the 2nd verse was the worst, so I wrote a new one.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Two of my once-a-year guitar pals actually practice and get better year by year. I used to do that. Gotta get back to it. One friend, Ed, wrote some beautiful drony bluesy meditative instrumentals and played them beautifully and asked me to play harmonica, and I was very happy to accompany him.

Jam session with the kids was a blast too.

And dancing to Fela in the kitchen. I'm not a big fan of a lot of hippie rock, but hippies are folkies and folkies dig a lot of other-than-American-or-English music, and this makes me happy.

A restorative weekend. Friends, music, dancing, food, drink -- this is what life is about.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

I heard the Isley Brothers' "Shout" for the first time in I don't know how long tonight, and mourned the death of the 45.

"Shout" was a 2-sided 45, a long song, around 6 minutes, too long, they thought then, for a 45. So, they put it on 2 sides.

And the Isley Brothers, in order to capitalize on the pause, arranged one into the record. Side one ends, "Now wai-ai-ai-ai-ait a minute."

Pause. Flip record over. Resume, same out-of-tempo gospel style break.

"You know I feel allllllri-i-i-ight."

Very clever -- perfect. Gone now. Now it's just a 6-minute song.

A friend of mine had the 45 when I was a teen-ager.

When Molly Ivins's column didn't run a week ago Monday, and the note didn't say "Vacation" or "Out sick" but starkly, "Molly Ivins did not file a column today," I felt an immediate sense of foreboding, which was borne out all-too-soon.

Her warm, caustic, friendly voice was part of the texture of my life, something I looked forward to reading Mondays, the day one of the Seattle dailies carried her. Immediate sorrow when I saw that she had died. Condolences to her friends and family.

* * *

Alice Coltrane's music was never part of my routinized weekly life, but I have loved it for more than 20 years, ever since I got her husband John's magnficent Live at the Village Vanguard Again! A 2-record compilation of her own stuff followed, all of it post-dating his death, all of it rich and beautiful.

Her rhythmically free modal jazz with string section accompaniment is my favorite "jazz with strings," with the possible exception of Ornette Coleman's movie soundtrack collaboration with Howard Shore. Unlike earlier jazz employers of studio violinists, Coltrane wasn't looking to strings for the prestigious whiff of Europe. She had a specific sound in mind. She had the touch to bring it out. Belated condolences to her family and friends.

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