Listening to Jazz, 3

This is the third of four extracts from my writing chosen by Sascha Feinstein to illustrate his interview with me which appeared in the Summer, 2017 issue of the journal, Brilliant Corners.

The first shot had struck her in the chest, close to the heart, the second had shredded part of her jaw, torn her face apart …

Finally, in the living room, he burrowed through the shelves of albums and CDs, searching, not for something calming, consoling, nothing that might trigger a memory, happy or sad, but this: the Eric Dolphy/Booker Little Quintet Live at the Five Spot, New York, 16 July 1961. Track three. “Aggression.” Sixteen minutes and forty seconds.

Resnick in the middle of the room, listening, slowly racking up the volume.

Louder, then louder.

Still listening.

By the time it reaches Dolphy’s solo, the bass clarinet screaming, squawking, keening – the sound so fierce, so intense – he is no longer capable of thought, just feeling.

Fists clenched tight, absorbing the music’s anger, he takes it for his own: this stuttering expression of anger and pain.

from Darkness, Darkness, 2014

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Tom Harvey, 1906 – 1984

My dad died in Whittington Hospital thirty three years ago today; he was the same age as I am now.

 

AFS 1

That’s him, third from the left, in the Auxiliary Fire Service during World War Two.

Stewkley

And that’s him, off duty, holding me, outside a friend’s house in Stewkley, Bucks.

APPPLES

My father is dying.
Scent of apples from the night stand.
I reach out my hand and rest one
hard against my face; he taught me
to tell the real thing from the fake:
hold it close beside the ear and shake.
A genuine Cox, the seeds will rattle
loose inside their case.
You see. He told me
and I swallowed every word by rote.
Five cotton towns of Lancashire,
five woollen towns, four rivers
that flow into the Wash – Witham,
Welland, Nene and Great Ouse.
Once learned, never forgotten.

My father is dying.
He died nine years ago this June.
They phoned from the hospital with the news.
His face a cask once usedfor storing living things.
A cup of tea, grown cold and orange,
on the stand beside the bed.
Fingernails like horn, unclipped.
Though dead, my father is still dying.
Oh, slowly, sure and slow as the long fall of rain.
I reach out again for the apple
and bite into its flesh and hold him,
bright and sharp,
safe inside the hollow of my mouth.

from Out of Silence, New & Selected Poems, Smith/Doorstop, 2014

 

Poetry & Jazz at the Brighton Fringe

Performing with the John Lake Band at The Latest Music Bar, Manchester Street, Brighton, as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival, Thursday, 25th May.

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Here we go … © Molly Ernestine Boiling

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Phil Paton on tenor sax. © Molly Ernestine Boiling

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Never too late for a few last minute changes. © Molly Ernestine Boiling

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Phil and I in perfect (?) harmony. © Molly Ernestine Boiling

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Simon Cambers at the drums. © Liz Isles

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John Lake keeping a watchful eye on things from the piano. © Liz Isles

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Simon again – who said drummers couldn’t read music? © Liz Isles

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Grim down South! © Liz Isles

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I know it’s here somewhere! MB to the rescue. © Liz isles

I shall be reading with the John Lake Band at Foyles, Charing Cross Road, London, on Friday, 24th November, and at the Underground Theatre, Eastbourne on Friday, 29th December.

Liz Isles’ website is lizislesphotography.com

Molly Boiling’s photographs can be viewed at http://whyernestine.tumblr.com

John Lake can be contacted at johnlaketrio.blogspot.co.uk

 

 

Last Dozen Films I Saw …

  1. Graduation : Cristian Mungiu (2016)
  2. I Am Not Your Negro : Raoul Peck (2016)
  3. A Quiet Passion : Terence Davies (2017)
  4. Clash : Mohamed Diab (2016)
  5. Bunch of Kunst : Christine Frantz (2016)
  6. You Have No Idea How Much I Love You : Pawel Lozinski (2017)
  7. Their Finest : Lone Sherfig (2016)
  8. The Levelling : Hope Dickson Leach (2016)
  9. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold : Martin Ritt (1965)
  10. A Place in the Sun : George Stevens (1951)
  11. The Other Side of Hope : Aki Kaurismaki (2017)
  12. Beyond the Hills : Cristian Mungiu (2012)

 

It Was 50 Years Ago …

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I’m reminded today, with much coverage in the media of this being the 50th anniversary of the release of Sergeant Pepper, that, some good few years ago, I was in a men’s clothing shop on Bridlesmith Gate in Nottingham when one of the assistants came up to me and introduced himself as a former student of mine at Heanor-Aldercar secondary school in the 60s. “You won’t remember me,” he said. And I promptly apologised, because that was, indeed, the case.

One thing I’ll always remember about you, he said, you came into our English class one day with the record player and said, Right, you’ve got to listen to this, and played the whole of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band all the way through.

It would have been around the same time that the Head of English at the school, Gordon Leake, and myself, inspired, I think, by having seen The Mersey Poets – Messrs Henri, McGough and Patten, along with Heather Holden – performing at the Co-Op Theatre,
decided to suggest to the students in our top set of 13/14 year olds that they ask their parents for the money to buy individual copies of the recently published Penguin Modern Poets 10 : The Mersey Sound for themselves. This despite being wary of possible parental complaints about some of the contents once the books were taken home, though, in the event, we need not have worried. No words of complaint were forthcoming. And when, happily, I met up with another former Heanor-Aldercar student, Mel Cox, many years later – 2014 – at a reading in Derby Waterstones, he had brought his well-thumbed copy of The Mersey Sound with him, along with a copy of Prévert’s Paroles, which I’d signed back then and given him as a prize.

None of that would likely happen today, I suspect, at least not in the same way – aside, of course, from teachers begging money to buy books. Plenty of that still around.

Summer Playlist, 2017

No accident these, no throw of the random dice, but compiled with loving care.

  1. Body & Soul : Billie Holiday, from The Quintessential Billie Holiday Vol. 8
  2. Brickyard Blues : Helen Shapiro, from Rhythm on the Radio – Oval Records 1974-87
  3. California Bloodlines : Dave Alvin, from West of the West
  4. Don’t Take This the Wrong Way : Graham Fitkin Band, from Veneer
  5. Falling in Love Again : Billie Holiday, from The Quintessential Billie Holiday Vol. 8
  6. Flamingo : Earl Bostic, from Larkin’s Jazz
  7. Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves : Cher, from Cher’s Greatest Hits 1965-92
  8. Hemingway’s Whiskey : Kris Kristofferson, from This One’s For Him, A Tribute to Guy Clark
  9. I Got Rhythm : Django Reinhardt, from Djangology
  10. I’m Down in the Dumps : Bessie Smith, from Larkin’s Jazz
  11. I’ve Had It : Aimee Mann, from Whatever
  12. Is This America? : Charlie Haden, from Rambling Boy
  13. The House That Jack Built : Jack ‘N’ Chill, from Rhythm on the Radio – Oval Records 1974-87
  14. Jumpin’ at the Woodside : Count Basie & His Orchestra, from Larkin’s Jazz
  15. Leaving the Table : Leonard Cohen, from You Want it Darker
  16. Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor : Mississippi John Hurt, from Today
  17. Never Not You (Remember to Breathe) : Girlboy, from Late Bloomers
  18. New Orleans Hop Scop Blues : Bruce Turner & Wally Fawkes, from That’s the Blues, Dad
  19. Now’s the Time : John Lewis, from Improvised Meditations & Excursions
  20. Our Song : Joe Henry, from Civilians
  21. Private Life : Grace Jones, from Island Life
  22. Rosetta : Allen Toussaint, from American Tunes
  23. Round Midnight : Robert Wyatt, from For the Ghosts Within
  24. Runaway : Bonnie Raitt, from The Bonnie Raitt Collection
  25. Sister Mercy : John Stewart, from The Day the River Sang
  26. Someday You’ll Be Sorry : Louis Armstrong, from Louis Armstrong at The Crescendo 1955
  27. Stone for Bessie Smith : Dory Previn, from Mythical Kings & Iguanas
  28. Vamp : Graham Fitkin Band, from Vamp
  29. When Somebody Thinks You’re Wonderful : Fats Waller, from Larkin’s Jazz
  30. You Don’t Own Me : Dusty Springfield, from A Girl Called Dusty

Perhaps the most surprising, to me, single track is Helen Shapiro’s remarkably strong version of Allen Toussaint’s Brickyard Blues, originally written for Frankie Miller, and recorded by Shapiro for Charlie Gillett’s Oval records in 1984. I knew she had grown to be a far better singer than her very early Don’t Treat Me Like a Child pop days, touring and recording with the Humphrey Lyttelton Band, for instance, but this – this is, I think, superb.

What else is worth commenting on? The way in which both the Leonard Cohen and John Stewart tracks seem so knowingly valedictory, Cohen aware, I think, that he was dying; Stewart conscious, perhaps – just listen to the opening lyrics – of the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease.

And the fact that most of the jazz tracks included here come from a 4 CD compilation commissioned by The Philip Larkin Society,  based upon Larkin’s years of jazz record reviewing – how could someone who often came across in his other writing as being uptight, mysogynistic, mean-spirited and cheerless, have enjoyed such joyous music?

 

 

Denis Johnson, 1949 – 2017

JesusDenis Johnson, poet, short story writer, and novelist died on the 24th of May.  Although his Vietnam novel, Tree of Smoke – sprawling, busy with moments of brilliance and confusing and difficult to grasp as the war itself – won the US National Book Award in 2007, for me his best work is to be found in his shorter fiction, Train Dreams (2002), set in the American West at the turn of the century, the fast and nourish Nobody Move (2009), and the collection of incendiary short stories for which I suspect he will always be best known, Jesus’ Son (1992), from which these short extracts are taken.

The Vine had no jukebox, but  real stereo continually playing tunes of alcoholic self-pity and sentimental divorce. “Nurse.’ I sobbed. She pour doubles like an angel, right up to the lip of cocktail glass, no measuring. “You have a lovely pitching arm.” You had to go down to them like a hummingbird over a blossom. I saw her much later, not too many years ago, and when I smiled she seemed to believe I was making advances. But it was only that I remembered. I’ll never forget you. Your husband will  beat you with an extension cord and the bus will pull away leaving you standing there in tears, but you were my mother.

 

It was there. It was. The long walk down the hall. The door opening. The beautiful stranger. The torn moon mending. Our fingers touching away the tears. It was there.

 

And then came one of those moments. I remember living through one when I was eighteen and spending the afternoon in bed with my first wife, before we were married. Our naked bodies started glowing, and the air turned such a strange colour I thought my life must be leaving me, and with every young fibre and cell I wanted to hold on to it for another breath. A clattering sound was tearing up my head as I staggered upright and opened the door on a vision I will never see again: Where are my women now, with their sweet wet words and way, and the miraculous balls of hail popping a green translucence in the yards?
We put our clothes on, she and I, and walked out into a town flooded ankle-deep with white, buoyant stones. Birth should have been like that.

And, finally, a poem …

PASSENGERS

The world will burst like an intestine in the sun,
the dark turn to granite and the granite to a name,
but there will always be somebody riding the bus
through those intersections strewn with broken glass
among speechless women beating their little ones,
always a slow alphabet of rain
speaking of drifting and perishing to the air,
always those definite jails of light in the sky
at the wedding of this clarity and this storm
and a woman’s turning – her languid flight of hair
travelling through frame after frame of memory
where the past turns, its face sparking like emery,
to open its grace and incredible harm
over my life, and I will never die>

Sadly, not true.

Listening to Jazz – 2

 

 

This is the second of the extracts from my writing dealing explicitly with jazz, chosen by Sascha Feinstein to accompany his interview with me which appeared in the Summer, 2017 issue of the journal of jazz and literature, Brilliant Corners.

 

Sloane, skinny in Levis and a plaid shirt, had stood on line at the Five Spot for the best part of an hour and missed most of the first set. Inside, the only seat he’d been able to find squashed him close to several others on a table right up against the stage. Monk soloing against the rhythm, fingers held stiff above the keyboard then jabbing down, the bright percussive sound chiming through the buzz of conversation, clink of glasses, the occasional shout of laughter from the back of the crowded room.

Monk wearing a pale jacket loose across the shoulders, pale green, silver and grey striped tie knotted snug against the collar of his white shirt, dark hair neatly, recently trimmed, no hat tonight, no hat, goatee beard and moustache, dark glasses shielding his eyes. Fingers rolling a little, feeling for a rhythm in the bottom hand, rocking back upon the piano stool and then thrusting forward, elbows angled out, playing with his whole body, and the drummer, seated at Monk’s back, following each movement, listening to each new shift and shuffle, quick and careful as a hawk. Monk’s foot, his right foot, skewed wide and stomping down, punctuating the broken line as, stationed at the piano’s curve, the bassist, eyes closed, feels for the underlying pulse. And Coltrane, John Coltrane, horn hooked over his shoulder, head down, fingers fluttering from time to time over imaginary keys, stands mute, focused, waiting his time.

It comes from a stand alone crime novel, In a True Light, which was originally published by William Heinemann in 2001. Beginning with the release of its central character from prison …

They let Sloane out of prison three days short of his sixtieth birthday. Three years for deception, reduced on appeal to two; six months in Brixton, the remainder in Ford open prison.Naturally lean and wiry, Sloane walked out through the gates a fitter man than when he’d walked in.

A painter, the particular deception of which Sloane was found guilty was that of forgery; of late, he had found other people’s work, in his own exact interpretation, more saleable than his own. The novel works on two time frames, one in the present, following Sloane to New York in search of the daughter he never knew he had, the other tracing him back to the late 50s when he was a young, aspiring abstract expressionist painter in Greenwich Village – which is where and when he gets to listen to Monk.

In my opinion, it’s not a wholly successful novel – I’m not sure now well the different parts fuse together, the contemporary crime scenes in particular – but it does have some scenes of which I’m very fond and even, dare I say it, some writing of which I’m proud. And, of course, it gave me the opportunity to think and write about the art, jazz and poetry of New York during a period that has long held a strong fascination. Frank O’Hara, Jackson Pollock, Helen Frankenthaler, Thelonious Monk.