Brilliant Corners

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“Jazz Night at the Bedlam Bar” Thomas Van Stein, 2004

Brilliant Corners, a journal, as it says, of jazz and literature, is published by Lycoming College, Williamsport, PA 17701, USA, and edited by Sascha Feinstein. Poetry, prose, in-depth interviews.

The current issue includes poems by Billy Collins and Barry Wallenstein (whose gig at the Vortex with the Mike Hobart Band is still a vivid memory) and a lengthy – 20 pages – interview Sascha Feinstein conducted with me here in London  last October.

Starting with my early experiences of listening to jazz and the heady days in which I played tea chest bass in what might just have been the world’s worst skiffle band, Sascha goes on to explore the connections between Resnick and jazz, both as a character trait and as an influence on the books themselves. There’s some discussion about the fairly frequent occurrence of jazz in my short fiction – stories like Now’s the Time and Minor Key – and the importance of jazz in the work of other writers such as Bill Moody and Michael Connelly.

Around the time of the interview, I’d just come back from a short tour of Nottinghamshire Libraries, reading some of my more jazz-based poetry, plus a Resnick extract or two, with the band, Blue Territory, so, inevitably, we talked about Poetry and Jazz, its beginnings, and why it can be so rewarding to perform. (See Wallenstein & Hobart above.)

For any students out there searching for a research topic in the area of jazz and crime fiction, this interview, taken together with Age Hedley Peterson’s Jazz i crime literature – Resnick and all that jazz, published in the April/May/June 2016 issue of the Danish magazine Jazz Special, and reprinted in translation herewould be a pretty good place to start.

 

 

iPod Shuffle, February 2017

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  • Pancho and Lefty : Townes Van Zandt (from Live at the Union Chapel)
  • Satie: Ogive No. 2 : Sarah Rothenberg (from Rothko Chapel)
  • Famous Blue Raincoat : Jennifer Warnes (from Famous Blue Raincoat)
  • Sitting on Top of the World : Mississippi Shieks (from Stop & Listen Blues)
  • Cold Enough to Cross : Joe Henry (from Scar)
  • Three Guitar Special : Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys (from Anthology, 1935-73)
  • No One Gets In : Bill Frisell (from Disfarmer)
  • Driving Home : Liz Simcock (from Seven Sisters Road)
  • Let Him Roll : Guy Clark (from Old No. 1)
  • My Girl : Otis Redding (from Otis Blue)
  • In a Mellotone : Duke Ellington (from Highlights of the Great 1940-42 Band)
  • I’m Pulling Through : Billie Holiday (from Billie Holiday & Lester Young, Complete Studio Recordings)

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iPod Shuffle, January 2017

So, these tracks are the ones that bounced up into the headphones, accompanying me on my Heathside stroll …

  • Girl From the North Country : Bob Dylan & Johnny Cash
  • Time After Time : Miles Davis
  • Kathy’s Song : Paul Simon
  • Line Up : Lennie Tristano
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  • Standing at the Crossroads : Johnny Shines
  • Carolina Shout: James P. Johnson
  • Four Bothers : Anita O’Day
  • My Creole Belle : Mississippi John Hurt
  • When Will I See You Again : Billy Bragg
  • Winter Lady : Leonard Cohen
  • East 32nd : Lennie Tristano
  • Crazy Man Michael : Fairport Convention
  • Yours and Mine : Billie Holiday
  • She’s Crazy ’bout Her Lovin’ : Mississippi Sheiks
  • Suite Italienne 1 – Larghetto (Stravinsky) : Victoria Mullova & Katia Labeque
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  • Streets of Baltimore : Gram Parsons
  • Then Came the Children : Pail Siebel
  • Juke : Little Walter
  • Wasn’t Born to Follow : Dusty Springfield
  • Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting : Al Fair-weather & Sandy Brown’s All Stars
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Katia Labeque & Victoria Mullova in Rehearsal

Music 2016

Another symptom of ageing – mine – is that I get to see less live jazz year on year. The fact that I went to Dalston’s Café Oto, home of the avant garde and free, to see the American trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith was  down to Jack McNamara, director of the stage version of Darkness, Darkness, whose bag – as they used to say – this is. And was I glad that I took his advice and joined him there. Smith played with a terrific sense of continuity throughout, his style and tone managing to sound contemporary whilst referencing the mainstream jazz trumpet tradition from Miles Davis back to Louis Armstrong. And the supporting band, with the amazing Steve Noble on drums, were just great too. Thanks, Jack!

mi0003745895Otherwise, the musical highlight of the year for me was listening to the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted with quiet intensity by Juraj Valcuha, playing Shostakovich’s 8th Symphony. Astonishing.

What else? The LPO under Osmo Vanska playing the entire cycle of Sibelius symphonies over four nights at the Royal Festival Hall; Billy Bragg and Joe Henry bringing their songs of the American railroad to a crowded Union Chapel on US election night; and a joyous evening at Rich Mix in Shoreditch listening to the Fitkin Band doing their minimalism-jazz-70s disco thing, and featuring, in their second set, a new set of songs under the heading Don’t Take This the Wrong Way, featuring Melanie Pappenheim on lead vocals and counter-tenors Fergal Mostyn Williams and Tom Scott-Cowell brilliantly and so happily singing back-up. (You had to be there!)

Performance of the year : Patti Smith singing Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall at the Nobel Prize Awards Ceremony.

Song of the year: Joe Henry’s Our Song

This was my country
This was my song
Somewhere in the middle there
It started badly and it’s ending wrong

This was my country
This frightful and this angry land
But it’s my right if the worst of it might
Still somehow make me a better man

Album of the year – for, sadly, all too obvious reasons: You Want it Darker by Leonard Cohen

I wish there was a treaty we could sign
I do not care who takes this bloody hill
I’m angry and I’m tired all the time
And I wish there was a treaty, I wish there was a treaty
Between your love and mine

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iPod Shuffle December 2016

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  • Ko-Ko : Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra (1940)
  • Edgar Bergen : Joe Henry from Scar
  • Feeling Blue : James P. Johnson (1929)
  • So Cold in Vietnam : Johnny Shines w. Otis Spann & Big Walter Horton (1966)
  • They Say (Alternate Take) : Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra with Billie Holiday, vocal refrain (1939)
  • The First Time I Ran Away : M. Ward
  • From Hank to Hendrix : Neil Young from Neil Young Unplugged
  • Your Song : Elton John from Tumbleweed Connection
  • Summertime : Miles Davis from Porgy & Bess
  • Railroad Bill : Billy Bragg & Joe Henry from Shine a Light
  • How Could We Dare To be Wrong : Colin Blunstone
  • Crepuscule with Nelly  : Thelonious Monk from The Complete 1961 Amsterdam Concert71flw7fvjdl-_sx425_

Billy Bragg & Joe Henry, Shining a Light, Keeping Track …

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It wasn’t a bad night [though that came, and with a vengeance, later]. Billy Bragg and Joe Henry at the Union Chapel in north London, the second night of the UK leg of their Shine a  Light tour, which began in Nashville, Tennessee and will finish, after appropriate breaks, in Melbourne, Australia. A tour about a tour.

It began in back in March when the two musicians, plus a little recording equipment, plus guitars, boarded a train in Chicago and began a journey that would take them south and then west across the United States, stopping at St. Louis, Poplar Bluff, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Alpine, El Paso and Tucson on the way. Some 2,728 miles of track. And here and there along the way, they would find a waiting room or similar space in which to record a song. A song that, in one way or another, was inspired by the rails, boxcars, the iron horse, the lonely whistle of a freight train passing through the night. Train songs, folk songs, Leadbelly songs.

Two men with a couple of guitars each and an upright piano standing off stage right. Henry’s voice is the higher, distinctive, slightly nasal; Bragg’s, a deeper baritone, takes on an American tone. [An American tune.] Two of the first three songs – Railroad Bill & John Henry – I know well from my own fledgling skiffle group days,  as, it transpires, does my companion for the evening – jazz aficionado and crime writing critic and commentator [I like to refer to him as the thinking man’s Barry Forshaw – sorry, Barry!] – Bob Cornwell. Bob shared with me, as I discovered in the interval, the distinction of having played single string tea chest bass in a youthful, enthusiastic and, by the sound of it,not overly successful skiffle group in our teenage years. Both of our initial public appearances seem to have ended precipitously with a request to pack up our things and leave the building. No matter, those songs brought it all back in its dubious glory – as, later on, did The Midnight Special and, of course, Rock Island Line.

While we were talking about this that Bob raised the name of Lonnie Donegan, not quite the first but certainly the most famous British skiffler, saying that he thought Donegan had never quite got his due. It was a point taken up strongly by Bragg during the second half, when he mentioned a book he has just finished writing which marks Donegan’s recording of Rock Island Line – the first record to top the UK charts featuring someone singing and playing guitar – as the major turning point in popular music; where previously it had been, to a greater or lesser degree, based on or around jazz and jazz instrumentation, from hereon it, it would be about guitars.

In addition to the songs they performed together, each man played a short solo set, Henry taking to the piano for a Randy Newman-influenced This Was My Country [painfully prophetic in the light of what was to come through the early hours of the morning, but leavened by hope nonetheless] and finishing with a beautiful and deeply felt version of Alain Toussaint’s Freedom For The Stallion. Unsurprisingly, Bragg, digging into his back list for  Accident Waiting to Happen and There is Power in a Union, voice reverting to its London twang, was the more directly political, pointing up the links between Brexit and what was happening politically in America, and drawing a clear connection, via Woody Guthrie, between the treatment meted out to the Okies when they left the dustbowl in the 30s and headed out to California looking for work and a better life for their children and what was being done to refugees in various parts of Europe on our behalf.

We stepped out into the night knowing we’d experienced something special. The UK leg of the tour takes a break two-thirds of the way through November, picks up again in January. You can find the details here …

If they come near you, try not to miss out.

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iPod Shuffle, November 2016

 

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  • Trouble in the Fields, Nanci Griffith
  • Wooly Bully, Sam the Sham & the Pharoahs
  • At Long Last Love, Frank Sinatra
  • Respect, Aretha Franklin
  • When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease, Roy Harper
  • I Can’t Get Started, Billie Holiday
  • Thirteen, Kathryn Williams
  • The Glow Worm, The Mills Brothers
  • No Name Blues, Johnny Shines
  • Subterranean Homesick Blues, Bob Dylan [Take 1, Alternate Take]
  • Brilliant Mistake, Elvis Costello
  • Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key, Billy Bragg & Wilco

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Darkness, Darkness Soundtrack

Anyone who saw the recent production of Darkness, Darkness at Nottingham Playhouse will have been aware of the importance of music and sound in the creation of mood and the reinforcement of meaning. The soundscape – incorporating, in addition to  everything from police sirens and gun shots to the chants of Notts County supporters and striking miners, no less than 23 pieces of music – was created by sound designer, Drew Baumohl, working closely with other members of the design team, including filmmaker and video artist, Will Simpson, who was responsible for the projection design.

The initial idea of using the noirish slowcore music of the German band, Bohren & Der Club of Gore and the ambient post rock of the Canadian Godspeed You! Black Emperor to provide the atmospheric interludes and backgrounds, came from the show’s director, Jack McNamara, while the more obviously jazzy selections were mine. I think they work well together.

Here, for anyone wishing to follow up, is a listing of the music used …

Bohren & Der Club of Gore

  • Midnight Black Earth
  • Vigilante Crusader
  • The Art of Coffins
  • Grave Wisdom
  • Maximum Black
  • Skeletal Remains: all from the album, Black Earth
  • Cairo Keller: from Gore Motel
  • Im Raunch
  • Fahr Zur Hollie : from Piano Nights
  • Staub: from Dolores

Godspeed You! Black Emperor

  • Moya: from Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada
  • Asunder, Sweet: from Asunder, Sweet & Other Distress

Thelonious Monk

  •  (I Don’t Stand) A Ghost of a Chance With You: from Thelonious Himself (1957)
  • These Foolish Things: from Thelonious Monk Trio (1954)

Billie Holiday

  • These Foolish Things: from The Quintessential Billie Holiday, Vol 2 (1936)
  • For All We Know: from Lady in Satin (1958)

Joe Temperley

  • I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart: from Easy to Remember (2001)

Coleman Hawkins

  • One Note Samba: from Desafinado (1963)

Pablo Casals

  • Suite No. 1 in G Major, Prelude
  • Suite No. 1 in G Major, Allemande: from Bach Cello Suites (1939)

Cyprien Katsaris

  • Waltz No. 10 in B minor, Op. 69. No. 2: from Chopin-Waltzes

Human League

  • Together in Dreams

Frankie Goes to Hollywood

  • Two Tribes

 

 

 

Jumpin’ with Jazz Steps: Blue Territory Returns!

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October looks as if it’s going to be a busy month, one way or another, with most of my activities – just for a change – centred around Nottingham. Darkness, Darkness is at  Nottingham Playhouse for the first two weeks of the month, and, during the second of those weeks, the band, Blue Territory, [that’s us in action, above] and I will be repeating out previously successful mini-tour of Nottinghamshire libraries [No band bus, no Smarties in the Green Room, and positively no groupies] following the estimable Dave O’Higgins to  Worksop, Southwell and West Bridgford.

Along with some of the familiar pieces about Chet Baker, Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker, we’ve been working on some new material, including a small tribute to Jack Kerouac, whose poetry and jazz readings with the likes of Al Cohn and Zoot Sims in the 1950s lay at the heart of much that we do.

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