iPod Shuffle, September 2017

On what is, apparently, the first official day of Autumn, this is what my iPod came up with this morning, as I was walking to the Royal Free Hospital for a routine blood test …

Jarrett

Meshell

  1. A Song For You : Dusty Springfield, from Something Special
  2. When Your Lover Has Gone : Ray Charles, from The Genius of Ray Charles
  3. What You Came Here to Do : Girlboy, from Late Bloomers
  4. Keep it to Yourself : Amy Rigby, from 18 Again
  5. A Bitter Mule : Me’Shell Ndegeocello, from Weather
  6. Prelude & Fugue No. 10 in C Minor : Keith Jarrett, from Shostakovich 24 Preludes & Fugues
  7. My Romance : Warne Marsh, from A Ballad Album
  8. Teachers : Leonard Cohen, from The Songs of Leonard Cohen
  9. Baby Took a Limo to Memphis : Guy Clarke, from Dublin Blues
  10. The Last Campaign Trilogy : John Stewart, from The Complete Phoenix Concerts
  11. Two Pianos : John Tilbury & Phillip Thomas, from Morton Feldman, Two Pianos & Other Pieces, 1953-1969
  12. Ad Lib Blues : Lester Young, from The President Plays

Stewart

Feldman

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Remembering Tony Burns: Blues in Time

One of the ideas informing my dramatisation of the Resnick novel Darkness, Darkness for Nottingham Playhouse was that while we ourselves are alive, the dead – the dead that we know – never quite die. The plot is set in motion by the discovery of the body of a young woman who disappeared during the Miners’ Strike, some thirty years before; what the story then does is revisit the significant moments in that young woman’s – Jenny’s – life, showing them in juxtaposition to the present. To Resnick, who knew her only slightly and is now investigating the circumstances of her death, she was little more than the memory of a bright, lively and outspoken young woman, a firebrand, and during the course of the play he gets to know her more clearly, more roundly, so that, in the scene towards the end [possibly my favourite scene of all], when she visits him in his house where he is getting dressed ready to go to her funeral, it is – bar a quick and instant frisson – no real surprise. She talks to him and he answers, much as he would if she were still alive, much as we hold conversations (inside our heads, more usually, rather than out loud) with those we knew and maybe loved long after they are gone. Much as Resnick, in the play, holds sometimes grudging conversations with the strike leader whose funeral he has attended just before the action opens and who, like a somewhat guilty conscience, comes to haunt him – haunt, the word is correct here, I think – as the play progresses.

That I’ve been thinking about this at all was not sparked directly by the Playhouse/New Perspectives production of Darkness, Darkness [though it does tend to haunt me, both by what was and, perhaps even more strongly, what later might have been] but by the gift of a CD, a remastering of a session by the Gerry Mulligan/Paul Desmond, originally recorded and released in 1957 and sometimes titled simply Quartet, sometimes Blues in Time.

Mulligan 2

Listening to it now I am back in the home of my friend Tony Burns, the back bedroom of a house in Finchley, north London, both of us in our late teens; Tony is learning the saxophone – the alto, initially – and I am, less methodically, less seriously, learning to play the drums. Desmond, who plays alto, most usually in the Dave Brubeck Quartet, is probably Tony’s favourite player at this time, though he likes Mulligan too, and, like Mulligan, will play baritone – only finally settling for tenor some good few years later.

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Tony Burns

By profession a tailor, Tony continued to play jazz semi-professionally, only stopping a relatively short time before his death in 2013. By some quirk of circumstance, I was lucky enough, using a borrowed set of drums – my daughter’s – to play with him on a number of occasions in those later years, evening sessions in a pub near the Archway, each one for me a joy. Tony had a way of making you sound better than you really were.

Here, in the final section of a longer poem from Out of Silence called Winter Notebook, are the lines I wrote shortly after Tony died …

My friend, Tony, with whom I first listened,
really listened to jazz, the two of us practising
in his parents’ bedroom, he on saxophone,
me drums, rustling brushes in four-four time
across the top of an old suitcase –
my friend Tony is in a hospice:
the volunteers at the desk welcoming and polite,
all chemo stopped, the carpet deep, the furnishings
not too bright; visiting, we keep our voices low,
talk around you, and just when we think
you’ve drifted off to sleep, you rebuke us
for some mistaken reference to a recording
you know well, Brubeck, perhaps, Mulligan or Getz;
and when Jim retells a joke you first told him
many years before – its punchline too crude
to be repeated here – how marvellous to see
you throw your head back and laugh out loud.

For now I sit alone with you and watch you sleep,
breath like brittle plastic breaking inside your chest,
and, for a moment, without feeling I have the right,
reach out and hold your hand.

One day soon I will push through the doors,
present myself at the desk, only to hear the news
we know must come. It happens, no matter
what expectations we have, fulfilled or not.
And not dramatically, like some monster
rising from the marsh to seize us, drag us down,
but deftly, quietly, like someone switching out the light.

There … you’re gone.

… but not forgotten.

Version 2

Tony with, to his right, our friend Jim Galvin

 

Jazz Matters: David Murray

It was my friend, the late David Kresh, who first attuned me to the controlled fury that is David Murray. A one person compendium of the tenor saxophone, a Murray solo can stretch from the honk and rasp of the R & B bands in which he learned his trade, to the keening stratospheric upper-register yelps of an Albert Ayler and the avant-garde, without straying far from the rich and muscular mainstem of Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. In print, Murray has vouchsafed Paul Gonsalves as a major influence, and if that isn’t always tonally evident, it is present in the way he muscles rhythmically from phrase to phrase, line to line – evident also in that the length of most Murray solos seems  inspired by Gonsalves’ famous 27 chorus solo on Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue in front of the Duke Ellington Orchestra at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival.

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I first saw David Murray play at a smallish club in Nottingham, after that in the brutal splendour of the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s South Bank, and then again, last week, at another small venue, the Vortex in Dalston, east London. The first of two nights and to say it was packed would have been an understatement; jazz & crime fiction aficionado, Bob Cornwell and I had snagged the last pair of seats going, close up against the stage with our backs to the window facing out onto Gillett Square – any closer and I would have on top of the drummer’s kit rather than alongside it.

Humourously bemused by the weather – it was a day of unending torrential rain and he had flown in that morning without as much as a coat – Murray was in a relaxed mood (he even sang, pleasingly, on a couple of numbers)  and played, I thought, well within himself, eschewing much of the ferocity of which he’s capable. Which is not to say that he didn’t play with great virtuosity and rhythmic brilliance.

Sharing the front line with trombonist Paul Zauner, with whom he’s played, off and on, since the 80s, Murray was backed by bassist Wolfram Derschmidt and drummer Dusan Novakov, with Carlton Holmes at the piano. It may have been a relatively new rhythm section– he had to refer to a scrap of paper before announcing their names – but they had no problems following the shifts and changes, and soloed well. Sitting as close to Novakov as I was, I was able to follow his playing closely, my admiration soured only by the regret that I’d swopped my drum kit for a pair of DJ turntables somewhere back in the 70s and never pushed my own playing beyond the merely passable when I’d had the chance. I can dream, can’t I?

Here’s something I wrote after seeing Murray on that first occasion …

Grace Notes

Let’s say it’s one of those
insubstantial inner-city days,
from the flower beds in the park
to the slim-hipped cellist
playing the inevitable Bach.

And say, strolling home, I chance to pass
this bar just hours after David Murray
has jet-lagged in from New York.
It’s light enough still for the doors
to be open out onto the street;
the sound and the small crowd
draw me inside, and there on stage
before bass and drums he stands:
back arched, chest pigeoned forward,
horn angled outwards as he rocks
lightly back from heel to toe,
toeing the line of a calypso so true,
the crowd, as one, leans back and smiles,
relaxed, not noticing those heels
have lifted with an extra bounce
and before anyone can blink
his left leg kicks out in the curve
of a high hurdler; his tenor twists
and soars and lifts us, holds us to him,
wrapped in curlicues of sound,
blessed by the effortless grace
of his playing.

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

 

 

 

Music Matters: Monk, Feldman & That August iPod Shuffle

With the news that Apple are to discontinue manufacturing iPods and their ilk [because nowadays we all have smartphones, right?] who knows how many more months of shuffling through my music collection will be available for blogging? But until my neat little device finally shuffles off its [doubtlessly built-in] mortal coil, this is what my iPod threw at me today …

  1. Tangled Up in Blue : Bob Dylan, from Blood on the Tracks
  2. Jumpin’ at the Woodside : Benny Goodman, from BG in HiFi
  3. Gulf Coast Highway : Nanci Griffith, from Little Love Affairs
  4. Stone for Bessie Smith : Dory Previn, from Mythical Kings & Iguanas
  5. Angel : Aretha Franklin, from Twenty Greatest Hits
  6. Stairway to the Stars : Milt Jackson & John Coltrane, from Bags & Trane
  7. I’d Rather Leave While I’m In Love : Dusty Springfield, from Something Special
  8. Don’t Get Around Much Anymore : Ernestine Anderson, from Live From Concord to London
  9. Winter is Gone : John Renbourn, from John Renbourn
  10. I Should Have Known Better : The Beatles, from A Hard Day’s Night
  11. Sir Charles at Home : Vic Dickenson Septet, from The Essential Vic Dickenson
  12. All Blues : Chet Baker, from The Last Great Concert

The above is what I’m likely to listen to while wandering the streets of Kentish Town or strolling up hill and down dale on Hampstead Heath, a good part of the pleasure coming from the juxtapositions that are thrown up and from encountering something you’d quite forgotten – in this case, Renbourn’s lilting Winter is Gone. As against that, there’s the music I’m currently listening to in a more positive way, stuff – often newly acquired – that sits close to the stereo [yes, the stereo, remember?] and gets played frequently.

Monk 1

First and foremost, then, this double CD of tracks which come from a 1959 session by the Thelonious Monk Quartet [Monk, piano; Charlie Rouse, tenor sax; Sam Jones, bass; Art Taylor, drums] with the addition on some tracks of the French tenor player, Barney Wilen. These recordings were made in New York with the intention of being used on the soundtrack of Roger Vadim’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses, but never used. The master tapes lay hidden away in the archives of Wilen’s manager, Marcel Ramono, until 2014.

Monk – why would one be surprised by this? – made no attempt to tailor his music to Vadim’s film or its requirements, and it was never used. The tunes are, for the most part, familiar from amongst Monk’s compositions – Rhythm-a-Ning; Well, You Needn’tPannonica; Crepuscule with Nellie – the only ‘outsider’ being Monk’s version of the hymn, We’ll Understand it Better By and By. Familiar or not, this was a terrific session, recorded with beautiful clarity. Whether sparked by the presence of Barney Wilen in the studio or other factors that could only be speculated upon, Monk is in especially fine form and the band, propelled along by the rhythm section of Jones and Taylor, play superbly well. Taylor is magnificent on the opening Rhythm-a-Ning – quite possibly the best version of this much-recorded piece I’ve yet heard. A delight.

Feldman

From one iconoclast to another. I first got to know Feldman’s music through his largely choral piece Rothko Chapel, which was first performed in the non-denominational chapel in Houston, Texas, which has fourteen of Rothko’s canvasses on its octagonal walls. Feldman and Rothko were friends, just as he was friendly with Philip Guston and other New York painters of the 50s and early 60s. Sit patiently in front of Rothko’s work and it begins slowly to move before your eyes, to bleach into your consciousness, and Feldman’s music works in much the same way. For Bunita Marcus is a composition for solo piano and it lasts just short of 73 minutes. It requires patience and repays it plentifully.

 

Listening to Jazz, 4

So, appropriately in the light of the centenary of Thelonious Monk’s birth, here’s the last of four extracts from my work chosen by Sascha Feinstein for the summer 2017 issue of Brilliant Corners. This comes from the novel, In a True Light, which is set partly in New York in the 50’s, partly in London in 2001.

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 was 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 his 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 right 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, focussed, waiting his time.

Light

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

9781605986166

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

 

 

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?

 

 

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.

Brilliant Corners

Corners 1

“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.