Two Takes on Lester Young … 2. Lester in Paris

It used to be there under Birthdays, some years at least. The daily listing in the paper, the Guardian, occasionally the Times. September 18th. Valentine Collins, jazz musician. And then his age: 27, 35, 39. Not 40. Val never reached 40.

So begins one of my short stories, Minor Key, concerning a British saxophonist hoping to keep his life – and his playing – together by accepting a residency in a Paris jazz club, at the same time that one his idols, Lester Young, is in Paris trying to do the self-same thing. Though to an outsider – or to anyone who cares, such as Val’s long-time friend Anna – it might not seem as if either man is trying very hard. Rather, the opposite.

Here’s a taste, involving both men …

“Minor Key”: First published in Paris Noir, edited by Maxim Jakubowski, Serpent’s Tail, London, 2007. Reprinted in Minor Key, Five Leaves, Nottingham, 2009. Reprinted in A Darker Shade of Blue, William Heinemann, London, 2010.

Back to Ronnie’s

Watching Ronnie’s, Oliver Murray’s excellent documentary about Ronnie Scott and the club that bears his name, my mind, inevitably, ran back over the many evenings spent there, some blurred by time, others, like a particular evening when Ronnie himself was playing – and playing beautifully – I remember more clearly. Here’s Charlie Resnick sharing that memory in the novel, Living Proof.

Betty Carter was singing ‘Body and Soul’ on the car stereo as he drove, mingling the words and tune with those of a second, similar song, so that the final, climactic chorus seemed forever delayed, but that wasn’t it. Not exactly. More confusing still, the words of yet another song were worrying away at some part of Resnick’s mind.
‘Send in the Clowns’.
He had heard Betty Carter live just once. A rare trip to London, a weekend in early spring, and she had been at Ronnie Scott’s. A striking black woman, not beautiful, not young; warm and confident, good-humoured, talking to the audience between numbers with that slight slow-business bonhomie that set Resnick’s teeth painfully on edge. But when she sang … He remembered ‘But Beautiful’, ‘What’s New?’, the way she would move around the stage with the microphone, her body bending to the shapes of the words with a combination of feeling and control that was unsurpassable.
Scott himself, nose like a hawk and gimlet-eyed, his sixty-odd years showing only where the skin hung thinly at his neck, had been leading his quartet through the support slots on the same evening. Tenor saxophone, piano, bass and drums. After several rousing numbers, Scott had played a two-chorus version of Sondheim’s ‘Send in the Clowns’, almost straight, bass and drums dropping out, the tone of his saxophone ravishing and hard, one of the best ballad performances Resnick had ever heard, silencing the club and striking him straight to the heart.

When the book was published, I sent a copy to Ronnie Scott, along with a tape (!) on which I read some of my poems with accompaniment by the band, Second Nature. Here’s his reply …



https://www.waterstones.com/book/living-proof/john-harvey/9780099585732

https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/John-Harvey/Living-Proof–Resnick-7/14678739

https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/living-proof-4

The Jazz Steps Story

Jazz Steps is the name under which jazz has been promoted in Nottingham – city and county – for some 20 years, and now there’s a book, nicely produced and copiously illustrated – The Jazz Steps Story – which tells of the development of the organisation and the people behind it, as well as chronicling the many and varied gigs that have taken place under its guidance.

More than that, it also tells the story of live jazz in Nottingham from the Nottingham Rhythm Club, founded in the early 40s, and the Dancing Slipper – which featured a goodly number visiting American jazz players with top British bands throughout the 60s & 70s – to Limelight Club evenings in the Nottingham Playhouse bar, which was where I first read in a poetry & jazz session with the fine little band that were then called, rather cheekily, the MJQ, or Midlands Jazz Quartet. With just a few changes of personnel and several changes of name – from the MJQ to Second Nature to Blue Territory – that was the same group I would be happy to read with on occasion for another 20-plus years.

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The book costs £15 and is available at Jazz Steps gigs and Notts libraries, or from the Jazz Steps web site

Here’s a little taster from my Foreword …

Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the Charlie Resnick novels or, for that matter, the short stories, will know that the connection between Resnick, jazz and Nottingham is a strong one. Following, more or less, in my footsteps, Charlie would have had his first taste of local jazz Sunday lunchtimes in The Bell, closely followed by evenings at the Dancing Slipper in West Bridgford or at Bill Kinnell’s short-lived Gallery club in Mapperley.

Then there was the Old Vic and, on one night I particularly remember, Charlie Parker’s old sparring partner Red Rodney was up on stage with Pete King, the two of them, alto and trumpet, sailing through the fast and intricate lines of Bird’s bebop tunes as if they had been playing together half their lives.

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Bill Moody, 1941 – 2018

The following is an edited version of an essay by Aage Hedley Petersen, which was published in Denmark in Jazz Special, number 164,  February-April, 2019. Any errors and infelicities in the translation are mine and mine alone!

When I was putting together the article I wrote about jazz in the English writer John Harvey’s books featuring Detective Inspector Charlie Resnick as the main character, Harvey drew my attention to American writer and jazz drummer Bill Moody (27th September 1941 – 14th January 2018). It turned out that Harvey’s poem about Chet Baker was reprinted not only in Michael Connelly’s novel The Drop, but also in Bill Moody’s Looking for Chet Baker.

Moody lived on the American West Coast – principally Las Vegas – for most of his life, working as a teacher and reviewer, as well as enjoying a musical career which included playing with such notable figures as Earl Hines, Lou Rawls, Maynard Ferguson and the singer Jon Hendricks. He recorded with both Hendricks and Ferguson when they visited Czechoslovakia, where Moody stayed for three years in the late sixties. During his stay in Prague he also wrote a non-fiction book about the American jazz emigrants who “fled” to Europe in the second part of the twentieth century: Exiles : American Musicians Abroad, mostly based on interviews with musicians like Art Farmer and Johnny Griffin and others. Among the emigrants who stayed in Denmark, however, only Stan Getz gets his own chapter – not Dexter Gordon or Ben Webster; and the remarkable pianist, Duke Jordan, is not even mentioned!

Exiles

Solo Hand, the first novel in the series (1994) introduces the jazz pianist Evan Horne as the main character. Horne has injured his right hand in a traffic accident, which has necessitated a long break in his playing career. Jazz here does not particularly influence the action, but nevertheless the one appreciates the musical descriptions and anecdotes, for example: “As the flamboyant drummer Buddy Rich was being wheeled into the surgery, the doctor asked him if there was anything he was allergic to, he answered “Country Music!”

With the second novel, Death of a Tenor Man (1995) Moody found the perfect jazz mystery! The death of tenor saxophonist, Wardell Gray. In 1955 Gray was hired by Benny Carter to play with his big band at the opening of the Moulin Rouge – the first racially integrated casino in Las Vegas. The second evening he did not turn up, and the next day his body was found dumped on a field outside the city. The murder was never solved – a cold case which Horne investigates and, in doing so, stirs up a hornets’ nest, but without a definite solution to the murder being found. Another author, James Ellroy, suggests in his novel The Cold Six Thousand that Gray had a sexual relationship with a white woman who was connected with the mafia, and this led to his being beaten to death. Either way, you have the feeling that the police’s motivation to solve the murder of a “black drug-addict” was small or non existant!

Tenor

The third volume, The Sound of the Trumpet, revolves around Clifford Brown. In collectors’ circles some apparently authentic tapes of Brown’s playing emerge, and Evan Horne is consulted to vouch for their authenticity. As the story progresses, we follow Moody’s interpretation of Clifford Brown’s last days in June, 1956, when, together with the pianist Richie Powell – Bud Powell’s brother – and Richie’s wife Nancy, he was on his way to Chicago and the next gig by Max Roach-Clifford Brown quintet. As you may know, it goes awfully wrong. With Nancy at the wheel, she loses control of the car, which goes off the road and resolts in all three being killed.

Trumpet

The fourth volume, Bird Lives, is not especially about Charlie Parker, despite the title; he is only a symbol on a “real” jazz musician, in contrast to those smooth-jazz practitioners who are murdered by a serial-killer. Evan Horne is involved by the FBI to interpret those clues of jazzy nature the killer has left on the crime scene – among others a white feather and some haiku-poems, for instance: “ On Coltrane’s Soultrane / Jazz is always great Good Bait/ Tadd’s Long Gone – Delight”.

Volume five, Looking for Chet Baker (2002) is probably Moody’s most successful novel. The mystery about Chet Baker’s death after falling from a window in hotel “Prins Hendrik” in Amsterdam is an eternal source of myths and conspiracy theories – was he pushed, did he jump, or did he simly fall?

Baker

The sixth volume, Shades of Blue (2008) is a “real” jazz novel, in which the crime intrigues are peripheral, as is the case in volume seven, Fade to Blue (2011), the last novel in the series, in which Horne is involved in a movie-project to teach one of the great Hollywood stars “playing” fake-piano to a soundtrack recorded by Horne himself. The movie turns out to be a crime story inspired by Horne’s experiences in Bird Lives, which was the real reason why he was hired in the first place!

As a crime writer Moody is not exceptional – to me he is not in the same league as, for example, Michael Connelly and John Harvey. But contrary to those two, whose main characters are detectives with a certain interest in jazz, Moody was a jazz personality who wrote jazz novels with a crime motive, and such writers are very rare! I would have liked to write about my great favorite – Michael Connelly – who even a couple of years ago was the co-writer of the documentary Sound of Redemption about alto saxophonist Frank Morgan. But there is too little jazz substance in the novels, and therefore they are not relevant for the readers of this magazine. To the contrary, Moody’s novels offer a great pleasure for jazz nerds, who don’t mind compromising on other aspects of the work.

Finally, to say that the excellent and stylish cover illustrations on Death of a Tenor Man, The Sound of the Trumpet and Bird Lives are by John Howard.

 

Summer Jobs 1 …

A piece in The Guardian a while back, in which various (well-known) people talked about the summer jobs they had done while they were students, got me thinking about my own ventures into similar areas of casual labour. Like many of my generation, my first ever paid job, when I was fifteen, getting on sixteen – GCEs, I remember, the old ‘O’ levels, were on the horizon – was as a newspaper delivery boy for the paper shop just across the road from where we lived in Camden, North London. Bernard Shaw Court, to be precise. After that, still at school, I had a short-lived job behind the scenes at a small Sainsbury’s in Somers Town, close to King’s Cross Station. One summer – I think I must have been in the sixth form by now – I worked as a porter in the Covent Garden Fruit & Vegetable Market, before it moved from the area around Drury Lane several miles west to Nine Elms; the summer after that was spent sweeping out the cages in the Lesser Mammal House at London Zoo. And through much of this time, summer holidays excepted, and beginning, I think, in the second year of sixth form, I worked in various capacities for J. Lyons & Co Ltd.

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J.Lyons’ first tea shop: 213 Piccadilly 

In the first half of the last century, Lyons was the largest catering company in the world.  Beginning in 1894 with one tea shop on Piccadilly – basically a café selling teas, coffees et cetera and hot or cold  food at reasonable prices – by the turn of the century there were 37 tea shops in London and 14 in major cities outside; at the beginning of the Second World War, the number had risen to 253. Nor was it just tea shops. In 1909, the first Lyons Corner House opened on Coventry Street; larger, grander and appealing to a more upmarket clientele, it could seat an amazing 2,000 people at any one time. The Corner House restaurants often featured live music, and it was at the Marble Arch branch, in my early teens and in the company of my mother and my aunt, having trailed after them around Selfridges, that I heard Ivy Benson and her All-Girls Band, my first experience of listening to live big band jazz.

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Ivy Benson & Her All-Girls Band

But back to the work. My years in the sixth form coincided with a rise in the popularity of jazz, the traditional variety in particular, and a corresponding  increase in the number of clubs where bands might play. Even if you were prepared to walk home at the end of the evening, rather than take the bus, clubs cost money. And, on average, I suppose I would go two or three times a week. The 100 Club on Oxford Street, the Fishmongers’ Arms in Wood Green, small clubs scattered across North London – Finchley, Barnet, Golders Green. Pocket money not really being a thing, the only way to get the necessary was to go out and earn it. 

At first, I just worked weekends, then, gradually, added a couple of nights a week. Initially, I was at the tea shop opposite Charing Cross station [It’s now a Pizza Express] and after a  year or so, I was transferred to 213 Piccadilly – yes, the site of the first Lyons tea shop ever. Staff were rotated through various tasks when on duty, the two busiest of which were ‘the steam’ – making teas, coffees and other hot drinks – and ‘the grill’ – making sure there was a plentiful supply of hot toast, grilled bacon and sausages and poached eggs, as well as making up sample plates and putting them on display. In especially busy periods, you would often be turning bacon under the grill and removing toast from the toaster with one hand, while cracking eggs with the other hand and lowering them into the simmering water of the poacher, which was long enough to take at least a dozen eggs at any one time.

Though some of the staff were full-time, a good proportion were casual and ever-changing, so those part-time workers who weren’t shy of putting in a good shift were quickly noted by the management and a beneficial two-way relationship evolved. If the duty manager [she would have been called a manageress – senior management aside, all the people I worked under were female] knew you could be trusted to work the early evening shift on the grill several nights running without complaint, you were less likely to be sent out onto the floor to clear tables overflowing with dirty crockery.

Beginning, as I say, when I was still at school, I worked, on and off, for Lyons up to and including my three years at Goldsmiths when I was doing my teacher training: some eight years in total. And [mostly] enjoyed it. During the latter part of that time, I worked alongside a man called Richard, whose day job was at the John Lewis store on Oxford Street. After one especially busy period, a bank holiday weekend as I remember it, in which we’d performed above the call of duty sufficiently to be mentioned in despatches, both Richard and I were summoned to appear before a senior manager and invited to join the management training scheme, with the promise that within twelve months we would be managing shops of our own, with a clear career path upwards and beyond. I decided to stick with the teaching; the last I heard of Richard, he was managing a tea shop in Brighton.

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J. Lyons tea shop, North St., Brighton

Now’s the Time …

 

Time 2

… borrowed as a title from Charlie Parker, was the first Charlie Resnick short story I wrote – just about the first of any kind. It was first published in London Noir, a collection edited by Maxim Jakubowski for Serpents Tail in 1994; since then it’s been reprinted several times, twice in the States, once in Germany, once in France, and on two more occasions here in the UK, notably in the collection of the same name, first published by Slow Dancer Press in 1999 and then, in an extended edition, by William Heinemann in 2002 and still in print as an Arrow paperback, I believe.

This is how it begins …

“They’re all dying, Charlie.”

They had been in the kitchen, burnished tones of Clifford Brown’s trumpet, soft like smoke from down the hall. Dark rye bread sliced and ready, coffee bubbling, Resnick had tilted the omelette pan and let the whisked eggs swirl around before forking the green beans and chopped red pepper into their midst. The smell of garlic and butter permeated the room.

Ed Silver stood watching, trying to ignore the cats that nudged, variously, around his feet. Through wisps of grey hair, a fresh scab showed clearly among the lattice-work of scars. The hand which held his glass was swollen at the knuckles and it shook.

“S’pose you think I owe you one, Charlie? That it?”

Earlier that evening, Resnick had talked Silver out of swinging a butcher’s cleaver through his own bare foot. “What I thought, Charlie, start at the bottom and work your way up, eh?” Resnick had bundled him into a cab and brought him home, stuck a beer in his hand and set to making them both something to eat. He hadn’t seen Ed Silver in ten years or more, a drinking club in Carlton whose owner liked his jazz; Silver had set out his stall early, two choruses of ‘I’ve Got Rhythm’ solo, breakneck tempo, bass and drums both dropping out and the pianist grinning, open-mouthed. The speed of thought; those fingers then.

Resnick divided the omelette on to two plates. “You want to bring the bread>” he said. “We’ll eat in the other room.”

The boldest of the cats, Dizzy, followed them hopefully through. The Clifford Brown Memorial album was still playing ‘Theme of No Repeat’.

“They’re all dying, Charlie.”

“Who?”

“Every bugger!”

And now it was true.

SILVER Edward Victor. Suddenly at home, on February 16, 1993. Acclaimed jazz musician of the be-bop era. Funeral service and memorial meeting, Friday, February 19 at Golders Green Crematorium at 11.45 a.m. Inquiries to Mason Funeral and Monumental Services, High Lanes, Finchley.

Time 1

 

 

Time 4

Time 3

Monk at the Five Spot

 

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Thelonious Sphere Monk : October 10th, 1917 – February 17th, 1982

One of the regrets of my life [I’ve had a few] is that I never took the opportunity to see Thelonious Monk live; but in my novel, In a True Light, Sloane got to see him in my stead. Closest I got.

Sloane, skinny in Levis and a plaid short, has stood in line at the 5 Spot for the best part of an hour and missed most of the first set. Inside, the only seat he’s able to find squashes him close to several others right up against the stage.

Monk is 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 – this man who always wears a 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, 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, skewing wide and stomping down, punctuating the broken line as, stationed in the piano’s curve, the bassist, eyes closed, feels for an underlying pulse. And alongside him, head down, horn hooked over his shoulder, Coltrane, John Coltrane, focussed, biding his time.

Each night, the same riffs, the same themes torn this way and that – “Ruby, My Dear”, “Round Midnight”, “Blue Monk”. And that evening, Sloane rising awkwardly to let someone squeeze past, and hearing a shout from a table near the side wall – “Jane! Hey, Jane!” – turns his head in time to see a woman near the entrance, dark-haired and smiling at the sound of her name, time enough – just – to see she is beautiful, just how beautiful she is, before Monk launches himself along the keyboard in a clattering arpeggio which calls to mind a man stumbling headlong down a flight of stairs, never quite losing his balance, not falling but saving himself, miraculously, with an upward swoop and a final, ringing double-handed chord.
“I Mean You”. The 5 Spot, September, 1957: the first time Sloan laid eyes on Jane Graham.

Light 2

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

 

 

Listening to Jazz 1

To accompany his interview with me that was published in the summer 2017 issue of Brilliant Corners, editor Sascha Feinstein chose extracts from four of my books as examples of the way I write about jazz … and the ways in which my characters, most often Charlie Resnick, listen to it.

This is Charlie and the Vic Dickenson Septet from Easy Meat

“Old Fashioned Love.” The opening growl from Vic Dickenson’s trombone sounds like the fanfare from a fairground barker, but once piano and bass have settled into their gentle stride, he nudges the melody along respectfully enough, just the odd hint of jauntiness to keep sentimentality at bay; then, rolling out from the lower register with that tart huskiness that marks his playing, Edmund Hall takes the tune through a second chorus before the clipped notes of Ruby Braff’s trumpet start to lengthen and unwind. Which is as far as Resnick gets, because now the phone is ringing and he reaches awkwardly toward it, fiddling the remote onto pause and then dropping it into his lap, where an aggrieved cat wakes with a start and jumps to the floor, one paw tipping the saucer that holds a half-finished cup of coffee growing cold …

Resnick retrieved his cup and rose to his feet, releasing the pause into the beginning of Sir Charles Thompson’s piano solo. Bud’s head nudged repeatedly against the backs of his legs as he stood there listening, the cat urging him to sit down so that he could jump onto his lap. Only after the second trumpet solo and Dickenson’s closing trombone coda, lazy but exact, did Resnick open the tray and drop the CD back into its case, switch off the stereo, carry cup and saucer into the kitchen to rinse, open the fridge on a well-honed impulse and lift out a slice of ham, warp it around the last half-inch of Emmental cheese, something to nibble while he put on his coat and hesitated in the doorway, patting his pockets for his wallet, money, keys.

The Vic Dickenson Septet recordings from the early 1950s, along with the first of the Buck Clayton Jam Sessions, the one with “The Hucklebuck”, were amongst the recordings my friends and I listened to most growing up, prime examples of what was then called Mainstream Jazz.

As for the novel from which this extract is taken, I always used to say, when asked, that Easy Meat [Proie Facile in France] was my favourite of all the Resnick novels and I think that just about stands – my favourite from the first ten, at least. And why? I used to say it came closest to fulfilling my intentions when writing (though there’s a major assumption there, that I knew what those intentions were). But I do think that overall I like it because it’s the most downbeat and unforgiving and also I allow myself to say I love the ending, those closing pages in which Sheena and Dee-Dee and their pals run amok outside the bowling alley. These are the final paragraphs …

Sheena staring at the blood beginning to swell up around the man’s white belly, fascinated, and Janie, out of her head beside him, laughing.

“Come on, girl! Move it!”

Running then, leaving Janie to face the music, the first sounds of a police car approaching at speed along Canal Street and Sheena, as she allowed herself to be dragged away, turning now and stumbling, looking back and thinking, awesome, truly awesome. I mean, absolutely fucking brilliant! Brilliant, right?

And how about this cover for the Henry Holt edition? One of my absolute favourites, and designed by Raquel Jaramillo – credit where credit’s due.

IMG

 

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