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)

 

 

 

Robert Frank: The Americans, 2

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Robert Frank: Crosses on the site of a road accident. U.S> 91. Idaho.

Crosses on the Site of a Road Accident. U.S. 91. Idaho

It started when I told Jerry not to take the wheel. Look at you, I said; he was so close to falling-down drunk, if it hadn’t been for the way he was bouncing off the walls, he’d have been eyeballing the floor. Will you get a look at the state you’re in? Well, of course, it was the last thing I should have said. I mean, whatever else he was, sober or drunk, that Jerry always was the world’s most cussed son of a bitch. Besides, by then we’d already hit on these two girls, dark-skinned, like maybe they had some blood in them, you know what I’m saying, and the way they was swallowing down shot after shot, barely stopping to wipe their mouths across the backs of their hands – Hot! Jerry grins at me when we’re out to take a piss. Hot and not a day past fifteen. He was wrong about that. The taller one, Marcie, she was sixteen years, three months, so it turned out; Sheryl, she would have been seventeen three weeks this Labor Day. Anyway, Marcie and me climbed right in the back, Sheryl up front with Jerry, real close, one of her legs hooked over his knee. We had this pack of Coors swimming in a bucket of day-old ice down by my feet. Petey, Jerry said, swinging round his head, pop me one of those. I saw his face, just for that moment, bright in the headlights, Jerry having the time of his life, smiling his cock-eyed smile.

When they rolled the truck back over and reached inside, mine were the only arms that reached back.

from Bluer Than This (Smith/Doorstop, 1998)

Robert Frank: The Americans, 1

I’ve just spent an enjoyable week at the Courtauld Gallery Summer School, following, along with a small group of other students, a programme devised and taught by Tim Satterthwaite, Living Cities: The photography of Urban Life in Europe and America, 1920-1989. Modernism to street photography; art photography to social documentary. Fascinating stuff – and centrally placed, Robert Frank’s 1958 book, The Americans.

Not least for its fine and freewheeling introduction by Jack Kerouac, The Americans has long been one of my favourite books of photographs, three of the images – Ranch Market, Hollywood: Nanny. Charleston, South Carolina & Crosses at the Site of a Road Accident. U.S. 91, Idaho – the subject of a short sequence of pieces which appeared in my 1998 Smith/Doorstop collection, Bluer Than This.

Here’s one …

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Robert Frank: Nanny. Charleston, South Carolina

Nanny. Charleston, South Carolina.

They don’t want me to hold this child. All them righteous brothers with the anger and their shades. Sisters, too. Wave placards in my face and shout and spit and sound their horns. One of them come right up to me, sanding here with this precious boy in my arms, and says, “Sister, can’t you see that’s the Devil’s child?” Well, I ain’t his sister, nor about to be, ain’t got no sister ‘cept Merilee, and she passed on having her third. No, if there’s anything I am, it’s this child’s mother, near as can be, doing everything for him his own mother don’t do. ‘Sides, you just have to look in this sweet baby’s face to know he ain’t no Devil. See that sweet little angel mouth, way that skin shine so white and flawless like a doll’s; and his eyes, how they stare out at you, never looking away, not blinking, like they already owned the world.

 

Still Being Frank …

Running a theme here, and with a one day symposium on O’Hara’s life, work and friends at the ICA on Sunday, 24th July, there may be even more. But for now, following up on the previous post’s recent poem from Out of Silence, here are a couple more that somehow didn’t make it into the New & Selected. (Wonder why?) The first comes from Bluer Than This (Smith/Doorstop, 1998), the second from Taking The Long Road Home (Slow Dancer, 1988)

Seven Year Ache

“There’s nothing so spiritual about being happy
but you can’t miss a day of it, because it doesn’t last”
Frank O’Hara. “Poem”(“And tomorrow morning at 8 o’clock”)

Listening to the radio this afternoon,
thumbing through my well-worm life
of Frank O’Hara, its pink and purple annotations,
I notice Top Hat is on TV in time to see
Fred and Ginger shelter in that convenient bandstand
and marvel at the way she mimics so perfectly his routine.
And I think of the young O’Hara watching them for the first time
from those red velvet seats of the Worcester Warner’s.
How he loved them!  Ginger’s ‘pageboy bob’, Fred’s
‘peach melba voice’. Watching them now,
I hate Astair’s dinner-suited smugness,
the certainty he’ll get the girl at the end.

Last night, and then again today, I’m taunted
by the bizarre easiness of dying. O’Hara at forty
knocked over by an errant jeep on the beach,
his mother, frail from hospital and drying out,
tumbling yellow roses into his grave. Such waste!
Each day that’s lived is lived in hope and in regret.
We die each day and not from love but lack of it:
the pull of your hand away from mine, the turn
of your face aside. Whatever flowers you throw
on that fresh-turned earth will carry with them,
bright and unremarkable, the stench of what was missed.

 

This & Then That

the day is full of possibilities

we can climb the hill into the city
& pass the girl with blue eyes
coming back down
camel coat like a bathrobe
on her shoulders
sleep and love in her eyes

our bags packed with spiced sausage
& cheeses & strong with the smell
of fresh coffee
we sit and eat a slow, late breakfast
you read one of the folded papers
while I wait a little breathlessly
for the waitress to dip low
skirt peeling back from her legs
like fine blue paint

you stop me with a smile

Dave gets up from piano practice
tousle-haired kids draw men like stars
we talk of Rothko, Frank O’Hara, the blues:
Gill out, getting on with life

later we take the cat for a walk
around the park
check out the evening movies
I can tell from the look in your eyes
we’ll be in bed soon
sunset back of the trees

Tom Raworth & Others

Foolish it might have been to take my rucksack along to the recent Poetry Book Fair at Conway Hall, but how else was I going to take my trusty and, by now, well marked up copy of Out of Silence needed for my 11.00am reading, not to mention a bottle of water, box of Strepsils, sports pages of The Guardian, et cetera? As soon as I saw the number of stalls packed into the room, each of them packed with tempting publications, I made a quick promise to myself that, rucksack or no rucksack, I would buy three books and no more.

The first was easy. Across the aisle from my own publisher, Smith/Doorstop, was (were?)Nottingham’s own Mother’s Milk Books [aim: to celebrate femininity and empathy through images and words, with a view to normalising breastfeeding], one of whose authors, Ana Salote, I met earlier this year at Lowdham Book Festival and shared a pleasant train journey with on the way home, so her book, Oy Yew, was my number one.

Soon after that, I spied poet/publisher Tamar Yoseloff at the table consigned to Hercules Editions, the small press she runs with designer Vici MacDonald. Their books are beautifully designed limited editions, perfectly marrying images and words, and the only one I didn’t already have a copy of was right there in front of me – Ormonde, by Hannah Lowe, which documents the story of the ship which, in 1947, and thus pre-Windrush, brought her father and other Jamaican immigrants to this country.

Tammy, of course, I had first met with my publisher’s hat on, when Slow Dancer Press published her 1994 chapbook, Fun House, and then, in 1998, her collection, Sweetheart. [Love that Jamie Keenan designed cover!] Her New & Selected Poems, A Formula for Night, will be published by Seren Books later this month.

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But on to number three. And yet again it was remarkably easy. The minute I drew level with the Carcanet Press table, my eyes were drawn to the nicely quirky cover of Tom Raworth’s As When, a fat and judicious selection ranging from his first collection, The Relation Ship, published by Cape Goliard in 1966 to Structure from Motion, published by Edge Books earlier this year. 139 poems, 248 pages, £14.99 – do the maths. A bargain, right. A bargain and a delight.

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When I got home, I looked for my original copy of The Relation Ship and there it was. Creased and battered, read and reread. Favourites asterisked or underlined. I imagine I bought it in Nottingham in 1975, either there or at the much-lamented Compendium in Camden, round about the same time that I bought Lee Harwood’s The White Room.

It was at a reading for Lee Harwood, held at the Redroaster Coffee House in Brighton last month, that I met Tom Raworth for perhaps the second or third time. I’d heard he’d not been all that well, and, in truth, he approached the stage with care, but once behind the microphone he roared like a mighty lion. The Raworth roar, once heard not easily forgotten. Like the poems.

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Photo of Tom Raworth: Andrew King andrewkingphotography.co.uk

 

Birthday Poem for Howard Hodgkin

 

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After Corot

 ‘After Corot’ 1979-1982 by Howard Hodgkin

the train turning into the bay
enough to bring tears to your eyes

sleeping, your skin ivory
reach & fall of your breathing

your hand

in the painting everything is
at a distance: cliff, harbour,
sea, sky

tight within a frame
within a frame

only wait
and the light breaks white
on the horizon, mastheads etch
contours green beyond the wall’s bulk
and as a small boat painted red hoves into view
the land slips another foot into the sea

you throw up your arm

untrammelled
blue seeps under the edges of the frame
refusing to be bound

the rocking of the train
as it rounds the slow curve

your waking breath

the sea

This poem appeared in Bluer Than This (smith/doorstop, 1998) and, perhaps oddly [I imagine it didn’t tickle the editors’ fancy] failed to find a place in Out of Silence,  last year’s New & Selected (smith/doorstop, 2014). Shame, really.

But Happy Birthday, Sir Howard, 6th August 2015! Great work, sir! 83 years young.

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Out of Silence

OUT OF SILENCE, my book of New & Selected Poems, published last year by Smith/Doorstop, is now available as an ebook for £5.95.

I wouldn’t be mentioning this, except it’s a book I’m especially proud of, and although only six of the poems are actually new, I like to think they’re pretty good – one in fact, “Winter Notebook”, just might be the best I’ve written so far.

There are reviews by Rosie Johnston & Norbert Hirschhorn on London Grip here …

There is also a review by John Lucas in PN Review No. 22, which is only available on line to subscribers, but which I can give you a taste of here …

“Harvey’s voice is very much his own, rueful, comic, engagingly informal … how good a poet he is of the passing moment, its unexpected pleasures …”

So, if you’ve been meaning to get hold of a copy but have never quite got around to it (or want a second copy for your Kindle!), you can buy the ebook from Amazon … or from the publisher …

The print version, of course, is still available, and I notice Foyles have it on sale for £7.76 if you order on line from Foyles …

Alternatively, if you’d like a signed copy, with or without dedication, at the cover price of £9.95, send me an email at john@mellotone.co.uk

Harvey-Out of Silence