Annotated iPod Shuffle, April 2018

1  Saucer Eyes : Eric Dolphy

from Where? (1961) Dolphy (flute) w. Mal Waldron (p) Ron Carter (bs) Charlie Persip  (dr). Great,fluent flute from Dolphy and scintillating brushwork from Persip.

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2 Slider : John Stewart

from The Day the River Sang (2006) one of Stewart’s final albums prior to his death two years later. The voice, even with some handy reverb, isn’t what it was, but it does take on a deep, bluesy feel that’s appropriate for this song about a wayward young woman, reminiscent in some ways of the sad and lovely Crazy [”I will drive you, Crazy”] from the 1971 album Lonesome Picker Rides Again. Some nice licks by Stewart himself on electric guitar, too.

The Day The River Sang

3 Milk Shake Stand : The Three Barons

from Still Stomping’ at the Savoy, a fine selection of Jazz & R&B tracks from the 50s & 60s, including Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Errol Garner, Art Pepper, Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, H-Bomb Ferguson, Joe Turner, Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown, Little Esther and this track by the Three Barons, a doo-wop group who are still performing, in one guise or another, and will to travel to gigs up to ten miles from their base in Stamford, CT – well, you gotta slow down some time.

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4 Shostakovich String Quartet No. 6 – Allegretto : Emerson Quartet

What can I say … ?

Shostakovich_ String Quartets [Disc 1]

5 Just One More Chance : Alex Welsh Band

Featuring Alex’s trumpet, more broad-toned than usual, on this BBC Sounds of Jazz broadcast from 1981, just a year before he died; Roy Crimmins is on trombone, back in the band after a long break, Al Gay on tenor, Fred Hunt at the piano.

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6 Sandwood Down to Kyle : John Renbourn

from Live it Italy (2006) about which Renbourn had this to say …

 Anyway one place that still holds fond if blurred memories is Roma’s Folkstudio – a basement club that reminded me of the Cousins, only funkier. I’d go over and play there for a week or so, staying in a room down a little alley leading into the square of Santa Maria in Trastevere. The square at night was utterly beautiful and even the bare room had a certain charm. With the pleasure of good company and the wine from Sacrofano it was a productive time for me.

How this recording came to be made I honestly have no idea. To describe the p.a. in the Folkstudio as a curiosity would be charitable in the extreme. It wouldn’t have been out of place in Frankinstein’s laboratory. Somehow the benign boss Giancarlo Cesaroni engineered it on the quiet. And the result is documented evidence.

Live In Italy

7 As Tears Go By : Rolling Stones

The Jagger/Richards song their manager Andrew Loog Oldham passed on to Marianne Faithfull for her 1964 hit; Mick himself recorded it with the Stones a year later [sounding oddly like Marianne].

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8 Right Moves : Josh Ritter

from The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter (2007). Has a great chorus, which my daughter, Molly, and I sang along to heartily at his Kings Place gig a few years back.

The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter

9 These Foolish Things : Thelonious Monk

Recorded in New York, on December 18th, 1952, with Gary Mapp (bs) & Max Roach (dr)

Thelonious Monk Trio

10 $1000 Dollar Wedding : Gram Parsons

from Parson’s second solo album, Grievous Angel (1974), with James Burton on guitar and Emmylou Harris on harmony vocals and close to keeping Gram in tune. I remember buying my copy for £1.00 from a student at the Stevenage school where I was teaching; she’d got it as a freebee at the Gary Glitter show at Stevenage Mecca the night before.

Grievous Angel

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More Wasted Years …

Wasted Years was the first of five radio adaptations based on the Resnick novels and short stories. First broadcast in 1995, it has been repeated several times since, and is about to be broadcast again, in two parts, on BBC Radio 4 Extra on Monday, February 5th and Tuesday, 6th, each episode playing three times – 10.00am, 3.00pm and (for the insomniacs out there) 3.00am the following morning.

Like all of the other dramatisations, Wasted Years was produced by David Hunter [with whom I’m currently working on the Inspector Chen series for Radio 4] and, unlike the others, featured Tom Wilkinson as Resnick. Tom, of course, had played the role in the televised versions of the first two novels, Lonely Hearts and Rough Treatment, which were shown on BBC One in  1992 & 1993. Two other actors also reprised their roles: Kate Eaton as Lynn Kellogg and Daniel Ryan as Kevin Naylor.

The radio version of Wasted Years is also notable for the performance of Gillian Bevan, who plays the singer, Ruth Strange, and sings the title song over the credits. The song was written by singer/songwriter Liz Simcock [recently on tour in a duo with Clive Gregson], the lyrics based on those I came up with for the original novel. Gillian sings it so well that every time the programme is broadcast there are enquiries as to whether it is more generally available – which, sadly, is not the case. Maybe Liz can be persuaded to include it on her next CD.

Every night I spend waiting
All those dreams and wasted tear,
Every minute, eery second, babe,
The worst of all my fears.
When you walk back through the door again,
All you’ll have for me is empty arms,
And empty promises,
And ten more, ten more, oh baby,
Ten more wasted years.

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People sometimes ask me which of the Resnick novels is my favourite, and, over the years, my answers have varied; but somewhere around the middle of Wasted Years occurs one of my favourite chapters, not least because [like the final speech in the Nottingham Playhouse/New Perspectives production of Darkness, Darkness] it contrives to yoke together Thelonious Monk and Nottingham’s Old Market Square.

In the square, a fifty-year-old man, trousers rolled past his knees, was paddling in one of the fountains, splashing handfuls of water up under the arms of his fraying coat. A young woman with a tattooed face was singing an old English melody to a scattering of grimy pigeons. Resnick stood by one of the benches, listening: a girl in denim shorts and overlapping T-shirts, razored hair, leather waistcoat with a death’s head on the back, standing there, oblivious of everything else, singing, in a voice strangely thin and pure, “She Moved Through the Fair”.

When she had finished and Resnick, wishing to say thanks, tell her how it had sounded, give her, perhaps, money, walked purposefully towards her, she turned her back on him and walked away.

On the steps, in the shadow of the lions, couples were kissing. Young men in short sleeves, leaning from the windows of their cars, slowly circled the square. Across from where Resnick was standing was the bland brick and glass of the store that twenty years before had been the Black Boy, the pub where he and Ben Riley would meet for an early evening pint. The glass that ten years ago was smashed and smashed again as rioters swaggered and roared through the city’s streets.

No way to hold it all back now.

Inside the house, he showered, turning the water as hot as he dared and lifting his face towards it, eyes closed; soaping his body over and over, the way he did after being called out to examine some poor victim, murdered often or not for small change or jealousy, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Steam clouded the bathroom, clogged the air, and still Resnick stood there, back bent now beneath the spray, content to let it wash over him.

In the kitchen, he felt the smoothness of the coffee beans in the small of his hand. He knew already which album he would pull from the shelves, slide on to the turntable from its sleeve.

The purple postage stamp on the cover, Monk’s face in profile at its centre, trilby had sloping forward, angled away, the thrust of the goatee beard rhyming the curve of the hat’s brim. Riverside 12-209: The Unique Thelonious Monk. “If only they’d take away the blindfold and the handcuffs,” Elaine used to say of Monk’s playing, “it might make all the difference.” Resnick would smile. Why play the right notes when the wrong ones will do?

Resnick set his coffee on the table by the chair and cued in the second track.

Monk picks the notes from the piano tentatively, as if it were a tune he once heard long ago and then, indistinctly, through an open window from an apartment down the street. There is more than uncertainty in the way his fingers falter, sliding between half-remembered chords, surprising themselves with fragments of melody, with things he would have preferred to have remained forgotten. “Memories of You”.

Moments when it is easy to imagine he might get up from the piano and walk away – except you know he cannot, any more than when the solo is finally over he can let it go. When you’re sure it’s over, probing with another pair of notes, a jinking run, a fading chord.

At the track’s end, he seems to hear her feet walk across the floor above: door to dressing table to wardrobe, wardrobe to dressing table to bed. If he went now and pushed open the door into the hallway, would he hear her voice?

“Charlie, aren’t you coming up?”

The final weeks when they lay beneath the same sheets, not speaking, not touching, catching at their breath, fearful that in sleep they might be turned inward by some old habit or need.

“Christ, Charlie!” Ben Riley had exclaimed. “What the heck’s the matter with you? You got a face like bloody death!”

And in truth he had – because in truth that’s what it had been like: dying.

A long death and slow, eked out, a little each day.

Fragments.

“Don’t you see, Charlie?”

Once the blindfold had been taken away, it made all the difference.

from Wasted Years, first published, Viking, 1993

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Music Matters: Best of 2017

It’s been Monk’s year, his centenary duly celebrated far and wide, up to and including a full five day, five hour Composer of the Week slot on BBC Radio 4. Welcome to the establishment! I listen to Monk’s recordings more than those of any other artist and in this year of all years, the re-discovered recordings he made in 1960 as potential soundtrack material for Roger Vadim’s film version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses have seldom been far from the stereo. Monk is someone whose music I’ve written about on a number of occasion, both in poetry and fiction, and I was delighted (under statement!) when the American critic and commentator Bill Ott chose to highlight my attempts to convey the individuality of both Monk and his music in an article which originally appeared in Booklist and has since been republished on the excellent German web site CulturMag.

Live tributes I’ve been fortunate enough to see and hear include an evening at the Vortex in East London involving students from the Trinity Laban Conservertoire of Music and Dance; John Beasley’s MONK’estra at Ronnie Scott’s; and, best of all, the triple concert celebration at Cadogan Hall, largely organised by Tony Kofi and culminating in a brilliant recreation of the famous Town Hall Concert for Big Band. I’ve written about that in some detail here …

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Charles Tolliver & Band. Photo Kat Pfeiffer

The other outstanding jazz event for me, also at the Vortex, was a performance by the big band assembled by Hans Koller for the composer and arranger Mike Gibbs to front in his 80th Birthday Tour. Fabulous!

I’ve followed with great interest the burgeoning career of Nottingham-based cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, ever since watching him win the BBC’s contest for Young Musician of the Year, and both the emotional force and warmth of personality that inform his technical ability were very much on show in a recital at Kings Place in which he was accompanied by his equally talented if more restrained sister, Isata, in Shostakovich and Beethoven. Also at Kings Place, the Sacconi Quartet played a selection of Graham Fitkin’s compositions for string quartet, interspersed with several solo pieces by Fitkin himself, Philip Glass’ String Quartet No. 2 and Arvo Part’s ‘Summa’. There was more Glass earlier in the year, when the James McVinnie Ensemble played an exciting and absorbing version on his “Music in 12 Parts’, and brilliantly executed minimalism from the Colin Currie Group playing Steve Reich’s ‘Tehillim’ & ‘Drumming’ at the Royal Festival Hall.

Finally, momentously, two more concerts at the Royal Festival Hall – one at the beginning of the year, one towards the end – that, in their different ways, made the skin tingle and and heart sing: the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir under Nathalie Stutzmann performing Mozart’s Requiem and the LPO again, this time with Orozco-Estrada conducting, pulling out all the stops and then some playing Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony.

 

Reading at Ray’s Jazz

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The John Lake Band: John (piano) Phil Paton (sax) Matt Casterton (bass) Simon Cambers (drums) Photo: Molly Ernestine Boiling

Continuing what has, in recent posts, become a theme, there was more Thelonious Monk in evidence this Friday just passed when I joined the John Lake Band for an evening session organised by Ray’s Jazz at Foyles flagship bookshop on Charing Cross Road. Though the band didn’t actually play “Evidence”. The first piece I read, a poem called ‘Saturday’ from ‘Out of Silence’ was accompanied by a rocking version of ‘Rhythm-a-ning’ and, towards the end, ‘Blue Monk’ featured both ‘Straight, No Chaser’ and ‘Blue Monk’ itself.

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That’s me paying attention to the words while Simon keeps his eyes on the dots. Photo: Molly Ernestine Boiling

What seemed to be a major incident – possibly, a terrorist attack – fairly close by, resulting in the closing of Oxford Circus and Bond Street tube stations, with customers being locked into stores and armed police deployed in the streets while a helicopter hovered overhead, meant that attendance was not what it might have been, numbers of ticket holders opting – not unreasonably – for the sensible option of sticking indoors. Those that were present, however, seemed to be having a pretty good time – not least the 5/6 year old young lady bopping away down near the front row – and we were, somewhat to our surprise, on the receiving end, not just of applause, but whoops of delight.

You should, as the saying goes, have been there.

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Reading one of the stories from the recently published “Going Down Slow” while John looks anxiously on. Photo: Sonny Marr

And if you’re anywhere in the vicinity of Eastbourne on the South Coast on the final Friday of the year, you can hear us doing it all again – and more. Details here …

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Hand in pocket, not Hand in Glove. Photo: Molly Ernestine Boiling

Monk x 3

The centenary of Thelonious Monk’s birth has received much deserved, sometimes surprising, attention. Composer of the Week on BBC Radio 3 no less! [Listen on the BBC iPlayer, if you just happen to have been otherwise occupied each weekday between noon and 1.00pm]. The London Jazz Festival did its bit with a triple-header at London’s Cadogan Hall this Sunday just past, November 19th. Largely pulled together by saxophonist Toni Kofi (Nottingham’s finest) with the help of pianist Jonathan Gee, the ambition was to play every piece that Monk wrote, climaxing with a recreation of the 1959 concert at New York’s Town Hall, in which a selection on his best-known and most often played compositions was played by a 10-piece band in  versions scored by Hal Overton.

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Tony Kofi 

The two afternoon concerts featured a constantly shifting personnel in varying small combinations, largely drawn from the various groups Kofi and Gee have been involved with over the years. No time for lengthy improvisation with all those tunes to fit in, the impression was of a musical kaleidoscope from which certain moments stood out: Byron Wallen prowling around the breadth of stage playing solo trumpet; Tony Kofi and Jason Yarde standing off to one side in shadow, each holding a baritone sax, before starting to play and moving slowly – almost menacingly – towards centre stage; Yarde, again, looping a succession of saxophone lines and overlaying them with slaps and yelps; Jim Rattigan on French horn and Andy Grappy on tuba providing a subtle and sonorous brass wall to first Yarde and then Wallen; Rattigan’s pin drop French horn solo.

Chatting to a couple who’d come up from Southampton in the interval – and Southampton was nothing; one person I spoke to had travelled down from Edinburgh, while his partner had flown in from Moscow – it was clear that, in amongst all that good music, all those musicians, the one person who had caught their eye was drummer Rod Youngs. And it was easy to see why. Originally from Washington DC, Youngs has much of the showman about him, without it ever getting in the way of the overall performance or detracting from those he’s supporting: he’s not brash; he’s not a latter-day Gene Krupa or a Buddy Rich. His rhythm is often springy and floating; his solos give due accord to moments of unsuspected silence, of spaces – of humour. If a drummer can be droll, Rod Youngs is droll.

On his web site it suggests one of his influences was Sid Catlett, and watching him I kept thinking further back to Zutty Singleton, then it was forward to the 50s and 60s and the great Max Roach. Youngs has played with Gil Scott-Heron and Jon Hendricks, with David Murray and Lee Konitz [now there’s a contrast], with Mica Paris and the Jazz Jamaica All Stars, and on this Sunday he played with everyone, from trios to the full band and he was never less than the absolute business.

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Rod Youngs

Intriguing as the first two sessions were, there was always the sense that the Town Hall recreation would be – should be – the day’s crowning glory, and it was. The American trumpeter and arranger, Charles Tolliver, had reconstructed Hal Overton’s scores from the original lp, and they were played by an outstanding band, with a front line of  Ed Jones on tenor, Jason Yarde on alto and Mike Yates on trumpet; Tony Kofi sitting behind and urging  a huge sound from his baritone, with Dennis Rollins alongside on trombone, Jim Rattigan’s French horn and Andy Grappy’s tuba; Jonathan Gee was at the Steinway, Ben Hazleton on the bass and Rod Youngs on drums.

 

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Charles Tolliver & Band. Photo Kat Pfeiffer

I know the original recording quite well, but not well enough to know to what extent, if at all, Tolliver’s scores differed, although there did seem to be more room for solos. There was a gorgeous sonority from the brass – shades of Gil Evans with Miles? – and some outstanding solos, with Ed Jones’ fluent, driving tenor, for me, the pick of the bunch. Although – wait a minute – Gee, who’d been good throughout, was tremendous here, beginning this set with a solo version of ‘In Walked Bud’ and continuing to play in a manner that recalled Monk in its sudden accents and angularities, while never losing the fluidity that’s natural to his own style.

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But it was joyous, that’s the thing. That was the over-riding impression as you shuffled smiling up the aisle with the crowd and stepped through the doors and out into the night. A joyous, heartfelt tribute to a singular musician, a singular composer. What’s the expression? We will not see his like again. Nor hear it, either.

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Monk, Me & the art of Going Down Slow

Some days, over say twenty-four hours or so, you could get to feel your stars have mysteriously fallen into happier than usual alignment.

It began last evening, at the Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town, north London, where my friend Woody Haut and I were celebrating the publication of our new books – in Woody’s case a novel, Days of Smoke, set in Los Angeles and San Francisco during the maelstrom of 1968, and in mine, a small but beautifully formed [thanks to Five Leaves Publications] collection of short stories, Going Down Slow.

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There were forty or fifty people present; there was wine; Woody and I read and asked each other questions; the audience asked questions – good ones; at the end of it all books were sold and signed. Several of the questions, one way or another, were about music and its place in our work, its importance to our writing. I talked about not really listening to music when I was writing, but occasionally having it playing in an adjacent room, Thelonious Monk, especially; the ear being pricked, attention gathered, by a note or phrase that headed off into a sharp and unexpected direction: truly, the sound of surprise.

Woody’s favourite of my books, alongside Darkness, Darkness, is In a True Light, which is partly set in Greenwich Village in the late 50s, early 60s, and includes a chapter in which the leading character goes to the Five Spot to hear Monk play.

… Monk launches himself along the keyboard in a clattering arpeggio which calls to mind a man falling headlong down a flight of stairs, never quite losing his balance, not falling, saving himself, miraculously, with an upward swoop, and final, ringing double-handed chord.

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That passage, and that book, are referred to in a recent piece by the American critic and commentator, Bill Ott, published in Booklist Online.

With reference to the centenary  of Monk’s birth, Ott mentions a number of writers who have written about his music in various ways before concentrating, very positively, on my own attempts in both poetry and prose. So positive, in fact, that when I read it my heart gave a little lift and I’ve not yet been able to wipe the smile off my face.

Good things come in pairs?

A matter of a few hours later, the first review of Going Down Slow arrived, this by Jim Burns in the Northern Review of Books. “If anyone should be tempted to think of Harvey as ‘just a crime writer’ they should think again.”

Thanks, Jim; thanks, Bill; thanks, Woody; thanks, Thelonious: thank my lucky stars.

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Looking for Charlie Resnick: Slow Burn

Some nights, Resnick thought, you knew sleep wasn’t destined to come; or that, if it did, it would be haunted by dreams pitched just this side of nightmare, broken by the startled cry of the telephone heralding some new disaster, awful and mundane. So there he was, at close to two a. m., ferrying through the sparsely filled refrigerator for the makings of a snack, during cold milk – yes,milk – into a glass, opening the back door so that Pepper could join Dizzy in a little night-time prowling, hunting down whatever was slower or slower-witted than themselves. Miles and Bud were upstairs on his bed, missing, perhaps, his bulk and warmth while relishing  the extra space.

Carrying his sandwich through into the front room, he pulled an album from the shelf and slipped the record from its tattered sleeve. The Thelonious Monk Trio on Prestige. Through the smeared glass of the front bay, he could see the outlines of houses left and right along the curve of street, roofs bulked against a city sky that was never truly dark. Faint, the hum of occasional cars, one block  away on the Woodborough Road. Monk’s fingers, flat, percussive, treading their way through ‘Bemesha Swing’ like an overgrown child lurching along the pavement, crack by crack. It was no surprise when the phone finally rang, nor that the voice at the other end was his sergeant’s, weary and resigned.

That deep into the early hours it was no more than a five minute drive to the old Lace Market, the corner of Stoney Street and King’s Place and the Victorian conversion that for years had housed Jimmy Nolan’s jazz club and bar. Acrid and pungent, the scent of burning struck Resnick as he climbed out of the car. Smoke eddied on the air. Fire officers, purposeful yet unhurried, damped down smouldering wreckage; making safe. Resnick knew they would already have isolated, as far as possible, the area where the fire began. The building itself was little more than a blackened shell.

Four cats still rather than just the one; vinyl albums instead of CDs, back before vinyl was the trendy thing: Resnick in 1999. A while ago.

‘Slow Burn’, the short story of which this is the beginning, actually began life a year earlier, as a 60 minute radio script written for BBC 4 producer, David Hunter, which was originally broadcast in 1998 and has been repeated on several occasions, most recently  this week on Radio 4 Extra. You can still catch it on the BBC Radio iPlayer, where it’s available, from today, for another 27 days.

David Hunter was the producer who marshalled my dramatisations of two Resnick novels onto the airwaves, Wasted Years in 1995 and Cutting Edge in 1996, each in several parts. Slow Burn followed these in 1998 and my original radio script became a short story, which was first published a year later in the collection, Now’s the Time, by my own small press, Slow Dancer, that collection being reprinted, in an enlarged edition, by William Heinemann in 2002 and in 2013 the Arrow paperback below.

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There has only been one representation of Resnick on screen [so far – hope springs eternal et cetera] that by Tom Wilkinson in two television adaptations – Lonely Hearts & Rough Treatment, produced by Colin Rogers for Deco Films and TV and the BBC, and shown in 1992 and 1993 respectively. Tom reprised the role in the first of the radio versions mentioned above [Wasted Years in ’95], after which Hollywood beckoned and Resnick was personified first by Tom Georgson in Cutting Edge, then Philip Jackson in Slow Burn, and, finally, Keith Barron, in two other dramatised short stories, Cheryl (2001) and Bird of Paradise (2002).

Keith Barron, who sadly died just yesterday, November 15th, was the reader of two abridged versions of the novels Cold Light and Living  Proof, released by Reed Audio in 1995, and Philip Jackson the reader in the excellent ten-part version of Wasted Years, adroitly abridged and directed by Gordon House for BBC Radio 4 and since repeated on a number of occasions.

Most recently, Resnick was brought to the stage by David Fleeshman in the Nottingham Playhouse/New Perspectives production of Darkness, Darkness, directed by Jack McNamara. That’s David, outside the Playhouse, immediately below, and, with Simone Saunders as Catherine Njoroge, in a scene from the play.

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And here’s Tom Wilkinson in Resnick guise, first in a BBC publicity shot and below on the jacket of the French edition of Lonely Hearts, Coeurs Solitaires.

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iPod Shuffle, November 2017

Out for a brisk and chilly stroll on the Heath this morning, taking a break from scripting the ninth and last Qiu Xiaolong novel, Shanghai Redemption, for producer David Hunter and the Inspector Chen series on BBC Radio 4. This is what my iPod served up …

  • The South Coast of Texas : Guy Clark
  • Pannonica : Thelonious Monk (from Les Liaisons Dangereuse)
  • Help Me : Junior Wells
  • Over the Bars : James P. Johnson
  • California Bloodlines : Dave Alvin
  • Haydn Piano Sonata No. 60 : Glenn Gould
  • Little Girl Blue : Bud Shank
  • West End Blues : Louis Armstrong Hot Five
  • Varese – Déserts – 3rd Electronic Interpolation : Polish National Radio Symphony  Orchestra
  • Blind Willie McTell : Bob Dylan
  • Feeling for the Wall : Meshell Ndegocello
  • West of Rome : Cowboy Junkies

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.

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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.