Le Playlist de Jazz

For its summer issue, the French jazz magazine, Le JazzoPhone, asked me to choose my ten Desert Island jazz recordings, the ones I play most and would not like to live without. Here they are (with a little cheating around No 7) …

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1.Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington

2. Art Tatum-Ben Webster : Art Tatum Masterpieces, Vol 8

3. Roland Kirk : We Free Kings

4. Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section

5. Count Basie : The Atomic Mr Basie

6. Serge Chaloff : Blue Serge

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7. Billie Holiday : The Quintessential Billie Holiday, Vols 1 – 9

8. Duke Ellington : Highlights of the Great 1940-1942 Band

9. John Lewis : Improvised Meditations & Excursions

10. Joe Temperley : Double Duke

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Albert Irvin 1922 – 2015

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It’s a testimony to my own ignorance that I hadn’t heard of Bert Irvin until, some dozen or more years ago, already in the later years of his life, he was a guest on Michael Berkeley’s Private Passions on Radio 3. What struck me immediately was the generous and cant-free way in which he talked about art, his unforced and clearly genuine enthusiasm for both painting and music, Shostakovich and Thelonious Monk as much an inspiration as Pollock and deKooning.

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It so happened that not long after hearing the programme I mentioned Irvin to the writer and sometime artist Trevor Preston, who, it turned out, not only knew him quite well but could furnish me with an address. I duly contacted Irvin, and, as a result, was invited to the opening of an exhibition of new work at his London gallery, Gimpel Fils, where we met and talked. Thereafter, we remained in touch, largely by virtue of an exchange of cards at Christmas – his, each year, a stunning print in his recognisably vibrant style.

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Trained at Northampton School of Art and at Goldsmiths in south-east London, where he was later to teach, Irvin was an RAF navigator during WW2, the experience of flying one he shared with the Cornish artist Peter Lanyon. to whose work he felt close,  and which may well have influenced – as it did Lanyon – the form and shape of his earlier abstract paintings.

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Although he had his first solo exhibitions in 1960, it wasn’t until the 1980s that Irvin’s work began to be more widely known and displayed, corresponding with a move from painting in oils to acrylics and the bolder and more vibrant use of colour that distinguished his later style; this period also saw the beginning of his relationship as a screenprinter with the Advanced Graphics studio in London which endured in the most positive manner until his death. A true formidable artist and a lovely man, it it was an honour for me to have known him to the small degree that I did.

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Clark Terry – Mortal No More

One of the best known recording sessions the trumpeter Clark Terry participated in during his long career took place on Wednesday, 24th April, 1957, the fourth of five days the Duke Ellington orchestra spent laying down the tracks for Such Sweet Thunder, the Duke’s take on various and sundry Shakespearean characters. First up that day was “Up and Down, Up and Down (I Will Lead Them Up and Down)”, in which Terry was called upon to personify the elusive Puck, leading mere mortals a merry dance through the forest, and to “speak” through his horn the famous line, “Lord, what fools these mortals be.”

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Now Terry, immortal no longer, has died at the age of 94.
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It was reading of his death in the Guardian obituary that sent me foraging through my CDs yesterday, picking out both Such Sweet Thunder and In Orbit, the album Terry made in May, 1958 with Thelonious Monk at the piano, Sam Jones on bass and Philly Joe Jones on the drums.

The In Orbit sessions – May 7th & 12th – are interesting not just because Terry plays the mellower, somewhat deeper sounding fluglehorn as opposed to trumpet, but for the fact that this was one of a relatively small number of times, thus far into his career, that Monk deigned to be a sideman on somebody else’s record. Not only that, Monk plays in a more straightforward manner than usual – propelled to a large extent by Philly Joe Jones’ drumming – the only time the two recorded together, I think – his solos more exuberant and straight ahead than quirky and introspective.

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We were listening to both CDs yesterday evening, initially before and during dinner, and then, having turned on the television at the appropriate time to watch Barcelona against Manchester City, we kept the volume muted, much preferring the likes of Clark Terry’s “One Foot in the Gutter” (based on the chords of Monk’s favourite hymn, “We’ll Understand It Better, Bye and Bye”) and Duke’s “Sonnet to Hank Cinq” to the clichés of soccer commentary.

And although the synchronisation never fully worked, listening to Terry’s joyous, bubbling Puck while watching Lionel Messi was close to a marriage made in some latter-day Shakespearean Ducal heaven.

Sidewinder Strikes Again!

Okay, I said I’d return to this coming Friday’s Jazz & Poetry gig at Enfield’s Dugdale Centre and here it is: hosted by Allen Ashley & Sarah Doyle, and with live jazz from four excellent musicians – Louis Cennamo, Graham Pike, Barry Parfitt and Tim Stephens – the redoubtable Nancy Mattson and myself will be taking it in turns to step up and read with the band, something we’re both looking forward to a great deal.

Having mainly read with same guys over the past years – and very much enjoyed doing so – it’s been interesting in recent months to work with different groups of musicians, John Lake’s band on the South Coast, John Lucas’ band recently in Nottingham, and now the quartet led by Louis Cennamo. Allen and Sarah, who put these Enfield sessions together, were keen for me to try some different material, setting up a four-hour rehearsal with the band to make this possible. So it is that on Friday, along with some of the more usual pieces about Art Pepper, Lester Young and Thelonious Monk, I’ll be delving into the collected poems in Out of Silence for “Blue Settee”, “Saturday” and “Temps Greatest Hits, Vol II”- the latter closing the set accompanied by what promises to be a blistering version of Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder”.

If this sounds tempting – and if you’re reading this, it should – the venue’s just a half-hour train journey from Liverpool Street or Highbury & Islington.

See you there!

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Music for Not Writing

What do you listen to, people ask, when you’re writing? And the answer, boringly, is nothing. Nothing at all. The rhythm I’m trying to hear is the one inside my head: the words, their sound, repetition, rise and fall. Stop there before I talk myself into Psueds’ Corner.

But when I’m not writing, there’s almost always music playing somewhere. The iPod in the kitchen, for instance, with several thousand tracks on shuffle, anything from Berg’s Three Pieces for Orchestra to Eel’s Blinking Lights & Other Revelations. Radio Swiss Classic is fairly constantly playing over the internet in the library when I’m reading (or napping) – 24 hour music with no adverts and only the briefest of announcements (in German, which I don’t speak, so only the occasional word intrudes – “Mozart”, say, or “Hadyn”). When I’m out walking on or around the Heath, more often than not I’m listening to something through headphones, either a BBC Radio Podcast or something new that I’ve downloaded –right now, Girlboy’s cheeky little single, Jennifer Lawrence.

Most of the above is incidental: each month or so there tends to be a small group of CDs that I sit down and listen to more carefully – Music for More Carfeful Listening. This month there are four …

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  • John Tilbury & Philip Thomas: Two Pianos & Other Pieces by Morton Feldman
  • Louis Armstrong at The Crescendo 1955, Complete Edition
  • Jan Lundgren: All By Myself
  • Thelonious Monk: The Complete 1961 Amsterdam Concert

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Book of the Year !

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Always a bit of a lottery, it seems to me, whether your book ends up in one of these end-of-year lists or not; and quite often the columns you had down as stone bankers seem to forget that rave review they gave you back in May and places where you doubted you’d flourish come through with guns blazing. And that’s quite enough mixed metaphors for the present.

So, hats off to Mike Ripley in Shots, to the Mail on Sunday, and to Felicity Gerry, QC – barrister, media commentator and author – in The Times

Finally, if the festive season is a time to remember old friends, this year is a bit tough for me reading “Darkness, Darkness”, as my late father’s friend John Harvey has decided it’s time to say goodbye to Inspector Charlie Resnick. This one is not dedicated to my Dad as “Cold in Hand” was. But it still triggers memories brilliantly capturing the evocative sounds, sights and smells of Nottingham in all its fascinating contradictions, against the background of Miles Davis and Polish food. I’m told John Harvey thought of bumping Resnick off; I’m not giving too much away to say he doesn’t.

There are standard strategies – old copper brought out to help young female fast-track, tertiary-educated detective – but the twists and turns through domestic violence and tortuous relationships, against the background of a cold case – a murder at the time of the miners’ strike – is an impossibly perfect way to capture a city that is hard to know and hard to leave. The detail of strike funding and divided communities means that, if you take the time to read it, you will wish the pits were still open, Resnick was real, Thelonious Monk was still alive and like me you’ll probably make a New Year’s resolution to read something more jolly.

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