Thursday, January 29, 2015

"Night Thoughts"

Night Thoughts

This moon-shine past my bed—
Could it be frosted ground?
I lift my head and see it’s the dazzling moon.
I lower my head and think of home.

Jack Hayes 

Version of Li Bai’s “Jìng Yè Sī”
© 2015

Image links to it source on Wiki Commons
Liang Kai: “Li Bai In Stroll”; 13th century
Public domain

Thursday, January 8, 2015

“Stardust” – Jazz on Nylon #8

Some music for your Thursday—& more Hoagy Carmichael at that.

When it comes to the Carmichael canon of songs, so many of which have become standards at a deep level, almost like folk songs (approached in our time probably only by the Beatles), we must admit it’s hard to pinpoint one as a high water mark. But if one had to make such a selection, “Stardust” would almost have to be the choice. There have been over 1,500 recordings of the song since it was first composed as an instrumental in 1927; the Library of Congress added it to the definitive recording archive, the National Recording Register, in 2004.

The song has a complex evolution. Carmichael claimed it came to him first as a melody he whistled. He first recorded it—actually as an upbeat instrumental—in 1927, but the song didn’t attract much public interest. Carmichael composed a lyric for it, but his publisher rejected it, & the lyric we know today was written by Mitchell Parrish, with some input from Carmichael. The song with Parrish’s lyric & a slightly modified melody was published in 1929. It wasn’t until the following year that Isham Jones recorded it as a slow ballad that it reached the form we know today.

“Stardust” was composed in the key of C, & that’s the key it’s typically played in. The song’s structure is idiosyncratic, & the melody wanders widely, spanning the range of a 10th. It's been noted that there are distinct similarities between the melodic structure of the song & the pattern of some Bix Beiderbecke improvisations.  There is a contrast between the arpeggiated movement in the A section & the straightforward quarter note melody found especially in the C section. As Oscar Hammerstein II wrote:

“Star Dust” “rambles and roams like a truant schoolboy in a meadow. Its structure is loose, its pattern complex. Yet it has attained the kind of long-lived popularity that few songs can claim. What has it got? I’m not certain. I know only that it is beautiful and I like to hear it.”

Today’s guitar version is based on an arrangement by the great Brazilian master Laurindo Almeida, & played with great skill & feeling by Tony R Clef. Clef is, like Naudo Rodrigues who has also been featured in this series, a guitarist whose work appears on YouTube, & I'd encourage you to check out his channel there; however, he has recorded an album, Tuesday Afternoon on Big Round Records, & this has received really positive reviews. I admire both his playing overall & his handling of the Almeida arrangement, which moves from a fairly straightforward reading of the song into a full on Bossa Nova treatment.


Image links to its source on YouTube

Tuesday, January 6, 2015



Under hundreds of other iron heels
I dreamed a dream about you.
Walking one autumn evening the sounds of the blues,
Feather-light footsteps
the dimly lit tread.
Feather-light footsteps avoid all roads
and know that I love you.

Steinn Steinarr ("Malbik" in the original Icelandic)
Translation by Sheila Graham-Smith © 2015


From Wikipedia:
Steinn Steinarr (born Aðalsteinn Kristmundsson, 13 October 1908 – 25 May 1958) was an Icelandic poet.

Many Icelanders regard Steinn Steinarr as their greatest poet, although he remains almost unknown outside of Iceland, due perhaps to a lack of effective translations of his poetry.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons   
Sólarlag við Tjörnina (Sunset by Tjörnin) by Þórarinn B. Þorláksson (1867-1924). Made in 1905.
Public domain.

Monday, January 5, 2015

“Winter Moon”

A happy Monday to you, friends—or whatever day you happen by here. Hope you all had a wonderful holiday season…or at least made it through relatively unscathed. However you fared, here’s some gorgeous music for your Monday—just in time for tonight’s full moon.

Of all the great songwriters who helped to create the beautiful “Great American Songbook of the early to mid 20th century, I may well like Hoagy Carmichael best. His melodies are timeless, & his harmonies unfailingly rich & fascinating. There’s a depth to the music, as well as an unfailing goodwill. It’s become a bit of a “thing” to call Carmichael the “first singer-songwriter”, which isn’t really accurate, in part because he didn’t write the lyrics to as many of his compositions as is commonly thought (though when he did write lyrics, they were first-rate), & he also didn’t record very often as a singer. Simply put, Carmichael’s voice isn’t the classic sort you’d associate with singing jazz tunes. His pitch is imperfect & his range is limited. Despite that, I’ve always enjoyed the recordings he did make, & one in particular stands out: Hoagy Sings Carmichael, originally released in 1956 on the Blue Note label. This session finds Carmichael backed by an all-star band called the Pacific Jazzmen, & led by Johnny Mandel. Among the luminaries are Art Pepper on alto sax, Al Hendrickson on guitar, Harry “Sweets” Edison on trumpet, & more.

“Winter Moon” is one of Carmichael’s later compositions, copyrighted in 1957 (oddly a year after the release of the record!), & it’s not well-known—which to my mind is a shame, because it’s a heartbreakingly lovely song. Art Pepper did cover it as an instrumental, but this is one of the few Carmichael songs that hasn’t made its way into the standard repertoire.

Hope you enjoy it.

Image links to its source on the net. Although this isn’t a public domain image, there are many copies available on the net, & many of them considerably higher resolution than this. That being the case, along with the fact that the post is educational in nature, I believe this is “fair use.”

Friday, December 19, 2014

“On the Nickel” – The Cover Version #4

Some music for your Friday; & some heartbreakingly beautiful music at that.

It’s no secret that I’m a big admirer of Tom Waits’ music, & today’s selection has been a long-time favorite of mine. Waits recorded “On the Nickel” for his 1980 Asylum release, Heartattack and Vine. His next studio project was the album Swordfishtrombones, released on Island in 1983, & that signaled a major departure from the sound Waits had perfected from the mid 70s through Heartattack & Vine.

“On the Nickel” actually was part of the soundtrack Waits composed for the 1980 film of the same name. “The Nickel” of the title is 5th Street in Los Angeles—skid row—& Waits has described the song as a “winos nursery rhyme.” The lyrics are dense with imagery, & they contain some memorable lines: “I know a place where a royal flush can never beat a pair; & even Thomas Jefferson is on the nickel over there” is one of the best examples. Actually, the lyrics Waits sings on Heartattack & Vine are not the original words, which I generally like even better, especially the great line: “You’ll never know how rich you are till you haven’t got a prayer.”

Just as the songs lyrics pack a lot of punch, the music is notable for modulating up by full steps before taking an unexpected turn at the end. Starting out in the key of F#, the song then progresses through A-flat, Bb, & finally resolving in the key of G; since Gm is the relative minor of Bb, & is a chord used prominently during the Bb section, the resolution to G almost has the effect of a Picardy third. Waits’ gravelly vocal, hovering between melody & speech rides beautifully on top of a piano & strings arrangement.

In the cover version I’ve selected, we get to hear another singer I’ve long admired, Carla Bozulich. Bozulich has fronted a number of bands & has been a long time fixture in the Los Angeles punk & indie scene, but I know her best for her work with one of the great cow-punk bands, The Geraldine Fibbers. When they released Lost Somewhere Between Earth & My Home in 1995 I couldn’t get enough of it, & their sound & lyrics certainly were an inspiration to the poetry I was writing at the time. After the breakup of the Geraldine Fibbers, Bozulich has kept busy with a number of projects, performing in Bloody Claw, the Night Porter, in a duo with Ches Smith, as a solo artist, & perhaps most notably in her ever-morphing group, Evangelista.

I love Bozulich’s interpretation of “On the Nickel.” She stays close to the spirit of Waits’ original with the lush string background, but the short bursts of dissonance that punctuate throughout are a perfect accent. Although Bozulich is known as a singer who can belt out a song with the best of them, her voice is almost fragile as she sings these lyrics; a more melodic singer than Waits, Bozulich uses that fragile sound to convey the “winos nursery rhyme” sensibility of the song, & also to deliver its poignancy in an understated but very immediate way. It’s simply a beautiful recording.

Hope you enjoy it.

Image links to its source at Wiki Commons
Photo of Carla Bozulich: Michelle Cottam. Original uploader was Trobik at en.wikipedia
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

“Like Michelangelo, Only the Opposite”

Like Michelangelo, Only the Opposite
Miss Custer,
pretty as a movie star,
blonde, blue-eyed,
picks me
--well, George Guerrieri and me--
because she likes me--
well, because I draw and paint so well--
for the Christmas poster contest.
(Guess she likes him a little too,
or why couldn't I paint it myself?)

For weeks that late fall
we stay after school, in the art room,
on hands and knees,
just the three of us counting Miss Custer,
like Michelangelo, only the opposite,
the canvas on the floor not the ceiling,
drawing and then painting
Santa Claus, reindeer,
sleigh full of packages.

Our painting wins.
They put it on a billboard
on Wood Street facing downtown.
The whole family goes every night to see it
right up until Christmas.

But that isn't the best thing.
the best thing is when we work on it,
when it's time to quit
and Miss Custer has us stand one at a time
(That's when I wish George wasn't there too),
and with her lovely eyes up close to mine
so I can see me in them,
wipes the paint off my face
with a damp rag,
tilting her head this way and that,
like she's painting a picture herself.

Carmen Leone
© 2014

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
Colony For Artists Under Six- Evacuees To Dartington Hall, Totnes, Devon, England, 1941.
Danny Ludlow, evacuated from Gravesend in Kent, shows his teacher Miss Betty Hall a painting that he has been working on at Dartington Hall in Totnes, Devon. Miss Hall was evacuated to Dartington Hall with the children.
Date     1941

Public domain [see note at this link]

Thursday, December 11, 2014

"pick it up"

pick it up

A/N: Thank you to S. for putting in the line breaks for me.

she dropped a beat somewhere early in this slate sky early late winter day
and forgot in all the chaos to pick it back up

half eight and she's banging down on her boyfriend's door,
man, don't you know this kid ain't gonna drive herself to school?
and the beat pulses in her pocket like a dead man's missing heart
while he shuffles sleepy and sheepish looking for shoes

one two one two one two and

the way the world spins turns whirls
(faster than men's heads when she come by in those jeans)
drops her from where she was dropping off her daughter
pico de gallo burrito warm kiss on cold air
at tzarich cama devar ken aval ma?
And she hit the ground,
less like an egg hits the floor -
with all the urgency and bruises of a lockdown drill -
and less of the shatter of glass on pavement but more like

one two one two one


one two

and can't shake that sick feeling of something lost forever

she's choking on her own thoughts by four
like they're dry swallowed pills,
dry heave at the bitter taste and constricted throat
and the world, it don't care if she wanna get off

the cold is forever, she says
because in hell even permanence be some comfort to the damned
cold is forever, she says
gulps down ice like ocean death like nicotine like that kiss she can't have

one two one two

slam of horns slam of breaks loss of light loss of life
spin like you want a simple gift
spin til you outspin the sick stomach and spin again until you drop break fall

on your knees with your hands in the air the only way the world gonna take you

don't bother
don't even front
ain't no other way
and don't say that hard cold gravel pavement frozen ground wet grass don't feel a little bit like redemption soakin through your stockings don't don't even

like a dropped penny it's there
in the grass

on your knees
hands up
only way you take the world


one two

one two one two one two

pick it up child

one two one two one two one two ...

Mairi Graham-Shaw
© 2014

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
“foto 1” - Augusto De Luca
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.