Sunday, July 20, 2014

Banjo Hitter #2 – The Boys of Summer

Sunday July 20th, Erv Lind Field, Portland: One thing I’m particular about—I have to get there early. Our game—the second of the usual Boomer PDX League Sunday doubleheader—doesn’t start until 1:45, but I’m already taking a seat in the stands by the first pitch of game one. & there’s already a rhubarb about line-ups before the first pitch is thrown, but then order is restored & the first pitch makes its way toward home, only to be greeted squarely by a bat & lined into left field. I remember one of the umpires remarking last season about how the players were all over 50, but they argued as much as little leaguers. The boys of summer.

It’s crucial to relax in the surroundings—to get into that timeless feel that playing either baseball or softball can impart. Not so much as a spectator, though even then time is altered. But once the first game ends & ours is underway, time really becomes altered. It’s not even a question of minutes or the time of day—it’s easy to lose track of innings or the exact score—the focus is on how many outs & where the base runners are & where are we in the batting order.

A cool day for July—overcast, a bit muggy. We take the field first, give up three runs, take our turn at bat & fail to answer. Back to our positions, & they are back to hitting the ball hard to the outfield. Those long innings in the field, a combination of miscues & base hits, bring time back into the game. The sun comes out—then back behind a cloud. Focus. Am I too close to the line? I need to go to second if the ball is hit to me…

Of course, viewed objectively we are a ragtag lot. Some of us were good players when younger, though I can’t count myself among those. There are men who played college baseball some 35 or more years ago, & you can tell the athletes, even at this age. There’s an 80-year-old man on the opposing team who was a college ballplayer once. His first at bat he lines a base hit to left; his final at bat he lines a ball right at me, but low, & I have to drop to my knees to make the catch on the fly.

A friend tells me that her father, a Scotsman who immigrated to Canada’s maritime provinces, believes baseball is a children’s game—football (in the world sense, not the U.S. sense) is the only real sport. I wonder what he would make of slow-pitch softball, baseball’s congenial & easygoing sibling, especially when played by such grandfatherly or at the very least, avuncular types as present company.

In truth, it’s not a good game for my team—the final score is 19 to 6, & that included 3 runs we scored in the final inning. We fell behind early, a combination of our opponents’ solid hitting (including back-to-back homers over the left field fence in the middle innings, some misplays in the field & our own weak, over-anxious hitting. In terms of personal performance, I’m satisfied: two singles & a walk in four plate appearances. But I can see the pitch in that fourth time up coming in, probably a bit outside, the thoughts of hitting to right field & at the last micro-second realizing I was swinging under it. A weak pop fly to first base.

It’s taken me 50 years, but at last I feel comfortable with myself playing, at least more often than not. I play third base in this league, & enjoy it. The first ball hit to me—to my left, the glove side, & well struck, hugging the ground. I pick it & throw to second for the force. The second ball very like the first until at the last second it hits something on its track toward my glove & shoots upward, glancing off my left shoulder & somehow landing on my right. By the time I get a handle on the ball, there’s no play.

For years, sports were a locus of frustration for me. I was never especially athletic—much to my chagrin. More specifically in baseball & softball, a weakly hit ball, an error in the field became a stinging & bitter distillation of failure—of all failures, real & perceived. Failure was a companion I always had beside me, ready to assert itself—ready to remind me. But coming back to the game I loved in my late 50s, something seems to have happened. What is it?

The boys of summer. How much have any of us really changed in the 50 or 60 or 70 years since we first took up playing ball? How many times have we failed in the interim? At work, in relationships, undergoing all manner of disappointment & cognitive dissonance. What I seem to remember more often now: we all fail; we all take it to heart—& we are the boys of summer only in our imaginations, not in our bodies. We exist with memory & expectation & the realities of slower reflexes & bifocals.

But enough about failure & aging. Because even softball can be timeless on the field. Kenneth Patchen has a picture poem that states, “All at once is what eternity is.” The boyhood of summer isn’t about re-capturing a mythical moment in the past—it’s not about time travel—because, at least for me, that never happened. It’s all about now—the gratitude & exuberance of being in this moment, on this softball diamond, win or lose, succeed or fail. Perhaps I really do belong in this eternity.

Friday, July 18, 2014

"The Idaho Waltz"

in Idaho amongst honeybee hives these
shabby sunflowers grasp a gravel road over-
looking a lean-to painted barn red like a star

& mule deer materialize in July twilight while
the stream that carved the upper pasture in
March mesa run-off stands dry amongst

horsetail & the waning moon heaves into
view above Indian Mountain & evening’s pale
permeating each compass point all at once

while swallows erupt from a corrugated
outbuilding’s peak above the sodium light
& dart & swoop over salmon-pink roses that can

withstand this heat, & a 5-string banjo’s frailed
in the interstices betwixt spacetime & memory:
“wake up wake up little Maggie”

 

Jack Hayes
© 2014

Thursday, July 17, 2014

“Blue Monk” – Jazz on Nylon #1


There is never a bad day to listen to a Thelonious Monk composition, right? & today we have something a bit different—a Monk composition rendered on classical guitar!

In fact, when the guitarist is Pino Russo, this works pretty much to perfection. There’s not much information on Russo in English, but he’s an Italian guitar virtuoso (also apparently an accomplished mandolinist), & there are a number of videos on YouTube showcasing his work on compositions by Coltrane, Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis & others. Russo has superb tone & melodic sense in his arrangements, & plenty of soul—really inspired work.

While everyone thinks of the typical archtop guitar “jazzbox” as being the sine qua non instrument for playing standards—say a Gibson ES-175, à la Joe Pass—there is precedent for using a nylon string classical in top flight jazz playing, most famously of course by Charlie Byrd. Byrd, of course, played a lot of bossa nova, & the nylon string guitar is integral to the Brazilian jazz sound, but the mellow nylon tone has great possibilities for standards of all sorts. As Russo shows here, it can swing blue as well!

Blue Monk” is said to have been Monk’s favorite among his own compositions. Written in Bb, it’s in essence a 12-bar blues, though depending upon which lead sheet you look at there can be a fair number of chord substitutions on that basic form.

There are a number of videos on YouTube featuring top-notch classical/nylon string guitarists producing versions of jazz standards & Great American Songbook tunes, & I’ll be posting some of these as an ongoing (though irregularly appearing) series. Hope you enjoy this kickoff edition!



Image of Pino Russo links to its source at pinorusso.it

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

"Ch’ang-kan"


Ch’ang-kan

Soon after I wore my hair covering my forehead
I was plucking flowers and playing in front of the gate,
When you came by, walking on bamboo-stilts
Along the trellis, playing with the green plums.
We both lived in the village of Ch’ang-kan,
Two children, without hate or suspicion.
At fourteen I became your wife; I was shame-faced and never dared smile.
I sank my head against the dark wall;
Called to a thousand times, I did not turn.
At fifteen I stopped wrinkling my brow
And desired my ashes to be mingled with your dust.
I thought you were like the man who clung to the bridge:
Not guessing I should climb the Look-for-Husband Terrace,
But next year you went far away,
To Ch’ü-t’ang and the Whirling Water Rocks.
In the fifth month “one should not venture there”
Where wailing monkeys cluster in the cliffs above.
In front of the door, the tracks you once made
One by one have been covered by green moss—
Moss so thick that I cannot sweep it away,
And leaves are falling in the early autumn wind.
Yellow with August the pairing butterflies
In the western garden flit from grass to grass.
The sight of these wounds my heart with pain;
As I sit and sorrow, my red cheeks fade.
Send me a letter and let me know in time
When your boat will be going through the three gorges of Pa.
I will come to meet you as far as ever you please,
Even to the dangerous sands of Ch’ang-fēng.


Li Po
Translation by Arthur Waley (1918, public domain)



[This is the poem Ezra Pound translated in his 1915 Cathay collection as “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter.” Waley’s version is more intimate, & provides an interesting contrast.]


Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
Landscape with a bridge - detail: Anonymous, 1st century. Scroll painting on silk.
Public domain

Friday, July 4, 2014

"The Calliope Rag"


Happy July 4th! I thought a brief banjo interlude might be just the thing for the day, & what says Americana better than a Scottish & French sextet playing a composition by an African American composer on various forms of an African instrument that has been considerably altered in the Americas?

The Auld Alliance Banjo Sextet is a spin off from Rob McKillop’s Scottish Classic Banjo Quartet, which features McKillop on gut-strung banjo along with his students, Alasdair Dewar (banjorine), Alan Ramsey (banjo), & Cat Campbell (cello banjo). McKillop has been featured several times on Robert Frost’s Banjo. He’s a classical guitarist, a lutenist, a uke player, & a wiz on various forms of the banjo. In the sextet version of the group, he’s added accomplished French players Eric and Pat Stefanelli.

“The Calliope Rag” was composed by James Scott. Scott is less well-known than Scott Joplin, but he was a major composer in the ragtime tradition who published a number of pieces between 1903 & 1922. In fact “The Calliope Rag” was published posthumously & didn’t become available until 1966!

For those of you celebrating the Fourth of July, hope you have a wonderful day & evening. & for those of you not in the States, hope you have a lovely day!



Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
"Calliope, the wonderful operonicon or steam car of the muses", advertising poster, 1874
Library of Congress. Public domain

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

“On the Sunny Side of the Ocean”

Music for a hot day here in Portland, Oregon—temperatures predicted to climb into the high 90s! We are certainly “On the Sunny Side of the Ocean.”

This is a signature piece from the late, great guitarist & composer, John Fahey. For those who are unfamiliar with his work, he was much influenced by the fingerstyle guitar playing of Delta blues musicians like Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt & Charlie Patton. Fahey morphed the sound of that music into his own style, which he called “American Primitive.” Although Fahey did compose a number of pieces in standard tuning, he (like his blues playing predecessors) favored open tunings like open G (which is the tuning he used for “On the Sunny Side of the Ocean”) & “crossnote tuning,” or open D minor, as was used in particular by Skip James.

“On the Sunny Side of the Ocean” was originally released on Fahey’s 1965 album The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death; this video is from a 1978 concert in Hamburg, Germany—sorry they cut the final chord a second or two short!

Hope you enjoy it.




Image links to its source on Wiki Commons

John Fahey in Studio playing his Recording King guitar, c. 1970. Photo is by Ellis408, who makes it available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Photos of the Month - June 2014

 Garden gate - N Williams Ave, Portland, OR

Small press sign - N Williams Ave, Portland, OR

The Wonder Ballroom - NE Russell St, Portland, OR

Parking strip roses - NE San Rafael St, Portland, OR

Roses on a chain link & bamboo fence - NE San Rafael St, Portland, OR

A section of the Multicultural Integrated Kidney Education Mural - NE 7th Ave, Portland, OR

Rose blossom - NE Broadway, Portland, OR

"In the Tree Tops" by Margarita Leon - NE Broadway, Portland, OR

Sullivan's Gulch mural - NE Weidler, Portland, OR