Friday, September 12, 2014

"The Jitterbug Waltz" – Jazz on Nylon #4

Some wonderful music for your Friday listening pleasure!

It occurred to me a while back that if I was going to run a series called Jazz on Nylon, there were a few players who simply couldn’t be omitted. While the series so far has focused on guitarists who aren’t as well known, & while that may continue to be the focus going forward, I don’t want to simply overlook the handful of guitarists who’ve made a significant reputation for themselves in the jazz world while playing a classical guitar as their main instrument. Of course Charlie Byrd has to be high on that list,

Although Charlie Byrd began playing guitar as a boy on a regular steel string acoustic, he began studying classical guitar after being discharged from the army in 1945. In the 1950s he studied with Sophocles Pappas & then later with the great Andrés Segovia. Byrd’s first major engagement was a European tour with Woody Herman’s Herd in 1959—this version of the Herd also included Vince Guaraldi & Nate Adderly. Also around this same time Byrd began to develop an interest in Bossa Nova, & he & Stan Getz recorded the seminal Jazz Samba in 1962 for Verve Records. Byrd’s passion for Bossa Nova continued throughout his career, & you can hear him playing such classics as “Samba de Orfeu” & “Corcovado”on YouTube.

Unlike the other guitarists featured so far in this series, Byrd really didn’t work as a soloist. He collaborated with many notable players, including his work with Herb Ellis & Barney Kessel in Great Guitars. But his standard format was the trio, as in this video; & as in this video, his bass player was often his brother Joe Byrd.

“The Jitterbug Waltz” is a true jazz classic. Written by the great Fats Waller, who first recorded it on Hammond organ in 1942, the song was reportedly inspired by some piano exercises his son Maurice was studying. Waller is a giant in the jazz world. Although he was known for his comic persona & his novelty songs like “All That Meat & No Potatoes” & “Your Feet’s Too Big,” he was a masterful composer & a virtuoso both on piano & organ.

Byrd’s rendering of the song is just lovely—plenty of swing, as well as the great warmth & clarity of tone for which he is always noted. Hope you enjoy this beautiful music.





Image links to its source at
jazzinphoto

Monday, September 1, 2014

Photos of the Month – August 2014 (Guys & Gals of Summer Edition)

A shot from the bleachers at Erv Lind field as the Giants & A's square off in a BoomerPDX game

Something a bit different with photos of the month this time around. First, not all of the photos were taken by me; second, not all of the photos were taken this past month; & third, even those that were taken by me don’t fit the usual criterion of being the “best” photos I took in the month. But they do illustrate very much what my August has been about—& indeed, my spring & summer in general.

The 2013 D'Backs team photo - however the 2014 team had the same players

As you’re aware if you know me at all or follow the blog closely, I started playing softball again last year after an 11 or 12-year layoff & despite dealing with a respiratory condition with the 50-cent name of Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. Last year I played in an over-50 men’s league in the summer, & then joined a regular adult co-ed league in the fall. Needless to say I was the oldest player on that latter team! This spring I entered another adult co-ed league, & that team—which had some players from the fall team—has coalesced into a wonderful group that has continued to play not only in spring, but also summer weeknights & will continue into the fall. In fact, we finished an undefeated summer season by securing the league championship.

The Underhanded Compliments on opening evening of the Summer League (14 of 15 players)

Underhanded Compliments, League Champs 2014 - such a hot evening! I was as tired as I look!

I also came back to the same team in the over-50 league, & while we went somewhat to the opposite extreme (2 wins, 10 losses), it still was fun. Despite my physical issues, I played every inning of the 11 games I was able to make at third base, & acquitted myself respectably in the field. We played our last game this past Sunday (a 12 to 4 loss).


A Giants hitter squares off against the A's pitcher. We had some roster issues this summer, so the Giants had to supply a catcher in this game to give the A's a full squad.
Seconds before a home run - this A's hitter took this pitch well over the left field fence!

Of course there are serious logistical problems with taking photos while one is actually playing, so the photos from the over-50 league are from the first game of the weekly doubleheader—there are only four teams in the BoomerPDX league. We get to play in a small stadium—Erv Lind field (part of Normandale Park), which is also where the Portland State Women’s fast pitch team plays.


The Entrance to Erv Lind Stadium
Otherwise, there are various team photos to “flesh things out,” as it were, as well as a photo of Irving Park, where the co-ed team plays.

Irving Park - the scene of spring, summer & fall softball adventures

I can’t stress often enough how grateful I am to still be playing softball on the eve of my 58th birthday. It’s not that I was ever an outstanding player—average in my prime, I certainly have lost speed, stamina, reflexes & so forth over time. But I think I somewhat compensate for these deficiencies by just being more relaxed about everything (as I’ve mentioned before in other softball-related posts.) & gratitude does help keep things in perspective!

I happily serve as team captain for my co-ed team, & on the night of our championship, they gave me this baseball shirt. I was so touched by this gesture!

Hope you enjoy this little album.

Who'd a thunk it?

Monday, August 25, 2014

“No Water, No Moon”

When the nun Chiyono studied Zen under Bukko of Engaku she was unable to attain the fruits of meditation for a long time.

At last one moonlit night she was carrying water in an old pail bound with bamboo. The bamboo broke and the bottom fell out of the pail, and at that moment Chiyono was set free!

In commemoration, she wrote a poem:

    In this way and that I tried to save the old pail
    Since the bamboo strip was weakening and about
       to break
    Until at last the bottom fell out.
    No more water in the pail!
    No more moon in the water!


*   *   *


Text is from 101 Zen Stories, a 1919 compilation of Zen compiled by Nyogen Senzaki, &  a translation of Shasekishū, written in the 13th century by Japanese Zen master Mujū (無住) (literally, "non-dweller"). The book was reprinted by Paul Reps as part of Zen Flesh, Zen Bones.  See Wikipedia page.



Image links to source on Wiki Commons
Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839–1892): “Lady Chiyo and the broken water bucket”

Friday, August 22, 2014

“My Funny Valentine” – Jazz on Nylon #3

Music for today: one of my favorite songs from the Great American Songbook, the lovely “My Funny Valentine” from Roger & Hart, as played on classical guitar by French virtuoso Roland Dyens.

Rogers & Hart composed “My Funny Valentine” for the 1937 musical, Babes in Arms, & it was sung in the original production by Mitzi Green. The song was also featured in the 1957 film adaptation of Pal Joey (it was not part of the Broadway play on which the film is based). Interestingly, the song was not included in the 1939 film version of Babes in Arms directed by Busby Berkeley & starring Mickey Rooney & Judy Garland. There have been a number of notable versions of the song by jazz greats such as Miles Davis, Anita O’Day, Bill Evans, Chet Baker, Sarah Vaughn & many more.

In addition to featuring one of Hart’s best lyrics, the song features a haunting minor key melody with an underlying harmonic structure built on a descending chromatic bass line leading from the tonic to the dominant chord. This particular chord structure comes up in any number of popular songs (just for example among very many, it’s also in the verse of “The Hotel California”!) but it works with particular effectiveness in this tune. “My Funny Valentine” was originally composed in C minor. It moves to Eb (the corresponding major key) in the bridge & also features a final resolution to Eb major in the tag, usually in some form of major 7 or 6 chord.

Roland Dyens is not only an accomplished classical guitar player; he’s also a composer of some note, as well as a skilled improviser, so it makes sense he’s able to make a jazz standard come alive on the classical guitar.





Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
The guitarist Roland Dyens in concert, Munich 8.April 2000. Image is by Wiki Commons user Hans Bernhard (Schnobby), & is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ullambana in Portland

August 2014


eastern horizon carved from rooftops,
construction sites, one towering backyard
spruce spire—sneakers dangling from a
phone line silhouetted against
dusk—full moon you turned to glimpse
looming over your shoulder—a
softball diamond’s skin infield, white
chalk lined basepaths—& of course orange
trumpet vine blossoms draped
on a slat fence back of that Chevron station—that
goes without saying—there’s no chronology:
it always seems to be last Thursday—
& why these clothes scattered a-
cross a rock garden next to the curb on Fremont?
tarnished yellow, clouded pink, checked
canvas deck shoes, each untouched for
3 days & 3 nights—death’s constant
surprise—black leaves massed on the
black plum outside the Thai restaurant—&
especially the bamboo wind chimes up the street
clacking a G note with no larynx—there’s
no direction home, in
fact no directionality, the soccer ball
bangs dissonant off the chain link playground
fence after dark even when the weeping
cherry blooms in March—the butter
yellow daylilies proliferate in this
evening’s supermarket next to
shelves of artisanal bread loaves

        & one night the rain fell:
this parking lot glimmered black
water too deep for memory out my back
window: amnesia visible—when one
image inflates to a full moon swamping
the horizon east to west, when the first
horse chestnuts drop by the park still
green—when it all transits past breath, solarized
image, resonance: I’d ask not to utter dry un-
satisfied names in pentatonic tones with-
in the bamboo’s whispers

Jack Hayes
© 2014


Ullambana: Per Wikipedia (see link), "The Ghost Festival, also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival in modern day, Zhong Yuan Jie or Yu Lan Jie (traditional Chinese: 盂蘭節) is a traditional Buddhist and Taoist festival held in Asian countries. In the Chinese calendar (a lunisolar calendar), the Ghost Festival is on the 15th night of the seventh month (14th in southern China)."

Thursday, August 14, 2014

All About Ann Blyth: A Q&A with Jacqueline T Lynch

I’m very happy to present a Q&A today with talented writer, historian & blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch. Jacqueline is the blogger behind Another Classic Movie Blog, which is staple reading for those interested in classic film, & has been for years. In addition, Jacqueline writes the fine New England Travels blog. Beyond her online presence, she also is a published author, with seven novels, three works of historical non-fiction & seven plays to her credit, as well as collections of short stories & a children’s book—an impressive résumé! 

But today’s Q&A isn’t about Jacqueline’s past achievements. It’s about her current project, a book on actress Ann Blyth. In this case, Jacqueline is using a Kickstarter campaign to fund some of the necessities for what promises to be a first-rate publication. I encourage you to support this project in any way you can. You can reach the Ann Blyth Kickstarter at this link  or from the dedicated link at the top of this blog’s right sidebar.
 

& now, let’s read what Jacqueline has to tell us about her project:
 

Okay, the $64,000 question: Why Ann Blyth?
 

Sometimes the subject finds you.  I had written about Mildred Pierce in a previous year, but that post focused on the cinematography of the movie and not really the performances.  I’d always meant to get back to it and cover it from the angle of the performances.  Then the summer of 2013 I wrote about I’ll Never Forget You, (a time-travel romance I recently re-visited in another post for my year-long series on Ann Blyth’s movies).  I was struck by two things:  first, how meaningful her portrayal was of this 18th century woman, how much her delicate performance enhanced the story as well as our knowledge of the time in which it was set.   Second, I was struck by how profoundly different this character was to the volatile and scheming Veda of Mildred Pierce.  

I decided it was time to write more on Ann Blyth, but was then shocked to discover I had only seen about a third of her films.   I had been watching old movies since I was old enough to toddle over to the TV and manually switch the dial and manipulate the rabbit ears by myself.  Why had I seen only 10 Ann Blyth movies in all those years?


Then I discovered that so many were hard to get, never seen, not available either on DVD or VHS.   This woman had been the flavor of the month all through the late 1940s and most of the 1950s, on enough magazine covers to choke a horse, and as famous in her day as any young star could be.   Today, she is nowhere to be seen in that kitschy souvenir shop universe where classic film fans can easily snag T-shirts and coffee cups and posters of Clark Gable and The Three Stooges, Mae West and Betty Boop, and, of course, the ever-exploitable Marilyn Monroe.   


Where was Ann Blyth?  She never retired from performing.  She had, unlike most other stars of that era, performed in all media from radio to TV to stage, and was successful in all of them.    Far, far more talented than any other 1950s glamour girl, yet she is not as well known today among younger classic film fans.  I wanted to know why.


Paradoxically, among those older fans whom I’ve heard from in the past year, Ann Blyth is remembered with deep and abiding love, with an admiration and wistful, sweet affection I have not heard expressed for other stars.  I wanted to know why.


I also wanted to know why most of her films are so hard to obtain.   Well, you tell the girl she can’t have cookies, and she immediately starts climbing up the shelf to reach the cookie jar.  It became a mission.  To my amazement and chagrin, there’s still one film, Katie Did It, that I just cannot seem to find.

How has following the career of one actress for a year on your blog changed your perception of the blog' s purpose & possibilities?


At first this just seemed to be an interesting project, a change of pace, if you will, for a blog that just started its seventh year.  I thought it might shake things up a little, if not for the reader, then for me.  


Very quickly, however, following the career of one actress changed the tone, I think, of the blog and made it more personal, as well as more about the nuts and bolts of the industry.   My approach to blogging about classic films has always been to discuss a movie in the context of the time in which it was made.  For me, the era is part and parcel to understanding a movie and enjoying it more.  I’ve mentioned often that if one has little knowledge of what the US or the world was like in 1939 or 1952, or whatever year, then there’s a whole lot about the movie that will go right over that person’s head.  That is a shame, for movies are probably one of our greatest tools to learn about history, because they are truly time capsules, valuable most especially for their unselfconscious faults and virtues.


But focusing on one person’s career altered my background comments to the film, which became more directed toward Ann Blyth’s personal experiences, what she said at the time, what others said about her, things that happened off set.   What I learned about her personal life (most of which I have not mentioned on the blog because I really do want to keep to her career) has moved me deeply.  One reader joked early on that this series would become a kind of archive for people to come to who want to know more about Ann Blyth.  I hope it will become, not an archive, but a steppingstone for people to discover more about her work. 

If someone wanted an introduction to the films of Ann Blyth, which three would you recommend & why?


That’s a tough one, because she’s like a chameleon, and the more of her films you see, the more impressive this quality of versatility becomes.


I’d have to say Mildred Pierce, because of the skillful ferocity, the maturity of her work, and because she was only 16 years old when she did it.  That alone is astounding.


Then Once More, My Darling, because it really is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen and her work in this charming, offbeat story is splendid.  This film definitely needs to be better known.  She is a subtle, guileless, and devastatingly funny comedienne.


Then I guess Kismet, because it is a musical with a lovely score and Ann gets to display her marvelous lyric soprano.  


Just seeing these three movies, say in the course of one day, one is apt to say, “Was that really the same person?” 

What are the Kickstarter funds going to?
 

The funds will go to obtaining never published or rarely published photos currently in the collections of libraries, museums, and newspapers that currently hold the rights.  I will have to pay licensing fees to use them.  As funds permit, I would also obtain additional research materials, and pay for editing, proofreading, and cover art.  This will be the first book written about Ann Blyth’s career. [editorial note: emphasis by yours truly]

How has studying one actress in so much depth altered your views on classic films?
 

I think I am even more awed by how hard one must work to get anywhere in the business, and how much luck is involved, how much is due to the help and contribution of others, from makeup, publicity, and anyone in the production end willing to go to bat for a performer, and how much is out of one’s hands.  Ann always appreciated her contract with Universal, but the studio did not always showcase her in the best movies.  On the one hand, she enjoyed a variety of genres and experiences.  On the other hand, there was no clear and strong trajectory to her path.  She controlled as much of her course as she could with admirable prudence.  What she could not control, she handled with quiet resolution.

I am fascinated about the child of six who found work in the worst years of the Great Depression as a radio performer.  That as a 12-year old, she appeared on Broadway in one of Lillian Hellman’s most important dramas, and thereby helped support her family.   A shy, self-effacing girl, not from a show-biz family, whose single mother struggled to support her, and yet taught this young girl lessons she would need on perseverance, self-discipline, faith, kindliness, and humility that she would need to get her through tragic times and keep her steady when she finally ended up in Hollywood and in a world that ate up and spit out a lot of other sensitive people.  


It is often commented that Ann Blyth retired after her last film in 1957, The Helen Morgan Story, but she didn’t.  She acted and sang for decades afterward, not working in film because either she was not offered the roles, or the roles she was offered did not appeal to her.   Of course, she also curtailed her schedule to raise her children.  A celebrity drops off the radar if the glare of the lights and piercing eye of the camera are not always on them, and this is perhaps the greatest insight into our perception today of classic films.  To the classic film fan, Cary Grant is as big a deal as he was when he was alive, when he was a star in the 1930s. 
But Ann Blyth is alive.  She did not retire.  She’s going on a Turner Classic Movies Disney cruise in October.  I know her old fans are eagerly interested for any news on this.  What I hope, however, is that my blog will introduce her to many new fans, who will enjoy the privilege of showing their appreciation for her work while she is still with us and can know it.   Classic films are not just about the stars, or the studio system, or the moguls, or the movies.  They are also the fans of today that keep them alive.  I think coming to understand this is one of the most profound aspects on the study of classic films that I’ve learned from this series.



Thanks so much Jacqueline! Now please folks, support this important project!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"Lines Composed at Indian Shores"

Lines Composed at Indian Shores
July 2011

How briefly enlightenment
emanated from my being!
Yesterday, I mistakenly took two one-a-days.
Soon after, my pee lit up the windowless bathroom,
making a light unnecessary.
By nighttime,
darkness had set in again.

***

In the early morning
I slush along the beach
counting Hail Marys on my fingers
in the absence of beads,
constantly losing count
and, to be safe, giving the Lord and his mother
a few extras to think about
in these fifteen or twenty minutes of my trudge
before devoting the rest to my own musings
and to the sights and sounds of sea and birds.

***
 

When Holmes stops by to visit
he sits at the kitchen table
and we share a pot of coffee.
Then he gently places a mollusk on the table.
identifies it as a chambered nautilus,
and equates it with the soul.
After a trip to the beach
Holmes always returns a poet.
I, on the other hand, return sunburned.


Carmen Leone
© 2011



Image links to its source on Wiki Commons

This Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons image is from the user Chris 73 and is freely available at //commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:NautilusCutawayLogarithmicSpiral.jpg under the creative commons cc-by-sa 3.0 license.