Friday, October 24, 2014

Sighs of Autumn Rain #2

Sighs of Autumn Rain #2 (After Du Fu)

unstoppable autumn gales, rain with no let up, thrown together
the four seas, the eight wastelands are under one cloud
the horse departing the ox coming can’t be distinguished
the muddy Jing the clear Wei can’t be distinguished
the grain heads ripen the millet spike blackens
the farmer’s wife has no news of the farmer
in the city 10 quarts of rice cost a silken quilt
and all agree it’s a bargain at that

Jack Hayes
© 2014
based on Du Fu:
秋雨叹三首 (二)
qiū yǔ tàn sān shǒu (èr)

Image Links to its source on Wiki Commons
Dau Jin: Wind and Rain, Returning by Boat, hanging scroll, color on silk (15th century)
Public domain

Friday, October 17, 2014

“Somewhere” - The Cover Version (#1)

"I've found it's next to impossible to have an original thought, with so many people thinking." So says the Venerable Kusala Bhikshu. Sometimes he gets more specific, & amends this to “seven billion people thinking.”

Indeed. This strikes me as a deep thought, & it can lead me in a number of directions. Being a musician of sorts myself, one direction it takes me to is contemplation of that red-haired stepchild of popular music, the “cover version.”

What is all the hullabaloo about originality anyway? Does it all go back to the Romantic Movement in the arts, transmogrified but still going strong some two hundred plus years along? Does it have to do with the American mythos of the individual & the current manifestation of that into a concentrated cult of self? Can it be laid at the feet of the corporate powers that run a music industry fueled by rampant greed? What about the omnipresence of recorded music, which makes the “original” always at hand for the purposes of invidious comparison? It’s really quite amazing that within the history of human civilization, which dates back 5,000 to 8,000 odd years depending on your point of reference, the mass distribution of recorded music has supplanted live performance as the main source of music “consumption” for the majority of people except those in very isolated circumstances.

It’s probably all these things & more. After all, nothing in culture really happens for any one reason. But it seems to me a shame that such an opportunity for artistic creation—because in its own way, interpretation is creation—is given short shrift. In my own little way of redressing this, I’ve decided to post a series of “cover versions” that I particularly like. There will be no schedule, as is the norm around here these days—& no, it won’t take the place of the “Jazz on Nylon” series, which will continue (& which in its own way also involves “cover versions”!) But this series will focus on popular music, because unlike jazz, classical, or traditional music, popular music no longer has a set of “standards.” Is that a loss? It’s not my place to say. But I can say that some artists are able to transform popular songs into something rich & strange.

What better place to start than with Tom Waits’ version of Leonard Bernstein & Stephen Sondheim’s “Somewhere”? In the original context of West Side Story, the song is a hymn to a time when society can move beyond racial & ethnic prejudice; a beautiful melody that plays against a complex chord structure, with the final resolution moving inexorably & startlingly into another key a dominant seventh above the original key center.
Waits’ Blue Valentine, released in 1978 on Asylum, is a highly poetic & in its own way a highly romantic exploration of the wild side of life—it tells the story of skid row bums, petty criminals, prostitutes, runaways, the halt, the lame & the lost—even the haunted lover of the album’s final cut & title song—with a mixture of humor, insight, pathos, charged language & a tattooed heart worn for all to see with the sleeve rolled up. In that context, Waits transforms “Somewhere” into a fitting prelude to the album—it’s the opening song, & as an old friend of mine used to say, “What a voice to come out of the silence.” That Crown Royal & Chesterfields baritone, with its 3:00 a.m. growl that sings about hope against hope against an improbable but perfect string chorus. “Somewhere” becomes the song for all the misfits & the lost who will people the remaining original songs. Although the song wasn’t written by Waits, he makes it integral not only to his larger vision, but also to the specific & organically unified vision of the album. We can hear any of those characters singing softly to himself or herself: “Someday, somewhere, we’ll find a new way of living; we’ll find a way of forgiving, somewhere.” This is beautiful music & beautiful poetry combined.

Until next time.

The images of the cover art for Blue Valentine & West Side Story link to their sources on Wiki Commons, which claims “fair use.”

Friday, October 10, 2014

Sighs of Autumn Rain #1

Sighs of Autumn Rain #1 (After Du Fu)

ground cover rots in these autumn rains
though under the steps the sicklepod blooms, the
blunt green leaves canopy branches like feathers
uncounted blossoms flash yellow as coins
the cold wind whistles and buffets you
I’m afraid you won’t be able to stand against it
upstairs the scholar his white hair uncovered faces the
wind breathes in the fragrance three times, weeps

Jack Hayes
© 2014
based on Du Fu:
秋雨叹三首 (一) 

qiū yǔ tàn sān shǒu (yī)

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
Zhang Lu – “Hasty Return Before the Rain”; (15th-16th century) ink & color on silk

Friday, October 3, 2014

“All of Me” – Jazz on Nylon #4

Some wonderful music for your Friday listening pleasure.

All of Me”is a staple in the Great American Songbook, & has been recorded at least 140 times  since it was first composed by Gerald Marks & Seymour Simons in 1931. The song was debuted that same year in live performance by Belle Baker, while the original recordings were by the Paul Whitman Orchestra & Ruth Etting, both in 1932.

Marks & Simons are not among the better known songwriters of that period, but each had his hand in other notable compositions.  Marks composed “Is It True What They Say About Dixie”, while Simons collaborated with Richard A. Whiting on “Breezin’ Along with the Breeze.” Certainly “All of Me” was their most notable achievement.

The song was originally composed in “the people’s key” of C, & is typically performed in that key when played instrumentally. The chord progression is one I associate with ragtime compositions, as the first change jumps from the tonic to the 3 chord in its major iteration, & then follows a circle of fifths progression through the first 16 bars. There’s also a bridge involving a typical move from the 4 major to the 4 minor chord. “All of Me” is a 32-bar song, which is of course typical of Great American Songbook tunes.

Francesco Buzzurro is a virtuoso guitarist from Italy. His mix of swing, feeling & pure chops is truly formidable, as he uses both impeccable classical & flamenco techniques with a lightning fast right hand. Buzzurro favors a Godin classical guitar as his primary instrument.

Hope you enjoy this!

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons.
“Francesco Buzzurro guitarist in concert” 20 March 08. The file has generously been released into the public domain by its creator “Albatros978”. (dead link on Wiki Commons)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"love poem"

love poem

between nine o'clock and midnight
five thirty a.m. and just past eight
those are the witching hours

when my phone won't stop buzzing
and neither will my skin
raw with your imagined touch

when you could never bear to touch me
and my cursed flesh would burn

and all the things i want to tell you
swirl around in my mind
and in the cigarette smoke at the bus stop
in the breath that rises to God
on a cold morning
like all my pick up lines are for His ears only
and not for yours

every hell the doorway to a higher heaven,
i want to tell you
like dante
you always know what i mean

sometimes we don't talk for days
because we already know
what we would have said

my skin buzzes anyway

i crawled my way out of the first one
like out of a fresh dug grave
and my finger nails were bleeding when
i finally found the frosted air above
i wasn't buried alive
but pulled myself, dirty,
from the frozen ground
and came to life

you know i didn't come back for you
but still,
it could be nice sometimes,
if we pretend

Mairi Graham-Shaw
© 2014

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
"Bohley Eingeschlossene", ein Werk von Annemirl Bauer (1939-1989) aus dem Jahr 1984, in dem sie wegen ihres Eintretens für Reisefreiheit und für die Bürgerrechtlerin Bärbel Bohley aus dem Künstlerverband der DDR ausgeschlossen wurde

Copyleft: This work of art is free; you can redistribute it and/or modify it according to terms of the Free Art License. You will find a specimen of this license on the Copyleft Attitude site as well as on other sites.

Monday, September 22, 2014


Today: a suspended chord hovering between two open doors….

thru one the eggplants & tomatoes & peppers hang on their vines & absorb whatever sun breaks thru; the pears that were out-of-reach are still ripening yellow & falling; the zinnias are orange & magenta in the herb bed by the oregano, itself blooming white….

thru one the willow & cottonwood leaves are turning & starting to fall in the breeze—yellow raincoats strewn across the gravel driveway—the small apples at the fence line are ripening & dropping too….

This morning: the twilight’s first pale blue is a scar across the night where the horizon’s wrist folds into the sky’s hand curving black & starry overhead….

Night isn’t really infinite, it’s just a hand that’ll lift us into prehistory; the stars are so many diamonds compressed from wishes & memories & prayers swirling away ….

The moon shrinking white & quiescent into the last quarter, rising late in the night & wandering thru the afternoon sky between the clouds….

Summer was a waking daydream—even the short night’s a daydream of heat & smoke & crickets, & falling asleep in the daylight—here at the western brink of Mountain Time where the sunlight lingers almost into tomorrow (which never comes)….

& the pears we couldn’t reach hang on the boughs for a short time yellow & ripe….

Autumn will be a wakeful night, the cold light of planets & constellations burning back thru time—a thousand thousand lighthouses burning in a dark sea you won’t cross except in the thoughts that carry you thru the nighttime….

Today—briefly—a balance as day & night both leave their doors ajar—a suspended chord hanging between the stars glinting like pinpricks glittering thru black fabric & the leaves glinting yellow & slick as the sun breaks thru….

A balance—the blue scar of morning’s twilight a tightrope you’re walking between the day & night—

A tightrope—balanced on the streak of magenta—a wound between the horizon & the gray clouds at sunset—

A stasis that doesn’t last—a chord that could ring chilling or hopeful between the stars & the horizon & between the sunlight & the cottonwood leaves all falling yellow, & the chord asks to be resolved….

Jack Hayes
© 2010

[In the interest of full disclosure: this was written in 2008 when I was still living in Idaho - hence "Mountain Time" - & has been posted on the blog in the past, but not for some years. In addition, it can be found in my poetry collection The Spring Ghazals.] 

Image is from the 15th century "Nuremberg Chronicle, " Michel Wolgemut, Wilhelm Pleydenwurff - public domain

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