Sunday, July 5, 2015

"'Round Midnight" – Jazz on Nylon #9 (a & b)

A happy Sunday, friends. We’re back at you with another installment in the Jazz on Nylon series. Great song for a hot summer evening or night—so great in fact, that I’m posting two versions for your listening pleasure.

Thelonious Monk’s composition “’Round Midnight” is, according to the Jazz Standards website, “the most-recorded jazz standard written by any jazz musician.” There are conflicting stories about the songs composition. Some claim that Monk was as young as 18 or 19 when he wrote the song, originally under the title of “Grand Finale.” Others claim it was written in 1940 or 1941, when Monk was in his early 20s. At any rate, it’s known that trumpet player Cootie Williams recorded the song in 1944; as Cootie Williams shares the composition credit with Monk, it’s generally thought that a handful of Williams’ embellishments became a part of the song, but there is a bit of controversy on this point. Bernie Hanighen added lyrics a few years later.

“’Round Midnight” became a signature song for Cootie Williams, & later for Miles Davis as well (who titled an album “Round About Midnight,” which led to this being used as an alternate title); Dizzy Gillespie & Art Pepper also recorded notable versions, & the vocal version has been sung by a number of jazz singers.

The song is written in the key of Eb minor, which is considerably more friendly for a piano, brass, or reed instrument than it is for the guitar. According to Jazz Standards,”the initial harmonic progression is i -vi -ii7 -V7, similar to ‘Alone Together’”; however, on the same page, saxophonist Jim Clark states that while this is the progression given in The Real Book, it’s not what he hears Monk & others actually playing.

My original idea was to post Ukrainian guitarists Roman Viazovskiy’s great version based on Roland Dyen’s arrangement. Intricate & highly lyrical, this is a beautiful reading. But let’s face it: when there’s a version that exists by the Brazilian virtuoso Baden Powell, it’s pretty hard to overlook that! The video & audio are better on the Viazovskiy rendition, but Powell’s highly improvised Latin reading is masterful—& given the importance of this song in the Jazz songbook, why not go with two versions? In addition, it will make up a little for the lapse since the last post in this series! Finally, as an added bonus for those who find even two versions to be insufficient: here’s a link to the great guitarist Wes Montgomery playing a jazz box version in his amazing thumb style & a link to a beautiful solo piano version by Monk himself.


Image links to its source on Wiki CommonsThelonious Monk, Minton's Playhouse, New York, ca. September 1947. Photograph by William P. Gottlieb – Library of Congress, Public Domain

Thursday, June 25, 2015

That Summer Feeling (revisited)

Hello, friends! Hope you all are enjoying your summer at least as much as I have been.

From time to time a good friend sends me an email that begins with words to this effect: “As much as I enjoy your last blog post, it has been up for a really long time.” It’s true. Blog posts have been few & far between on Robert Frost’s Banjo this year. I used to fret about that sort of thing, & it’s true that at one time there were daily posts here, & even after that frenetic pace slowed down, there were still regular series & such.

For a lot of reasons, that has slowed down for a few years. I used to fret about it, but not so much anymore. I’m glad the blog is here to return to when I can, & I’m also content that there may be significant gaps between posts.

To a large extent, my life in Portland has been an active one as opposed to the more contemplative life I lived in Idaho during the blog’s first years. Though I still face challenges, my health is the best I’ve enjoyed in years, & for the most part that’s thanks to a dramatically increased activity level—walking five miles a day, playing softball from February through October, & regularly attending tai chi classes. I suppose I could chronicle these activities, especially as they might be of interest to other people with chronic lung issues, but I simply haven’t done so. For those who are really craving more regular updates about my activities, I do keep a blog for one of my softball teams, the Underhanded Compliments; however, I’d say it is of considerably more interest to the team members & their close friends & families than to a more general readership.

But the summer is here. & to celebrate it, I’m sharing (again, but the last time was 5 years ago!) one of my favorite songs about the season. Beautiful music, & amidst the fun of the rhymes & images, some deep thoughts about seizing the day.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

"may bouquet in daylight moonlight"

may bouquet in daylight moonlight

for Sheila
afternoon half moon eastward, sky’s acrylic
cerulean without a hint of brushstroke or

cumulus, flat & infinite above the bus stop—
still, for all their one-time crimson, lavender, bridal

white extravagance, rhododendrons shrink inward to-
day to brown husks beyond the concept of

spring—or splash across the sidewalk in
technicolor patterns determined by nothing more

nothing less than a May breeze—random &
fleshy as scraps of memory—

it was another thing in April, kwanzan blossoms
frothing on cherries lining the avenue—

the world different then in ways that make no sense—
except as this half moon swells ghostly into

its next phase—(when astronauts
touched down on the moon, which moon was it?)

at moonset fresh scarlet roses will carry on
opening maps into June & we’ll go
                         back to a place we haven’t been before

Jack Hayes
© 2015

(posted 5/28; revised 5/29)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

"Postman Cheval"

Postman Cheval

We the birds you always charm from atop these belvederes
And who each night form no more than one blossoming branch from your shoulders to
the arms of your beloved wheel-barrow
Which we uproot from your wrists more sharply than sparks
We are the sighs of the glass statue that rises itself up on its elbow when man sleeps
So shining breaches may open in his bed
Breaches through which can be glimpsed stags with coral antlers inside a glade
Or naked women at the very bottom of a mine
You remember then you got up you got off the train
Without a glance toward the locomotive preyed upon by immense barometric roots
That moans in the virgin forest for all its murdered boilers
Its smokestacks smoking hyacinths and stirred by blue serpents
We would then go before you we the plants subject to metamorphoses
Who each night send signals man can intercept
While his house tumbles down and he’s astounded by the odd couplings
His bed seeks with the corridor and staircase
The staircase branches out indefinitely
It leads to a millstone door it opens suddenly onto a public square
It’s made of swans’ backs an outstretched wing as the rail
It turns upon itself as if it’s going to bite itself
But no it’s content at the sound of our footsteps to open all its steps like drawers
Bread drawers wine drawers soap drawers ice drawers staircase drawers
Flesh drawers with handfuls of hair
At the hour when the ducks of Vaucanson preen their feathers
Without turning around you seized the trowel used for making breasts
We smiled at you you held us by the waist
And we assumed the positions of your pleasure
Motionless under our eyelids forever as woman loves to see man
After making love

André Breton

translation by Jack Hayes 

Image links to its source on the Facteur Cheval website. Facteur Cheval was in fact a historical figure; you can read more about him here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015



The sun,
the sun was with me ,
like a slender woman ,
in yellow shoes .

Twenty fathoms deep
lay my faith and love
like a two-toned blossom.

And the sun passed
over the unsuspecting blossom 
in yellow shoes.

Steinn Steinarr ("Solin" 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  
Nature morte avec des tournesols sur un fauteuil (Still life with sunflowers on an armchair): Paul Gaugin. 1901. Public domain

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"I wonder…"

I wonder…

I wonder… What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?
I wonder why my lip twitches like an involuntary Elvis impersonator
when I haven’t gotten enough sleep?
I wonder if Facebook has my photo on an ad for Steve Martin’s books?
I wonder if Steve Martin thinks of me whenever he sees an ad for Barbie Dolls?
I wonder why I can’t go a day without getting a notification
to update an app on my iPhone?
I wonder why my iPhone isn’t called a myPhone?
Isn’t “I” incorrect?
I wonder if 3M is working on an adhesive to mend a broken heart?
I wonder if “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”
can be translated into actual currency?
I wonder how many people hear that saying
and think it has to do with personal grooming?
I wonder how tall writer’s block is….
or if it’s measured like a city block?
I wonder why people made fun of my looks until Facebook came along in my 30s
and I wonder why all of a sudden I’m considered pretty?
I wonder if anyone’s 30-something brain can reconcile going from homely to pretty
in the span of a social media click?
I wonder if there’s an afterlife and if my father is hitting on Janis Joplin
and Helen of Troy…while secretly dating Natalie Wood?
If wonder if he’s proud of the person I’ve become?
I wonder if I’ll ever really trust anyone again?
I wonder why the family in Moonstruck puts sugar cubes in their champagne?
I wonder if wondering will become a lost art?
I wonder if smart phones and search engines will take away our wonder?
I wonder how many people remember the search engine Ask Jeeves
with the picture of a butler with the silver tray?
I wonder if Jeeves was based on the P.G. Wodehouse character and, if so,
how many people got the joke?
I wonder if I’m pro-noun-ciating Wodehouse correctly?
I wonder if a poem about wondering is anything anyone would want to publish?
I wonder, because my brain can’t help it.
I wonder because I know that I don’t know everything,
but something inside of me wishes that I did.
I wonder if wondering is what drives us forward?
I wonder if it would be easier if we were driving ourselves forward on bicycles
instead of cars?
I wonder if the feeling of actually pushing ourselves would spur us on?
I wonder if we would feel a sense of accomplishment from taking on such a task?
I wonder if our instantaneous gratification has taken away our chance at
pride in our work?
Pride in ourselves?
Pride in all that we can achieve as individuals?
Pride in the monumental change we can effect as a group?
I wonder this because I wonder why bad things happen all around me.
And I wonder what I can do as one small person.
One girl whose only gift is to make an audience laugh.
And then I wonder what will happen if I try to make things better, in some small way.
And then I wonder if anyone will even notice that I’m trying.
And then I wonder if they’ll want to help.
And then I wonder how we could have sat around before with doing anything?
Without even giving these problems a moment’s thought?
Without even trying to try?
Without even wondering?
And then I wonder…
What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow
...because I refuse to search for the answer online.

Barbie Angell
© 2014

Inspired by a conversation with Worldchanging 101 author, David LaMotte.

Video of Barbie Angell's performance of "I Wonder" at the White Horse Black Mountain Slowhand Benefit by Kurt Loveland, & is used with his generous permission.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

“Perfect Day”

Some music for your Thursday.

While I’ve drifted away from rock music over the past 20 years or so, there are still seminal artists—artists who’ve inspired me on multiple level, including my poetry—to whom I still return. & two of those are Lou Reed & Patti Smith.

Certainly neither artists needs an introduction; Lou Reed’s work, both as a force in the Velvet Underground & in his long solo career, is some of the most compelling in the rock genre, both musically & lyrically. As far as Patti Smith goes, the same can be said. I still can remember a very early Saturday Night Live showing a video of her "Gloria In Excelsis," & I was immediately hooked in every way.

So it does make sense to pair the two—members of the New York punk rock scene, top-notch writers, true forces behind some of rock’s most genuine music. In this case, Patti Smith is covering the Reed song “Perfect Day.”

“Perfect Day” first appeared on Lou Reed’s 1972 Transformer album, released around the time of the Velvet Underground’s breakup—in fact four of the albums 11 tracks are songs performed by the Velvets (“Andy’s Chest”; “Satellite of Love”; “New York Telephone Conversation”; “Good Night Ladies”). Although Wikipedia states that “The song's lyrics are often considered to suggest simple, conventional romantic devotion,” this really strikes me as a huge over-simplification: if that’s the “meaning,” how does one account for “You just keep me hanging on” & “You’re going to reap just what you sow”? The vision seems to have a real underlying sadness & even darkness.

Others have conjectured that the song is about Reed’s heroin addiction, & while that is plausible, it certainly works as a song about the nuances & complications of love relationships.

The song has been covered a number of times, but Patti Smith’s version really cuts to the heart of the song’s sadness & complexity. Released on her 2007 album of cover songs, Twelve, Smith gives the song a deep & authoritative reading.


Image links to its source on Wiki Commons

"Patti Smith performing at the O2 Academy. Leeds, on Sunday the 9th of September 2012" by ManAlive!, who makes it available under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.