Tuesday, February 10, 2015

"black veil blues #1"

black veil blues #1

and her?
she was born a widow
pushed out into this world
bawling and broken

she was alone before you knew her
before she knew you
knew your body
blood beating
pulsing praying pushing
and cold
ash on her fingers
ash in the wind

before that, she was alone.
children played at house
cops and robbers
bonnie and clyde
she practised loneliness
until it was an art

after you knew her
she drew the curtains shut
let no light in
held the memory of it in her hands
smelled myrrh
let it run between her fingers
nails lacquered to a high black shine
stored in enamel boxes
wept on fridays

she was born a widow.
the gift you gave her?
realisation of her self
blossoming whole
dead browning bloom

Mairi Graham-Shaw
© 2015

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons
Else Sehrig-Vehling: “Drawing of a Woman” - undated.
Wiki Commons asserts Public Domain

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

“Time and Water”

Time and Water

Time is like the water,
and the water is cold and deep
as my witness.

And time is like a picture,
which is painted by the water
and me, but half-done.

And time and water
run un-channelled to exhaustion
in my witness.

Steinn Steinarr ("Tíminn og vatnið" 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  
Sumarkvöld við Reykjavík (Summer Evening in Reykjavík) by Þórarinn B. Þorláksson (1867-1924). Made in 1904.
Public domain.

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 out 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.