Friday, October 31, 2014

“Her name is Afrikka”

[This is Barbie Angell’s most recent poem, written for a young friend who was lost to the world far too soon; a video of Barbie reading the poem appears at the end of the post. To learn more about Afrikka, & if possible, help her family in their time of need, please visit the Her Name is Afrikka site at this link.] 

Her name is Afrikka

Her name is Afrikka…
And you don’t get to judge her.

Her name is Afrikka.
She was a target. She was a victim.
She’s not just a sound byte.
She’s more than a headline.

She was a diva…Her name is Afrikka.
You don’t get to decide her legacy.
You don’t get to admonish her past.

Her name is Afrikka.
She was the light in her mother’s smile.
She said her mother was her queen.

She was a poet. She was a singer.
Her name is Afrikka.
She was a beauty. She was adored.
She was silly. She was brave.

Her name is Afrikka…
And like the continent she was named for, she struggled.
She fought to find a better way.
For herself, for her future, for the child she would never have.

She died too young. He was a monster.
Her name is Afrikka.
And you won’t see his name here.
And you won’t hear me speak it.
He does not get that gift.
He does not get my words.

Her name is Afrikka.
She is not a punch line. She is not a body.
She is not just a faceless name. She is not just a trending topic.

Her name is Afrikka…
And when I met her so many years ago, her smile shook me.
And when we spoke I said something lame; “Your mother and I were very close.”

Her name is Afrikka.

And she had her mom’s uncertain grace. She lived in the home her mother and I shared and I knew she would have the turmoil and triumphs that ruled my days in that institution for children. And I knew that things were better for her than they were for us. And I hoped that she would find the peace that I found after I left. And I spoke to the people who cared for her, the same ones who cared for me so many years before. And I knew that they would encourage her spark. I knew they would fan that spark into a flame…into a fire…into an inferno of possibility.

Her name is Afrikka.
Her past tense was imperfect.
Her future; never written.
Her presence was too short.

Her name is Afrikka…
And, while her breath has ceased, her story will not.

Her name is Afrikka…
And she lives on in these words.
She lives on in the hearts of people who never met her.
Who never will.

Her name is Afrikka…

Barbie Angell
© 2014

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"Autumn Leaves" – Jazz on Nylon #5

Some music for an October Tuesday.

Odd tale indeed how this video came to be posted. I visited YouTube on Sunday wondering if there was a version of “Autumn Leaves” played on classical guitar. Indeed there is, & a very good version at that, played by a terrific guitar player I’d never heard before Naudo Rodrigues.

There was only one catch—embedding wasn’t available. Undaunted, I looked through what turns out to be Naudo Rodrigues’ vast catalog of performances—not only mind boggling in number, but also in the diversity of music he covers. Everything from traditional songs to jazz standards to rock to pop. He is clearly a phenomenon, & I would encourage anyone to check out his YouTube channel. There’s also a playlist assembled by another user, which can be found here. In any case, I found a live version of Django Reinhardt’s beautiful “Nuages,” & decided that would be a good fallback option. The sound quality isn’t as good, but the performance is first rate for all that—& embedding was allowed. Then this morning as I began to put the post together, I found that, overnight as it were, embedding had been disabled on this version of “Nuages”! On a whim, I checked back, & found that embedding is now allowed on “Autumn Leaves.” The vicissitudes of YouTube. Anyway, this is a caveat that the video may not available on the post for long, but if the embedded version goes away, it can be found at this link.

Naudo Rodrigues, as I was saying, appears to be a singular musical genius. There’s very little biographical information about him. He was born in Brazil & now lives in Tenerife in the Canary Islands. He does perform locally. On the other hand, I can’t find much recording information, though there are about a dozen songs on iTunes. He seems to be—in addition of course to his live shows in Tenerife—a YouTube phenomenon. YouTube in its infinite wisdom closed down one of his accounts for copyright violation, but Rodriques opened a new one. In any case, his playing is superb, & he really deserves to be heard by a wide audience.

“Autumn Leaves” needs no introduction. Originally composed as “Les Feuilles Mortes” by Joseph Kosma with lyrics by the wonderful French poet, Jacques Prévert, the song moved into the “Great American Songbook” when Johnny Mercer composed the English lyric we know today. Yves Montand gave the original version its premier in 1946 in the film Les Portes de la Nuit, while Jo Stafford premiered Mercer’s English version.


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 in less than a century.

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)