30 sept 2008

Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern. Those were the two I was forgetting, probably because I don't know them very well if at all.
Probably one of the best educations in jazz could be had by beginning with the Ella Fitzgerald songbooks. The ones I know the most intimately are the Cole Porter and the Rodgers and Hart, but there are also the Gershwin, the Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen, and Ellington collections. And one I'm forgetting; i think there were seven?

Anyway, the idea would be to get a grounding in the classic songs, sung in a calmly swinging but still fairly *straight* way. (After that I would move on to the high modernist canon of Mingus, Monk, and Miles.) She doesn't alter the melodies too much or get too cute or mannered. Ella, like Sinatra, is a great jazz musician, and Nelson Riddle's arrangements serve them both well. The idea of doing songbooks itself is a stroke of genius, because it gives the singer like Ella a repertoire that is at her musical level, rather than making her depend on whatever songs some record producer happens to think will be hits. Imagine if Billie Holiday could have made a Gershwin songbook.

Vocal jazz of a certain always intersects with plain old "pop" music. Bing Crosby, Nat Cole, Sinatra, Ella, Dinah Washington, etc... There were the commercial pressures, and also the fact that jazz simply *was* the pop music of a certain period. Not all pop was jazz per se, and not all jazz was pop, but the dominant idiom was swing-based jazz.

The rejazzification of certain figures, at a somewhat later date, is interesting to consider in this context. Take Tony Bennett, for example. Once pop music was not as jazz based, Bennett could do more pure jazz work than before. Norman Granz recorded Ella and Sarah in a later period in contexts that highlighted their jazz roots. Ella with Joe Pass, for example.

Rather than seeing this pop elements as an impurity in jazz, I see it as a healthy complement. Vocals will always be more popular than purely instrumental music, so the most popular jazz musician today is probably Diana Krall. Maybe it's a generational thing, but I prefer to go back to Ella.
Thanks to the kindness of students and my own enterprise I'm getting a rather extensive collection of music based on Lorca's music. For example, a Spanish version of Leonard Cohen's song "Take this Waltz," which is based on Lorca's poem "Pequeño Vals Vienés." I don't really know what to do with all this material; I'm not going to write a book or even an article about musical adaptations of Lorca. I use it in my teaching to some extent. It'll come in handy for my poetry and performance class next fall. My idea is that this will be fun for students to work with rather than just myself.

I'll have to track down that track where Lorca plays piano.

What is swing anyway?

From a subjective point of view, it is a feeling of forward propulsion combined with a sense of easy relaxation. The beat has to be posed between those two feelings.

From the point of view of the music itself, it has two main elements, the relative equality of quarter note beats and the phrasing of 8th notes.

(1) The jazz beat is one two three four, not: ONE two THREE four. It's almost one TWO three FOUR. Think of a walking bass with four more or less equal beats. Now think of the high hat clicking on two and four.

(2) The basic 8th note subdivision is swung rather than played straight. (This would be written out as an 8th note triplet with a rest between the two notes.) This is known as a "shuffle." Early rock and roll is still played in a shuffle rhythm; it's still basically a form of "swing" music.

Complications: (1) was an achievement of big bands in the 1930s. You will find a much more prominent up-and-down "two" feel in earlier jazz styles, like stride piano. Do these styles swing? They probably do. Sometimes too straight a "four" can get flat and colorless, like "one one one one one one one...." So maybe the lilt of the two feel is still an element of swing?

According to Gunther Schuller, that equality of the four beats comes from African music. Yet it emerged in jazz at a particular point in time. This raises the question of where this principle was hibernating between its African origins and its emergence in the Count Basie orchestra in the 1930s.

What if (1) and (2) are present but that tension between forward movement and relaxed ease is not perceived by the listener? The music doesn't swing but there might be differences of opinion. Crouch thinks Wynton can swing and Scott LaFaro can't. I hold the opposite opinion. I don't find swing in John Lewis or Nina Simone.

Of course music might not necessarily swing in the jazz sense but still be rhythmically engaging in an analogous way.

29 sept 2008

The real rap on Wynton, of course, is not just that he is a little dull as a player, but that he has created this whole reactionary aesthetic around jazz, along with the tendentious and misguided Stanley Crouch. If jazz really was essentially complete by 1960 or 1965 or so, as Wynton and Crouch seem to believe, then it makes sense that he himself wouldn't be part of that history: from his own perspective he is coming too late to the game. The only thing left to do is educate and popularize, to make jazz into a museum music. Isn't that the aim of Jazz at Lincoln Center? We already had Duke Elliington. We don't need another Duke Ellington, not as inspired as the first. We don't need Harry Connick to mimic Sinatra, or Natalie Cole to sing karaoke duets with recordings of her father's voice. We certainly don't need Kenny G to dub his sax onto Armstrong's "It's a Wonderful World." Those things don't bring the music to life--they kill it.

Look at how Mingus reprised jazz history--the sanctified church, Jelly Roll Morton, Lester Young, Ellington--without making it into a museum music.

If Wynton were just another player, it wouldn't be worthwhile even criticizing him. It's the institutional role that he plays that's truly obnoxious. I cringe when I see him commenting on Ornette in that Ken Burns documentary. Shouldn't they have Ornette commenting on Wynton instead? Of course, Ornette's agenda is not to criticize other people, but you get the idea... Given the NPRification of jazz, it's inevitable that Burns would turn to Wynton and Crouch and others of that mind set.
"Professional formation" (formación profesional) implies the shaping of a scholarly/critical identity and a process of graduate professionalization. In both French and Spanish this is sometimes referred to ironically as "déformation professionelle" / "deformación profesional," the idea being that the personality is not only shaped but actively deformed.

Think of how the body itself bears the marks of a given profession. Now analogize that to the mind. What does a librarian's body look like? A bullfighter's?

The idea is that all of one's readings and graduate courses are formative of identity. You are not just learning new information or new sets of skills, but being shaped into academics. (The process of emulation referred to in a previous post is part of this process.)

You will learn to "think like a professor." That differs quite a bit from the goal of undergraduate education in the humanities, which is to provide some critical thinking and writing skills, along with some limited concrete knowledge of a particular field.

Now you might also absorb, along the way, some of the typical prejudices of the academic. For example, critical work is more highly valued than translation or so-called "creative" writing; certain types of critical work are seen as more valuable than others, so that an encyclopedia article is seen as less significant on one's resumé than a critical article. Articles that are merely "descriptive" are less prestigious than those that are "theoretical." Articles on teaching or pedagogy can be looked on with suspicion at times. I won't urge you to adopt those prejudices enthusiastically. I would say that the best approach is to be aware of them and of the reasons behind them; be aware of the consequences of being unaware of them, but don't let yourself be deformed by them.

For example: it can be a bad idea to publish a not-so-great paper in a second line journal as a grad student. Or an encyclopedia article as an assistant prof. You don't lose much by following the prejudice in these cases and putting your time to better use. On the other hand, if you have a really innovative approach to translation and think you can make a mark on the field in that way, that might be something you should go for. You might be the next Ernesto Livón-Grosman or Gregory Rabassa.
I was listening in the car to some early Stan Getz. A version of "Don't worry 'bout me" had some explicit Lester Youngisms ("What Lester plays, Stan getz"). Still, it was beautiful stuff: a happy medium swing tempo for a song that is usually played as a sad ballad. Lester would have played it sadder. Getz somewhat later made that legato even more legato, to the point of having the softest attack of almost any sax player. It's almost a bassoon. On a cd I bought once, they put an early Dexter Gordon session on a Lester Young cd., supposedly on the theory that Dexter at this point was basically playing Lester Young's style. And of course, there is Paul Quinichette, known as "Vice-pres" because he basically played an imitation of Lester Young's style. And that's just the tenors: alto players also felt his influence, especially white players of the cool West Coast school like Art Pepper.

People know that Billie Holiday gave him that nickname (Pres) because that seemd more appropriate than titles of nobility favored by others at the time (Duke, Count), and that he nicknamed her Lady Day. What I didn't realize until a while back was that Lester called everyone "Lady." Oscar Peterson was "Lady P." Quinichette would be "Layd Q." All of a sudden that name for Holiday looks a little different!

25 sept 2008

How about that hero worship mode of jazz people? I'm sure it's tiresome if you're not one of us. If it were just a superficial hipster pose to dig Bird, Pres, and Trane I think I would have outgrown it by now. Instead, I get deeper in.
From the point of view of a drummer, Buddy Rich is incomparable for of his speed and technical proficiency. Yet I have seen jazz critics say that Rich is not really a jazz player. This is obviously bull. He revered Papa Jo Jones and those tasteful players of that period. He is on some Ella sessions with Louis Armstrong and some trio dates with Lester Young, and he swings with great precision and grace, mostly playing relatively understated brushes. His work on the JATP tour with Norman Granz is pretty tasteful too. In that all-star format he did play some solos, but spent a good part of the time just being the drummer in the band.

Within that context, you still might prefer some other drummer of the same period. Jo Jones himself is my favorite of the swing era, and Max Roach of the bebop period. Billy Higgins and Phillly Joe, Jimmy Cobb. But you can't say that Rich is less jazzful as a pure accompanist. Maybe he was greater when he wasn't in the limelight. If he's drummer in a band that has Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, and Charlie Parker in front, well, it's just ridiculous to have that much human talent in one place at one time.
Tastiness is a kind of "savory" or "flavorful" quality. I first started using it actively in my own critical vocabulary when I heard an interview with Ray Charles on Fresh Air. When he was starting out Charles had a Nat Cole-style trio and wanted to play "tasty" bits on the piano under his own singing. He kept repeating that word "tasty" in the interview. I knew he exactly what he meant because one of my first jazz LPs as a a kid was a Capitol recording of Cole playing with his trio and not singing at all. Tasty means taste-FUL but also hip in an indescribably understated way. Like most purist jazz fans of that period I regretted the fact that he ever started singing in the first place, but the early recording of him singing with his trio are still pretty hip, with those tasty, tasteful licks.

I still get no kick from Marsalis. I'm sure that if I just took one small sniff it would bore me terrifically too. Mere alchohol doesn't thrill me at all, and flying up high with some guy in the sky is my idea of nothing to do. It's as though the playing weren't really present. I can't hear it. It's like eating soup in a dream: you can't really say that it has any taste at all after you wake up. I react this way even when I don't even know it's Wynton, like when I listen to a jazz radio station and only find out later whom I've been listening to. So it's not mere prejudice, though I'm sure I'm not unbiased. My daughter's first trumpet teacher had her listening to more Wynton than I would have liked. He schmaltzes up "The Last Rose of Summer," and I also prefer other versions of the Haydn concerto and other trumpet solo warhorses to his. It is true, as Tom King suggests in a comment to previous post, that his virtuosity stands him in good stead for the Carnival of Venice, if you like that kind of thing. From the point of view of a brass player, which I'm not, Wynton is a killer player. I'll defer to them on his technical prowess, but not on his ultimate tastiness.
[Crossposted to Frío de límites]

Aesthetic quailty

The question "is it any good" often comes up in a discussion of someone's article of literary criticism. Is the text being analyzed good literature, poetry, whatever. This is a bothersome question in the sense that there may be good reasons for looking at texts that aren't "good" in the conventional sense; bothersome also for the implication that whole categories of works aren't very good, or are bad unless proven otherwise. Finally, it might be bothersome because premature judgment might get in the way of other useful perceptions.

And yet that question doesn't simply go away, bothersome though it might be. I would suggest that the perception of aesthetic quality can provide useful insight that can then be used. At the very least, the critic who confronts this question has had an aesthetic encounter with the text. (This cannot always be taken for granted.) Secondly, the reasons why a work is judged ill or well will reveal the implicit aesthetic horizon within which the critic is working, his or her idea of what a valid work of art is. Lastly, and most importantly, the reasons behind the judgment will bring out other, perhaps unforeseen implications--absent in a reading that simply brackets aesthetic quality as an irrelevant issue.

An example might be Gamoneda's Blues Castellano. If I find it ploddingly literal and a bit heavy in tone; over-repetitive, I might see that as a statement about my own aesthetic ideals more than about Gamoneda's quality. Or I might use those negative qualities to to better define Gamoneda's poetics during this period. If I don't have this experience with the work in the first place, can't perceive qualitatively, then I am lacking an important tool as a critic.

24 sept 2008

Crossposted to Frío de límites

Suppose you wanted to be an actor. You would have certain actors that you admired, and you would presumably study their work. Meryl Streep or Fernando Fernán Gómez, Marlon Brando. Penélope Cruz. Or a musician, or painter, or writer. You would model yourself after one or more people whose work you admired. You would, essentially, go to school with major figures in your chosen field. You would attempt figure out the secrets of their achievement. You might be a "completist," collecting every record made by Bessie Smith or Camarón de la Isla.

I have done this with numerous literary critics, theorists, and poets. I've read every book Marjorie Perloff wrote. (A lot of books.) I made an intensive study of Roland Barthes at one point in my life. I've "gone to school" with Creeley and Frank O'Hara, Lorca and Claudio Rodríguez. Although I don't play the bass I'm doing it with Miles Davis's bassist Paul Chambers.

Emulation is a very powerful force. True originality comes from deep absorption and assimilation of other models, not from keeping yourself miraculously free of influences. If you have an original mind, if will come out no matter what. If you don't, you might as well be derivative of half-way decent models.

My most recent book is on Lorca and his influence on US poetry. My model was Marjorie Perloff, who uses in some of her books a central figure (Wittgenstein, Pound, Rimbaud) and studies the refraction of this figure in various other writers. Yet my book is nothing like what Marjorie herself would write.

It makes sense for you to do have model too. It might be Jo Labanyi for you, or Jorge Luis Borges. (Or "Gabriel García Lorca," as one of my undergraduates put it.) If you want to be a literary critic, but don't have any examples of critics you admire, then you are at a serious disadvantage. You don't even know what it is to which you are aspiring.

If you read and undertand everything written by John Kronik, or Ricardo Gullón, Miguel Casado, or Ángel Rama, you will in a sense know what they know. Or at the very least, you will know the best of what they knew and saw fit to commit to print. If you care about really good writing, as I do, you will find some critics who excel in this area.

Part of going to school with these models is knowing what they knew, retracing the figures that your model him or her self went to school with. You might end up knowing more about your favorite writer's favorite writer than your favorite writer did. For example, many sinologists were inspired by Ezra Pound to learn Chinese. They inevitably came to know much more Chinese than Pound ever knew.
What can I say about Wynton? My view is hardly original or unusual, but Wynton is a not a first-rate player at all, despite his considerable virtuosity, earnestness, and jazz erudition. The missing element is that "it." That tastiness and conviction. There's often a pedanticism about playing older styles, one that is stylistically correct but misses the essential element of those styles: that indefinable tastiness we get in Nat Cole or Coleman Hawkins. Even more minor figures than Wynton have this quality in greater abundance. I think Wynton strives for that but misses it by a country mile. His classical playing is virtuosic but rather pompous; I'll take Alison Balson over him.

Of course tastiness is a function of taste. Wynton's supporters will have a different opinion than mine. Of course, they will be wrong, but what I can do about that?

23 sept 2008

There's stuff on this Coltrane broadcast I've never heard: this version of "Body and Soul" I'm listening to right now. A wonderful flute solo by Eric Dolphy on "My Favorite Things." I would never presume to an expertise I don't have. There are always things I'm discovering.

Here's another book that is so poetically inert it isn't even bad. It doesn't even exist, so it will not be named here. Reading it I feel like a student who doesn't get the point of poetry in the first place, given a book by his professor to read. Only in this case I know I get the point of poetry, since I've had other experiences with it. If poetry were this, I'd have no interest in it at all. The worst thing is it's dedicated by its author to me. A gift! Don't worry, though, it's not by YOU.
There's a track called "Tenor Conclave" where Hank Mobley, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, and Trane all appear in a classic cutting contest. It's perfect for seeing Trane as though he were simply another post-bop tenor man among others. Mobley is excellent, with a very classic statement in the Lester Young melodic tradition. I don't actually know which solo is Sims and which one is Cohn, but they both also contribute very credible Coleman Hawkins inflected solos. You can't actually decide which of these three is the best. Coltrane comes in after the first three and just kills. Yet if you go back to the beginning of the recording again, Mobley's statement remains fresh as ever. I can't get enough of soloist two either. At most, Coltrane is primus inter pares.

Or take "Tenor Madness," where he faces up against Rollins. There is no sense in which either player comes out ahead; only personal preference or mood can determine a *winner.* For me Stan Getz is a transcendent player. Only the existence of Hawkins, Lester Young, Coltrane, and Rollins makes Getz seem not an absolute genius. I also love second line players like Flip Phillips and Illinois Jacquet; Harold Land is just amazing. No other instrument has quite the depth of the tenor sax in sheer number of real heavyweights. Don't forget Ben Webster.
"Don't tell me you're voting for Sambo."

That's the reaction I got to my Obama bumper sticker at a rest-stop off of highway 70 in Missouri yesterday. I guess I know where the retarded Oklahoma redneck racist war-veteran pick-up-truck driver asshole vote is going. Just in case I didn't already know that.

Too bad (for him) he didn't see my good friend Sugar Ray Leonard standing right behind him.
It's John Coltrane day so I am listening to John Coltrane on WKCR in New York. They do a 24 hour broadcast. I'll have to teach and eat and do a few other things that will take me away from my computer, but I'm going to listen to as much as possible.

I love most of all the hard bop Coltrane and the early quartets: Soutrane, Coltrane's Sound, My Favorite Things. The work with Miles and Monk fall within this period. Second choice would be Village Vanguard groups with Dolphy and some of the later quartet recordings. Third, the heavy-handed religiosity of A Love Supreme and Crescent and some of the later avant-garde work. But it's all good. My predilection for the hard bop Coltrane is just a personal thing.

Now he's (they're) playing "The Girl Next Door." What an incomparable ballad player he is.

18 sept 2008

A commenter named "Joseph" whose comments will never appear on this blog took umbrage to my remarks about Corman. Poetry belongs to its readers, and I have been a serious and intense reader of American poetry for about 35 years. Make a case for why I should grab a stranger in the street by the lapels and tell him to read Corman. That's all that matters. Did he do it or not. (If writing the blog is metaphorically grabbing strangers by the lapels and telling them to read something.) Or, less dramatically, my graduate students in the Spanish department: I could imagine that I could make the case that they had to listen to Johnny Hodges or Coleman Hawkins in order to understand certain nuances of phrasing and expression. That's part of what every educated person should know. Corman is not.

(That Corman is valued within the narrow community of a certain sector of American poetry for Origin and multiple other contributions is something I would never deny. I think he's given his due within those circles, and nothing I would say on this blog will affect that.)

"Joseph" also points to the fact that I am an academic and have an office. Being an academic means simply that I am a TEACHER and a SCHOLAR. Those are two things I'm very proud of being. It's also helpful to have an office, because that's where I keep hundreds of books of poetry. So no, I won't publish your comments. You are banned for life. The proper tone to take in the comments, by the way, is one of respectful admiration toward the author of this blog, because I AM SMARTER THAN YOU ARE.

17 sept 2008

A new guy moved into town. He was a pretty nice fellow overall but he had a foul mouth. He'd walk into the diner and say, "Do you have any fucking coffee, Marge?" At the post office he'd say, "Where's my fucking mail?" Or: "What do you think of the fucking weather?" Being a tolerant community, people pretty much got used to him and didn't make a huge fucking deal about it.

Several years later the guy had a stroke and died. Coming out of the funeral one guy turned to another and said:

"You know, the truth is, I never did like 'the "fucking" guy.'"

Cid Corman. And the Word. 1987. 135 pp.

Corman's is a secondary but necessary voice.

I can no
more eat for
than die for

you but Bill's
plums still taste
good to me.

The charm depends wholly on the secondariness, the two WCW poems standing behind as intertext: I have eaten the plums that were in the ice box and to an old woman eating a bag of plums. The taste good to her they taste good to her they taste good to her. Corman can be so tonally and prosodically derivative of Williams sometimes that it's almost embarrassing:

... not

the sweetest
labor but
flavor of its own.

Since he plays for my team am I obligated to like him? If he is sentimental so is Creeley. Recognizing in the abstract that he is a skillful writer I have to say for myself I have never really liked a Corman poem to the point of passion. He's no Johnny Hodges, but then few poets rise to that level. Let's call it the Johnny Hodges test.

Alejandro Céspedes. Las palomas mensajeras sólo saben volver. 1994. 62 pp.

A few of my colleagues (who are no longer at my university) were talking up this poet a few years back. On re-reading this book it seems just awful.

Ron Silliman. Toner. 1992. 67 pp.

I had forgotten I had this part of Silliman's Alphabet. It consists of 66 pages seven-line stanzas, three stanzas to the page, plus a concluding stanza on page 67, in a san serif font. At one point he switches to all caps, then switches back again.

I'm not sure it's quite as great as Demo to Ink or Paradise. I like the fact that I know this work in fragmentary bits rather than as a single magnum opus.

What made me smile this morning:

16 sept 2008

I get to write half of the article on Spanish poetry for the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics before the end of the year, replacing the Elias Rivers entry. Encylopedia articles are not highly valued in academia, but I had to make an exception for the PEPP, since that is the one reference book on poetry that every scholar should own.

This provides a good opportunity to work efficiently, organizing the task in manageable segments.

(1) Read all Spanish poetry of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. (Well, at least refresh my memory on some figures of the 18th and 19th.)

(2) Write the damned thing.

Claudio Rodríguez used to say that there was no poetry in the 18th century in Spain. Nothing here to see, folks, move on. What he meant is that the particular kind of emotion one feels reading poetry is simply not produced in such work.

Since you only get to write a sentence or two on each important development, it is kind of an *interesting* task. For example, I would love to get a really *interesting* idea of the Romances históricos of the Duque de Rivas, but the point might be that this work exists and falls into a certain larger trend. I want to write it in such a way as to actually contain ideas. That makes it into an *interesting* kind of game. 6,000 words makes it about the length of a typical scholarly article, but you can't put your own ideas in it so much as a synthesis of what you think the consensus is.

10 sept 2008

The lyrics to that song are pretty great too:

And now the purple dusk of twilight time
Steals across the meadows of my heart
High up in the sky the little stars climb
Always reminding me that we're apart

You wander down the lane and far away
Leaving me a song that will not die
Love is now the stardust of yesterday
The music of the years gone by

Sometimes I wonder why I spend
The lonely night dreaming of a song
The melody haunts my reverie
And I am once again with you
When our love was new
And each kiss an inspiration
But that was long ago
Now my consolation
Is in the stardust of a song

Beside a garden wall
When stars are bright
You are in my arms
The nightingale tells his fairy tale
of paradise where roses grew
Though I dream in vain
In my heart it will remain
My stardust melody
The memory of love's refrain
It's no secret that I'm obsessed with jazz. That's my real interest. I know a little bit about poetry too, enough to have made a nice academic career, but give me Johnny Hodges over Cid Corman any day.

I'm mildly obsessed with "Stardust," the Hoagy Carmichael song that has been recorded around 1,800 times. Like everyone else, I like the Nat Cole, Artie Shaw, Art Tatum, Johnny Hodges, and John Coltrane versions, though my favorite might be Lester Young. (And of course all the singers have done it: Hoagy himself, Ella, Sarah, Bing, Frank, Louis, Billie, Dinah, even Willie.)

Because it's so often recorded, it provides a good comparison exercise. You can compare Shaw with Goodman or Ella with Sarah. What I find interesting is that it is not a jazz tune to improvise over the chord changes. Almost all the versions I've heard are respectful melodic statements and paraphrases. Everyone plays "Stardust'; nobody just improvises over the changes. The melody is too strong to leave behind. It's the antithesis of "I've Got Rhythm," the tune reduced to its chord changes.
Face it: some neglectorinos are really just mediocorinos. Which ones, I'll leave for you to decide.

9 sept 2008

Earl Hines, Art Tatum, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, and Bill Evans are the pianists I associate most with rhythmic elasticity. Hines plays in the stride tradition, but with some nice rhythmic variatons. He often sounds very modern for a player of his generation. Monk has a rhythmic conception all of his own that made it difficult for him to comp behind soloists in a way comfortable to them. Evans opened the way for all the Herbie Hancocks, Chick Coreas, Keith Jarretts, of the world.

In contrast, I don't associate this elasticity as much with Teddy Wilson, Count Basie, Errol Garner, Nat Cole.

How is elasticity achieved? Rubato, metric modulation (implying a different time signature or tempo), fluidity of phrasing and articulation, maniuplation of phrasal boundaries, obscuring the underlying pulse, etc... Syncopation in and of itself does not have this effect, curiously.

4 sept 2008

Take Art Tatum's solo version of "You Go to My Head" from the Complete Pablo Solo Masterpieces. I'd say it has a different sort of rhythmic elasticity from that of Bud Powell. The part that interests me start at about 1:24, when he settles into a stride groove after the opening rubato section. What's interesting is that there are times when he seems to lose the beat in a series of complex, arhythmic runs and ornaments. But if you were to snap your fingers on 2 and 4 and not stop even when Tatum seems to lose the beat, you will see that he comes out of the runs exactly on time, kind of like an olympic platform diver who enters the water perfectly despite all the twists and turns of the dive itself. He will mark the beat again with a return to the stride left hand, try to get the listener lost again, return again, etc...

For a poor musician like me it's a good excercise to try not to be thrown off by the seemingly rubato sections that are not actually rubato after all. If I can count without losing the beat, instead of trying to follow where I think he is going, I am successful. The two or four to which I'm snapping my fingers might seem to correspond to nothing at all in the music that Tatum is playing, so I have to rely on my unsteady internal metronome.

What happens when I am lost? Basically, it means that I am following the variable and not the constant, confusing the phrasing with the beat.

Repeat the same exercise with a Max Roach drum solo. Hear everything he's doing in relation to the structure of the song he's playing. I wish I could say I can do this with ease.

Mary Ruefle. A Little White Shadow. 2005. 42 pp.

I don't know where I got this book; it's a children's book from the 1880s which the poet has crossed out in white out, leaving a few words per page.
(112) *García Lorca. Poema del cante jondo. 1931.

Since I'm teaching this work naturally I'm re-reading it, along with

(111) Romancero gitano 1928.
(110) *Jorge Riechmann. Poema de uno que pasa. 2002. 46 pp.

(109) Guillermo Carnero. Espejo de la gran niebla. 2002. 56 pp.

(108) *David Bromige. The Harbormaster of Hong Kong. 1993. 84 pp.

(107) *Vicente Valero. Vigilia en Cabo Sur. 1999. 107 pp.

(106) Antonio Méndez Rubio. Un lugar que no existe. 1998. 70 pp.

I was proctoring a PhD exam for 3 hours yesterday so I finished these five books. It's amazing how much you can read and absorb in 3 hours with minimal distractions. Valero's evocation of Ibiza stood out, especailly his portrait of a character who collects fossils and sells them to tourists---along with Bromige's wit. Carnero is a masterful writer, but his modernist long poem in the Octavio Paz mode is not wholly convincing. Riechmann's aphoristic meditation represents some of the best qualities of his work. A few of these books have personal dedications to me. Valero is the only one with whom I've never had any communication.

3 sept 2008

On recordings of the famous Toronto Massey Hall concert of 1953 with Bud, Bird, Diz, Max, and Mingus--the classic bebop all-star quintet, Mingus's bass part is overdubbed over the original. Maybe that's why the bass part is so clear! I wonder if Mingus overdubbed the same notes he originally played? Did he play his own solos note for note?

There is a version without the overdubbing. I should probably get that one too.

1 sept 2008

Thomas B asks "What's a good Powell performance to hear this quality in? Preferably the slow, intense version."

In my car today I listened to Powell play the song "You Go to My Head" at a very slow tempo (maybe 70 bpm). I listened to it about 7 or 8 times, in fact. (The Amazing Bud Powell Vol. 1). A good way to feel the rhythmic tension is to count along with the bass and drums (1234, 2234, 3234 etc... ) in 8 measure phrases. Once or twice doing this I actually thought I had lost count and I was on the wrong measure, but I kept going and I came out at the right place.

Around measures 3-5 of the second 8 bar phrase (not counting the 4-bar intro) he plays the same rhythmic figure a few times in a row at different tempi (around the 57 second mark if you're following along at home.) That's one way he achieves that "uncanny" effect of rhythmic elasticity.

A rubato, Tatumesque version of "Over the Rainbow" is also on this disk. It's not as good an example because it's not played against a steady beat. The stretching and compressing of time is not as dramatic without the isochrony of the beat.

Try out "Parisian Thoroughfare" on the same collection for a different tempo.