31 dic 2008

I just heard that the College P & T committee has approved my promotion to (full) professor. Why they have to do this on New Year's Eve I don't know. Actually, the letter was there on the 29th, but the Chair of my Dept. was at the MLA until now, so I couldn't find out the results till she got back, looked at the letter, and gave me a call.

This now goes to the University P & T committee, so I'll know something even more officially by April.

30 dic 2008


Billie Holiday. First Issue: The Great American Songbook.

This is a collection produced to commemorate a postage stamp with Billie Holiday on it. The idea is to put together her renditions of some great songs by Ellington, Cole Porter, etc... It's a pretty good place to start if you don't know Billie Holiday--or only have heard "Strange Fruit" and "The Man I Love" and "God Bless the Child."

*Elizabeth Bishop. Questions of Travel. 1965. 95 pp.

What a good writer she was. Many fragments of poems were preserved in grammar book, as examples. I imagine a similar use for Bishop's poetry, to be used in schools to learn how to write, as grammatical and rhetorical models. The poem called "Sestina" is in fact a sestina, and one of the best in the English language.

Yet somehow I don't really *heart* Elizabeth Bishop, as a whole. I like her for certain things, when I squint just right, but after a little while I see her once again simply as a very competent academic poet of mid-century.

Armand Schwerner. The Tablets I-XV. 1971. 47 pp.

My reaction to this is that it's not quite funny enough to be funny--but too funny to be taken seriously. I get what he's trying to do on some level. I get the concept, but the execution is lacking.

29 dic 2008


*The Burning Mystery of Anna in 1951. 1979. 81 pp.

I still have the hard-bound first edition I bought when the book came out or shortly after. I was about to embark on a career as a literary critic. It strikes me now how ill prepared any academic training was to read something like this. Not because it was difficult reading--though "Reflections on Morocco" was puzzling on many levels--but because there wasn't a clear thing to "do" to such a text. He isn't interested in difficulty, ambiguity, or hidden meanings. How radical is that? It's not something that you could apply the literary methods of the day to. Deconstruction? I don't think so. I did try to find an adequate way of talking about this kind of poetry. Gilbert Sorrentino was probably the only professor at Stanford then who thought it was even possible to write about Kenneth Koch. I did in fact write a paper using some material from "Reflections on Morocco," in particular, for Sorrentino.

I still love the jacket design by Larry Rivers, and "The Boiling Water" and "The Problem of Anxiety." Some of the shorter poems in the book are not quite as memorable. The title poem and "For Marina" have stuck with me, and another poem about Kenneth returning from Europe and trying unsuccessfully to communicate his sense of excitement to his other friends, like Frank O'Hara, who seem to view him in a slightly condescending light. It's kind of a follow up to the mode of The "The Circus" in his previous collection, The Art of Love.


I'm trying to get a ways through the third percent before the year is out. 9 books is a tenth of a percent of the total, so if I geet close to 198 I'll be on the road to 270.
Freddie Hubbard has just died. I was just thinking about him today, of how great he was on Empyrean Isles and Maiden Voyage. I think his sound is my platonic idea of what a trumpet should sound like. Warm and full-throated, not constricted at all. He is on Ornette's Free Jazz and on numerous hard bop and fusion records. He had a very long and illustrious career.

28 dic 2008


Tito Puente. Out of this World

Check out "In Walked Bud" and "S'Wonderful."

Sarah Vaughan. After Hours.

This is a recent find. Bob mentioned it in a comment to another post in this series, and I checked it out. The song selection is superb here, with mostly classic songs like Sophisticated Lady and In a Sentimental Mood and My Favorite Things. Sarah is in full voice, with the vocal mannerisms present but under control. The accompaniment is just bass and guitar.

Ornette. Sound Grammar

This was the live recording for which recently Ornette won the Nobel prize for general all-around genius. He has two bass players, a drummer (Denardo Coleman, his son), and himself on alto sax, trumpet, and violin. (Well, at least a Grammy and a Pulitzer). I've listened to it many times: an hour's worth of very worthwhile music.

The first tune is Jordan, a fast number where Ornette on sax plays a very assertive improvisation to begin. Then the basses do their thing. Ornette comes in again at the end.

Sleep Talking is a slow, haunting melody, kind of like Ornette's previous "Lonely Woman." I love this song. The middle is a little bit rambling. You know the joke? A couple is brought into a marriage counselor. They won't talk to each other. Finally the counselor brings in a bass player, because "everyone talks during the bass solo." When two basses are soloing at once, that can be even worse.

Turnaround comes next. A blues with a very simple melody, played medium slow. Ornette is a very bluesy player.

Then Matador, with a Latin feel. A tune similar to Ornette's "Latin Genetics" in some way, though not quite as bouncy.

I recently saw Ornette dissed in Downbeat by Benny Golson, who did not mention him by name but called him bogus. Ornette told Golson he was using the tenor clef to write music. Golson makes the comment to the interviewer that there is no such thing as the tenor clef! Well, I hate to say it, but actually there is such a thing.

Waiting for You is another Ornettian ballad, with a melody not quite so distinctive. I kind of wish he would stick to sax, and leave the violin and trumpet alone.

Call to Duty is a rousing appeal to action, at a rousing tempo. Once Only is slower again. The album concludes with Song X, which reminds me that I saw Ornette on the Song X tour with Pat Matheny, Jack DeJohnette, Charlie Haden, and Denardo, back in the 1980s, in Ithaca, New York. Bob Basil drove down from Buffalo to go to the concert with me and a Cuban friend of mine, Jorge Hernández, who was a grad student at Cornell in Spanish.

27 dic 2008


Miles. In a Silent Way.

Miles with Wayne Shorter (soprano sax not tenor), Tony Williams, Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, Dave Holland, etc... in his first fusion album. The idea that Miles should have stopped in his development at some point, and not gone there, here, is ridiculous. It's not facile, repetitive fusion of the Chuck Magione type. I don't think you can see it as a sell-out either.

*Bolaño. Nocturno de Chile. 2000. 150 pp.

I'm a little embarrassed about not having read much Bolaño, since he is all the rage now. I read 3/4 of this in the public library today. I don't like joining bandwagons but this is the one Latin American writer who has hit it big with the English speaking audience in the last little while, so it's kind of bad if people ask me about him and I am completely ignorant.

Anyway, the narrator is a priest who is a member of the Opus Dei, a literary critic, and a kind of idiot, ultimately. The kind of idiot that is not incompatible with being an intellectual. Toward the beginning, he meets Neruda. (Bolaño likes the trick of placing real characters in a fictional context.) He goes to Europe to discover techniques for preserving old churches against pigeon dung: it turns out the priests there use falcons to hunt the pigeons! There is another long digression about a shoemaker in the Austrio-Hungarian empire who wants to build a monument to heroes of said empire. Bolaño has a gift of invention, for sure. Quasi-probable episodes involving real historical figures are his speciality here. The book is written in one long continuous paragraph, and structured around a series of discrete episodes--some of which seem digressive.

It hasn't been explained yet how the priest can be in the Opus yet also be the most liberal possible member of the Opus, how he can be learned and yet so idiotic, etc...

After Pinochet's coup takes place, our narrator is enlisted (by the same mysterious import / export guys that sent him to Europe to study the dove-shit problem), to give a mini-course to Pinochet and the other generals of the junta on Marxism. He dutifully prepares and give his course, going through all the major texts of Marx and ending with Castro and Mao. At the end, he asks Pinochet whether he's done a good job and the general reassures him. When the library closed, Pinochet was explaining to the narrative that Allende was not really an intellectual, just a guy who read magazines and had other people tell him what to think.

I've given up on the Calvino novel about real-estate development. I just don't care what happens with this particular building project. I have another one by Calvino about the resistance that looks a bit more promising.

[Update: a chilling scene provides the conclusion to Bolaño's novel. At a literary soirée a drunken guest gets lost in huge house and finds, behind a door in a basement, a man chained to a bed and gagged. Returning to the party, he says nothing. It turns out that the husband of the hostess, "Jimmy," is CIA and uses the house as a place to interrogate and torture. The narrator/priest seems somewhat shocked--but this is the same guy who obsequiously taught Marxism to Pinochet with no qualms. Who does he think ordered the torture?]

26 dic 2008


Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers

This 1954 date finds Horace Silver leading the jazz messengers--before it was Art Blakey's jazz messengers, with Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley, and Blakey on drums, of course. The set really grooves hard if you like hard bop of this period. Check out Creepin' In and The Preacher.

*Ashbery. A Wave. 1984. 89 pp.

This is one of the great Ashbery books--probably in my top five. It has the usual number of interchangeable short poems, but the Haibun, the Haiku, and the long title poem are all fantastic.

25 dic 2008


*Harry Mathews. Cigarettes. 1987

This is an intricately plotted novel that I have read many times. One of the pleasures of rereading it is in having forgotten many details large and small. Each chapter is based on a dyad of two characters. The focus shifts from one set of characters to another, but the last chapters bring you back to the starting point once again. The novel is written on Oulipean principles, but these are invisible. You feel there is a hidden, inexorable structure, but you cannot reconstruct it from the novel itself.

One of my favorite novels. I've always preferred the Sorrentino / Mathews branch of novelistic posmodernism to the Gaddis/Pynchon branch.

Monk. Alone in San Francisco

This might be the album to introduce someone to Monk's solo work: a nice mix of standard and originals. Probably better than Solo Monk.

Bobby Hutcherson. Happenings.

Here's another Blue Note session with Joe Chambers on drums, Herbie Hancock on piano.

24 dic 2008


Keith Jarrett. My Foolish Heart. Live at Montreux

Jarrett in the 70s did these long rambling free form improvisations. In recent years he's recorded quite a bit with DeJohnette and Peacock, playing a repertoire of mostly standards. This recording has, among other things, Four, Oleo, My Foolish Heart, On Green Dolphin Street. A somewhat corny version of You Took Advantage of Me. I've owned this cd for a while, but only recently found it again in a big box.

It's a great trio.

*Ashbery. Houseboat Days. 1977. 88 pp.

How do you follow up Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror? With a book two years later that is equally brilliant. Aside from not having the title poem "Self-Portrait," Houseboat Days shows no dimunition in powers. I've must have read every poem in this book thirty times when it came out. Some I even memorized.

23 dic 2008


Miles Davis. L'ascenseur pour l'échafaud

Miles did the soundtrack to the great Louis Malle film "Elevator to the Gallows." Julien, a war hero of sorts, plots to murder his boss. Things go disastrously wrong for him, and for the guy who steals his car. Miles music provides just the right kind of nervous energy to the film, and can also be listened to with no reference to the film.

*John Ashbery. Three Poems. 1972. 118 pp.

The three "poems" are three prose essay poems with the titles "The New Spirit," "The System," and "The Recital." I always remembered that constrast between two types of happiness, the "frontal" and the "latent," in "The System." The prose is fluent, and absolutely clear, presenting no difficulty of comprehension. You read a while and then realize you are caught in a labyrinth: you have in fact understood nothing, despite the apparent clarity of every sentence.

This may be my favorite Ashbery work.

The third percent has included no duds so far.

22 dic 2008


*Kenneth Koch. When the Sun Tries to Go On. 1969. 113 pp.

This is the 1969 edition published by Black Sparrow with illustration of Larry Rivers. I've owned it for years as part of my collection, but I don't think I ever read it straight through before now. Koch wrote it in 1953; it predates the poems of Thank You! and is contemporaneous with O'Hara "Easter" and "Hatred," more or less. A long poem that simply goes on and on without ever shifting gears or turning into something else.

*Coolidge. At Egypt. 1988. 80 pp.

Culminating Coolidge's great work of the 80s is this book, a long poem divided into 12 section published by The Figures. There is so much in that preposition "at." That's how he situates himself there, not "In Egypt," which would be merely banal.

I liked this, this time, more than on other readings of it. I've now read 10% of the third percent.

*Creeley. Pieces.. 1969. 81 pp.

I usually don't like san-serif fonts, but this kind of poetry seems well suited to it. You can still get the first edition of Pieces on the used market for not too much money.

21 dic 2008


Italo Calvino. La speculazione edilizia.. 1963. 138 pp.

I'm almost halfway through this. The title means "real-estate speculation," I guess. Quinto, an inhabitant of the Italian Riviera, is deciding whether to sell part of the family estate to an untrustworthy developer, Caisotti. He goes around talking to people who tell him Caisotti is not to be trusted. There's some dreary social commentary along the way. Eventually, Quinto (the fifth man?) devises a plan to sell to Caisotti but also develop part of his own land himself. Quinto is a communist or ex-communist, with some intellectual friends who want to start a Marxist journal--a poet and a philosopher. Some dreary banter about Marx and Freud ensues.

There is no hint here of the author of Invisible Cities and If on a Winter's Night a Traveler and Castle of the Forked Destinies. (This must be another novelist named "Italo Calvino." ) I sure hope this gets interesting before too long, because so far it's on the duller side. The central conflict of the novel seems to be that developing between Quinto and Caisotti: who will get the best end of the dreary real-estate deal? Maybe a few corpses showing up, Sciascia-style, will enliven the book a bit. I did learn some new words: "battuta" means a joke or witticism.

20 dic 2008


*A.C. Graham. Poems of the Late T'ang. 1965. (2008). 173 pp.

This is very nice translation of some late T'ang poets like Li Ho and Tu Mu, which the New York Review of Books put out in itts "classic" series. Graham was a sinologist with a great ear for English, and his essay on translating Chinese poetry is one of the best of this genre.

Late T'ang poetry is an avant-garde style, basically (to use a Western term anachronistically). It's a trobar clus. Graham starts with some late work of Tu Fu. He leaves out Po Ch I because this poet, belonging chronologically to this period, does not exemplify the strange and beautiful qualities that he want to bring to the forefront.

Leonardo Sciascia. Todo modo. 1974. 124 pp.

The title is in Spanish though the novel is in Italian. The narrator, a famous painter, turns up at an inn/hermitage by accident right before some "spiritual excercises" are going to take place, led by the cynical and erudite priest don Gaetano. The attendees are prominent politicians, churchmen, and industrialists--and a few of their mistresses! The title refers to a quote by Ignacio de Loyola, founder of the Jesuits and author of a famous book of spiritual exercises. There is a lot of erudite banter between the nameless narrator and don Gaetano. Then a series of murders of the prominent "ospiti." There are some desultory attempts to solve them, but then the lead investigator simply gives up and lets everyone go home, on the theory that if he lets them stay until he finds the murderer, more murders will take place! There are some obligatory references to Agatha Christie: apparently all of them have motives to off all the rest of them.

It's a novel of ideas rather than of plot--hence the concluding fizzle. The only memorable character is don Gaetano himself, and he is memorable more for his ideas than for his personality or actions. The erudition would be interesting except that it is simply the erudition of the author, placed in the character's mouth. I could have a fictional fisherman quote Mallarmé too, but it would still be me who knows the Mallarmé, not the cardboard fisherman.

The church is the "raft of Medusa." The church can do any evil it wants, since it exists in an evil world, apparently. That's the nihilist priest's philosphy of life.

Not a very good novel, though interesting from the point of view of Italian clericalism/anticlericalism.

I've got to read some better novels. At least this was short and so relatively painless.

My goal is to be able to read Italian poetry. I need to slog through enough novels so I have a decent vocabulary.

19 dic 2008


Antonio Tabucchi. Notturno indiano 1984. 109 pp.

A man goes to India to search for his missing friend, Xavier. He follows various clues, going to different places and having a variety of conversations with people. Not much happens, really. I think I'll give up on Tabucchi for a while. Sostiene Peirera was good, but the last two I read were kind of inconsequential. In fact, this one reproduces the structure of the "edge of the horizon." A pointless search that comes to nothing.

Sonny Meets Hawk

Here's another x meets y album. In this case, I believe that Hawkins outplays Rollins, partly because Rollins in playing in an especially avant-garde style in order to distinguish himself, be more modern than his colleague. He plays a lot in the altissimo register and emulates Eric Dolphy. This allows Hawkins to occupy the center with great confidence and aplomb: all he has to do is be Coleman Hawkins--an impossible task for anyone who is not Coleman Hawkins, but a very easy task for him.

Not my favorite Rollins album, but one of my favorites by "Bean."

On this album there are other tracks which have Rollins with a completely different group, and playing a more mainstream style--without Hawkins at all.
I got some books out of the library to read during the winter break. Calvino, Sciascia, Tabucchi are really the only Italian novelists I know at all, so I got some novels by them to continue my 100-novel-project. Maybe I'll know some Italian when I finish these four novels. I'm also bringing back some Ashbery and Koch for my 9000 book project, and some literary theory for my course next semester. In short, it looks like I have a lot of reading to do.

I'm going to prepare some mini-lectures on theory for the course. Maybe 15 20 minute spiels, corresponding to approximately half of the class meetings. It will be like a 120-page book. I'll have to think of what topics I want to cover.

Mingus at Antibes

I had this on vinyl back in the day, and have only recently had access to it once again. The highlights are the interplay between Mingus and Dolphy's bass clarinet on "What Love," an original tune based I think on "What is this Things Called Love," and Bud Powell's long solo on "I'll remember April," when the band becomes a trio for a stretch. Danny Richmond is on drums.

18 dic 2008


Charlie Haden. Closeness: Duets

Haden here teams up with four musicians for separate duets. Keith Jarrett and he begin with "Ellen David"--a pleasant ballad. "O.C." is a faster and driving tune featuring Ornette Coleman (O.C.). "For Turiya" features Alice Coletrane on harp, and "For a Free Portugal" is a politically charged number with Haden and drummer Paul Motian. The Ornette and Jarrett tracks are my favorites here.

This is one for the Haden completists.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba. The Blessing.

Cuban pianist Rubalcaba's trio album with DeJohnette and Haden on drums and bass. He plays Coltrane's Giant Steps, Ornette's The Blessing, the Miles Davis (or is it Bill Evans?) composition Blue in Green. The Latin pop song "Bésame mucho." Some original compositions. It is a mellow, soothing compilation. Personally I can listen to anything with Charlie Haden and/or Jack DeJohnette. Haden just seems to ground the music.

Some people don't like Rubalcaba, because of his frequent tempo shifts. He doesn't seem to settle into one groove for very long, which can be frustrating for some.

*John Asbhery. The Double Dream of Spring. 1970. 94 pp.

It strikes me that Ashbery didn't learn that many new tricks since 1970. The exception being his ability to reach a wider public with Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror. All of Ashbery is really here in the double dream, its title taken from a Chirico painting. The long "Fragment" would be repeated in countless other texts. The sestina about Popeye, the homage to a popular 19th century poet, the use of certain prose registers, the rhymed translation of Cravan... this book offers a great variety of tricks.

Art Blakey Quintet. A Night at Birdland

This features Blakey's band before it was the "jazz messengers," with Clifford Brown on trumpet and Lou Donaldson on alto sax, Horace Silver on piano, and Blakey, of course, on drums. Curley Russell on bass. Check out "Night in Tunisia" and "Quicksilver."

You know how I feel about Clifford Brown; Donaldson is a wonderful alto in the Charlie Parker mode.

I only have one volume of this two volume set.

17 dic 2008


*Frank Lima. Underground with the Oriole. 1971. 91 pp.

Here's another forgotten classic from the 1970s. Lima, Ceravolo, and Shapiro are one branch of the 2nd generation New York poets--Padgett and Berrigan the other branch.

Sonny Rollins on Impulse

Sonny was at one of his peaks on this mid-60s date, playing On Green Dolphin Street, Everything Happens to Me, Hold 'Em Joe, Blue Room, Three Little Words, with piano, bass, drums (Mickey Roker.)

16 dic 2008


*Joseph Ceravolo. Transmigration Solo. 1979. 45 pp.

I forgot to publish this post, and got my sequencing off. Anyway, this is a book by Ceravolo written mostly in Mexico, with many strange and beautiful poems.

15 dic 2008


Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins

This has one of the best versions of Mood Indigo, with a truly masterful solo by Hawkins, and features a classic edition of Duke's band with Harry Carney, Johnny Hodges, Ray Nance, etc...

Since Hawkins was never a member of Duke's band, this is kind of a nice combination. It's perfect because Hawkins is the prototypical swing tenor man of a certain style, but not identified with either Ellington or Basie. Too bad there never was a Duke Meets Lester Young album.

Mingus. East Coasting

Here's a mid-fifties set with Bill Evans (before Evans was with Miles) Danny Richmond, and various horn players, rescued from the Bethlehem archive. With Mingus you always know the compositions will be there, and the rhythm section will be strong, with Richmond and Mingus together. The one standard here, Memories of You, is excellent in both its takes. I also recommend the title cut.

*Michael Brownstein. Oracle Night. 1982. 84 pp.

Here's one I return to now and then. What ever happened to Brownstein? Is he still around. This book shares a title with a novel by Paul Auster, written much later. It's one of the earliest Sun & Moon books I know of, before Sun & Moon was in LA.
I now have 6 [update: 7] followers of the blog, appearing as seguidores on the side panel. All are male, so evidently "Chicks don't dig Bemsha Swing"--at least not to that point. Three live in Europe (Denmark, Belgium, Switzerland) and three [now four] in the U.S. Only one is someone I've met personally. You too can be a follower and appear on the sidebar, if you can figure out how to do so.

Jacques Dupin. Selected Poems. Trans. Auster, Shapiro, Romer. 1992. 191 pp.

Here is a typically Mallarméan French poet. I liked "Un récit" and "Bleu et sans nom," the latter translated by David Shapiro. I guess I little impatient with the Mallarmé mode, though. It seems a little too predictable, in the end, and I'd have a hard time saying why its goes beyond Char, Bonnefoy, et alii. It just seems like such a restricted aesthetic.
If we took teaching, research, and service and broke it down a little further...

Both research and teaching, I argue, also involves a larger attempt to maintain general knowledge beyond the field as defined most narrowly. You might envision this as a series concentric circles, with your own field in the middle. Spanish poetry from a certain date to a certain date in the middle. All poetry written in Spanish in the next circle, whether in Spain or Latin American, and at any date--along with Hispanic literature of the same period in all genres, and the events of Spanish history. Further out would be French poetry, poetry written in English; music, art history, and an infinite number of other subjects. Something further out on the periphery might turn out to be closer to the center, as your interests shift.

There is another category of work that is not quite research or service or teaching: maintaining networks of people who are interested in similar subjects; relations with editors, publishers, writers, colleagues in your own and other departments, even other bloggers. Admittedly, I am not that good at that, precisely because my variety of interests brings me into contact with multiple networks. For some narrowly defined fields this is a bit easier, but our interests in Spanish mean that a lot of people sharing interests will be on the other side of the globe.

14 dic 2008

I've renounced combs, hair gel, hair dryers, returning to the hair style (or lack of style) I last had in 1967. My hair now is so short it dries with 15 seconds of a towel. It can stick up all it wants on top because it is too short to make a difference whether is is laying flat or sticking up. No more going to bed with wet hair and waking up with that crumpled look. No more "hat hair."
Once I get through the first 100 jazz albums, I will begin the songbook project, which involves commenting on several hundred jazz standards of two types: songs played or sung frequently by jazz musicians and written by people like Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, and original compositions by working jazz musicians like Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, which have been adopted by other players as standards. I will be looking at the historical resonance of these compositions along with their distinctive qualities. I won't put a finite number on this project, since I have no idea of how many I will end up doing. To qualify for this project, a song must be one of my personal favorites as well as having some continuous history of being played. In a few cases, a song with only one significant recording, or repeated recordings by only one artist, might qualify. Some songs might be favored by singers, with few instrumental versions. That's ok. By the same token, many tunes have rarely if ever been sung. That's fine too. I'll begin by going alphabetically through my itunes library on my laptop. I can alphabetize by the name of the song, so I can see how many versions I have of any given song. Then I'll do the same on my computer at work.

I don't have the encyclopedic knowledge to have heard every version of every song I'll be treating; I'm sure I'll be working from a position of partial knowledge (and partiality). Still, it might be an interesting project, at least for myself.


It was interesting because the guy who set up my new computer said that [technically] they would only transfer [work] files from my old computer to the new one. Of course, I had to point out that I did in fact use my music files in my work. I am thinking of doing a jazz course for the honors program, if they'll let me. I also have a lot of Flamenco, works based on Lorca's poetry, and musical examples chosen to illustrate certain traditions of medieval music (Spanish cancionero). The larger point is that, where does work end and play begin? Certainly in addition to research and teaching, there is a huge amount of time in having an intellectual life that doesn't relate [directly] to work, but that is necessary for [work] in the larger sense. When I am reading the New York Review of Books or TLS, I am doing [work], even though most of what I read will never find its way directly into a book or article. At any given time I might be spending more time doing [work] that is not writing books and articles or teaching classes. If I never did any work not relevant to teaching and research in the most immediate context, I would not actually be able to do research or teach, because I would be intellectually dead to the world. You really never know where the next idea is going to come from, or whether some scrap of knowledge you gained from some irrelevant reading might become relevant at some point down the stretch.

11 dic 2008


*Bernadette Mayer. Indigo Bunting. 2004. 45 pp.

This book was published in the Canary Islands, by the same press that did Bernstein's The Absent Father in Dumbo: Zasterle. I don't particularly like individual poems in the book as much as I like the whole personality of the poet that comes through.

It's a great title. I want to read a lot of books with great titles now. Apparently it's the name of a bird.

[Update: as is scarlet tanager, the title of another book by BM. The tanager just came up in a crossword puzzle I was doing.]
The second 1%:

Definición de savia. Clave de los tres reinos. Antífona del otoño en el valle del Bierzo. Noche abierta. El hombro izquierdo. La mujer automática. Naturaleza no recuperable. Las fronteras. La lentitud de los bueyes. The Cradle of the Real Life. La última costa. House (Blown Apart). Aphorisms. Spring in this World of Poor Mutts. Un lugar que no existe. Vigilia en Cabo Sur. The Harbormaster of Hong Kong. Espejo de la gran niebla. Poema de uno que pasa. Romancero gitano. Poema del cante jondo. A Little White Shadow. Toner. Las palomas mensajeras sólo saben volver. And the Word. Things on Which I've stumbled. Ins and Outs of the Forest Rivers. Splay Anthem. For the Fighting Spirits of a Walnut. Brief Weather & I Guess a Sort of Vision. La tumba de Keats. Herejías elegidas. Esa polilla que delante de mí revolotea. Folding Ruler Star. ¿Águila o sol? N/0. Silence and Metaphor. Company of Moths. Plain Song. The Age of Huts. La palabra en archipiélago / La parole en Archipel. Matar a Platón. Mainland. Rommel Drives on Into Egypt. Locations. Air. Book of Magaine Verse. Response. Geography III. Lightduress. Fair Realism. Eunoia. The Wonderful Focus of You. What. Paradise. Breath's Burials. Breathturn. Conjuros. The Hawk in the Rain. The Captain Lands in Paradise. A Certain Slant of Sunlight. El equipaje abierto. Lit. Tjanting. Aire sobre el aire. Un día sea. Range Finder. The Unicorns. Planetary Gear. Where Shall I wander? The Pronouns. Gone to Earth. Analogies of Escape. Ladera este. No amanece el cantor. Petroleum Hat. The Lost Pilot. The Absent Father in Dumbo. The Fatalist. Book of Haikus. Collected Poems of Barbara Guest. Keys to the Cavern. American Ones: Notes and Presentiments. Smithsonian Depositions and Subject to a Film. Echoes. Shadow Train. Some Trees.

Common themes here: Silliman, Coolidge, Ashbery; Spanish, American, and Venezuelan poetry. Looking over the list there are some I don't remember too well, that didn't make as strong an impression. That's fine. What's surprising is that is a relatively small number.

I guess I decided it won't matter too much if some of the 9,000 turn out to be (involuntary) repeats. The list will be incomplete anyway, since I am leaving out the titles of works that I read but that I think are "not even bad," that don't even register with me in a useful way, negative or positive.

There's little dross here, actually. Nothing obliges me to read things I don't have to read, so let me be the first to congratulate myself on my good taste: Elizabeth Bishop, Jean Valentine--Lorca--David Shapiro--Olvido García Valdés--Paul Celan--Ashbery.


10 dic 2008

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Ashbery. Some Trees 1956. 75 pp.

Shadow Train. 1981. 50 pp.

Some Trees is amazing (These are amazing, each / joining a neighbor), eyes shining without mystery, footprints eager for the past. I found my receipt for when I bought this book, in 1978! Shadow Train contains the poem "Paradoxes and Oxymorons" and another one about Warren G. Harding: 50 poems of 16 lines each, divided into four, four-line stanzas.


This concludes the second 1% of the 9000 books project. Shortly I will compile a list of the second percent--90 books.

I will have to have a system for not repeating, for keeping track. Maybe a separate alphabetical list that I keep somewhere? If I can keep up this pace of doing 2% a year, I will finish easily in 50 years time. Luckily longevity runs in my family.


Here's a blockbuster jazz album that actually is not one of my favorites. I guess I can choose to be picky, right? With so much from this group to choose from, Milestones would not be one of my top picks. I can't even put my finger on why.

Dave Brubeck. Time Out (1959)

I never liked Brubeck much as a piano player. I tend to put him in the category of pianists like George Shearer, André Previn, Dave McKenna. Time Out features his classic quartet with Paul Desmond on alto. This was the hip record if you were white college student ca. 1960-- hip ma non troppo.

The gimmick of the album is odd times. Five four in the most famous track, "Take Five," writtten by Desmond. Blue Rondo a la Turk starts out in 9/8, with a pattern that goes ONE two ONE two ONE two ONE two three, and shifts back and forth between that and a stanard 4/4. Joe Morello, the legendary drummer, holds it all together.

Desmond is a good sax player, with a very nice tone, though not quite my favorite white player of the period: I like Mulligan, Getz, Pepper, Konitz, and Marsh better.

Still, this is a significant piece of jazz history, for its enormous popularity if for nothing else.

9 dic 2008


Monk's Dream

Monk settled down into a format of bass drums piano and tenor sax. Monk's Dream is one of the better albums using this format with Rouse on tenor. It has a mix of standards (Sweet and Lovely, just a Gigolo, Body and Soul) and Monk's originals.

Someday I have to sit down with a discography and see what standards Monk recorded, and how many times each. My idea is that he loved certain select songs and played them over and over again, rather than trying to play every song out there. Sweet and Lovely is most definitely one of his most recorded tunes. These songs almost become his in the same way that his own signature compositions were. When I was young, in fact, I thought Monk had written Sweet and Lovely.

Miles. Kind of Blue

Some would claim this to be greatest masterpiece of jazz history. They would be right--or at least you would have to make a serious argument for something else. Take Miles, Paul Chambers, and Coltrane from Miles's' classic quintets, add Cannonball Adderley on alto. Replace Philly Joe with Jimmy Cobb (a great drummer who is the only one still alive from this group), and put Bill Evans on piano instead of Red Garland. Take away the standard repertoire of Rodgers and Hart and Monk and use all original compositions based on modes rather than on standard chord changes.

Of course I've listened to this a billion times, so I am giving it a rest for a bit right now on the turntable, but this is one of the highpoints.

Miles Davis. Round About Midnight

This may be the best record by the best group ever, Miles's quintet with Coltrane. It starts off with perhaps the best ever version of Monk's Round Midnight (with an extra preposition thrown in.) There's also the bebop classic Ah-Leu-Cha, All of You, Bye Bye Blackbird, Tadd's Delight, and the haunting Dear Old Stockholm.

Robert Creeley, Chris Massey, Steve Swallow, et. al. Have We Told You All You'd Thought to Know

Here Creeley shows up in the 300 jazz album thread rather than the 9000 book of poetry thread, backed up by bassist Steve Swallow and associates in a live concert. Creeely reads to a jazz background--a venerable tradition since the 50s. It's worth having if you're a Creeley completist.
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Ray Charles. Genius + Soul = Jazz

This was sold along with a rather mediocre set with the title My Kind of Jazz. The G+S cuts are rather good, including One Mint Julep and The Outskirts of Town. Ray is a bonfide jazz musician, but covering tunes made famous by other like Lee Morgan's The Sidewinder doesn't always lead to very good resutls

*Creeley. Echoes 1982. no page numbers

Here is a little chapbook published by the Toothpaste Press that just happens to include several of Creeley's best poems. There is not a clunker in the book. Take "Stone":

Be as careful, as rational,
as you will but know
nothing of such kind is true

more than fits the skin
and so covers what's within
with another soft covering

that can leave the bones alone,
that can be as it will alone,
and stays as quiet, as stable, as stone.

What I like here is the mixture of sententiousness--the poem is giving well-meant advice--and the impossibility of following the advice. You can be careful, wise, but it makes no difference beyond a certain point. You are stuck in your own skin.
Here is my third post on this subject. Here the idea is to give a list of things I don't know, in the form of questions.

What are the major unresolved problems of performance theory, its shortcomings, its theoretical "gaps"? What are its controversies? Does it have rival schools or does it share a single central paradigm? Is performance theory a set of analytical tools for looking at performances, or a true "theory"? How does its ideological presuppositions determine its strengths and limitations? How does the choice of object studied determine the shape of the "theory" itself, in other words, does it make a difference whether drama, poetry, or dance becomes the paradigmatic object? How does its historical development influence its present state?

How could it be fruitfully compared to other theoretical subfields, like film theory, narratology, the theory of translation?

Where is it headed? What is the future project of performance theory?

Lee Konitz & Warne Marsh (1956?)

This is a recording date with the two saxes and a rhythm section of Sal Mosca, Billy Bauer, Oscar Pettiford, and Kenny Clark. Pettiford is superb, one of my favorite bop bassists. Konitz and Marsh have a very complementary style, and in fact it is hard to tell them apart if your mind wanders a bit: Marsh plays tenor sax in the alto register, like Stan Getz, and the approach to improvisation is very similar, since both come out of the Tristano school.

I read a book about Tristano, and his pedagogical included learning to memorize and sing along to recorded jazz solos. I try to do this myself.

The tunes include Topsy, a Basie staple, Marsh's own "Background Music," Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee," and two standard pop songs: There Will Never Be Another You, and I Can't Get Started. Don't Squawk is a twelve bar blues. I'm not sure about Ronnie's Line. I don't know that tune from any other context.

For pure improvisation, it is hard to beat Konitz and Marsh--unless your name happens to be Sonny Rollins.

8 dic 2008


*Coolidge. Smithsonian Depositions & Subject to a Film 1980. 83 pp.

The latter half of this is an examination of the making of the movie Jaws. The first half a long prose meditation on various subjects. I was more strongly drawn to Smithsonian Depositions, because I am not that interested in Spielberg's cinematography.

The Artistry of Pepper

Pepper is one of the great white saxes of West Coast jazz. Getz, Mulligan, Pepper, Konitz, Marsh, Desmond... Here is Art Pepper with various personel, Mel Lewis and Shelly Manne alternating on drums. Check out What Is This Thing Called Love and A Foggy Day.

King Cole Trio. The Complete Capitol Transcription Sections.

I'm concentrating here on the cuts off of this that don't have the voice of Nat King Cole, but just the trio. I do like his singing to some extent, but what I really like is his trio, with the guitar of Oscar Moore. The chord voicings of Cole on the piano really complement Moore's mellow but plaintive guitar.

My first jazz lp that I owned was a recording of the Cole trio without any vocal work, and this capitol compilation reproduces some of those cuts, like Body and Soul, Honeysuckle Rose.
Here's the second post on performance theory. My first step was to describe what I already know in terms of already existing performance theory. The idea of the second post ito go beyond the most obvious level, without necessarily being totally original. This is not what I and everyone else already know about it, but a list of topics I think I'd like to explore. It turns out I've already done more thinking in this area that I thought I had done. Forcing myself to make a list turned out to be a good way of eliciting from myself those particular reflections:

(1) Performativeness (degrees of). Here the idea is that less performative performances are equally performative. In other words, performances that de-emphasize "drama," that are drier and more oriented toward a reproduction of what's on the page, are equally worthy of attention. By the same token, very stylized performances are not necessarily more performative than ones that strive for "realism." This whole question has to be rethought.

(2) Pedagogy. Elocution, in my Grandmother's generation, was the way literature was taught. She could give dramatic readings of texts she had memorized well into her 90s. Performance implies a new pedagogy, in which students themselves should be performers. But, as Steve Evans points out in his interview with ??? [Al Filreis], performance is still kind of an afterthought. The poem on the page still reigns supreme, and we need to find a way of making more than a mere supplement.

(3) Improvisation. Not all performance is improvisation, but improvisation is always a performance. All performance does involve an element of "liveness," of attentiveness to the present. Improvisation brings that attentitiveness to the forefront. It might also be interesting to look at performance in terms of preparation, of logistics.

(4) Duende. The duende is in the first instance a theory of performance, not of artistic creation or inspiration. What interests me here is the way in which a theory of performance can be paradigmatic, primary rather than secondary, in poetics. I also want to explore the slippage between performance and creation in Lorca's theory of the duende.

(5) Song setting. What is fascinating here is the way in which a poem might be derived from a melody or a melody from a text. A kind of translation?

(6) Vocal stylings. Certain singers put across the words in an ideal way, not by overdramatizing, but by using melody, voice, and phrasing to get at the best possible oral interpretation of that particular lyric. On the other hand, there are performance practices that sacrifice the words to vocal techniques. Vowels must be sung a certain way in the interest of sonority, to the detriment of the text. There is fertile ground for theorization here.

(7) Prosody. Usually, once performance happens, prosody is forgotten--paradoxically. That is, there is a kind of false opposition between the prosody on the page and the prosody in the voice. The object of phonology is a written sentence. This needs to be rethought. People wanting to do this field seriously should learn a little more linguistics.

(8) Voice. I'd like to look at the human voice itself as the basis of everthing else. If you had a theory of the voice you would have a theory of the performance of any linguistic performance.

(9) Timbre. I've written a paper on the theory of timbre, that you can probably still see at the Hall Center for the Humanities Website. (Many of these points are overlapping rather than discretely separated.)

(10) Rhythm. Performances happen in time; they are rhythmically organized in some fashion. Actors might wait a "beat" before proceeding. A theory of performance would need a good account of rhythm. My study of percussion over the past 10 years or so has taught me a lot, though I am not at all a good drummer.
Here are three more principles that are perhaps secondary to the five listed belowbut of great importance also.

1) The intellectual history of one's discipline.

You should know something about the history of other people doing what you want to do. In sociology, you might want to read Durkheim and Weber. Some disciplines are oriented strongly toward the present, or the very immediate past. It might take a while to gain a historical perspective, since graduate school can be focused more on the "estado de la cuestión," the current state of research, than on the intellectual underpinnings. When you have been in the field longer, you have actually lived through more of the intellectual history of that field, and also, maybe, have been able to look back at things that happened before you joined the conversation.

2) Language.

Obviously I am biased since I teach a foreign language. I think it's valuable in any field to know at least one other language with some real depth, beyond the kind of very basic reading knowledge required to fulfill a requirement in Grad School.

3) General knowledge.

Knowledge of intellectual history, science and the history of science, art history and music, philosophy, mythology and comparative religion, linguistics, etc... It's interesting in my field how students coming from Latin America are often much better prepared in terms of general knowledge than students with their undergraduate education in the U.S.
I'm slated to teach a graduate seminar on poetry and performance in the fall of 09, with another colleague in my department, Jill Kuhnheim, a specialist in Latin American poetry who shares my interest in performance. I thought I would figure out what I need to learn about the theory of performance before I could teach it. So I made a list of 10 things that I think I know about this subject. A follow up will be 10 idea that are more or less original to me, or that aren't obvious things everyone alraedy ought to already know about the subject.

My first thought was that I knew nothing at all about the subject, but that's not quite the case. This is not everything I know, but the listing of 10 major points seems like a convenient starting point. Here goes:

1) Theory of theater. One place from which performance theory emerged is from work in drama and theater. The basic idea is that the literary study of the theatrical text on the page is not sufficient without a look at the impliciations of how theater is performed and the concrete circumstances that surround performance. In Aristotelian terms, this is spectacle, one of six major elements (and a bit of melos too).

2) Semiotics.. Barthes's essays on Brecht, for example, point to a semiotics of theater. The idea is that elements of spectacle are signs in the same way that words are. Theater can be studied as a total signifying system in which language is only one element. Dramatists who de-emphasize verbal signifying in favor of other performative elements lead to this study (Artaud).

3) Anthropology. But Performance is not just theater. From an anthropological perspective, theater is but one kind of performance. Game, rituals, and the performance of "roles" in everyday life are also part of a larger category. Artaud's exposure to other forms of theater in Bali was influential in his ideas. The anthropological perspective entails a less ethnocentric view of things.

4) Ethnopoetics. Rothenberg's Ethnopoetics is based squarely on performance practices, taking an anthropological perspective.

5) Poetics Beyond Ethnopoetics. The contributors to Bernstein's Close Listening bring performance studies into the orbit of Language Poetry, with a critique of conventional poetry readings and an exploration of many issues involved in the oral performance of poetry, also from a less theatrico-centric perspective.

6) Orality. Walter Ong's distinction between orality and literacy is a significant backdrop to performance theory. Not all performances imply an opposition to literacy, but all are in some sense "oral," in that they involve spoken language (if they have language at all). Previous work on Serbian oral epic lays behind some of this thinking.

7) Cultural Studies. Performance theory fits the agenda of Cultural Studies, in its emphasis on popular culture, the performance of social roles in subcultures, etc...

8) Performativity. Theory of performance might bring into play Chomsky's competence / performance distinction, or Judith Butler's sense that social roles are performed, or the performativity of speech act theory. In short, there is a kind of fruitful punning on the word performance itself.

9) Audience. A theory of performance is a theory of the audience, usually involving the physical presence of a public and some notion of reception. It's true that the "reader" is often invoked in discussions of literature, but in discussions of performance the spectator is more alive and concrete, not a reader merely posited as a theoretical construct.

10) Body. With performance, the body of the performer comes into play. Not the merely theoretical body involved in writing from / with the body.

What will be fun is to see what I know after teaching the course.

7 dic 2008


*Clark Coolidge. Keys to the Caverns. 1995. 51 pp.

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*American Ones (Notes and Presentiments. 1981 46 pp.

Here are two books by Coolidge. American Ones is all in prose and divided into ten sections. I have heard Coolidge read this, and so was familiar with it. It has its moments, but also its non-moments, where it seems to gone on randomly for a bit before he finds his groove again.

Keys to the Caverns is divided into 135 numbered paragraphs, some only one or two sentences long. It is perhaps one of the best works by Coolidge I have read.

Look at #77

Now this is the ground it is autumn beneath. Now about this ground it is audient. This void, these roads all in throne and sequent tassle. How is it known what below is missed? How can one savor the whistle between some and gone? That anyhow to be going on about the autumn road is hollow. What prime beneath it a pin has taken root, then managed flight, ground out a sound. There is a choice of encroachments.

That's good like Beckett. The metaphorical treatment of the cave and caverns of the title is effective because it isn't a metaphor. They are real caves. If sometimes Hades and death comes up, well that's because it is a literal space of death at times.

Unamuno. Niebla.

This is the famous novel where Augusto Pérez meets his creator and they have a dialogue about whether a character in a novel can commit suicide or not. I taught it to my undergraduates this semester.

Carmen Laforet. Nada. (1940)

I can't believe I've only read 29 novels this year. Anyway, Nada is the tale of Andrea, a young college student in Barcelona at the beginning of the Franco dictatorship, who has to live with a highly disfunctional family of her uncles and aunts. The typical Bildungsroman. I read it because I had to teach it this semester.

Antonio Tabucchi. Il filo dell'orizonte. 1988. 105 pp.

This is a rather slight novel. A guy named Spino (Spinoza?) works at the morgue; a body comes in, as the result of a shootout with the police. He is identified in his false documents as Carlo Noboldi, later Nobodi (nobody, get it?). Spino tries to identify the origin of this man by tracing back certain objects, such as a jacket made by a certain tailor in 1959. He is on a wild-goose chase. Someone sends him a message saying "What is Hecuba to you?" (quoting Hamlet). The novel basically ends as he realizes the futility of it all.

Maybe it would be better if I knew Italian and had been able to understand more of it.

6 dic 2008


Johnny Hodges and Duke Ellington. Side by Side

Here's another one it's hard to argue with. Hodges, Ellington (with Billy Strayhorn instead of Ellington on some of the tracks), Jo Jones on Drums.

On one recording session is it Harry Sweets Edison; on the other other, Roy Eldridge and Ben Webster and a trombone player from Ellington's band. I'm not crazy about the flute playing, but other than that it's a really classic collection.
Here are my basic principles:

(1) Be smart [Be brilliant]. It always helps to start out with that basic advantage of being smarter than the next person. What this really means, though, is to work smart. Be intelligent about the way in which you go about doing things. Think things out.

(2) Read more. Be the kind of person who has read more than the people in any given room. That's what the 9,000 book of poetry project is really about.

(3) Out work (everyone else).

(4) Stake out (your territory). Define a few areas in which you are a specialist. Within those areas, you want to have a fairly dense, saturated knowledge. You want to have read the Collected Poems, not the Selected Poems. If you are in Graduate school and reading only the works assigned, or only the reading list for an exam, you are probably not going to be very well read.

(5) got prose? Basically, as a critic you are a kind of writer. The writing is not a secondary activity ("writing up" the results of something else) but a primary one. Not every publishing academic writes all that well, so that is a way to set yourself off from the crowd right there. Assuming you have 1-4 covered, you've got to have prose.

4 dic 2008

The Perfect Sleep Game

In the perfect sleep game, instead of trying to fall asleep, simply describe to yourself the characteristics of "the perfect sleep."

For me, for example, the perfect sleep would begin with a a half hour of describing "the perfect sleep to myself," of playing "the perfect sleep" game. As I played this game, describing to myself the perfect sleep, I would gradually become more relaxed and drift off into sleep. I would have consumed alcohol in very moderate proportions before; not so much as to become dehydrated and disturb my sleep. At about 11:30 I would be asleep. I would not be "dead to the world," but in another kind of life, alert in some dimension as though I was actually asleep. I would be neither too hot nor too cold. I would feel, as I was sleeping, that I was resolving some problem, but rather effortlessly. The problem would be that of being tired. Sleep would be refreshing. My dreams would be intermittent and also oriented toward the resolution of problems. My mind would be alive, working in another dimension, but still at work in some sense. Then there would be a period of very deep sleep, in which the mind would essentially shut down for a period, say between 2 and 4 a.m. This would be pure rest. in the wee small hours. In the early morning hours before wakefulness, dreams might resume. I might have to get up and pee, but without really fully waking up. Sleep would resume quickly. Dreaming would become more active, and oriented toward the coming day.

Wakefulness would arrive gradually. There would be no particular pressure about waking up, no nervousness about the day to come. I would probably have to pee again, but this would be a relief rather than a burden. I'd probably waken with an erection even in the absence of overtly sexual thoughts. The radio would come on at about the time that I anticipated it. Some shallow sleep, of low but pleasant quality, might ensue. There would be pleasant tension between the pleasure of remaining half-dormant and of gaining gradually in altertness. A sense that the problems of the night have been resolved.

Every night that one plays "The Perfect Sleep" one might refine the definition of what the perfect sleep might entail, rather than repeating one's definition verbatim.

Next in "Games for Insomniacs": "Pornographic Novel.'

Sinatra. Songs for Young Lovers (1954)

Here's another classic collaboration with Riddle, also in my parents collection. It's an orgy of great song-writing. The first song here is My Funny Valentine (Rodgers and Hart). Next is The Girl Next Door, which you might remember from the musical Meet me in St. Louis. A Foggy Day in London Town (Gershwin). Like Someone in Love (Jimmy Van Heusen). I Get a Kick out of You (Cole Porter.) Little Girl Blue (Rodgers and Hart). They Can't Take That Away from Me (Gerswhin ). Violets for Your Furs (check our Coltrane's version of this!), Just One of Those Things, I'm Going To Sit Right Down and Right Myself a Letter, Sunday, Taking a Chance on Love (compare Lester Young's version on Pres and Teddy), Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams, Jeepers Creepers, Get Happy, All of Me.

Sinatra is in good form here. I think I have more tracks here than on the original LP. No matter. It's all good.

Sinatra. In the Wee Small Hours

My parents had this album, though I think I was the only one in the family who ever played it much. It is probably still in my mom's house. It was here I first heard Ellington's Mood Indigo, before I had a very good idea of who Duke was. Nice arrangements by Nelson Riddle. A wonderful version of It Never Entered My Mind, the great Rodgers and Hart song played by Miles in a classic recording. This might very well be Sinatra's best work. Part of it is the excellence of the songwriting and arrangements. All Frank had to do was sing.

Pres and Teddy (1956)

This one has Lester Young, Teddy Wilson, Papa Jo, and Gene Ramey. In other words, three of my favorite musicians of all time. (I don't know anything about bassist Ramey, aside from his work here.)

The tracks are All of Me, Prisoner of Love, Louise, Love Me or Leave Me, Taking a Chance on Love, Gershwin's Our Love is Here to Stay, and the blues Pres Returns.

Bob Basil taped this for me in the early 80s, along with the Oscar Peterson session with Pres, and I have loved it ever since. We wore out this tape. Later, I purchased it on cd. I heard this was on some list of the 100 greatest albusm of all time, and I fully concur with that judgement.
I am not the Speaker of This Poem

I am not the speaker of this poem.
A Reminder of Immortal Energy

I don't know your friends; I don't care about them;
their names mean nothing to me--
Joe, Kenneth, Grace...
All I really need from you
is a reminder of immortal energy.

Lester Young. Lester Young Trio

These are the sessions with Lester Young with Nat Cole on piano, and Buddy Rich on drums, produced by Norman Granz. (This was mentioned by John of Utopian Turtletop fame in a comment to an earlier post.) Tracks include Back to the Land, I Cover the Waterfront, Somebody Loves Me, The Man I Love, Peg O' My Heart. I really dig Cole's playing here, and Rich remains in the background in a supportive role.

I honestly don't prefer this to the Oscar Peterson or Teddy Wilson recordings with Lester, even though I like Cole as a pianist more than Peterson and about at the same level as Wilson. I just don't think Lester is quite as strong. But this is still essential postwar Pres.

There are some extra tracks on this C.D. with a young Dexter Gordon doing his best Lester Young impersonation.

3 dic 2008


Art Blakey. Paris Jam Session (1959)

This has Blakey in Paris with Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter. The highlight are two numbers when Bud Powell sits in, on his signature songs Dance of the Infidels and Bouncing with Bud. On the first he plays 19 choruses of this twelve bar blues, on the second, seven choruses of a 32-bar AABA form.

Barbara Guest. Collected Poems. 2008. 512 pp.

I ordered this last summer and it has finally come out. I'm about halfway through it. Wow. We have this and the Spicer collected coming out all at once. Wesleyan is becoming the publisher of poetry.

This is a great collected, because it includes prose works too, like her series of cinema vignettes. Now I feel my collection of rare Guest books is less valuable. Still, some works are diminished here without their visual analogues (stripped tales, musicality.)

Jack Kerouac. Book of Haikus. 2003. 181 pp.

I've been reading this, a very fun book of Kerouac's haiku, as the title implies. "Walking on water wasn't / built in a day." He kept notebook after notebook of them.

Coltrane Lush Life (1960)

Here's an excellent album mostly of standard ballads that represents the Coltrane of ca. 1958/59. He has Cole Porter's "I Love You," Jmmy Van Heusen's "Like Someone In Love," and the title track, Strayhorn's Lush Life in a definitive performance. The personnel varies, with a couple different drummers and bassists and pianists.

Lester Young and the Oscar Peterson Trio

The only thing that's possibly better than this is Lester with Teddy Wilson, Bird at his best, or the best of Miles with coltrane.

The Oscar Peterson "trio" is really a quartet in this case: piano, bass, drums, guitar. Someone couldn't count, apparently. The choice of material is impeccable, with I can't Get Started, Stardust, On the Sunny Side of the Street... Oscar provides a very nice cushion for Lester Young to play over.

The Quintet: Live At Massey Hall

This is an allstar outing with Bird, Dizzy, Max, Bud, and Mingus: the five best players on their respective instruments of the bebop era. Mingus apparently overdubbed his parts back in, when the sound quality didn't turn out to be that good in the lower registers. The play a bunch of bebop standards, as might be expected. Hot House, Night in Tunisia, Salt Peanuts. I don't know that this is the greatest bebop album of all time, but it certainly is a document of an extraordinary concert.

Sonny Please

Sonny's most recently recorded album has been a favorite of everyone in my family for the past year or so. (My wife and teenaged daughter really love Sonny Rollins and Miles Davis, and this album in particular.) I like how Sonny embraces the tunefulness of the songs he plays, how he can use very minimalistic techniques like playing the same note over and over again with differing rhythmic emphases. His nephew Clifton Anderson plays trombone on this. It's not like uncle and nephew are in the same league, but that hardly detracts from the album. Sonny can do no wrong.

Fitzgerald & Pass... Again

This is an album I owned on vinyl as a youth and was quite devoted to. It's a very nice assortment of standards and a few others less standard songs like "Tis Autumn" and "Rain."

You might question my taste, but I am fond of the song "Nature Boy" once made popular by Nat King Cole. I also like Ella singing "One Note Samba," and "Tennessee Waltz." You know how I feel about Rodgers and Hart, so I don't need to say I like her version here of "You Took Advantage of Me." There's also Duke Ellington's Solitude.

Ella's voice is not as pure as in her youth, but I think she does quite well. No serious lapses of taste. In terms of the pure emotion, I don't think she does any better on any other album. She digs deeper into the lyrics, like Billie Holiday in her later phase when her voice was practically destroyed.

The Joe Pass / Ella combo produced several other albums, which you will be hearing about soon.

Stan Getz in Stockholm

Here is Getz in Stockholm with a generic sounding rhythm section of Norwegians, playing a set of standards like Indiana, Everything Happens to Me, Jeepers Creepers, Over the Rainbow. Getz has two things: a wonderful sound, and an ability to improvise with great imagination and organization, telling a story. As long as he has those two things, I'll listen to him all day (though I am not a big fan of bossa nova generally so I prefer him when he's not doing that.)

I was mentioning to my grad class that the set of familiar topoi like ubi sunt, lacrimae rerum, carpe diem, beatus ille, ars longa vita breve, are like a kind of shared language for European poetry for many centuries. They are commonplaces in the good sense of the word. The standard songs are kind of like that. If you can breathe new life into them, I'll never tire of them.

I'm grading papers, which means two things: I need music on to keep me going, and I need to interrupt myself so as not to go mad. The result: many posts today in the 300 jazz album series.

Whims of Chambers (1956)

Here's a session lead by Bassist Paul Chambers with Coltrane as sideman. It also has Philly Joe and Horace Silver, and Kenny Burrell on guitar. It's a nice break from all this super canonical stuff I've been laying down on you today. There are some nice bass solos.

Miles Davis. Sketches of Spain (1959)

Another collaboration with Gil Evans. This album is considered a "milestone," like so many other Miles Davis works. There was a movement to fuse jazz with classical music, and this was one of the more felicitous movements toward that end. Of course, it brings together two of my main interests, Spain and Miles Davis, so I have to be appreciative of that.

Miles Davis. Nefertiti (1967)

What about this one? It features the classic second quintet of Shorter, Hancock, Carter, and Williams, with compositions by Shorter, Hancock, and Williams. The title track is superb. The emotional depth here is great, given how much is going on technically.

Miles Davis. Birth of the Cool

You knew I'd get around to this. These are little masterpieces, none of them longer than three and a half minutes. The playing of Miles is really well complemented by the alto sax of Lee Konitz and the baritone of Gerry Mulligan. Max plays on some of these tracks. The absence of piano on some tracks is compensated by the fullness of the horn arrangements, with French horn and Tuba.

I would have named this blog "Boplicity," after a tune here, but the name was already in use of several other things.

Whatever you think Miles's racial attitudes might have been, I think nobody looked more purely at musical talent. The collaborations with Gil Evans, his work with Konitz and Mulligan here, his hiring of Bill Evans (no relation) for Kind of Blue. His hiring of Dave Holland and numerous other up and coming musicians in the later phases of his work... He really had the most racially mixed groups of any comparable figure of his time, I would argue.

Miles Davis Porgy and Bess

This is one of several collaborations between Miles and the arranger Gil Evans, one of his closest friends and musical partners: an adaptation of Gerswhin's opera. In terms of long-form jazz, it compares favorably with some of Ellington's Suites. In this case I don't mind hearing "Summertime" again. This is great context for it.

Miles invented and reinvented music several times over. The Gil Evans collaborations are but one chapter of his achievement. Just think, if he has only done those, and nothing else, he'd stil be a major figure. Yet if you took those away, he'd still have Round Midnight and Kind of Blue, his fusion work...

2 dic 2008


Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington

Here's a Riverside recording produced by Keepnews in the 50s for the Riverside label. It has really strong bass lines by Oscar Pettiford, and a set of overfamiiar Ellington songs like It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing, Caravan, Mood Indigo, I got it Bad and That Ain't Good. The concept of Monk playing Ellington is just that... a concept, a gimmick if you will. I've always enjoyed Monk playing standards though. A real love of the music comes through whether he's playing Gerswhin's Nice Work If You can Get it or a largely forgotten tune like Lulu's Back in Town. Here, the advantage is that it's Ellington, one of the great songwriters of that era. I wonder what Duke thought of this!

I've known one cut off this for years, a version of Black and Tan Fantasy, but the rest of it I've gotten to know more recently. He plays Solitude like he wrote it.

Joe Pass. Virtuoso.

This collection of twelve standards got me through a lot of Lorca writing. It's got Cherokee, Night and Day, My Old Flame, Have you Met Miss Jones. Round Midnight...

Workin with the Miles Davis Quintet

It doesn't really get any better than this. Miles had the best working band ever when he had Coltrane, Paul Chambers (my favorite bass player; Coltrane's favorite too), Red Garland on piano, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. Philly Joe is the quintessential jazz drummer. Only Max Roach and Papa Joe and a few others are in that supreme category.

He starts off with a version of Richard Rodgers's "It Never Entered My Mind." The best recorded version of that song ever. Coltrane sits out.

Then a version of "Four," an original.

Then Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way." Coltrane outdoes Miles in Sweetness. Then Miles comes back to state the theme.

Next is "The Theme," a brief interlude.

"Trane's Blues" is an 8-minute showcase for Coltrane, who comes in at about 2:16, playing a solid solo, though nothing extraordinary by Trane standards. On "Ahmad's Blues," a tribute to Ahmad Jamal, the horn players sit out. You get to hear one of the best rhythm sections of all time as a piano trio.

Finally, "Half Nelson," a faster, boppy number.

This is not even the best record by this particular group--but it is still better than almost everything else.

Lee Morgan. The Sidewinder

This has Morgan (tp), Joe Henderson (ts), Barry Harris (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Billy Higgins (d). At some points in my life I've been tired of it, I think because it's a bit stronger for its grooves than for its solos or compositions.

Also engineered by Rudy.

Bud Powell. Time Waits (1957)

Bud might not be absolutely at his prime here, in a recording date with Philly Joe Jones and Sam Jones, remastered by legendary engineer Rudy Van Geller, but this is a classic all the same. Partly I just really dig Philly Joe and am a connossieur of piano trios. I also like albums with no obviously weak spots, nothing that you have to skip over. There are also no overdone tunes like Summertime or Night in Tunisia here. It's not like I don't like those songs, but if you listen to a lot of jazz like I do you hear certain tunes over and over again.

Duke Ellington & John Coltrane (1962)

...on the impulse label. They play mostly Ellington and Strayhorn compositions, with Cotrane on tenor and soprano. This is one of the first recordings of him on Soprano, I believe, but I'm not quite sure if it's the absolute first. They use two drum/bass combinations, one from Duke and one from Coltrane. The Aaron Bell/Sam Woodyard combo is not quite as convincing in this particular setting as the Jimmy Garrison/Elvin Jones one. Sam Woodyard puts in an intrusive backbeat at one point. Yikes!

Brown and Roach Incorporated

This is mostly a set of showcases for the individual members of the group. Mildama is for Max Roach himself. Sweet Clifford is a Clifford Brown Showcase, as is I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance. Darn that Dream is for tenor saxist Harold Land, and I'll String along is piano solo by Richie Powell. Maybe that's why I like other recordings better, because I like the ensemble even more than the sum of its parts. I do like Stompin at the Savoy on this album, which is more of an ensemble piece. I absolutely love Max's drum solo on this one. So musical. Overall, it's an essential recording by my favorite hard bop ensemble.

Art Tatum The Best of the Complete Pablo Solo Masterpieces

Norman Granz had the idea of sitting down Tatum at the piano and just recording the hell out of him playing a bunch of songs. If it weren't for that, we'd have much less Tatum on record. This Tatum compendium has many standards like Stomping at the Savoy, I've Got the World on a String, Body and Soul, Stardust... Just about every cut is a great song, played Tatum-style.

1 dic 2008


Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Rodgers and Hart Songbook

Have you met Miss Jones? I'm a sentimental sap that's all, what's the use of trying not to fall. I've lost my will. You've made your kill cause you took advantage of me. Thou swell, thou witty. The endless sighs, the blackened eyes. The double-crossing of a pair of heels. I'll take Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island too. Wait till you see her, see how she looks, wait till you see her laugh. Painters of pictures, writers of books, never could tell the half. I didn't know what time it was. It never entered my mind. Ten cents a dance, that's what they pay me, oh how they weigh me down. And order orange juice for one. We'll have a blue room. There's a small hotel.

I've always liked Rodgers and Hart more than any other songwriters. Even the Gershwins, though they are a close second. I listened to this endlessly when I was about 15 years old.
I think my book makes several distinct contributions:

1. There hasn't been much good critical writing on Kenneth Koch. There's the Harry Mathews essay on The Duplications, for example, or the preface to the Selected Poems by Padgett, and shorter pieces by Jordan Davis, some unpublished, but pickings are slim. There are plenty of University Press books with one chapter on Ashbery, or one chapter on O'Hara, but usually Koch is left out of the equation. My chapter on Koch will be one of the most distinctive scholarly contributions to the study of his poetry. Although the focus is on his rewriting of Lorca, I think I also illuminate his work in other ways à propos of that.

2. My treatment of the Deep Image school is one of the most in depth available. I deal with both the Bly/Wright and the Rothenberg/Kelly branches of this school, taking the debate one step further than Jed Rasula's excellent piece.

3. My chapter on Spicer is also among the most in-depth scholarly/critical treatments of this poet. I have relevant things to say about his practice of dictation. If After Lorca is a significant work of American poetry, then my treatment of it is also significant. I go one step beyond previous treatments: Blaser, Eshleman, Chamberlain.

4. The contextualization of American poets in relation to the cold war might be useful, even though my treatments of O'Hara, Kaufman, Ginsberg, and Duncan do not really break new ground, but my overview of this period, emphasizing a certain romanticism, might be useful even if you don't care about Lorca.

5. I have some relevant things to say about the practice of translation as it relates to the cultural history of the 1950s. There is very little nit-picking about how translators should have translated. Instead, there is a deeper contextualization of the entire enterprise.

6. While this isn't a book about Lorca per se, in an odd way it illuminates his work through the use of "negative space." I think it will be one of the top books about Lorca, alongside contributions by full-fledged lorquistas like Christopher Maurer and Andrew A. Anderson.

7. It will be impossible to think of the duende the same way after reading my book.

8. It's kind of a good model of the "reception study," a staple of Comparative Literature since there was a Comparative Literature. It shows that a reception study can be hip, funny, and smart, as opposed to kind of a deadly catalogue. It doesn't break wholly new ground in translation studies, but is a good application of ideas pioneered by Venuti.

9. I like the way I integrate aesthetic criticism with political and social concerns. I show how you can't really evaluate the literary colonialism involved in adapting Lorca to the American agenda without taking a serious look at the aesthetic/poetic effects. [Please forgive my immodesty here: believe me I had to twist my arm for several hours before I could write this post. Now both of my arms are hurting: the one that did the twisting and the one that was twisted. I feel that I should promote this book because the University of Chicago Press is putting its resources into its publication. It would be selfish of me to be too modest, just so you would not think of me as being too arrogant.]

10. Finally, if you know and like me, it is fun to read. It has everything that makes me a distinctive writer/critic/intellectual. It has poetry, jazz, a sense of humor. A provocative intelligence and a certain acerbic wit. I couldn't have written it without being me. Or, put another way, I was uniquely situated to write this particular book, by traiing, temperament.