Archive for the ‘jazz’ Tag

Joie de Vivre revisited

view from the picasso museum antibes

I’m standing on the terrace of the Château Grimaldi in Vieil Antibes (aka le Musee Picasso). Below is an expanse of azure sea punctuated with dozens of white sails travelling in various incomprehensible lines as they race from whoknowswhere to somewhereelse. I couldn’t be happier being back in Antibes/Juan Les Pins. I’m here for the MIP TV market/Digital Emmys, my usual reason for being in this neck of the woods, but as a veteran of such things, I know to stay in Juan rather than Cannes.

Juan-les-Pins has two particular resonances for me – my European grandparents and jazz. The former, a Germano-Polish alliance, used to come here in the 50s and 60s as it was à la mode, the In place. They both enjoyed gambling so I expect the casino was a significant attraction. The latter I suspect was not unrelated to this modishness as it was the golden age of modal jazz and other such modern experimentation. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen stuff about Miles and Coltrane playing here. This hotel (I’m now on the balcony of my room at Le Grand Pavois as my phone ran out of juice at the end of the first paragraph) has a Sidney Bechet room. Somewhere near the patch of sea I can see through the pines is a commemoration of the international jazz festival they used to hold in town.

A quick bit of Googling shows that Trane played at the festival in 1965 and a live LP was recorded, and Miles played here in July 1969. That probably makes the Trane performance within 6 months of the release of ‘A Love Supreme’.

A bit more Googling reveals that Coltrane, Tyner, Garrison & Jones (the recorders/creators of ‘A Love Supreme’) were the band who played in Juan on 26/27 July 1965 and they played A Love Supreme, Impressions and Naima, which makes it I believe the one and only live performance of ‘A Love Supreme’, one of my favourite records, the opening track of which I’ve left a request to have played at my funeral (on the way in).

view from the hotel grand pavois  juan les pins sunset

Back in the land very much of the living, today has been a pretty blessed one. The taxi driver who picked me up in Nice had a PhD in history of art from the Sorbonne and taught there. Cue interesting conversation about Fragonard, Boucher, etc. The hotel room they put me in is a corner room and because of its odd shape is big enough to play football in and has this huge sweeping balcony hugging the curved corner of the building where I’m now sitting in the golden rays of the evening sun in just a clean white towel (refreshing after the London winter).

around provencal market old antibes

So I dumped my coat and baggage, changed into shorts and my Save Ferris T-shirt and headed over the hill to Old Antibes. Steak frites for lunch with a glass of rosé. Crêpe citrone and café crême. Reading The Bone Clocks (David Mitchell), my book club choice. Then into the back streets by the marché provençale to the Musée Picasso, like an annual pilgrimage. It’s one of my favourite places.

picasso nu assis sur fond vert 1946 musee picasso antibes

I delighted in revisiting the fabulously Mediterranean ‘Joie de Vivre” (1946) which Picasso painted in the building after the war and about which I’ve written at length. This time the work that really stood out for me was ‘Nu Assis sur font vert’ (1946) which is a good example of Picasso capturing the human body in geometric, sculptural forms.

jaume plensa nomade antibes sculpture

From there I passed a happy hour reading, snoozing, listening on the small harbour beach beside the marina. A walk over to Jaume Plensa’s Nomade sculpture (2010) on the harbour wall. Pleasant memories of one of my best days at Channel 4, rounding the corner of a wood to see for the first time ‘Dream’, which Plensa made as part of the ‘Big Art Project’ series. I met him that day.

On the late afternoon walk home I had one of the best ice-creams I’ve ever had (rum & raisin and coffee if you want to know).

The feeling that came to me walking over that hill on the way out at noon was that for all the crap going on in the world (and there’s no end of it) we need to stay in touch with the joys of living and appreciate them each and every day. That’s the only way to live. Otherwise it’s a road to madness.

Radio Radio

I listen to about 30 plus hours of radio a week. It’s a great medium. “Skull Cinema” is what a colleague at work called it the other day.

One of my favourites shows on the radio is the Robert Elms Show on BBC London 94.9 – the current unwieldy name for GLR. GLR, founded in 1988, burned brightly for just a few years like a flare in the night, lighting up the faces of Chris Evans, Chris Morris and Danny Baker; Mark Lamarr, Gideon Coe, Phill Jupitus and Gary Crowley; lightening the hearts of 20somethings across the capital, feeding telly for years to come. By 2000 it was no more – except in those hearts.

Robert Elms is into much of the same stuff as me – London, music, architecture, trivia, history and music. You said music twice…

Hedley Lamarr: Qualifications?
Applicant Outlaw: Rape, murder, arson, and rape.
Hedley Lamarr: You said rape twice.
Applicant Outlaw: I like rape.

He shares a birthday with my Other Half. That must mean something.

Anyway, this weekend I got a real kick getting a mention on the show. Robert asked for ideas for Christmas tunes to play over the next couple of weeks. I sent in these two.

This is the latest Christmas record in our household, acquired this time last year. Robert said he’d played it a couple of days ago. Good, we’re on the same wavelength. It’s got that Rockabilly heartbeat.

This one is our core Christmas record. It goes on first thing on the big day and means it’s finally here – the pressie-opening, the turkey, the film, the family, the fun&games. Robert said he hadn’t come across this one and would follow it up (he says he takes these suggestions from listeners very seriously – I believe him).

So I whack off a quick email upstairs and by the time I get down to the kitchen I hear my two proposals coming out of the old Roberts, a veritable honour.

The best show of the year is one he does on New Year’s Eve day where he collects the best of his live music sessions of the year from the small Radio London studio with the dodgy Joanna. Always a total treat. Last year I remember finding Cecile McLorin Salvant and Laura Mvula through it.

Magical Music Moments

I’m just moving this parlour game over from the Inheritance Tracks post to its own space here.

The Game:

You have to pinpoint a transcendent moment in a track which constitutes a magical music moment. Provide URL of track in YouTube or similar and pinpoint the precise second the magic happens.

Moment #1 (Adam Gee)

This first one is based on a performance at the Royal Dublin Showgrounds – an uplifting moment when I realised Springsteen is at his best as a gospel/soul voice and got carried away on it.
My City of Ruins (Bruce Springsteen)
The moment is 4:07 but is indivisible from the build up 3:03-4:06
“With these hands With these hands With these hands With these hands”

Moment #2 (Adam Gee)

The second one is a massive cliche but no less powerful for that – it is one of The Great Rock Moments
Stairway To Heaven (Led Zeppelin)
4:18 at which point every fibre of you so needs those drums to come in (to deliver fully at 06:22 and 06:42)

Moment #3 (Doug Miller)

Yusef Lateef (Number 7)

One of the great live jazz albums is ‘Live at Peps’ by Yusef Lateef (Vols 1 and 2 are both great). The track is called ‘Number 7′. It’s got a great feel to it. You can hear the chat in the audience and the drinks being served behind the bar. Everything a great jazz club should be. There are two great changes – the first at 6.49 when a trumpet catches you unawares. The second a few seconds later when the piano comes in at the perfect moment and plays the blues. The audience responds and it’s recorded so well that you imagine yourself as an audience member. Yusef is now 92 and still playing. His album ‘Eastern Sounds’ is one of the great jazz albums – one of my top 10. But that’s another game.

More to follow…

Bitter Crop

The night before last the New York jazz club of the 30s and 40s Cafe Society was recreated in London at the Purcell Room on the South Bank for one night only. The club was set up in 1938 as an alternative to the largely segregated, mob-run nightclubs then on offer. Behind it was Barney Josephson, the New Jersey-born son of Jewish immigrants from Latvia. His declared ambition was to create ”a club where blacks and whites worked together behind the footlights and sat together out front”. His socialist tendencies are well captured in the club’s motto: The wrong place for the Right people.

Cafe Society was opened in 1938 by Billie Holiday and it was there within the year that she unleashed upon the world Strange Fruit, a song like no other. Picking up on my earlier post about great song lines, Shelter from the Storm, there is one line in this poem turned song that ranks among the all-time great song lines:

Pastoral scene of the gallant South

If you ever wanted to illustrate irony… that word “gallant” kills off a view of the Confederacy in one mighty blow. When Holiday first heard the lyrics her one question was: what does ‘pastoral’ mean? Which is ironic in itself in that her whole being understood what Strange Fruit meant which is why she made the song so much her own.

With the same irony that has Danny Boy being composed by an English lawyer, it was actually written by a white man, a Jewish school teacher called Abel Meeropol – pen name Lewis Allan, after two children he lost in their infancy. Meeropol’s motivation was simple: “I wrote Strange Fruit because I hate lynching and I hate injustice and I hate the people who perpetuate it.”

Here’s the poem he brought to Holiday and Josephson at Cafe Society, already set to music, already performed in obscure left-wing circles, ripe for the magic of a singer who could perform it from her soul and evolve it into something uniquely powerful.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,

Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South,

The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,

Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,

And the sudden smell of burning flesh!

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,

For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,

For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,

Here is a strange and bitter crop.

Holiday delivered this body blow to audiences throughout her career – here’s one later take on it (the instability of the picture seems to suit the song, as if it can’t fully be retained by the technology):

 

Update 19.xi.11

Barney Josephson didn’t seem to have his own Wikipedia entry so I’ve just made him one

4 of the best

Pompeii_BodyThis week I’m staying in S. Agata, on the coast about an hour south of Naples, and today I’m off to see for the first time Pompeii, so buried stuff is on my mind. It’s in the nature of a blog that stuff gets buried – this post is me resurrecting 4 of my favourite posts from this blog:

1 Starless and Bible Black

on titles, jazz, Dylan Thomas and Joyce’s Ulysses

2 What Is It Worth?

on Buffalo Springfield, Belsen and what’s of true value

3 Fear & Sex

a survey of the Daily Mail, anxiety and sex

4 In the beginning of the End (serpent mix)

a remix of The Doors’ The End and the first chapter of Genesis (the bible book not the band)

And on the subject of great songs, the soundtrack for today (fortunately it’s on the ol’ iPod) must be Siouxsie & the Banshees’ Cities in Dust – after all these years it’s going to come into its own:

“Water was running, children were running
We found you hiding, we found you lying
Your city lies in dust
Ohh oh your city lies in dust, my friend

Hot and burning in your nostrils
Pouring down your gaping mouth
Your molten bodies blanket of cinders
Caught in the throes

Ohh oh your city lies in dust, my friend
Ohh oh your city lies in dust, my friend”

siouxsie sioux

Oscar’s on the night train

Bon voyage to jazz great Oscar Peterson

Oscar Peterson

I only saw him once live, opening the show the first time I saw Buddy Rich, so he was instrumental in my intro to live jazz.

Apparently he came to jazz through listening to Benny Goodman – same for me, it was hearing ‘Sing Sing Sing’ and the drumming of Gene Krupa that got me hooked.

I remember seeing Martin Amis at a book reading in 1997 and him describing how he had written the whole of his eponymous novel listening to ‘Night Train’.

So all abooaaard to the Big Jam in the sky – where he can hook up again with his Montreal high school pal, trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, a regular at Ronnie’s in his latter years with fantastic young bands (including the superb Stockton Helbing on drums who I had the honour of meeting there on a boys’ night out with my step-dad and younger brother), Maynard Ferguson who took an earlier train last year.

Godspeed, Oscar…

Now on the subject of jazz things passing, I’ve just watched a charming documentary on BBC4 about the sad demise of the Hammersmith Palais. I was only in it once but according to ‘Last Man in Hammersmith Palais‘ (specifically, a music promoter called John Curd) it was one of the best nights ever. It was 1980. I went to see The Clash. It was the first outing for my middle class black bondage trousers. It was with Nick Golson (who I’ve recently reconnected with thanks to David Baddiel, Nick’s an archaeologist now apparently) and Simon Hollins (who I’ve no idea where or what he is though I did bump into his younger brother Johnny a few years back at some publisher’s do). We pogoed. We heard ‘White Man in Hammersmith Palais’ – probably the best Clash song – right there in the Palais. At the end of the gig Paul Simonon chucked his towel into the crowd and I went home with a piece of it, presumably infused with the sweat and tears of the great man. It lived under my bed as a relic of The Greatest Era in Music History for a good while but probably got lost in a move. Or maybe it still lurks above my head right now in a box in the attic. The Clash only ever played two nights at the Palais.

Ian Dury mentions the Palais in the first verse of his wonderful ‘Reasons to be Cheerful part 3′, sandwiched between the Bolshoi Ballet and boats. This blog ultimately has its roots in that song as Simple Pleasures part 1 was a list of reasons to be cheerful.

Summer, Buddy Holly, the working folly,
Good golly Miss Molly and boats.
Hammersmith Palais, the Bolshoi Ballet,
Jump back in the alley and nanny goats.

The Palais de Danse started as a dance and music venue in 1919 taking over from a roller skating rink. The first stuff played there was some new fangled import from the States called ‘Jass’. The last gig there was The Fall on 1st April 2007 – a day when the fools triumphed. It’s an office block now. But deep below in that West London soil lurks dance, romance, energy, punk, roots reggae, spirit, love, youth, cultural mix, sex, laughter, London pride, simple pleasures and jazz.

the clash
Oscar Peterson photo – courtesy of Tom Marcello
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