Sunday, September 30, 2007

Wikipedia and me

At various times in the past, apparently with nothing better to do, I've perused Wikipedia and amended entries (in two cases created entries). This morning, with definitely better things to do (but avoiding them) I looked over my Wiki contribution history, and boy, is it an oddly mixed bunch.

What I have not done yet, but should (that would be actual work, rather than avoidance of work) is to edit and rewrite the entries on Opus 40 and Harvey Fite. But here's what I have done.

June 2006 - entry for Varian Fry, a young American who helped artists and intellectuals escape Nazi persecution in 1939 and 1940. I added a link to Albert O. Hirschman, noted economist wh0 as a young man, helped Fry in Marseilles (I also added Fry to Hirschman's entry. And I added my novel, The Virgil Directive, loosely based on Fry's career, to the list of books on Fry. Someone subsequently removed it. I just put it back in...let's see if the same spoilsport is still around.

July 2006 - The Fontane Sisters -- why was I even at their page to begin with? They were a girl group in the mid-50s, when record labels were covering R&B hits with white-artist versions. I added references and links to the recording artists whose songs they had covered.

Jimmy Bowen -- I wrote this entry and added it to Wiki; it's since been updated a couple of times. Bowen was a teenage rock and roller in the 50s who went on to become a major record producer in LA and Nashville; he contributed a very nice cover blurb to my New Country Music Encyclopedia.

March 2007 -- the Pat Boone entry. I added
In his first film, April Love, he refused to give co-star/film love interest Shirley Jones an onscreen kiss, because the actress was married in real life.

For the Hipster (1940s subculture) entry, I added Cab Calloway to the list of famous hipsters, and the following to their section of hipster quotes:

"When you cats came here, all you could play was the melody. Now you wouldn't know a melody if it hit you in the mouthpiece." -- Ronny Graham, "Harry the Hipster's School for Progressive Jazz Musicians."

* "Hipsters, flipsters, and finger-poppin' daddies, knock me your lobes." Lord Buckley, recording.
All this appears to be gone now. The hipster entry was the subject of a major war, and all of the early work on it has apparently been obliterated.

What is there in the new version, is a long quote on the hipster from The Dark Ages: Life In The U.S. 1945-1960, by my friend, the late Marty Jezer.

The hipster world that Kerouac and Ginsberg drifted in and out of from the mid-forties to the early-fifties was an amorphous movement without ideology, more a pose than an attitude; a way of being without attempting to explain why. Hipsters themselves were not about to supply explanations. Their language, limited as it was, was sufficiently obscure to defy translation into everyday speech. Their rejection of the commonplace was so complete that they could barely acknowledge reality. The measure of their withdrawal was their distrust of language. A word like "cool" could mean any of a number of contradictory things--its definition came not from the meaning of the word but from the emotion behind it and the accompanying non-verbal facial or body expressions. When hipsters did put together a coherent sentence, it was always prefaced with the word "like," as if to state at the onset that what would follow was probably an illusion. There was neither a future nor a past, only a present that existed on the existential wings of sound. A Charlie Parker bebop solo--that was the truth. The hipster's worldview was not divided between "free world" and "Communist bloc," and this too set it apart from the then-current orthodoxy. Hipster dualism, instead, transcended geopolitical lines in favor of levels of consciousness. The division was hip and square. Squares sought security and conned themselves into political acquiescence. Hipsters, hip to the bomb, sought the meaning of life and, expecting death, demanded it now. In the wigged-out, flipped-out, zonked-out hipster world, Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, Truman, McCarthy and Eisenhower shared one thing in common: they were squares. ...the hipster signified the coming together of the bohemian, the juvenile delinquent, and the negro.

I wrote most of the Red Prysock entry, building on a skeletal stub that was already there.

I added a note to the Church of the Sub-Genius entry, comparing the picture of "Bob" with pipe to Mark Trail. I'm surprised no one removed it, but no one has.

April 2007 - I created an entry for my friend Michael Jahn, who deserved it for his career as mystery writer and rock critic -- actually the first pop music critic for the New York Times.

And just now, to the "Purple People Eater" entry.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Played with Bird, Part 2

Two more living musicians who played with Charlie Parker: Oscar Peterson and Hank Jones.

Jazz and Opera

Paul Tomasko, a neighbor, and a fine singer of operetta and theater music, came by to show Opus 40 to a friend, a musician from New Orleans. The musician’s name was Chris Saunder, and he was Al Hirt's piano player for ten years, and then worked with Pete Fountain. These aren’t artists I’d rush out to hear, but you don't get gigs like that without being very good. Chris also turned out to be a very nice guy, and we passed about an hour in conversation about music, which is one of the best ways to spend an hour.

Here’s one of the things he said that struck me. He was talking about the contribution of Italian musicians like Nick LaRocca to early jazz. He asserted that the Italians brought syncopation to jazz, and that it came from their cultural background listening to opera.

Well, I’m not so sure. Most people think that those early LaRocca recordings of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band don't swing the way jazz should, and they're mostly right. Most people credit the polyrhythms of West Africa for the syncopation that so much of jazz is built on, and they’re mostly right too, as are those who point out that you don’t need syncopation in order to swing.

But the more you listen, the more you learn. There’s a lot of racial territoriality in American music, neither side willing to concede much to the other. And that can get in the way. The 20th Century, the American Century in music, gave the world one of its greatest artistic flowerings, and it owes its greatness to, as much as anything else, its mongrel nature. Whenever cultures and sounds and styles have butted up against each other, it has enriched the mix. So…opera as a godfather to jazz syncopation? I love it. To me, it’s one more affirmation of the greatness of our American music.