Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Birth of the Cool: Deception

Birth of the Cool, track 6. "Deception" was written by Miles, and the arrangement for the Birth of the Cool nonet was Gerry Mulligan's. You can hear the musicianship of both of them at their best here, working in counterpoint to each other, Mulligan's ensemble voicings making a nest for Miles to soar out of.

It came from the last recording session for the album, in March of 1950.

I didn't know if I was going to find another recording of deception, and when I did, it blew me away. Clifford Brown and Eric Dolphy? I would never have thought of them as contemporaneous. But Clifford died in 1956 -- if you'd asked me to guess, I would have said around 1952 -- and Dolphy was just starting out, playing with local bands in LA. His father -- talk about supportive! -- built him a studio in the back yard, and friends -- like Clifford Brown -- would come by and jam. This is from one of those sessions:

Birth of the Cool: Budo

Birth of the Cool, track Five: Budo. For many years, looking at the album cover, and playing the tracks on it, I pronounced this in my head with a long U. But it turns out to be Bud-oh, a composition credited to Bud Powell and Miles Davis -- arranged by John Lewis for the Birth of the Cool sessions -- but based on an earlier Bud Powell composition, "Hallucinations." Here's the Powell original:

And from Birth of the Cool:

Budo is one of the most widely covered of the Birth of the Cool originals, but strangely, a lot of those versions of this classic have not made it onto YouTube or Spotify -- including versions by Red Norvo/Charles Mingus/Tal Farlow (who also covered "Move" and "Godchild" on the same session), Lee Morgan Hank Mobley, Donald Byrd and Horace Silver, Joe Lovano and Hank Jones. Versions by Miles and Chet Baker, Miles and Charlie Parker, Miles and Diz also can't be found on YouTube, although there is one by Miles and Trane. Here's a nice version by Bud with Stan Getz:

Bobby McFerrin has a very interesting solo version of "Hallucinations," also not on YouTube, but you can find it on Spotify. And here's a great version of "Hallucinations" by Keith Jarrett:

Monday, January 28, 2013

Birth of the Cool: Venus de Milo

Birth of the Cool, track Four: "Venus de Milo" is a Gerry Mulligan composition, and again, it's been rarely covered, not even by Mulligan except on his "Rebirth of the Cool" album, which was basically a mistake. There's a version by Tito Puente and Maynard Ferguson which is good, and you can find it on Spotify, but if you look for it on YouTube, you get, curiously, directed to a whole string of Audiobooks and episodes of The Great Gildersleeve. And there's a lovely version of it by Jimmy Rowles, which you can find on YouTube with some difficulty, and if you keep digging, you'll discover that it comes from a trio album with Rufus Reid and Mickey Roker, on which they performed four Birth of the Cool numbers -- the others being "Jeru," "Godchild" and "Darn that Dream."

Here's the Jimmy Rowles version of "Venus" -- beautiful. I wish I could find the other three "Birth" interpretations, but no luck on either YouTube or Spotify.

And here's the only other version I could find on YouTube (not counting the song by Prince). This one a bit of an oddity, by the US Army Blues Band. Really not bad -- nice Mulligan-like arrangement.

The entire "Birth of the Cool" sessions have recently been recreated by a Dutch tribute orchestra named Cool Dawn -- you can find them on Spotify, if you're looking for a tribute band. Also on an album of Mulligan compositions (including "Boplicity" from Birth of the Cool) by a group called the Latino Blanco band, also findable on Spotify.

Sex, drugs and genius

I did a graph search using Google ngrams of the words sex, drugs and genius in books from 1800 to,the present. Drugs have always outstripped sex, but the gap reached a plateau of wideness in 1918, shrank to almost nonexistent in 1930, and has widened continually since then. In 1800, genius showed up a lot, sex and drugs barely a blip on the radar, which of course did not exist in 1800. Genius has gradually declined over the years, until it fell behind drugs in 1966, and lost out to sex in 1978. What all this means, I couldn't begin to tell you.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Giving away the ending

In June of 1790, Benedict Arnold’s plans to betray his country by turning West Point over to the British were discovered, and he had to flee for his life, his name forever synonymous with treason.

Suppose you didn’t know that was how the story ended. Then you have a dashing young merchant sea captain, a daring smuggler, a loving husband of an unloving wife who gains, loses, and gains another fortune, who gives up a life as the wealthiest merchant in Connecticut to join the Sons of Liberty and then the Continental Army, who leads the first successful campaign of what is not yet even officially the Revolutionary War, winning Fort Ticonderoga and Lake Champlain for the new American cause. You have a commander who leads an ultimately unsuccessful campaign against the British in Canada, but in doing so, stays with his men through the most grueling hardship, winning their love and respect. You have the master strategist, the daring commander, the wounded victor in the battle of Saratoga, and where’s your story going?

If you don’t know that your hero is Benedict Arnold, there’s suspense, there’s indignation, there’s reader identification with this brave man who serves his country brilliantly, but is thwarted, hamstrung and betrayed over and over by cowards, publicity-seeking thugs, and petty political maneuverers.

And maybe it’s a better story that way. Hard to say, because we know the story so well.  As it is, when we read about Ethan Allen stealing the credit for the victory at Ticonderoga, about the treacherous engineer Montresor giving him misleading maps for his journey to Quebec, or the cowardly Colonel Enos turning back with 300 of Arnold’s 1000 men, about the politicians who stabbed Arnold in the back, passing him over for promotion again and again in favor of lesser men, we read it with a sense of foreboding, rather than suspense, and each of these betrayals take on a sense of inevitability. Also, a red flag goes up in our minds every time we hear of a betrayal. Those incidents loom larger in our sense of the story than they might if we didn’t know the ending. Knowing the ending makes it a different story.

E.M. Forster, in his great book Aspects of the Novel, writes about life measured by time vs. life measured by value, “and our conduct reveals a double allegiance. ‘I only saw her for five minutes, but it was worth it.’ There you have both allegiances in a single sentence. And what the story does is to narrate the life in time. What the entire novel does – if it is a good novel – is to include the life by values as well.”  The story of Arnold’s life, because it’s nonfiction and we know the end, is told by values. Betrayer and betrayed – in these moments time stands still. Of course, it’s also told by time. Events unfold chronologically. But time stands still for us as readers when a betrayal enters the story.

What can you say about a 21-year-old girl who died? What if you don’t start the story that way? If you don’t start the story that way, frankly, it’s probably not a mega-bestseller, because you don’t have a story if she doesn’t die, and you’re pretending to a suspense that the reader isn’t going to feel. Take away the suspense,  and the life told by values becomes altogether different.

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love begins with the death of Cesar – old, sick, bloated, ugly, drunk and poor. As he stands up, staggers and falls in the swoon from which he will not awaken, he knocks over the credenza which holds all of the 78 RPM records he made in his life. And for the rest of this wonderful novel, as we follow the young, brash, ruthless, gifted, self-absorbed womanizer, we see him through this veil of sadness.

Just as we know the Benedict Arnold story will end with treason, we know how “I’ll sing you the true tale of Billy the Kid / I’ll sing you the deeds that this young outlaw did” will end. By the time he’s 21, he’ll have been “shot down by Pat Garrett, who once was his friend.” But in the case of Little Joe, giving away the ending by telling us that “he’ll wrangle never more / His days with the remuda they are done” lets us know that the life measured by time is going to be short, and the life measured by values will have to be measured against that inevitability. On the other hand, in “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” we have three characters – four, with Big Jim – whose lives are measured in both time and value, and the intersections of those lives leaves room for suspense which is enhanced by our not knowing the ending.

What happens next? Is a key element in every story. Starting out by telling us what happens at the end is a choice you can’t make every time, but sometimes it can be the right choice.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Birth of the Cool - Moon Dreams

Moon Dreams is a standard of sorts, composed by Glenn Miller's pianist and Johnny Mercer, which may very well make it the only instance of of Miles covering Glenn Miller. The Glenn Miller version can't be found on YouTube, although you can find it on Spotify, but you have to search for Glenn Miller Moon Dreams. For a standard, it hasn't been covered much. There's Glenn's version, which isn't all that good, and one by Martha Tilton -- the first recording ever made for the fledgling Capitol Records.

But it seems it took Miles to really find the beauty of the song. As with many of the other Birth of the Cool cuts, it was covered by other artists from the session, like Lee Konitz. Again, not too many others.  But both Airto and Flora Purim have recorded it, separately and together. Here's Flora's version --

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Birth of the Cool - Jeru

Birth of the Cool, track 2

"Jeru" is a beautiful melody by Gerry Mulligan that almost no one seems to have covered. lists mostly versions by Mulligan, Miles, and a few other Birth of the Cool alumni like Lee Konitz. Allmusic lists a version by Oscar Peterson (on a Live in Paris album according to Allmusic), but I can't find either one on YouTube or Spotify. LastFM acknowledges that it exists, but they don't have it. Allmusic also lists one by Stanley Clarke and Patrice Rushen, which I was finally able to find on YouTube, but as "Jazz Straight Up - Jeru." Here it is:


I also found a version by the Clare Fischer clarinet choir, which can't be heard in its entirety on any Internet site that I've found, although you can hear the first 30 seconds on allmusic and other sites. And -- I suppose this is why I pursue stuff like this -- found out a lot about Clare Fischer, whom I had never heard of, and who died a year ago almost to the day. Check out his Wiki page -- fascinating guy. He won a Grammy in 1981.

Spotify has a vocalese version by Mel Torme, with Mulligan and Shearing backing him up, but it doesn't do much more than point up Torme's limitations as a jazz singer.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Birth of the Cool: Move

Started thinking about Birth of the Cool, and the original compositions by Miles, Gil Evans and others that made up that session -- what great tunes they all are. Started wondering who else has recorded them. So here's the first cut on the album, "Move," as played by Bireli Lagrene, the gypsy jazz guitarist who first made his mark at the age of eight, playing Django Reinhardt's book.

And again by Stan Getz, a live performance from 1951, featuring Teddy Kotick on bass -- Teddy who played at Opus 40 several times with J. R. Monterose.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Guns and Redstaters

I contribute to a small political discussion online forum, and every now and then I write something there that's modestly thought out, so I decided I'd post a few of those here, even though I've mostly stayed away from political postings here.

This has to do with the NRA's sudden discovery that there's violence in the media, and the conservatives' newfound meme that hey, why don't liberals care about media violence the way that we do?

iolence in the media has always been a liberal issue. What's weird now is that conservatives are taking it up, and they don't understand anything they're saying.

Exposure to violent movies, video games, etc., is (according to some theories) a bad thing because:

(a) it may provoke people into putting on hockey masks and slashing up teenagers. (not likely)

(b) it may provoke people (mostly very young people) into thinking that committing violent acts is a good idea, in which case they'll most likely turn to guns.

(c) it may make people (especially young, every easily influenced, not terribly mentally stable people) into thinking that the world is a very dangerous place, and they'd better get an AK-47 to protect themselves, their homes, and possibly even their neighborhoods (e.g., Trayvon Martin case).

Have I left out anything?