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Posts Tagged ‘Duke Ellington

“Playing bop is like playing Scrabble with all the vowels missing”*…

Jazz as a form of wit…

Jazz, like wit, can be broadly defined as surprising creativity. So does it follow that jazz musicians are a witty bunch?

I’ve wondered about this for longer than Kenny G has held an E-flat (45 minutes, for the record) but lacked a way to prove it. 

There was some promising neuroscience research on the subject back in 2014 that linked conversation to trading fours. Both jawing and jamming involve “an exchange of ideas that is unpredictable, collaborative, and emergent,” the paper hypothesized. In other words, a riff is a riff.

That said, all the actual data was pretty flat. The researchers brought the musicians into the lab, wired them up, and let them noodle around while they watched the blood slosh through their brains via a functional MRI machine. It went to the same spots it would go in a conversation, they found, which was interesting as far as it went but didn’t go all that far.

So when I came across the book Jazz Anecdotes at Sellers & Newel, I knew this was what I was looking for. I immediately flipped my fMRI machine on Kijiji and grabbed a copy.

Jazz anecdotes, like jazz itself, aren’t usually transcribed. In the words of drummer Shelley Manne, “We never play anything the same way once.” 

But bassist, writer, and editor Bill Crow combed through hundreds of interviews and biographies to pick just the juiciest bits, and the best display a virtuosic level of verbal dexterity. The book really slaps, as they say. There’s a whole chapter on pranks, and in said chapter there’s a whole section on Limburger cheese. (You can flip through a digitized version over at the invaluable archive.org here.)

Start with the nicknames, which alone are worth the price of admission. Fats, Shorty, and Slim were all physical descriptors. Cannonball Adderley was originally called Cannibal because of his voracious appetite — but one problem took care of the other as he rounded out.

William Randolph Cole was known as Colesy, which evolved into Cozy. Cozy, in turn, couldn’t remember names so he called everyone “Face” if they looked familiar, and then added the name of the instrument they played for Bass Face, Sax Face, and so on. Bassist George Mraz was called Bounce because he was a baaaad Czech. And bassist John Simmons got a rise out of trumpeter Oran “Hot Lips” Page by announcing at the bandstand, “Lady there at the door sent this letter to Mr. Warm Jaws.”

The greats get a chapter each, and they’re at their best when they’re playing off one another. Once John Coltrane started playing a solo, he’d just play and play —which irritated those who shared the bandstand. “I get involved in this thing and I don’t know how to stop,” he told Miles Davis, to which Davis suggested, “Try taking the saxophone out of your mouth.” Why did he play so long, Davis asked? “It took that long to get it all in.”

The pianist Errol Garner had a similar issue at a recording session in 1969. The red light in the booth flickered off, but he kept right on playing. “I couldn’t stop,” he said. “I wanted to find out how it would come out.”

The difference between live wit and recorded repartee is like the difference between fresh squeezed orange juice and the frozen concentrate. So leave the last words to Louis Armstrong, who refused to describe exactly what he did so well.

How did he define jazz, exactly? “Jazz is what I play for a living.”

Would you describe it as folk music? “Man, all music is folk music. You ain’t ever heard no horse sing a song, have you?”

Making it along as you go up: “The wit of jazz, and vice versa,” from Benjamin Errett (@benjaminerrett)

* Duke Ellington

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As we improvise, we might recall that it was on this date in 1899 that Sarah Bernhardt became the first woman to portray Hamlet on film…

The French actress was certainly a force to be reckoned with. In 1899, she took over the Théâtre de Ville in Paris and renamed it the Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt, which is, as one Lit Hub editor once put it, “basically cell phone providers in the early ’00s levels of confidence.” That same year, she premiered a new production of Hamlet, with herself in the title role—a production that she would eventually also take on tour. Critics were divided—not only was she a woman, but she was a woman in her mid-fifties!—but audiences were largely enthralled, and if nothing else, the performance is now legendary.

Bernhardt may not have been the first female Hamlet—that was probably 18th-century actor Charlotte Charke—but she was the very first to play the Prince of Denmark (a bro who didn’t even like sex, mind you) on screen. On October 1, 1900, the audience of the Paris Exposition (also known as the Exposition Universelle) was treated to Le Duel d’Hamlet, the very first known film adaptation of Hamlet—albeit one that is only a minute and a half long, comprising a single scene: the Act V duel between Hamlet and Laertes. The short was filmed only a year after Bernhardt first played the role; in it, she is 56. “She’s somber, quick, natural—easily expert with her sword and clearly used to dueling,” Robert Gottlieb wrote in a biography of the actress. “There’s nothing campy or feminine about her; she’s manly and she’s coolly resolved. This isn’t an exhibition of virtuoso acting—it’s modest, in fact. But it’s certainly a vindication of her right to perform the greatest of male roles, and a welcome clue as to how she pulled it off.” Indeed. Luckily, we have even more female Hamlets in our future

LitHub

“There are five kinds of actresses: bad actresses, fair actresses, good actresses, great actresses, and Sarah Bernhardt.”  – Mark Twain

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October 1, 2021 at 1:00 am

“I certainly was one of the originators, but I don’t think you can blame me for everything”*…

 

In advance of an appearance at London’s ICA (which, in the event, didn’t happen),  a conversation with Mark Smith, musician (The Fall) and founder of the legendary punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue— which quickly became a vital outlet for punk in the 70s.

It’s different today because you’ve got the internet. If we want to have our say on anything we can go straight online to our blog, our Facebook page, our Twitter. But remember, in the 70s there wasn’t any of that. If you wanted to get your voice out there, you had to actually do something. When you started a fanzine in the old days, you had to actually cut and paste. You used felt-tip pen and cow gum to physically cut and paste it together. And then you’d go down the local photocopying shop. In those days, nobody had their own photocopiers. I mean, nowadays most printers can photocopy and in those days, you had to get up off your bum and go down the photocopying shop. It was more of a hands-on process. I don’t think there’s any need for fanzines, in the same way, these days because people can just start blogs and that, can’t they? You can put it all on YouTube. There are more ways of getting your voice out there nowadays and in the 70s there wasn’t, so you had to go and start a fanzine…

More first-hand history– and more cover art– at “Tracing the beginnings of the punk fanzine.”

* Mark Smith

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As we we give ourselves over to Submission, we might spare a thought for Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington; he died on this date in 1974.  A composer, pianist, and bandleader, Ellington is generally credited with elevating the perception of jazz to an art form on a par with other more traditional musical genres.  In a career that spanned 60 years (he wrote his first song,”Poodle Dog Rag,” in 1914, at the age of 15 while working as a soda jerk in the Poodle Dog Cafe in Washington, D.C.), Ellington wrote more than one thousand compositions– the largest recorded personal jazz legacy– many, many of which become standards (“Mood Indigo,” “It Don’t Mean A Thing [If You Ain’t Got That Swing],” “Take the A Train,” and many, many others).   As a performer, his career spanned continents, and ran from The Cotton Club to Carnegie Hall.  As a recording artist he sold millions of records and won 12 Grammy Awards, plus the Grammy for Lifetime Achievement and membership in the Grammy Hall of Fame (among many other Hall of Fame memberships and musical laurels).  He won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969, was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 1999.

And, as regular readers may recall, he had something to teach us all about the fine art of eating.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 24, 2016 at 1:01 am

“My attitude is never to be satisfied, never enough, never”*…

 

Duke Ellington eating dinner with his wife, Bea Ellington, and a friend (source: Library of Congress)

 

While Duke Ellington is rightly revered as the extraordinary musician and composer that he was, he was known among his friends almost as prominently for his appetites.  As frequent sideman Tricky Sam Nanton said, “he’s a genius, all right, but Jesus, how he eats!”

Ellington was happy to share his gourmand enthusiasms.  In a 1944 interview (recounted in Lapham’s Quarterly) he reminisces…

There’s a place in Chicago, the Southway Hotel, that’s got the best cinnamon rolls and the best filet mignon in the world. Then there’s Ivy Anderson’s chicken shack in Los Angeles, where they have hot biscuits with honey and very fine chicken-liver omelets. In New Orleans there’s gumbo filé. I like it so well that I always take a pail of it out with me when I leave. In New York I send over to the Turf Restaurant at Forty-ninth and Broadway a couple of times a week to get their broiled lamb chops. I guess I’m a little freakish with lamb chops. I prefer to eat them in the dressing room, where I have plenty of room and can really let myself go. In Washington, at Harrison’s, they have deviled crab and Virginia ham. They’re terrific things. On the Île-de-France, when we went to Europe, they had the best crêpes Suzette in the world, and it took a dozen at a time to satisfy me. The Café Royal, in the Hague, has the best hors d’oeuvres in the world—eighty-five different kinds, and it takes a long time to eat some of each. There’s a place in Paris that has the best octopus soup. And oh, my, the smorgasbord in Sweden! At Old Orchard Beach, Maine, I got the reputation of eating more hot dogs than any man in America. A Mrs. Wagner there makes a toasted bun that’s the best of its kind in America. She has a toasted bun, then a slice of onion, then a hamburger, then a tomato, then melted cheese, then another hamburger, then a slice of onion, more cheese, more tomato, and then the other side of the bun. Her hot dogs have two dogs to a bun. I ate thirty-two one night…

More gustatory goodness in “Duke Ellington’s Diet“; and for a bonus treat, read this 1944 New Yorker profile of Ellington.

* Duke Ellington

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As we Take the A Train, we might recall that it was on this date in 1937 that the first animated-cartoon electric sign display in the U.S. was lit by its designer, Douglas Leigh, on the front of a building on Broadway in Times Square.  It used 2,000 bulbs, and its four-minute show included a cavorting horse a ball tossing cats.  Leigh, who went on to design such famous billboards as the Eight O’Clock Coffee sign (with a coffee pot that was, literally, steaming) and the Camel Cigarette sign (that blew smoke rings), became know as “The Man Who Lit Up New York.”  While his signs are now gone, his lighting of the Empire State Building (Leigh was also a pioneer in the illumination of city skylines and buildings) survives; and his large illuminated snowflake is still hung at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street every holiday season.

Douglas Leigh and his Times Square

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April 28, 2015 at 1:01 am

“In many ways, classic rock became bigger than mainstream rock”*…

 

Led Zeppelin is classic rock. So are Mötley Crüe and Ozzy Osbourne. But what about U2 or Nirvana? As a child of the 1990s, I never doubted that any of these bands were classic rock, even though it may be shocking for many to hear. And then I heard Green Day’s “American Idiot” on a classic rock station a few weeks ago, and I was shocked.

It was my first time hearing a band I grew up with referred to as “classic rock.” Almost anyone who listens to music over a long enough period of time probably experiences this moment — my colleagues related some of their own, like hearing R.E.M. or Guns N’ Roses on a classic rock station — but it made me wonder, what precisely is classic rock?…

Follow FiveThirtyEight’s deep– and diverting– dive into the data at “Why Classic Rock Isn’t What It Used To Be.”

 

* Chuck D

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As we roll around in our roots, we might spare a thought for another variety of classic:  it was on this date in 1930 that Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington recorded his first big hit, “Mood Indigo.”  Ellington was fond of saying, “Well, I wrote that in 15 minutes while I was waiting for my mother to finish cooking dinner.”  With lyrics added by Mitchell Parish in 1931 (but credited to Ellington’s manager Irving Mills), “Mood Indigo” became a vocal as well as an instrumental standard, recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Nina Simone among many, many others.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 15, 2014 at 1:01 am

Rap, Rap, Rapping on Heaven’s Door…

 

As our friends at Rap Genius observe,

Rap’s history has been traced many ways — through books, documentaries, official compilations, DJ mixes, university archives, even parties. But until now you haven’t been able to look at the development of the genre through its building blocks: the actual words used by emcees.

Like Google’s Ngram viewer (only with a more pronounced beat), RG’s Rap Stats lets users plot the frequency of words appearing in rap songs from 1988 through the present day; one can, as they suggest “figure out the migratory patterns of drug dealers, when hip-hop became big business, and whether money really is over bitches”… and a host of other fascinating things.  For example,

The word first pops up in 1993-4. This makes sense, as DJ Jubilee’s “Do The Jubilee All,” generally acknowledged as the first recorded rap use of the term, was released in ’93. Jubilee was a bounce artist, and one of the many great things about early bounce music was that it functioned as a conversation between the artists. It wasn’t too long before Jubilee’s call to “Twerk, baby” was answered by Cheeky Blakk’s 1995 classic “Twerk Something!”, and a slew of other N.O. artists followed her lead.

The word lived quietly as a regional trend, losing steam in the late 90s, until pop culture finally discovered the dance, and, as we all know now, launched “twerk” into a Miley-fueled rocket ship ride, with no end in sight.

(Of course, Will Smith fans might have said the same thing about “jiggy” in 1998, and we can see how that turned out…)

One can develop one’s own rap on rap at Rap Stats.

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As we bust a rhyme, we might recall that it was on this date in 1930 that Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington recorded his first big hit, “Mood Indigo.”  Ellington was fond of saying, “Well, I wrote that in 15 minutes while I was waiting for my mother to finish cooking dinner.”  With lyrics added by Mitchell Parish in 1931 (but credited to Ellington’s manager Irving Mills), “Mood Indigo” became a vocal as well as an instrumental standard, recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Nina Simone among many, many others.

email readers click here for video

 source

 

Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 15, 2013 at 1:01 am

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