Monday, February 25, 2008

Steve Lacy (1934-2004)

Wishing to answer the question, "what music clip would be the most opposite of Trintje Oosterhuis singing Burt Bacharach & Carole Bayer Sager's awfully sappy but lovely That's What Friends Are For?", my uncontrollable muse responds with reflections of a favorite jazz musician, the great Steve Lacy.

Lacy was a true maverick and giant among giants of jazz, as well as my favorite soprano sax player - Bechet, Sam Rivers, Wayne (Shorter) n' Coltrane not withstanding.

Steve was also one of the finest, most contemplative interpreters of the music of Thelonious Monk and the less known but equally amazing Herbie Nichols; last time I heard him in person, he explored the amazing architecture of Monk's music with the great Mal Waldron on piano.

Here he is, circa mid-1980's, supported by one of his best bands, featuring:

  • Steve Potts - alto sax

  • Bobby Few - piano

  • Irene Aebi (Mrs. Lacy) - violin and vocals

  • Jean-Jacques Avenel - upright bass

  • Oliver Johnson - drums

We speak Jazz here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Burt Bacharach Day

Trintje Oosterhuis sings The Look Of Love and That's What Friends Are For.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A Trip To The Comedy Museum

Want a mind-bending experience? Jumping out of airplanes? For amateurs. Trendy designer chemical amusement? Strictly for pikers. Try spending three days in the bizarro universe of prehistoric film comedy. I just willingly did this for the third year in a row, and trust me, my mind is bent.

I am describing the annual Presidents' Day weekend Mid-Winter Comedy Festival at the
Niles/Essanay Silent Film Museum, a wonderful and historic venue. The museum's Edison Theatre was built as the town nickelodeon way back in 1913, when "Broncho Billy" Anderson was cranking out westerns down the block.

The fest
runs the gamut from the iconic (Chaplin, Keaton) to the obscure (Eddie Boland). It's a bonanza for students of comedy.

The festival reinforced several conclusions on my part:
  1. The Hal Roach Studio rules. Sorry, Mack Sennett. Sorry, Jack White.

  2. No silent comedy short outside the 'polite drawing room farce' category is more than one degree of separation from The Three Stooges, even if Bud Jamison or Vernon Dent does not appear in it.

  3. Subtle acting seals the deal, even in slapstick. The best comedians get laughs with expertly timed expressions before and after the joke. And the comics who don't do this are often the ones who missed the brass ring of fame.

  4. If, well into the comedy short, you hear audience members asking who the star of the film is. . . it features one of the most forgotten of comics.

  5. If a brazen fur-bearing scene stealer is way more memorable than the star, the featured comic is only known by historians.

  6. Real lions and elephants are way funnier than CGI lions and elephants.

  7. Since comedy, like romance, is highly subjective, don't take any review seriously, even by the most reputable writers. Watch the film instead!

The fest offers an off-kilter nirvana for comedy buffs and film historians - and there were lots of them in the house for all three days of this event.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

What (No - I Mean WTF) Is This Thing Called Love? by Paul F. Etcheverry

Painting: "Love Hurts" by Joe Zona

"Maybe I wanted to hear it so badly that my ears betrayed my mind in order to secure my heart." Margaret Cho

"We're not meant to be - see." Herbie Nichols

"Love is like a faucet. It turns on and off." Billie Holiday

"The object of my affliction." Anonymous or Norm Crosby

Dear reader: This is my homage to Valentine's Day, a consumerist holiday that excludes hordes of humanity - and even ardent, passionate lovers lacking that do-re-me - if there ever was one.

In my experience, relationships in real life happen SLOOOOOOOWLY; slower as you get older - and tortuously slow when you have not been with anyone in a very long time. The issues of how you convey to a new person in your life that you love and care for them, how you deal with doubts and each other's idiosyncracies, how to differentiate between what's real and what's strictly static (i.e. something you or your friend/partner may be feeling physically or emotionally in a given moment that has nothing to do with the relationship) are not easy. Relationships? Not for cowards.

I wrote the original version of this last March, just after losing my job, my place to live and all hope of finding even a badly bruised valentine.

Well, it's almost a year later and these days, I'm significantly more mellow, realizing that things worked out at least okay after all. Most of the setbacks led directly to good things.

And while I wax snidely and cynically, don't believe for a heartbeat that I would pass up an opportunity to offer something floral, sumptuous and beautiful for the fetching woman companion I fancy most, just to see her smile.

"What Is This Thing Called Love?" is the title of a timeless standard, recorded by the giants of 20th century music: Art Tatum, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Clifford Brown, you name 'em. It's also a question that your at times humble correspondent absolutely cannot answer.

So what is this thing called love? I have no freakin' clue. I'm like about 50% of the public; past attempts at 'love and marriage' have traditionally either aborted gruesomely, ended abruptly, or crashed and burned like The Hindenburg, no survivors, baby - but, like the genteel and refined "Jimmy The Gent" Conway in GoodFellas, I'll take a whack at it . . .

When I speak of love here, I do not mean infatuation (aptly described in the 1960's ditty by The Temptations: "it was just my imagination running away with me"), momentary sexual or emotional fireworks, or deeper yet fleeting connections between people. All of the above - all of it - comes and goes.

Close relationships are not for the faint of heart; the real thing strikes abject terror into our souls. The very hint of love makes publicly stout-hearted men and women quake in their cowboy boots, tennies, high heels or Gucci shoes! It's the scariest, the riskiest, most daunting and brutally intimidating of all those terrifying motherfuckers, messing with your thought and behavior patterns whether you want it to or not.

If the genuine item - directly from considerable meaningful interaction between two people, tangible and mutually supportive, reality-based - looks like a possibility, start a betting pool predicting just when one or both potential partners do everything in their power to screw it up, make the other person have second thoughts or go away. And if the intrepid pair have previously seen long-term relationships tank, make all this exponential!

Did I learn anything from my past experiences? Just common sense stuff we all know but have difficulty practicing. First and foremost, if you don't take care of the precious sapling, it dies, kind of like those lil' turtles you'd bring home in elementary school. Needs TLC, just like your pet or house plant - and, indeed, this also applies to close friendships and family.

Yes, love dies - I've seen it happen - and here are a few surefire ways to annihilate it!

  • Give of yourself to get something in return (guys, I know this is a tough one, but trust me, no good ever comes of this).

  • Abuse the person you're with - or take abuse - and it's beyond all over - rigor mortis has set in.

  • Apply tons of unrelenting energy into steering that relationship towards a specific outcome, one way or another. Keep your mind resolutely closed to anything but the outcome you want. That will kill it, every time.

  • Obsess about the relationship. You want it? Want it badly? Does the one you love know you want that close connection desperately, even if the desire is unspoken (and even when a deep connection actually exists)? Find yourself obsessing even more when your would-be paramour resists and avoids you? Then it's definitely a done deal, oversville - time to move on, pronto, and absolutely not do the exact same thing with the next person.

  • Always want more! The more you expect, the more you demand of your beloved, the more you crave, the more you fantasize, the more specific conditions you have, the more you must have to be happy, the more likely you will not just destroy what may have started as a wonderful love, but absolutely obliterate and demolish it, kill love dead, stone cold dead. The harder you grasp, the more likely you will crush that love in the palm of your hand..

Timing and that inexplicable thing called karma, which you just can't make happen, are always of the essence; you're either both ready to take the plunge or you're not. And sometimes the planets just aren't aligned for you, even when the relationship is the real deal, wondrous and supportive, a thing of beauty. The reality, not just that it isn't your time, but that the two of you, as magical as your time together may be, just aren't meant to be a couple or have a life with each other - can be difficult to accept, but there is no other choice.

Can you accept such realities, or the end of a long-term relationship, or a special someone's baffling inability to reciprocate by trying Socratic Inquiry techniques or the "four simple questions and a turnaround" method developed by author Byron Katie ( a.k.a. ways of examining your opinions about and internal reactions to life events)? I have serious doubts. Maybe it's possible to make a little smidgen of progress with these methods - and maybe it's not. Healing sure as hell doesn't come fast or easy, although there are certainly worse ways of coping, such as embracing a program of assured self-destruction, signing up with the French Foreign Legion or joining a cult.

The Zen masters insist that "we are love" - but are we? Ideally, yes - but only ideally. At times humanity can be shining examples of such a thing. While it may be due to destructive thinking and attitudes (which in many cases can be dealt with), the bottom line remains that so many human beings are much more inclined to flee from love, torch it or chase it away with a baseball bat than practice it.

Then again, let's drop the subject altogether and listen to those swingin' cats who recorded that great standard right now! And I promise to return to the pet topics of this blog - classic movies, comedy, animation and music clips - after listening to that fantastic version of What Is This Thing Called Love? on Frank Sinatra - In The Wee Small Hours. Really!

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Pampered Soulless Honky's Guide To Singing The Blues

Here's an item that has circulated around the web for awhile. I have no clue who started it. Every time it goes around, another latte-swilling honky would-be writer (I plead guilty) tweaks with the copy. I encourage readers to do the same.

by Lame Mango Washington (attributed to Memphis Earlene Gray with help from Uncle Plunky, revisions by Little Blind Patti D. and Dr. Stevie Franklin, with a few tweaks by Lazy-Eye Raspberry Kennedy and Phat Lemon Johnson)

  1. Most Blues begin, "Woke up this mornin'.

  2. "I got a good woman" is a bad way to begin The Blues, unless you stick something nasty in the next line, like "I got a good woman, with the meanest face in town."

  3. The Blues is simple. After you get the first line right, repeat it. Then find something that rhymes ... sort of: "Got a good woman - with the meanest face in town. Got teeth like Margaret Thatcher - and she weigh 500 pound." Well, not that rhyme.

  4. The Blues are not about choice. You stuck in a ditch, you stuck in a ditch; ain't no way out. Unless you're the 43rd President Of The United States.

  5. Blues cars: pre-milennium Chevys and cigarette-stained Caddies, broken-down trucks. The Blues don't travel in Volvos, BMWs, or Sport Utility Vehicles. Most Blues transportation is a Greyhound bus or a southbound train. Jet aircraft? State-sponsored motor pools? Ain't even in the running. Walkin' plays a major part in The Blues lifestyle. So does fixin' to die.

  6. Teenagers can't sing The Blues. Most of them ain't fixin' to die yet. Adults sing The Blues. In The Blues, "adulthood" means being old enough to get the electric chair if you shoot a man in Memphis.

  7. The Blues can take place in New York City but not in Hawaii or any place in Canada. Hard times in St. Paul or Tucson? Just depression. Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City? Still the best places to have The Blues. You can't have The Blues in any place that don't get rain.

  8. A man with male pattern baldness ain't The Blues. A woman with male pattern baldness is. Breaking your leg skiing is not the blues. Breaking your leg cuz an alligator - or a scorned lover - chomped it is.

  9. You can't have The Blues in an office or a shopping mall. The lighting is wrong. Go outside to the parking lot or sit by the dumpster. No, make that in the dumpster, way in.

  10. Good places for The Blues:
    a. highway
    b. jailhouse
    c. homeless shelter
    d. empty bed
    e. no bed
    f. bottom of whiskey glass #17

    Bad places for the Blues
    a. ashrams
    b. gallery openings
    c. Ivy League institutions
    d. golf courses
    e. $1000/plate fundraisers

  11. No one will believe it's The Blues if you wear a suit, 'less you happen to be an older person who remembers the Great Depression, doesn’t resemble Richard Simmons - and you slept in it the past three nights.

  12. Do you have the right to sing the Blues?
    Yes, if:
    a. you're older than dirt
    b. you're blind. . . and older than dirt
    c. you shot a man in Memphis. . . and you’re older than dirt
    d. you can't be satisfied, ever

    No, if:
    a. you have all your teeth
    b. you were once blind but now can see
    c. the man in Memphis lived and makes big bucks via infomercials
    d. you have a retirement plan or trust fund.

  13. Blues is not a matter of color. It's a matter of bad luck. Tiger Woods cannot sing the Blues. Gary Coleman could. Ugly white people also got a leg up on the blues.

  14. If you ask for water and Baby give you gasoline, it's the Blues. Other acceptable Blues beverages are:
    a. wine – must cost less than “two-buck Chuck”
    b. whiskey or bourbon – single-malts do not count
    c. muddy water
    d. black coffee – NOT from Starbucks

    The following are NOT Blues beverages:
    a. mixed drinks
    b. Manischevitz
    c. Diet Snapple
    d. Perrier
    e. SlimFast
    f. Decaf latte with soy milk

  15. If it occurs in a cheap motel or a shotgun shack, it's a Blues death. Stabbed in the back by a jealous lover is another Blues way to die. So is the electric chair, substance abuse, and dying lonely on a broken down cot. You can't have a Blues death if you die during a tennis match or getting liposuction.

  16. Some Blues names for women:
    a. Bad Luck Bessie
    b. Fat River Dumpling
    c. Big Bloody Mama
    d. Sadie Da Man Killa

  17. Some Blues names for men:
    a. Joe
    b. Willie
    c. Joe Willie
    d. Little Willie
    e. Big Willie
    f. Joe Bob Willie (country blues)

  18. Your name Sierra, Sequoia, Amber, Rainbow, Heather, Brittany, Muffy or Buffy? You can't sing The Blues - no matter how many men you shot in Memphis.

  19. Make your own Blues Name (starter kit):
    a. name of physical infirmity (Blind, Cripple, Lame, etc.) OR

    b. acceptable first name (see above) or name of fruit (Lemon) PLUS

    c. last name of U.S. President (Jefferson, Johnson, Fillmore, etc.)

    For example, Big Mama Washington, Joe Willie Nixon, Blind Apple Jefferson, Jakeleg Lime Johnson, or Cripple Kiwi Fillmore. (Well, maybe not "Kiwi.")

  20. I don't care how tragic your life is: you own a computer, you cannot sing The Blues. You best destroy it. . . by spilled fifths of Mad Dog and/or Wild Turkey, a crack pipe-induced fire or a sawed-off shotgun.