The wound is the place where the light enters you. RUMI Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. RUMI

If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath. AMIT RAY

Thursday, 15 September 2016

The Garden In September

Climbing rose 'Golden Showers'.

This morning really felt like autumn, with fog in the air and dewdrop-beaded spider webs on the lawn. But come afternoon a warm sun shone, and insects reappeared as if by magic, making the most of what could be the last day of this Indian summer. Bees, hoverflies and Small Cabbage White butterflies busied themselves on the asters, the fuchsias and the lavenders — harvesting pollen and nectar in one last mad rush. 

Peering closely I found yet more spider webs festooned vertically between the aster and lavender stalks. A spider guarded the centre of one web, gloating over what looked like a small hoverfly shrouded in gossamer. I blew the web very gently, and she scurried along the outermost strand of silk to take camouflaged refuge in a flower head. When satisfied things were safe, she traced the same route back to her prey.

Because of the dry summer, and because I hadn't watered nearly enough, many plants had withered weeks ago. But the 'Golden Showers' climbing rose was still putting out blooms — always the first rose to flower and the last to succumb — and some of the dahlias were still going strong. At the bottom end of the garden the plums were now picked, or had fallen or shrivelled on the branch, and Red Admiral and Comma butterflies gorged on the scanty, squelchy remains.
Two Comma butterflies in the plum tree. The one in the top left-hand corner, disturbed by a shadow or vibration, has folded its raggy-edged wings. What perfect camouflage! 

Friday, 26 August 2016

Recollections Of Fado And Jazz

Lee Morgan (Image from Wikimedia Commons)
Vagabonde is a blog friend of mine and writes the blog Recollections of a Vagabonde. Recently she made some fascinating comments on my posts about fado and jazz. They were so interesting that I'm reproducing them here with her permission. (I thought many of you may have missed them, and they really are too good to miss.)

Vagabonde lives in Atlanta, Georgia, but was born and raised in Paris. Her mother was a French Parisian and her father an Armenian from Istanbul. She emigrated to the USA, to San Francisco, in the 1960s, and lived there for ten years. She has been back to Paris more than sixty times since then, and has dual citizenship.

I heard Amália Rodrigues in the 1950s and bought many 45 records of hers. She was very famous in France and was often on French TV. I have loved fado music because of her for decades and even studied some Portuguese so I could understand its lyrics. I appreciate saudade and feel it when I miss my other country and original language. I also went to Lisbon specially to hear the music live and visit the fado museum. Another great singer is Maria Teresa de Noronha, a Portuguese aristocrat. If you don’t know her, go on YouTube and you’ll be able to listen to her great voice – she was a traditional fado singer. Portuguese brought me also to Cesária Évora, a great Cape Verde traditional singer. I was able to watch her live in Paris the year before she passed away. 

My, oh my  — to represent jazz it would be hard for me to decide who to include. I started to listen to jazz in the late 1950s and went to jazz clubs in Paris and London at that time. Also being in Paris it was easy to go and watch Duke Ellington, Mile Davis, Sidney Bechet and others when they came there. Also in Paris I used to go and watch Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers – I have several records signed by him. One of the main reasons I went to the US was to listen to jazz, live. In New York I listened to several jazz greats at the Village Vanguard.

My first four months in San Francisco were spent, every night, at the Blackhawk Jazz Club in the Tenderloin district, where I saw the MJQ, Lee Morgan, Horace Silver and others. One of my all time favourites is Thelonious Monk, but I also like Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan in the cool jazz style. I spent my first Thanksgiving at the home of Earl 'Fatha' Hines in Oakland - I believe Coltrane was there, and maybe Philly Joe Jones, Charlie Mingus, Sonny Rollins and Paul Chambers, but that was a long time ago – I forget. Then in North Beach there was the Jazz Workshop where I saw Dizzy Gillespie (who tried to pick me up!); Cannonball Adderley, Oscar Peterson, Erroll Garner and John Coltrane were all regulars there too. Carmen McRae was singing there as well. Then, after that, I think starting in 1965 in San Francisco, both the Fillmore Auditorium and the Avalon Ballroom featured both jazz musicians and rock 'n' roll like Janice Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Co. Nice to remember all this (I still have all my Blue Note 33 LPs).

I was raised with music – my father had a player piano in my bedroom and as a child I would listen to Scott Joplin’s rags (in-between Chopin’s waltzes!) Then, later, when I visited London, I would go to all the New Orleans type places in Soho. When I went to school in London I would also go once a week to a pub that had great jazz. Have you read my 2011 blog post A New Year Party to Remember? It mentions jazz in London. 

In Paris at that time there was a radio station, Europe No. 1, that had started a broadcast called Pour Ceux Qui Aiment le Jazz one hour every evening (Monday night modern jazz, Tuesday night New Orleans jazz, Wednesday night a concert, and so on.) That is where I learnt a lot about jazz and all the musicians. It would advertize where you could go and hear jazz musicians in Paris. The show would start with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers playing Blues March for Europe No.1 (I still know it by heart, and my heart jumps when I hear it . . . You can listen to it here.) Lee Morgan played trumpet in this piece. It’s funny that I saw Lee Morgan many times in San Francisco after that, and became friendly with his girlfriend. We would sit together at the club listening to him. In Paris I also had a subscription to the magazine Jazz-Hot, a French magazine on jazz, started in 1935. In my circle then, in Paris and London, I was a lot more into jazz than in the US. France has always been strong on jazz since WWI, when the US black musicians who had been fighting the war stayed in Paris to avoid the racism back home. There are some interesting books about this. I still listen to jazz.

Saudade: A Portuguese term for a state of deep emotional longing for an absent something or someone that one loves.

MJQ: Modern Jazz Quartet.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Ten Of The Best: Bob Dylan (10)

I got the pork chops, she got the pie
She ain't no angel and neither am I

Two of my favourite Dylan lines ever — apart from all the numerous others. 

This is a great video montage to a soundtrack of Thunder on the Mountain, the first song on Dylan's thirty-second studio album, Modern Times, released in 2006.

What can I say about Dylan that hasn't been said a million times and in a million ways before? What I will say is that whatever you or the world are going through (emotionally, spiritually, politically, economically, physically, existentially) he's nailed that experience somewhere in one of his songs — perhaps in the whole song, perhaps in just a few words or lines. Where else can you find that except in the Tao Te Ching, the Holy Bible, Shakespeare or Winnie-the-Pooh?

Thunder on the mountain, fires on the moon
There's a ruckus in the alley and the sun will be here soon
Today's the day, gonna grab my trombone and blow
Well, there's hot stuff here and it's everywhere I go

For the complete lyrics to this song click here.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Ten Of The Best: Joni Mitchell (9)

Much as I love Carole King, Joan Baez, Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Kate Wolf, Lucinda Williams and many other female singer-songwriters, for me Joni Mitchell is in a class of her own — right up there in that hallowed realm alongside Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. Clouds, Ladies of the Canyon, Blue, For the Roses, Court and Spark, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Hejira, Shadows and Light, Turbulent Indigo — all these records are absolute favourites of mine and, much like Bob Dylan's releases, form the soundtrack to different periods of my life. Blue has to be one of the classic LPs of all time; I still get the shivers if I play it now. Perhaps I didn't appreciate some of her later CDs quite as much, though Shine (2007) is superb, I think.

The video is a really good live version of Song for Sharon (from Joni's fabulous album Hejira), performed at a concert in London's Wembley Arena in 1983.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Ten Of The Best: Carole King (8)

When my father bought a radiogram in the early 1970s, my sister and I were able to buy records for the very first time. Not that we could buy many, as we had little money. But I remember quite clearly our first prized LPs, mostly released in 1970 and 1971 — such wonderful years for music: John Lennon's Imagine, Carole King's Tapestry, Sweet Baby James by James Taylor, Relics by Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin III, Emerson, Lake and Palmer's eponymous first album, Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits (1967). We played them over and over again on what was a ridiculously poor sound system. Radiograms were meant as furniture, not hi-fi, and the whole fake-teak structure vibrated alarmingly even at moderate volume. I could have chosen any of these records, but I've picked Tapestry, which is for me one of the most iconic pieces of vinyl ever — perfect voice, perfect songs, perfect arrangements, perfect piano, perfect production, perfect cover design. This album is emblematic of an era.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Ten Of The Best: Miles Davis and John Coltrane (7)

To represent jazz on this list I first thought of Flamenco Sketches by Miles Davis from the groundbreaking album Kind of Blue; then I thought of John Coltrane and Spiritual. (Of course, Coltrane also plays on the Davis track.) Both such intensely mystical pieces of music, I feel.

In 1957 Coltrane had a religious experience that may have helped him overcome the heroin addiction and alcoholism he had struggled with since 1948. In the liner notes of A Love Supreme Coltrane states that in 1957 'I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music.'


And in the liner notes of Meditations (1965) Coltrane declares: I believe in all religions.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Ten Of The Best: Amália Rodrigues And Ana Moura (6)

I am smitten with the vitality and passion of Portuguese fado and Spanish flamenco music. This is the late, great Amália Rodrigues (1920-1999), who was known as the Rainha do Fado, the Queen of Fado. If you like this, you must also listen to the fabulous Ana Moura (b. 1979), whom I've featured before on this blog. Here she is singing Amor Afoito from her album Desfado, and here she joins with the brilliant Israeli musician Idan Raichel in Sabe Deus (God Knows).

Friday, 29 July 2016

Ten Of The Best: David Bowie (5)

So many rock and roll icons have been taken from us recently, but for me David Bowie's death was the greatest shock. However, my goodness, didn't he leave with a bang, with such a theatrical flourish! Blackstar is simply one of the best albums he ever made (and that's saying something) — dark but not hopeless, innovative and genre-busting as always.