Bill Evans: Spring Is Here

April 18, 2014 at 2:52 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D, music, RIP)

It’s a wonderful spring day, and I’m thinking of my friend the pianist Bryn Venus who died earlier this month. He loved this kind of music and could play it to a very high standard:


Bill Evans (piano), Scott La Faro (bass), Paul Motion (drums) Dec 1959

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Peaches Geldof on same-sex marriage

April 8, 2014 at 11:22 pm (Civil liberties, gay, good people, Human rights, law, love, posted by JD, RIP)

 

Peaches Geldof, who died on Monday, had become a serious and thoughtful person, and a very good writer. In her memory, we re-publish this powerful piece that she wrote for The Independent, published on 9 October 2012. Happily, Peaches lived to see this battle won, but her message of tolerance, love and decency is still worth reading, and stands as a fitting memorial:

In the summer of 2003 I was 14 years old, and my best friend was a gay boy named Daniel. He was smart, funny and totally unaware of how beautiful he was. Everyone seemed to be in love with him at some point, but he was in love with his school friend Ben.

Every day after classes ended, Daniel, Ben and I would hang out. For a little bit, they could both be funny, bitchy queens in the most unashamed and wonderful way, and all was right in the world. Time would glide. As the years progressed we three drifted our way through youth, our journeys disjointed but always seeming to connect at significant points along the way.

Daniel came out to his parents two years after he and Ben became serious. He was 16. I was there when he told them, I don’t know if he’d planned on me being there for support, he never told me. I sat hiding at the top of the stairs in his house, listening. His mother laughed, I’d always loved her laugh, it sounded musical, like bells ringing, and I remember that laugh was just full of love in that moment, and she said to him she’d always known and how happy she was that he had experienced love and it didn’t matter who with. His father echoed her sentiments entirely and I heard the intake of breath that always seems to precede a meaningful hug.

Back in his room, his face seemed different somehow. Where once his eyes had seemed to me to be restless and distant at times, now they just shone. His whole face shone, with this pure elation, and in that ephemeral moment I realised how these revelations people make to the ones who mean something to them, can make a person into something great or break them entirely.

Accept and respect

And Dan was made in that moment. He was whole. I remember vividly having this weird image in my head of the old Disney movie of Pinocchio, where the good fairy turns him into a real boy. And looking back I guess Daniel had been exactly that, just wooden, all that time before. I learned that day that all you really need to do to make someone happy is to accept who they really are, and respect who they are.

Weeks passed and Ben still hadn’t participated in the big coming out party. Where once our after-school hangouts had been easy, effortless fun, now they seemed tense. Instead of Ben and Daniel’s relationship becoming more open, it seemed all the more clandestine. They both confided in me in emotional, tearful phone calls and I began to feel like the go-between. I was falling into other interests and felt myself pulled in a different direction, away from these boys that were so much a part of me. I started loathing our meetings because I could see how terrified Ben was of revealing himself to his parents, and how Daniel was pushing him to the point where it seemed inevitable that he would just leave.

What he didn’t understand, having never met them due to Ben’s terror of being caught out, was that Ben’s parents were different to his. His mother was, and always had been, a housewife who had raised him, his two sisters and three brothers seemingly without any help as his father, a Protestant priest, had staunchly archaic views on where a woman’s place was. Weeks, months passed. We grew and changed, summers came and went. It was winter two years later when the ultimatum was issued, and by then too much was at stake, and Ben did come out to his parents. I sat there, on the same patch of grass in Cavendish Square, worn down from our school shoes, and my friend wept as the words left his mouth. I grieved for them, knowing I could never take the words back for him myself.

Devastated

His mother was devastated, his father, in his words, “ruined”. They both told him he was sick and a failure. He left home. How, of course, could he have stayed. I think, after that, Ben hated Daniel a little bit, partly because he had pushed him to come out, partly because he was jealous. But in the end he loved him more, and Daniel’s parents allowed him to move in to their house and live there with him.

Years passed. We had kept in touch by email, but our lives had taken us in different directions and our friendship wasn’t the same any more. It was December, freezing, when I received the invitation to their wedding. They had been living in New York, where gay marriage had been legalised. I was elated. More than that. These boys, who had been such an intrinsic part of my teenage years, were finally getting what they deserved. It was a beautiful moment.

In New York, the snow had covered everything in a soft white blanket, making it new again. As everyone was gathering outside the city hall, I spotted Ben’s parents. They seemed nervous, but they were there. I assumed they had eventually come round to his sexuality, but he later told me they had turned up without telling him. He had sent them an invite, half out of defiance and half out of hope, but had never expected them to be there for him. In that moment I saw how powerful marriage can be.

A nation of dictating pigs

This man, who I loved so much, was marrying his best friend, his soul mate. Taking vows to stand by him until death. And why not? Why, if these two men wanted to be married in the country they were born in, would it only be regarded as a “civil partnership” – a title more insulting than anything else, a half measure. It’s not as if us saintly heteros take the institution of marriage so seriously, is it? A recent study shows same-sex civil partnerships lasting longer than straight marriages, and divorce at a record high.

I have had first-hand experience of how wonderful the introduction of gay marriage has been, and how negative and potentially damaging it is to not allow it, which just breeds more homophobia. For a country and culture that declares ourselves so progressive, our governments, citizens and, of course, our churches, can be small-minded bigots at the best of times. One day we’ll look back on the gay marriage ban as we look back on historical events like apartheid. Because in the end, that’s what it is, pointless, futile segregation. I long for the day when we break free of this Orwellian ridiculousness, a nation of dictating pigs, where “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”.

And even if Daniel and Ben’s marriage was a small squeak of opposition drowned out in the roar of prejudice, at least it happened. And it will continue to happen, til death do they part.  

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Mickey Rooney – as Puck – bows out

April 8, 2014 at 1:50 pm (Champagne Charlie, cinema, film, Guardian, Marxism, RIP)

Thanks to the Guardian (and how often do we say that here?) for reminding us of this remarkable Mickey Rooney performance from 1935:

The Graun even manages to find a Karl Marx connection;

In 1935 the late Mickey Rooney played Puck in Max Reinhardt’s movie of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Critical opinion was mixed – as it was for the audacious casting of James Cagney as Bottom. But, in his indomitable way, Rooney captured the manic mischief of a character who has one of the Bard’s great lines – “Lord, what fools these mortals be” – and who should be taken more seriously than he sometimes is. Shakespeare’s is only the most famous incarnation of one of English folklore’s great creations, “the oldest Old Thing in England” as Kipling’s Puck describes himself. As Puck, the Hobgoblin or Robin Goodfellow, the laughing sprite is a great subversive, as Karl Marx recognised when he wrote about “our brave friend, Robin Goodfellow, the old mole that can work in the earth so fast, that worthy pioneer – the Revolution”. It’s not often you get Mickey Rooney and Karl Marx in the same sentence, but Puck makes all things possible.

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Bob Crow is dead

March 11, 2014 at 6:08 pm (Jim D, RIP, RMT, stalinism, transport, unions, workers)

RMT general secretary Bob Crow

Shocking news that still hasn’t quite sunk in. The general secretary of the RMT, and probably Britain’s most militant trade union leader, Bob Crow, has died aged just 52. Regular readers will know that some of us at Shiraz have had our criticisms of him (and the RMT regime he presided over) in the past, and it would be hypocritical of us to pretend otherwise now. But we never doubted his commitment to our class and to basic trade union principles.

An RMT comrade writes:

“He was at RMT Women’s Conference on Friday, getting an argument from some of us about women’s under-representation in the union!
 
“I’m sure I will write something balanced and considered in due course, but for the moment, this is just a terrible shock. Whatever arguments and criticisms we’ve had, Bob was one of the best union leaders in the country, if not the best. His vilification by the right-wing media is testament to that.”

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Stuart Hall, ‘Marxism Today’, “Post-Fordism” … and New Labour

February 11, 2014 at 12:18 pm (academe, Brum, culture, From the archives, good people, history, intellectuals, Jim D, Marxism, multiculturalism, post modernism, reformism, RIP, stalinism)

Above: excerpt from John Akomfrah’s film ‘The Stuart Hall Project’

The death yesterday of Stuart Hall, aged 82, robs the British left of a major intellect, an energetic organiser and a warm, charismatic human being. I should declare an interest: in the early 1970′s Stuart was one of my tutors at Birmingham University (where he was director of the Centre for Contemporary Studies) and, together with Dorothy Thompson in the History department, was instrumental in ensuring that I wasn’t chucked out and eventually obtained a degree (albeit an ‘Ordinary’). So I owe him a great deal: I only wish I’d got to know him better and found out, for instance, that we shared a love of jazz (although, I learned from Desert Island Discs, his favourite musician was Miles Davis, so even that might have generated some disagreement).

So I hope it’s clear that I liked and respected Stuart Hall a great deal, and if the articles reproduced below, in his memory, are quite sharply critical of aspects of his politics (particularly his rejection of the centrality of the working class to the struggle for socialism), that’s because serious, honest people can (or, at least, ought to be able to) disagree and still hold one another in high regard.

Paving the way for New Labour

By Matt Cooper (2013)

Cinema documentary has undergone a renaissance in recent years, with fine examples exploring subjects as diverse as sushi in Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) and death squads in 1960s Indonesia in The Act of Killing (2012).

Nonetheless, a film about the semi-Marxist cultural theorist Stuart Hall is unexpected. Hall was born in Jamaica in 1932, went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar in 1952 and was the founding editor of New Left Review (NLR) in 1960. This was a journal which explicitly adopted a “third way” approach between Soviet Communism and social democracy, but was ambivalent about the working class and its revolutionary potential.

After resigning as editor of NLR in 1962, Hall became a leading radical academic joining the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University in 1964 and becoming its director from 1968 to 1979. Cultural studies grew out of the New Left interest in the culture of the working class, which had largely been ignored by academia, and was part of a rise in a form of academic radicalism that mixed some real insights in an overly abstract and obtuse theoretical carapace and, like the New Left, often had little relationship with real struggles.

The last phase of Hall’s career commenced after 1979, when, despite his earlier rejection of both Stalinism and social democracy, he was one of the key theorists of bringing the two together. Through the pages  of Marxism Today (the journal of the right wing of the Communist Party), and his own books, Hall argued that Labour needed to form a new progressive alliance in tune with “new times” where the organised working class was a diminishing force.

The problem with Akomfrah’s film is that it fails to address the development of Hall’s thought. It is strongest on his part in the formation of the New Left, and here hints at the weakness of this approach. While Hall’s co-thinkers were well established in Oxford and London, he reports that he was perplexed by an early encounter with the northern working class in Halifax. Like much else in the film, which is straitjacketed by its choice to use only the words from radio and TV appearances by Hall, this is left undeveloped.

Similarly, the film moves briefly over Hall’s work in the 1970s and fails to communicate what was specific about Hall’s understanding of culture — particularly his work on the moral panic over mugging in Policing the Crisis (1978).

Worst of all, the film entirely misses out Hall’s analysis of Thatcherism in the 1980s and his increasingly pessimistic response about how the left should respond to it.

Strangely, the film includes a clip of the 1984-1985 miners’ strike, but there is no reference to any words from Hall to accompany it. Hall, while clearly sympathetic to the strike, thought it the doomed expression of class struggle that could no longer win. Without any clear sense of transforming society, Hall looked only to create a new more progressive ideology removed from such outdated class struggle. Unwittingly, he was preparing the ground for New Labour (which was more enthusiastically supported by many of his Marxism Today collaborators).

Without much grasp of Hall’s place in the movement away from class politics from the 1960s to the 1980s, The Stuart Hall Project ends up with a fragmented kaleidoscope of images without any clear narrative.

It neither does justice to Hall’s ideas nor shows any critical understanding of them.

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“Post Fordism”: collapsing into the present

By Martin Thomas (1989)

Capitalism has changed and is changing. Vast new areas in the Third World have industrialised. The introduction of small, cheap, flexible computers is revolutionising finance, administration, retailing, manufacturing. The majority of the workforce in many capitalist countries is now “white-collar” – but white-collar work is becoming more industrial.

Dozens of other shifts and changes are underway. Which of them are basic? How are they connected? What implications do they have for socialists?

Into this debate has marched the Communist Party’s magazine “Marxism Today”, bearing a banner with a strange device – “post-Fordism”. “At the heart of New Times”, they write, “is the shift from the old mass-production Fordist economy to a new, more flexible, post” Fordist order based on computers, information technology and robotics” (Marxism Today, October 1988). These New Times call for a new politics: in place of the old class struggle, diverse alliances.

There are several issues here. Do the political conclusions really follow from the economic analysis? Is the economic analysis sound? Where does the economic analysis come from? What do the terms “Fordism” and “post-Fordism” mean? Read the rest of this entry »

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Mike Kyriazopoulos: “Live life to the fullest, make a better world”

January 22, 2014 at 12:11 am (AWL, good people, love, posted by JD, RIP, socialism, solidarity, trotskyism, truth, unions)

Mike Kyriazopoulos died on Saturday night (18th January) at his home in Auckland, New Zealand. His wife Joanne was at his side to the end.

Here’s what he wrote to friends and comrades in the AWL in April 2013, when he knew that time was running out:

________________________________________________________________________

Early this year I was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. It appears as though the “progress” of the disease (oddly Stalinist terminology) is quite rapid. So I wanted to thank all of you who know me for your political guidance, solidarity, friendship and love over the years.

I first came across the AWL at York University Labour Club. But I realised the group was serious when I joined an occupation because Janine Booth was stood on the balcony of the Central Hall with a megaphone, urging students to join the protest against grant cuts.

When I graduated, I got a job on the Post, in line with the group’s policy on “colonisation”, or “inside organising”. Those days were among the most vivid memories of my political life, so forgive me if I reminisce a little. The seven years I spent in the industry taught me heaps of lessons in the sometimes bitter realities of the class struggle. I was thrust in the deep end, finding myself a rep within a few months, because the previous guy had been sacked, and no one else wanted to do the job.

Pretty soon I attracted the attention of management. First they tried to get me to become a governor, then they tried to sack me — twice. Both disciplinaries were related to organising wildcat action. The first time, they stuffed up the process, and I got off scot-free. The next time I copped a final warning and two day’s suspension.

During a week-long wildcat strike involving many London offices, I remember being on a picket line of one. One does not make a virtue or a habit of such a thing, but sometimes it is a necessity. Most of our office scabbed because they were scared of the strike being sold out (which it eventually was). Only a handful of us struck, and one morning I was the only one who turned up for the picket line duty. Some of the strikebreakers implored me to come back to work, because they were convinced I would be sacked, in which case, they assured me, they would go on strike to get me reinstated! I was not sacked.

I was fortunate to be in a left-wing union branch. I joined the branch executive as political officer, where I worked with other socialists to secure the branch’s support for Ken Livingstone and the Socialist Alliance in the London elections of 2000.

The decision was robustly debated at a meeting of rank and file reps. The branch secretary voiced a prophetic word of caution about not knowing how long this alliance would last. Our branch paid a heavy price, having all its funds frozen by an unelected bureaucrat in head office, but they didn’t back down. To me, it highlighted how the Socialist Alliance had begun to build something in the labour movement, only to have that opportunity criminally squandered by the key players within the Alliance.

The greatest success we had at Finsbury Park Delivery Office was winning extra jobs, night duties, following an unofficial overtime ban. Management always intended to claw the duties back eventually, but we managed to hold off the revisions for a good few years.

In retrospect, I was hampered by being isolated in a sub delivery office. I never made much progress towards establishing a rank and file movement. But then, such a movement usually requires a great upsurge in militancy to establish it, so there’s an element of Catch-22.

In 2007, I emigrated to New Zealand, essentially for personal reasons. Comrades, I’m sorry if it felt like I turned my back on you. I never turned my back on the struggle.

I joined the Workers’ Party (now Fightback) because that was the most open and democratic group going. Unfortunately, it was controlled by a clique whose political background was soft Maoist and kitsch Trotskyist. They encouraged a culture of avoiding tricky historical questions. I was remiss in going with the flow, taking the line of least resistance for a while.

Perhaps subconsciously I thought that the insights of Third Camp socialism on the corrosive effects of Stalinism were not so relevant in the 21st century. It was only when the leadership clique abruptly walked out of the party, and retired to the blogosphere, that I did some rethinking.

After some discussions with Martin Thomas I published a number of internal bulletins on Stalinism, the fighting propaganda group, Maori liberation, Third Camp socialism and Maoism. I hope that I have had a positive effect on the trajectory of the group, which now explicitly defines itself as anti-Stalinist.

I do believe the AWL has something precious in its fragmented Third Camp tradition. Not in the sense of a socialist “holy Grail”, or a “historico-philosophical master key”, but as a method of training revolutionaries to think critically.

I don’t need to tell any of you what’s wrong with Michel Pablo. He did, however, have the best motto: “The meaning of life is life itself, to live as fully as you can.”

Comrades, most of you will be blessed with decades of life ahead of you. Live them to the fullest making a better world. Aroha nui (all my love),

Mike

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* Mike’s account of dinner with Tony Cliff and Chanie Rosenburg is also well worth reading.

* Our condolences to Mike’s wife, Joanne.

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Bye Bye Phil Everly

January 4, 2014 at 8:22 am (music, RIP, Rosie B)

Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers has died at the age of 74. . .

Everly’s high, close-harmony singing with his older brother, Don, made the Everly Brothers one of the biggest rock and country acts of the 1950s and early 1960s.

. . .

The Everly Brothers profoundly influenced 1960s-era artists ranging from Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney, who early in their careers called themselves the Foreverly Brothers, to Simon and Garfunkel, the Byrds, the Hollies and the Beach Boys.

“Perhaps even more powerfully than Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers melded country with the emerging sound of 50s rock & roll,” Rolling Stone magazine said in placing the duo at No 33 on its list of the 100 greatest artists.”

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Peter O’Toole as Lawrence: his greatest performance?

December 15, 2013 at 7:44 pm (cinema, history, imperialism, Jim D, Middle East, palestine, Racism, RIP, wild man)

David Lean - Peter O'Toole 

David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962) may or may not have been Peter O’Toole’s greatest achievement, but it was certainly his finest film. Though not in all respects historically accurate, it still tells a us a lot about British imperialism and its accompanying racism. It was also a brilliant, beautiful and moving piece of cinema:

This is from the New York Times:

Peter O’Toole, an Irish bookmaker’s son with a hell-raising streak whose magnetic performance in the 1962 epic film “Lawrence of Arabia” earned him overnight fame and put him on the road to becoming one of his generation’s most accomplished and charismatic actors, died on Saturday in London. He was 81.

His daughter Kate O’Toole said in a statement that he had been ill for some time.

A blond, blue-eyed six-footer, Mr. O’Toole had the dashing good looks and high spirits befitting a leading man, and he did not disappoint in “Lawrence,” David Lean’s wide-screen, almost-four-hour homage to T.E. Lawrence, the daring British soldier and adventurer who led an Arab rebellion against the Turks in the Middle East during World War I.

The performance brought Mr. O’Toole the first of eight Academy Award nominations, a flood of film offers and a string of artistic successes in the 1960s and early ‘70s. In the theater — he was a classically trained actor — he played an anguished, angular tramp in Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” and a memorably battered title character in Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.”

In film, he twice played a robust King Henry II, first opposite Richard Burton in “Becket,” then with Katharine Hepburn as his queen in “The Lion in Winter.” Both earned Oscar nominations for Best Actor, as did his repressed, decaying schoolmaster in “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” and the crazed 14th Earl of Gurney in “The Ruling Class.”

Less successful was his Don Quixote in “Man of La Mancha,” Arthur Hiller’s 1972 adaptation of the Broadway musical, but it emphasized that his specialty was increasingly becoming the outsider or misfit: dreamy, romantic, turbulent, damaged, or even mad, but usually larger than life.

Mr. O’Toole threw himself wholeheartedly into what he called “bravura acting,” courting and sometimes deserving the accusation that he became over-theatrical, mannered, even hammy. His lanky, loose-jointed build; his blue eyes; his long, lantern-jawed face; his oddly languorous sexual charm; and the eccentric loops and whoops of his voice tended to reinforce the impression of power and extravagance.

Mr. Burton called him “the most original actor to come out of Britain since the war,” with “something odd, mystical and deeply disturbing” in his work.

Some critics called him the next Laurence Olivier. As a young actor Mr. O’Toole displayed an authority that the critic Kenneth Tynan said “may presage greatness.” In 1958 the director Peter Hall called Mr. O’Toole’s Hamlet in a London production “electrifying” and “unendurably exciting” — a display of “animal magnetism and danger which proclaimed the real thing.”

He showed those strengths somewhat erratically, however; for all his accolades and his box-office success, there was a lingering note of unfulfilled promise in Mr. O’Toole.

It was no surprise when Olivier chose Mr. O’Toole to inaugurate Britain’s National Theater Company in 1963 with a reprisal of his Hamlet. But the first night left most critics unmoved and unexcited and the actor himself lamenting “the most humbling, humiliating experience of my life.”

“As it went on,” he said, “I suddenly knew it wasn’t going to be any good.”

A production in 1965 of David Mercer’s “Ride-a-Cock-Horse,” in which he played an adulterous alcoholic, was booed at its London opening.

Onscreen, mixed reviews followed his performances as the cowardly naval officer seeking redemption in “Lord Jim,” Richard Brooks’s 1965 adaptation of the Joseph Conrad novel; as a playboy in “What’s New, Pussycat?” a 1965 comedy with Peter Sellers and written by a young Woody Allen; and as the Three Angels in “The Bible: In the Beginning,” John Huston’s 1966 recreation of Genesis. And his sadistic Nazi general in Anatole Litvak’s “Night of the Generals” (1967) was panned.

His carousing became legend, particularly in the 1970s. As he himself said, he had long been “happy to grasp the hand of misfortune, dissipation, riotous living and violence,” counting Mr. Burton, Richard Harris, Robert Shaw, Francis Bacon, Trevor Howard, Laurence Harvey and Peter Finch among his drinking companions. He lost much of his “Lawrence” earnings in two nights with Omar Sharif at casinos in Beirut and Casablanca.

Though he won many lesser awards during his career, triumph at the Academy eluded him, perhaps in part because he had made no secret of his dislike of Hollywood and naturalistic acting, which he considered drab. He was nothing if not ambitious, but success would come on his own terms, not the movie industry’s. He had made that plain at 18, when an acting career was already in his mind. In his notebook he made a promise to himself:

“I will not be a common man. I will stir the smooth sands of monotony. I do not crave security. I wish to hazard my soul to opportunity.”

Marc Santora and Robert Berkvist contributed reporting.

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Jim Hall: great jazz guitarist

December 13, 2013 at 8:27 pm (jazz, Jim D, music, RIP)

Jim Hall, one of the all-time greats of the jazz guitar and by all accounts a delightful human being, died aged 83 on 10 December.

Scott Yanow, in his 2013 book The Great Jazz Guitarists, wrote of him:

“A member of some of the top groups of the 1955-64 period (including the Chico Hamilton Quintet, the Jimmy Giuffre 3, the quartets led by Sonny Rollins and Art Farmer) where his harmonically advanced lines were a major asset, Hall has continued to be a modern guitarist despite the passage of nearly a half-century since then. Cited as an influence by Pat Metheny, John Scofield and Bill Frisell (all of whom he has recorded with), Hall continues to follow his own singular path with great creativity and subtle but always unpredictable playing that rarely fails to surprise.”

Here he is in 1992 on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, playing Subsequently and then a sublime rendition of Hoagy’s Skylark:

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Over the Rainbow with Stan Tracey (and Ben Webster)

December 8, 2013 at 1:08 am (jazz, Jim D, music, RIP)

Stan  (30 December 1926 – 6 December 2013) was one of the best.

Here he is with his then-trio (Rick Laird, bass and Jackie Dougan, drums) in London in December 1964, accompanying the great tenorist Ben Webster:

Telegraph obit here

Part of his famous interpretation of Under Milk Wood is here

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