1/ Richie Havens
• Richard Pierce Havens, folk singer and guitarist, born 21 January 1941; died 22 April 2013
Richie Havens, who has died of a heart attack aged 72, is best known for his opening performance at the historic 1969 Woodstock festival. He had been scheduled to go on fifth, but major traffic snarl-ups delayed many of the performers, so he was put on first and told to perform a lengthy set.
He entranced the audience for three hours, being called back time and again for encores. With his repertoire exhausted, he improvised a song based on the spiritual Motherless Child. This became Freedom, his best known song and an anthem for a generation (from the Graun‘s obituary)
2/ George Jones
• George Glenn Jones, country singer, born 12 September 1931; died 26 April 2013
George Jones, who has died aged 81, was country music’s most stylish and emotional singer. Less well-known outside the genre than his one-time wife Tammy Wynette, he had one of the finest voices of the 20th century. He was the king of honky-tonk, the raw electric country style, and was in a direct line from Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams (again from the Graun‘s obit, written in this case by Hank Wangford).
Nina Simone, of course:
It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life
And I’m feeling good
I’m feeling good
I feel so good
I feel so good
Radio 4′s excellent Soul Music series today dealt with Peggy Lee’s 1969 recording of ’Is That All There Is?’, one of the strangest and most enigmatic chart hits ever.
Soul Music takes takes a piece of music or a particular performance, and simply carries interviews with people (some directly connected to the music/performance, others not) about what it means to them. It’s often very moving.
The interviewees today had very different interpretations of what the song, and Ms Lee’s performance, meant…
Hope or despair? For or against suicide? Existential angst or a simple statement that friends and family are all that really matter in the end?
One person we didn’t hear from was Peggy Lee herself: she died in 2002. But here’s what she wrote in her autobiography:
‘Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friend, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball,
If that’s all there is…’
I picked up the needle from the demo record on the turntable and said to Snooky Young, ‘Isn’t that wonderful?’
‘Thats’s a weird song,’ he said. ‘You going to sing that?’
‘Yes, I think so. I can’t get it off my mind.’
‘Well, you do all those kind of arty songs and people seem to love them…’
I thought of ‘Don’t Smoke in Bed’ and a few others and remembered how I often had to fight to get to do things I believed in, but little did I know at the time what a battle I’d have with ‘Is That All There Is?’ Before this, its authors, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, had written ‘I’m A Woman’, truly my cup of tea, and, of course, their huge success, Elvis Presley’s record of ‘You Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog’ (although I still think ‘I’m a Woman’ was more colourful, filled as it was with word-pictures, and it did swing).
When I came to record ‘Is That All there Is?’ there was resistance everywhere. They said it was too far out, they said it was too long, they said and they said … So I went to Glenn Wallichs with a demo record (something I hadn’t done before), and Glenn seemed embarrassed. ‘Peggy, you don’t have to play a demo, you helped build this Capitol Tower. You just record anything you want.’
Delighted to hear it, Jerry and Mike and I set about doing just that. Earlier, Johnny Mandel had brought me one of Randy Newman’s very first albums, telling me, ‘You’ll love this fellow,’ which I did, and asked him to write the arrangement. It turned out to be perfect for his style.
So now the record was made, our faith in it ran high — I couldn’t believe my ears when Capitol Records said they were turning thumbs down on it.
Is that all there is?
No, because, fortunately, there was a television show they wanted me to do, which I wasn’t keen about. Well, you know what I did. I said, ‘Yes, if you’ll release this record, I’ll do the show,’ and they agreed.
Hallelujah. It became a hit, went ‘across the board’, but that’s not all there is to it. It dramatized for me what my life had been and would continue to be, a struggle, sometimes for things more serious than a song, but the lesson was there — stick to your guns, believe, and more than you ever imagined can happen.
Wikipedia, however, states:
The song was inspired by the 1896 story Disillusionment (Enttäuschung) by Thomas Mann. The narrator in Mann’s story tells the same stories of when he was a child. A dramatic adaptation of Mann’s story was recorded by Erik Bauserfeld and Bernard Mayes …
One difference between the story and the song is that the narrator in Mann’s story finally has a sensation to feel free when he sees the sea for the first time and laments for a sea without a horizon. Most of the words used in the song’s chorus are taken verbatim from the narrator’s words in Mann’s story.
Judge for yourself:
Former Dr Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson is preparing for a short farewell tour in March. This really will be ‘farewell’: he’s been diagnosed with terminal cancer and, having turned down chemo, has less than a year to live. He’s just given this interview to Radio 4′s ‘Front Row’ and if you didn’t hear it when it went out yesterday I must INSIST that you listen, NOW.
It reminds me of Dennis Potter’s incredible 1994 interview conducted by Melvyn Bragg, but might just be even more powerful and moving, with its humour, philosophy and complete lack of self-pity:
“When the doctor told me, I walked out of there and felt an elation…I looked at the trees and sky and thought, ‘wow!’…
“…I’m a feather for each wind that blows. Why didn’t I work that out before? It’s just the moment that matters. Imminent death…makes you feel alive. Every cold breeze against your face, every brick in the road, makes you think ‘I’m alive’…
“…I’m a miserable person but that has all lifted…I’ve had a fantastic life. Anybody that asked for anything more would just be being greedy.”
He also talks a whole lot of sense about music and recording.
Below; Wilko on guitar, with vocalist Lee Brilleaux:
The great jazz trombonist, arranger, composer and teacher Bob Brookmeyer died just over a year ago. As well as his musical accomplishments, he was a fine essayist, blogger and writer of what used to be called (back in the days of LPs) sleeve- (or liner-) notes. Someone really ought to publish a collection of his writings. In the meanwhile, here’re the sleeve-notes from Stretching Out, an album he recorded with Zoot Sims 54 years and one day ago:
These days, everything’s got science; or cellophane; or it’s frozen, ready to be popped into your old oven; or it’s safe for the kiddies and grandma too — the story is too familiar to all of us to tolerate much reiteration, but Jim, they never have been able to isolate SOUL long enough to deep-freeze it for storage and shipment. In fact, sometimes it seems like they forgot what it was, is and must be to the human heart and mind in our tin-soldier and popgun world. These men on this record know about that and some more besides and you can belive that if you will.
One of the saddening and, to my mind, tragic oversights of this evening’s “jazz” audience is their slavish, slatternly devotion to the immediate and the topical. The eternal seems to be too sticky a substance to mess with — it doesn’t wash off the hands very easy and so I guess people must really want to feel, for the first time, really clean, or sterile, or be in the swim, or hep or maybe even hip if they are some down kitties. Not me, thanks. There’s a lot of dirt, grime and sadness in life, perhaps more than many can cope with but it’s there, right under the edge of the carpet and behind the mirror, under your fingernails and betwixt your pearly teeth. And along with the sour you can have your sweet too, plenty of it, but that sugar doesn’t mean beans without you have some salt to let you know which is which. Admirably stated by Ferd “Jelly Roll” Morton in a letter to his sister, to wit; “you got to take the bitters with the sweet” ( Mr Jelly Lord by Alan Lomax, Grove Press and the best book on jazz ever written). So, three long cheers for sadness that is blue instead of yellow, men that can admit to some real joy and know the hearse is parked just ’round the corner and above all, those gents that can say it all in that huge 4/4 beat that makes even this tired old correspondent “glad all over”, Orphan Annie’s old truism. By the way, did they really grab Daddy Warbucks on back income tax?
This all wouldn’t have been possible without Harry Edison and Fred Green, you know. They know as much about the kind of music that I feel as any men who ever lived. They have earned — with no catawauling about travel, working conditions, the plight of the “jazzman” in America today, and related rot — the respect and love of many musicians and listeners, especially those who were around to sop up that great Basie band in the early ’40s. They are, truly GIANTS: yesterday through, and inclusive of, tomorrow. Not an awful lot of that calibre here anymore mbut they’re enough. Ed Jones, Hank, Persip, Zoot and Cohn are of the same mind about this too, so if you all can’t agree in the world who is right, we’ll wait for you to catch up if you’ll hurry.
The album was recorded at Nola’s penthouse on a Sunday afternoon in December and it was fun, fun, fun and happiness. What I wouldn’t do to play with a band like this every night! Ah well, back to the workroom and some more of that score paper so have a good time at the funeral and a good day to all – BOB BROOKMEYER
Amid all the brouhaha of the Jubilee the news passed by almost unnoticed: the great Birmingham jazz saxophonist and bandleader Andy Hamilton has died, aged 94.
Above: Andy on sax in the 50′s with Vic Evans singing and Ron Daley on piano
Returning to Jamaica he became Errol Flynn’s bandleader and musical arranger on board the film star’s yacht ‘The Zaka’ and composed his signature tune, the calypso-jazz ‘Silvershine’ for Flynn in 1947.
In 1949 (the year ‘Empire Windrush’ docked, though Andy came seperately), he arrived in London and then Birmingham, where he remained for good. He worked in factories and gigged at night, often in the company of fellow Jamaicans Pete Pitterson, Dizzy Reece and Joe Harriot. When the Ellington and Basie bands visited Birmingham, Andy organised after-hours sessions where the US stars sat in with local musicians, to the joy and amazement of all concerned.
During this time Andy (like all working class West Indians in 1950′s Britain) encountered plenty of racism: at one point his front teeth were knocked out by teddy boys (a particularly serious matter for a saxophonist). He told the Birmingham Mail in his last interview (April this year), “I remember going to a jazz club with my sax and got invited up on stage and did a couple of numbers which went down real well. I was really happy but when I went back the next week they ignored me. I went home real sad and decided the best thing to do was organise my own band and find places to play.”
But talking to Andy, you were always struck by his lack of bitterness. He didn’t talk much about racism, prefering to emphasise how well he got on with local white musicians and how unprejudiced the world of jazz – even in 1950′s Britain – usually was. Not that all his gigs were pure jazz: his band played calypso (and a little later, ska and reggae) for West Indian social events throughout the West Midlands, and to the end he had a West Indian following made up of people who are far from your typical jazz fans, but who know good, entertaining music when they hear it.
During the 1950′s and 60′s Andy also acquired a cadre of close musical associates, black and white, who stayed in his circle, in and out of his bands, over a period of forty to fifty years. Prominent amongst these were the late pianist Ron Daley (aka ‘Sam Brown’) and the incredible singer (happily, still with us) Vic Evans, best described as a sort of West Indian Nat ‘King’ Cole.
In more recent years Andy devoted himself to teaching music and running youth bands. The number of young jazz musicians around Birmingham who owe their start in the music to Andy is probably incalculable. Andy was not an overtly political man but, talking to him, it was clear that he regarded his youth work very much as a means of promoting social solidarity and combating the effects of alienation and poverty.
Yet despite all this, Andy remained virtually unknown outside of the West Indian and the jazz communites of Birmingham until the wider world started to take a little notice of him in the 1990′s (largely due to an enthusiastic article by jazz journalist and photographer Val Wilmer, which resulted in a spot at the 1990 Soho Jazz Festival). He didn’t even make a recording until 1991. Inevitably called ‘Silvershine’, Andy’s first CD featured him with his (then) regular band, plus guests including David Murray, Jean Touissaint, Jason Rebello, Andy Sheppard and Mick Hucknall . I don’t know whether it’s still available, but it’s well worth seeking out on ‘World Circuit’ WCD 25.
Much too late, Andy finally received some of the recognition he’d long deserved. Politicians, big-wigs, the great and the good all fawned over him. I can’t help wondering where these people were when Andy started his musical youth and community work back in the 1970′s and had to struggle to get even meagre funding for his various projects. Still, it would be churlish to complain about the belated recognition. At his 90th birthday celebration at Birmingham Town Hall, there was Lord Bill Morris, local historian and media personality Carl Chinn, the Lord Mayor and about half of Birmingham City Council. There were also musical contributions from the likes of Courtney Pine, Sonny Bradshaw and legendary dancer Will Gaines.
Andy never said much, being a classic case of someone who (as the old jazz cliché has it) let his horn do the talking. But I think the following quote probably sums up his attitude to the belated recognition he received: “It made me very proud to get an MBE from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace [in 2008 -JD], but it doesn’t help pay the bills.”
Thanks for the humanity and the generosity of spirit, Andy. But, most of all, thanks for the music. Rest in peace.
NB: a lovely coda, but they get the date wrong: it was 1991.
As regulars here will know, I occasionally take a break from light-hearted political banter and introduce the serious matter of jazz. It’s particularly gratifying when one of my jazz posts elicits a response from someone with an intimate knowledge of, or direct connection with, the subject. This happened a little while ago when one Emily Wellstood Clarke got in touch to say how much she’d appreciated a post and Youtube clip here at Shiraz, featuring her late dad, the pianist Dick Wellstood. In a number of exchanges, on and off this blog, Emily told me about her memories of her Dad: very moving stuff, some of which I’d love to publish but would, of course only do so with her express permission. I don’t think I’m betraying any confidences, however, when I quote this from Emily: “My favorite Youtube video is Germany 1982…..he was as I will always remember him. He was on top of his game but the best part is I can hear him humming! He used to whistle and hum at the same time. I thought that was endlessly entertaining when I was a child.” So here it is (The film is a bit flickery but the sound is fine and Wellstood himself is on great form, seguing from a brief ’Perdido’ into ‘Caravan’ in what was, presumably, an Ellington medley):
While we’re at it, here’s what Wellstood’s longstanding musical and personal buddy Marty (son of George) Grosz, wrote about him:
“As a seventeen year old tyro Dick would pass out printed cards which read “Will somebody please introduce me to Joe Sullivan.” The flavour of the great Chicagoan’s style [ie the older pianist Joe Sullivan's style -JD], its pugnacity, its spiky sentimentality, its barrelhouse bass lines, permeated Dick’s inventions throughout his life. Dick’s impovisations gave scant succour to the sleep deprived, unlike those of many of his contemporaries. He resisted the smoothing process that has relegated much contemporary jazz to the role of background music at cocktail parties and dentists’ offices. As they age, many players lose the heat and incisiveness of their early years, settling for bland moderation where once passionate risk held sway; but Dick’s intelligence and sense of adventure precluded his sliding into comfortable banality. Though an intellectual sophisticate, he evinced the sqeaking of saloon doors, the redolence of whisky and cigars, the swish of dancers’ feet in his renditions - renditions expounded with plenty of (to use one of his catchprases), ‘grease and funk.’
…”It is to the discredit of several authors and critics (names supplied upon request) that they have either glossed over or ignored Dick Wellstood. While shouting the praises of trendy lightweights they have chosen to ignore this master, presumably because he followed his own course and wouldn’t cut his jib to fit the prevailing winds of fashion. It is to be hoped that the issuance of this recital and other Wellstood offerings will help redress these inequities and will work towards according him his rightful place in the pantheon of great jazz pianists.” – Marty Grosz, February 1997 [from his notes to 'Live at the Sticky Wicket', Arbors double CD ARCD19188]
Though her life had its share of troubles to the end — her husband and sons were locked in a long-running battle over control of her estate, which was resolved in her husband’s favor only weeks before her death — Ms. James said she wanted her music to transcend unhappiness rather than reflect it.
“A lot of people think the blues is depressing,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 1992, “but that’s not the blues I’m singing. When I’m singing blues, I’m singing life. People that can’t stand to listen to the blues, they’ve got to be phonies” – from the New York Times obituary
Great doo-wop…and s-o-o-o sad:
The Orioles, December 1948
As someone writes under that Youtube clip, “He still had it at the end!“
I defy you not to be moved.