A child was born in La Place, Louisiana on 25 December 1886: Edward “Kid” Ory, the Grand Daddy of all jazz trombonists.
Here he is in 1945 with his Creole Jazz Band, playing ‘Maryland, My Maryland’ (aka Christmas Tree, O Tannenbaum, The Red Flag, etc):
Mutt Carey (trumpet); Darnell Howard (clarinet); Buster Wilson (piano); Bud Scott (guitar); Ed Garland (bass); Minor Hall (drums).
H/t: Hal Smith
Some in general, excellent advice from a man who – like me – seriously objected to the intrusion of religion into the true, alcoholic, spirit of Christmas. His judgement broadly coincides with my own, and is therefore sound, except upon the question of beer: bloody Carlsberg!?! What was the man thinking of? I recommend Guinness’s revived West Indian Porter, anything from the Hobgoblin people , or – if you really must have larger, Veltin’s. Anyway, here’s Amis:
From Every Day Drinking (1981 – to be bourn in mind re: prices quoted ), by Kingsley Amis
Here is a mixed bag of seasonable concoctions. First and foremost and indispensable, Irish Coffee. It’s a bit of a pest to make, but never was such labour more richly rewarded. To make each drink, stir thoroughly in a large pre-heated wine-glass 1 teaspoon of sugar or a bit more, about a quarter of a pint of your best and freshest black coffee, and 1-2 oz Irish whiskey — no other sort will do. When the mixture is completely still, pout onto its surface over the back of a spoon about 2 oz chilled double cream. The cream must float on the other stuff, not mingle with it. If this goes wrong, take Michael Jackson’s excellent advice: “Don’t serve the drink to your guests — knock it back quickly yourself, and try again.”
Other drinks have sprung up in imitation with the same coffee and cream content but with other spirits as a basis, like Benedictine, which gives Monks’ coffee, and Drambuie, which gives Prince Charles’s Coffee — yes that’s what the UK Bartenders Guild call it. Of those I’ve tried, none compared with the original.
Except for being warm, the next drink could hardly be more different. This is the Raging Bull, an Amis original, though no great powers of invention were called for. Make Bovril in a mug in the ordinary way and stir with a shot of vodka , a couple of shakes of Worcester sauce and a squeeze of lemon juice (optional). That’s it. Very heartening in cold and/or hung-over conditions.
Now, an unusual evening warmer, the Broken Leg. having had a real broken leg myself earlier this year I puzzle over the significance of the name, but the drink’s straightforward enough. Slowly heat about a quarter of a pint of apple juice in a saucepan with a few raisins, a cinnamon stick and a lemon slice. When it starts to bubble, strain into a preheated glass or mug. Pour a couple of ounces of bourbon whiskey into the pan, warm for a few seconds and pour into the remainder. Formula from John Doxat.
Lastly, American Milk Punch. You drink this cold, but it’ll soon light a fire in you. The previous evening — this is the hard part put milk instead of water into your refrigerator ice trays. On the day, mix thoroughly in a jug one part bourbon whiskey, one part French cooking brandy and four parts fresh milk. Pour into biggish glasses, drop in milk cubes, stir gently, dust with grated nutmeg and serve. This punch is the very thing for halfway through the morning of Boxing Day, when you may be feeling a little jaded and need a spot of encouragement before some marvellous treat like the sons-in-laws coming over for lunch. In fact, it can be treated as Snowy Mary, sustaining as well as uplifting, and much kinder to the digestion than the old Bloody Mary, a delicious drink, I agree, but full of acid fruit juices.
Remember the Milk Punch for the New Year as a heartener before air trips, interviews, etc.
Christmas is traditionally a time when we behave kindly to our fellow human beings and push goodwill about all over the place. Well, to get myself into any kind of shape for being nice to others, I’ll have to take a lot of care of myself — and no more devotedly than in the sphere of drink. I intend to see that I have ample supplies of the few key items without which my Christmas would be a mockery, leaving me with no good will to spare for anyone.
My list leads with the Macallan Highland malt whiskey, my Drink of the Year (also of last year) and widely regarded in the trade as the king of malts. The flavour’s rich, even powerful, but completely smooth, as smooth as that of a fine cognac, and immediately enjoyable. Over Christmas I’ll be staying off it until comparatively late in the day, because the only drink you want after it is more of it. Macallen comes in various strengths and ages. I’ll be going for the standard 40 per cent alcohol at ten years old rather than the Macallen Royal Marriage, a unique blend of whiskies from 1948 and 1961, the couple’s respective birth years — wonderful stuff but a bit steep at £26.
I’ll also need a malt of a different type for when I’m not drinking the Macallen, selected from Highland Park, Isle of Jura, Tormore, Bowmore. And a good blend, preferably Famous Grouse, both for itself and for the interesting results if you move to a malt after it.
Must check that the Dry Martini makings arte in place — Gordon’s gin, Martini Rossi dry vermouth, and a jar of the largest possible hard, white, acid cocktail onions, much more of a sweat to find than the gin and vermouth. Check too on basic Bloody Mary makings — vodka, Worcester sauce and expensive tomato juice.
Table wines are not my forte, but on special occasions like the appearance of the Christmas turkey and trimmings I enjoy throwing down a good strong red. The one I’d go for is a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, not too recent, say ’76 or ’77. Any left over will go well with the Stilton. (perhaps a spot of port too with that, nothing fancy — somebody’s Special Reserve at about £5.)
I won’t be able to resist spoiling myself with some Musca de Beaumes de Venise, a sweet white wine from the Rhône that’s been tremendously successful here in the last couple of years. Made with the muscatel grape, fruity, flowery, and all that, an ideal desert wine, good with melon too.
We’re now beginning to deal with luxuries and treats, rather than the sheer necessity of Scotch or gin. Among liqueurs I’d certainly favour Kümmel, which with its caraway flavour does seem to take the fullness off after the plum pudding. Or a gross concession to guzzling like Bols apricot brandy or cherry brandy. But I’ll probably end up with Drambuie, drinking some of it cut 50-50 with my malt whisky, if I can spare any.
Back to the realm of stark need with the question of beer. I’ll be filling the refrigerator as full as I’m allowed to with large can of Carlsberg Special Brew and about half as many of the ordinary Carlsberg Pilsner Lager. Special Brew is a wonderful drink, but after a certain amount of it you do tend to fall over. Diluted with a weaker version of itself it gives you a longer run. To quaff the two of them half and half, really cold, out of a silver tankard produces as much goodwill as anything I know.
Most jazz attempts at Christmas tunes are dire – especially traddie versions.
But this version of Silent Night – by Yank Lawson, Bob Haggart and the so-called World’s Greatest Jazz Band (in 1971 or ’72) – is excellent. I presume the arrangement is by Bob Haggart:
Trumpets: Yank Lawson , Billy Butterfield
Clarinet & sop sax: Bob Wilber
Trombones: Vic Dickenson, Eddie Hubble
Tenor sax: Bud Freeman
Piano: Ralph Sutton
Bass: Bob Haggart
Drums: Gus Johnson Jnr
A Palestinian wearing a Santa Claus costume is confronted by an Israeli soldier at a demo near Bethlehem
Christmas is, at its best, a time of good will to all peoples regardless of creed. But it is also, unfortunately, an excuse for antisemitism – a form of bigotry that Christianity has fostered for over 2000 years and successfully passed on to Islam.
Mehdi Hasan (who I do not believe is consciously antisemitic), for instance, uses Christmas as an opportunity to launch into one-sided and in some respects, factually inaccurate attack on Israel (tracing its original sin back to its creation in 1948), in an article for the Huffington Post (where he is political editor), also carried in the current New Statesman.
Sean Matgamna wrote about this sort of Christian-inspired antisemitism fifteen years ago, in a piece introducing an excerpt from Karl Kautsky’s The Foundations of Christianity. I reproduce Sean’s 1999 piece below:
2000 years of anti-Jewish lies
In the last few years, undisguised anti-semitism has again become a force in Europe, especially in Russia and the east. It has re-emerged both in its racist, zoological, 19th century form, and in its earlier Christian, “native Russian”, form.
Why does this happen? Why, again and again, in one form or another, time after time, does Jew-baiting become a force in history? There are always “immediate” historical reasons, but one central, continuous, underlying “cultural” reason is this: anti-semitism is threaded into the very fabric of Europe’s 2000-year-old Christian civilisation.
Christianity is saturated with anti-semitism. The Christian New Testament is one of the main documents of historical anti-semitism.
As the classic Marxist writer Karl Kautsky shows in the excerpt from his book The Foundations of Christianity […] the New Testament writers set out, deliberately and systematically, to demonise the Jews and foment hatred against them as the murderers of Christ. They did it by inventing fantastic and self-contradictory tales about the death of Christ.
The events he analyses are set 2000 years ago in Roman-occupied Judea. The vast Roman Empire united Europe, much of North Africa, and parts of Asia. The Judeans resisted Roman rule fiercely. While the upper classes tended to make peace, the people refused. The Jews were divided into parties and factions – Sadducees, Pharisees, Zealots. Eventually, in 70 AD, the Romans razed the city of Jerusalem to the ground, completing the dispersal of the Jews, who already had settlements all over the empire.
The early Christians were one sect of Jews, feeling sectarian hatred towards the others. As time wore on, the dominant Christian faction, led by Paul of Tarsus, ceased to be Jews, no longer, for example, requiring converts to be circumcised. By the time the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written, decades after the events they purport to depict, the antagonism between Christian and Jew was very bitter.
Christianity grew stronger in the next 300 years, until it became a mighty power in the ossifying Roman Empire. At the beginning of the fourth century Christianity became the official religion of the empire, and its priesthood merged with the immensely powerful bureaucracy of the Roman state. Over time it got to the position of not having to tolerate other religions, or Christian factions other than the dominant one.
Thereafter, the New Testament and its stories, ideas and motifs became, for well over a thousand years, the main subject of art and literature.
Many dozens of generations of children were drilled in the New Testament’s malignant tales, presented as the word of God. “Who condemned Jesus Christ to death?” went the question in the Catholic catechism which, until recently, children from the age of five or six learned by heart. The answer? “Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, did it at the desire of the Jews.” Recently the Catholic Church has “exonerated” the Jews of guilt for Jesus Christ’s death – 2000 years and many millions of victims too late. An imaginary parallel will make the point clearer. Suppose that our own civilisation has broken down, as that of Rome did in the fifth and sixth centuries in Western Europe. Most of the survivors regress to subsistence farming. Literacy is almost lost, becoming the special expertise of ideologising monks and priests.
Most of our great books of learning and science are lost. Those we have saved acquire great authority in a world where scientific observation and experimentation have gone out of fashion, and where venerable authority is again, as in the Middle Ages, considered sufficient. One of the books which survives, preserved by its devotees, is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This book purports to be a Jewish account of Jewish plans to take over the world. It was forged early this century by the Okhrana, the political police of ultra-Christian Tsarist Russia.
It recast the traditional Christian Jew-hatred, with which Tsarist Russia was saturated, into a venomous modern political fantasy. It has had immense influence in this century. It has rightly been called a “warrant for genocide”.
Suppose then that in our imaginary world, thrown back to the level of barbarism, a new religion takes shape, a sort of primitive evangelical neo-Christianity, organised by a powerful caste of priests. It worships, as one of its central “holy books”, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
And then, as society evolves and develops over many hundreds of years, slowly redeveloping a civilisation, generation after generation would learn the divine truth concocted by the Okhrana policemen. It would form the subject of paintings and literature and drama. When a new Enlightenment arose, and drove this nonsense off the highways of intellectual life, it would survive as prejudice and folk-wisdom. Living Jews and their behaviour would be judged not according to everybody else’s standards, but according to the patterns of malevolence outlined in the Protocols.
This fiction is horribly close to the true story of our civilisation and its development. The New Testament – with whose vicious anti-Jewish libels we are so familiar that they can and do go unnoticed – has down the centuries been the warrant for generations and ages of anti-semitism in Eastern Europe and Russia.
The Stalinist rulers did not fight anti-semitism but fomented it. They took Christian anti-semitism and wove it into their “Protocols”, according to which the great evil conspiracy is not Jewish exactly, but “Zionist”, and centred on Israel. Many on the left, misled by their justified and proper sympathy with the Palestinian Arabs who are in conflict with the Jewish state of Israel, uncritically accept this Stalinist reworking of the old anti-Semitism.
Karl Kautsky’s detailed analysis of the anti-semitism threaded into the New Testament, and therefore at the heart of 2000 years of European civilisation, is part of the necessary antidote to this poison, which, in its “anti-Zionist” mask, still infects much of the left today.
At this time of year, those of us without Christian religious convictions attempt to make the best of things by celebrating goodwill and love towards all humanity. For those of us in the jazz community, nothing can express this better than Mr Jackson Tea and his old friend Louis singing and playing ‘Rockin’ Chair': the affection – indeed, love in the truest, platonic, sense – is obvious. It transcends all racial, cultural and other artificial divisions of humanity.
This 1957 TV performance is as near as we’ll ever get to a film of the legendary New York Town Hall performance of ten years earlier: Bobby Hackett (cornet) and Peanuts Hucko (clarinet) are once again present, which is just great; but Jackson and Louis are the timeless stars – wondrous then, now and forever:
“I was one of you. I was a typical Canadian. I grew up on the hockey rink and spent my teenage years on stage playing guitar. I had no criminal record. I was a bright student and maintained a strong GPA in university. So how could one of your people end up in my place? And why is it that your own people are the ones turning against you at home? The answer is that we have accepted the true call of Santa Claus and his reindeer.”
Christmas can be a time when you find out who your best friends are. I mentioned in passing to an acquaintance, a while back, that I’d been looking for a long-deleted 1985 album, The Lady’s In Love With You / Maxine Sullivan Sings the Music of Burton Lane. To my astonishment it arrived at my address, in CD format, just in time for Christmas
I could only find one track (‘On A Clear Day You Can See Forever’) from the album on Youtube, but it gives a pretty good flavour.
Part of the joy of this CD reissue (apart from Maxine’s singing, of course) is the extensive liner-notation by experts Will Friedwald (on Maxine) and Edward Jablonski (on Lane). There’s even a word from Burton Lane himself:
Dear Maxine, To quote a Yip Harburg lyric from this album: ‘Poor You / I’m sorry you’re not me / For you will never know’ … what it is like to be the composer of these songs and have a singer as wonderful as you to sing them.
You’re really something special.
THE SINGER by Will Friedwald
“I had no choice, I had to swing it.”
Maxine Sullivan was telling The New York Time’s John S. Wilson about her first important gig, in 1934, singing to piano accompaniment at a Pittsburgh after-hours hangout called the Benjamin Harrison Literary Club – an establishment given its name, to be sure, during Prohibition.
Apparently the club’s idea of literature was Joyce Kilmer, and Maxine got handed “Trees.” She responded by putting the ode into jazz time. As she explained to Wilson, “I just couldn’t sing it straight.”
The statement serves as a characteristically pithy summation of Maxine Sullivan’s career, which over 50 years took anything but predictable turns. In the late 1930s, she became a worldwide star transporting airs of earlier centuries (“Loch Lomond,” “Annie Laurie,” “Molly Malone”) to the swing era. In the mid-1950s, upstaged by flashier singers and determined to raise a daughter away from the pressures of show business, she took early retirement.
But 10 years later, in 1967, at the age of 56, she came back and her career unexpectedly boomed. At the time of her death on April 7, 1987, she was recording and performing more prolifically than ever before.
Of course, Maxine’s whole approach to jazz was unconventional. Most singers of her idiom, like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, alternated between small back-up groups with no arrangements and big bands with tight charts that were often embellished with strings. Maxine preferred more offbeat ensembles. Her best recordings combined the flexible economy of a septet or octet with a sensitive arranger — one who understood the sound of an artist whom Leonard Feather once praised as “a wonder of simplicity and understatement.” With the proper accompaniment, Maxine’s singing — already graced by a warm tone — projected a certain swing that was awesome in its gentleness,. But after her early success with Claude Thornhill and John Kirby, her career suffered because attempts to wean her away from the folk songs that had thrust her into stardom threw the baby out with the bath water. Too many producers and arrangers missed the point: that she could handle any good material if the setting complemented her distinctive style. Between the jam session and the symphony lay a middle ground.
Much of Maxine’s comeback career, as well, was similarly sabotaged by well-meaning producers who failed to recognize her idiosyncrasies and inserted her instead into traditional jazz backings that did nothing for her. Thankfully, Maxine spent both the beginning and the end of this last phase in the company of musical auteurs who knew what she was about. Bob Wilber, Dick Hyman and especially Keith Ingham had absorbed Maxine’s trailblazing work of two generations earlier, and thus could serve her particularly well during a period when she was ready and willing to stretch out.
That willingness, too, was unexpected. Maxine’s early singing had been marked by a somewhat withdrawn stance (underscoring her empathy with Thornhill), but by the time she reached her 60s, she had adopted a looser, freer sound. In the three albums they created for her, producers Ken Bloom, Bill Rudman and Keith Ingham (who doubled as arranger) carefully considered her new aura, capturing a fine singer at her all-time peak.
They also reached a high-water mark in the vastly misunderstood craft of selecting repertoire. A miraculous flow unites each of these songbook cycles: The Great Songs From the Cotton Club by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler (1984); this album, which honours the composer Burton Lane; and Together: Maxine Sullivan Sings the Music of Julie Styne (1987), the final studio session before her death. The mix of classic and little-known tunes is not only fascinating but perfectly tailored for Maxine, and within the small-group format Ingham offers an endless variety of background textures.
Still. the disc’s most enduring contributions appropriately come from the singer. Maxine is a terror on the up-tempos and Swing Era rhythm tunes (which, ironically, she rarely had the chance to sing in the 1930s and 40s). But oh, the ballads! “Everything I have Is Yours” is so touching, so vulnerable, especially as backed by the lyrical tenor saxophone of the late Al Klink. And Maxine’s reading of “How Are Things In Glocca Morra?” responds to the universality in E.Y. Harburg’s words. It’s not just a song about Ireland; she makes it about longing, aching, missing — the sorrow for that which has passed.
The song now describes the singer as well. But though Maxine is gone, the treasure that is her recoded legacy assures us that there will always be fine days in Glocca Morra. These performances are an essential — and altogether beautiful –part of that legacy — Will Friedwald
Below: not from the ‘Burton Lane’ album, but a beautiful example of Maxine singing right at the end of her career and life:
In general, I’m one of those listeners who objects to music on Radio 4 – especially the infuriating Mastertapes with the annoying rock fan John Wilson, who – frankly – should just fuck off to Radio 2, where he belongs. However, I’m happy to make an exception for Soul Music, which this week featured the strangely melancholic Christmas song, ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.’
It was written in 1944 by one Hugh Martin for the film Meet Me In St. Louis, in which it was sung by the film’s star, Judy Garland. It comes at a particularly sad moment in the film, and Garland felt its original lyrics (read out for us in the Radio 4 programme) were altogether too depressing, and eventually Martin was persuaded to replace them with slightly more upbeat (but still hardly jolly) words. Later on Frank Sinatra got Martin to change them again, this time replacing “until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow” with “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.”
As always with Soul Music, the programme discusses not just the song’s lyrics, but also its (surprisingly sophisticated) harmonic structure and chord changes, interspersed with the thoughts and reminiscences of people for whom it carries a special meaning and/or memories. James Taylor’s pensive version, recorded shortly after 9/11, quite rightly receives a special mention:
My favourite version, by Ella Fitzgerald, doesn’t feature in the programme, perhaps because Ella’s voice is almost too good and (combined with the relatively up-tempo swing arrangement) doesn’t quite convey the pathos that the lyrics seem to demand. Never mind: it’s Ella and it’s beautiful. So here’s wishing A Merry Little Christmas to all of you!
Eric Lee of LabourStart sends an urgent message:
In the last couple of days, our worst fears about the railway strike in South Korea have come true.
Severe repression has kicked in as police stormed the headquarters of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) — for the first time since the union became legal back in 1999.
Smashing down glass doors, spraying pepper gas, the police arrested well over 100 union activists — but didn’t find the leaders of the striking railway workers they’d come to arrest.
The KCTU has decided to call a general strike for December 28th.
These Korean workers, fighting against privatization and for the basic human right to strike, are now on the very front lines of the battle against neo-liberalism and for human dignity.
I know that many of you will not see this message until after the Christmas holiday.
I also know that 90% of the people receiving this message have not yet sent off their messages of protest and solidarity. If you’re part of that 90%, please take a moment right now to send off your message demanding that the Korean government allow the railway workers to peacefully strike:
If have already send off your message, please try to recruit just one more person who’s not done so. If everyone who supported this campaign recruited just one more person, it would be the largest online campaign LabourStart has ever waged.
In addition, I’m going to ask you to do one more thing.
The mainstream media, incredibly, is completely ignoring this important struggle. LabourStart has tons of links to news stories, but these are largely from Korean media.
If you visit the websites of the BBC, CNN, and Sky News, you won’t see a single word about the strike, the repression, and so on.
I’ve just written to all of them asking them why they’re not covering the Korean strike. I think it would help if you added your voices to mine.
Thanks very much — and a very festive holiday season to all of you.
This comes courtesy of Jimmy Kimmel, via Gene at That Place. The entire clip is worth watching (dealing, at first, with the burning question: “is Santa white?”), but the classic film trailer starts at around 2.10:
Below: clip from dangerous leftist subversive Frank Capra’s 1946 ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ before it became the ideologically acceptable ‘Mr Potter and the Commies of Bedford Falls’ (NB: children and impressionable adults should not be allowed to watch this unsupervised):