The top quality of Mercer

November 18, 2017 at 12:51 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D, song)

Johnny Mercer was born in Savannah, Georgia on November 18 1909; he died in Los Angeles, 25 June 1976.

He was one of the Twentieth Century’s great song lyricists, and was also a fine singer himself. He recorded as a vocalist with Paul Whiteman, Wingy Manone, Benny Goodman and Jack Teagarden.

He duetted with Teagarden on what is surely the best jazz Christmas record of all time (not that there’s a lot of competition, Christmas Night In Harlem. For a Southern white guy, he was also remarkably enlightened and free of prejudice: he just loved music and couldn’t give a damn about skin pigmentation. When Nat Cole was having a hard time from racists, Mercer offered him personal support and publicly denounced the racists (though, it must be said, Cole was signed at that time to Mercer’s Capitol label, but I like to think he’d have done it anyway).


Above: Mercer on the Nat ‘King’ Cole TV show

Mercer’s most famous song is Moon River , written (with Henry Mancini) for the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Personally, I have to say I don’t find it a very engaging tune or lyric. But I’m glad it brought Johnny some wealth and security towards the end of his life.

I much prefer Blues In The Night, his 1941 masterpiece, written with Harold Arlen. Here’s the Benny Goodman version, with Peggy Lee on vocals. The rather strange falsetto scatting following Peggy’s vocal is by trombonist Lou McGarity (how do I know that? Am I a bit sad or what?);  Benny himself, on clarinet, briefly returns to his wailing Chicagoan roots in the closing bars of the number:

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Chilean poet Pablo Neruda may have been murdered by the Pinochet dictatorship

November 11, 2017 at 5:55 pm (anti-fascism, assassination, Chile, culture, good people, Latin America, literature, murder, poetry)

Pablo Neruda
Above:  Neruda

By John Cunningham

Recent autopsies suggest that the death of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda in 1973 was possibly caused by poisoning. This should surprise no-one even moderately acquainted with the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Neruda, arguably South America’s greatest poet and a staunch champion of the oppressed, was admitted to hospital at the time of Pinochet’s military coup which overthrew the left social-democratic government of Salvador Allende elected in 1971. 12 days later Neruda died of a heart attack – at least that was the official version. There have been rumours for many years that he was poisoned by agents of the Pinochet regime who wanted this opposition voice silenced forever. It is well-known that the Mexican government had offered Neruda asylum and even had a plane waiting for him at a nearby airport.

Neruda, the son of a railway worker, was born in 1904 and his first poem was published when he was only 13. In the mid-1930s he was forced to flee Chile after his vocal opposition to US exploitation of the Chilean economy. Ending up in Spain he joined the Republican movement returning to Chile only in 1943. He became a member of the Chilean Communist Party in 1945 but four years later he was again in disfavour with the authorities and he, once more, went into exile, returning in 1959. His poetic output was prolific and he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.

Ignoring the orders of Pinochet thousands turned out for his funeral in what was the first public display of opposition to the dictatorship. His spirit and example live on in his poetry. He once wrote:

‘On our earth, before writing was invented, before the printing press was invented, poetry flourished. That is why we know that poetry is like bread; it should be shared by all, by scholars and by peasants, by all our vast, incredible, extraordinary family of humanity.’

An excellent introduction to his poetry is The Essential Neruda published by Bloodaxe (in a Spanish/English bi-lingual edition). To give readers a flavour of his verse here are a few lines from my favourite Neruda poem, ‘El pueblo/The people’:

I think that those who made so many things
Ought to be the owners of everything.
That those who make bread ought to eat.

That those in the mine should have light.
Enough now of grey men in chains!
Enough of the pale souls who have disappeared!
Not another man should pass except as ruler.
Not one woman without her diadem.
Gloves of gold for every hand.

Fruits of the sun for all the shadowy ones!

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Ralph Sutton: strider supreme

November 4, 2017 at 4:10 pm (good people, jazz, posted by JD, Sheer joy)

Ralph Sutton, surely the most accomplished post-Waller stride pianist, born (Hamburg, Missouri) Nov 4 1922 (died Dec 30 2002).

I once shook hands with Ralph; my knuckles are still crushed:

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Derek Robinson, the CP and the decline of the BL stewards movement

October 31, 2017 at 4:17 pm (Brum, CPB, good people, history, Jim D, RIP, unions, workers)

Derek Robinson, trade unionist and Communist Party member, 1927 – 2017

Derek Robinson with Phyllis Davis and Leslie Huckfield, the then Labour MP for Nuneaton in 1979
Above: Derek Robinson leads a demo in the late 1970s (to his left, Les Huckfield MP)

For a brief period in the 1970’s, Derek Robinson (who has died, aged 90) was widely regarded as the most powerful trade unionist in Britain. Yet he was wasn’t a full-time official, but a shop steward (albeit a convenor, or senior steward, allowed time off ‘the job’, by management, to devote himself full-time, to union duties).

His downfall, and that of the shop stewards movement he led, is worth recalling because one day our class will rise again and start exerting the kind of influence it did in the 1960s and 70s: we must not repeat the mistakes that were made then. I was a shop steward at the same car plant as Robinson (Longbridge, Birmingham) in the 1970s, and was one of those who went on the picket line when he was sacked in 1979. If some of what I say below about Derek seems harsh, it’s because it’s essential that the political lessons are learnt. I would like to make it clear that I have never doubted or questioned Derek’s personal integrity nor his commitment to trade unionism, socialism, and the working class. I should also add that although we frequently clashed in the 1970s, when we occasionally met in later years Derek was unfailingly friendly and unsectarian.

In 1974 British Leyland (as it then was) went onto the rocks as a result of years of under-investment and over-generous payouts to shareholders. Tony Benn described a meeting with union leaders shortly after Labour narrowly won the February 1974 election and formed a minority government: “170,000 people were involved and they thought that government intervention was inevitable.” They were right: when the company went bust the Wilson government promptly nationalised it.

The difference between the response of the Wilson government of the mid-’70s and the Blair government that presided over the terminal decline and eventual closure of Rover between 2000  and 2005 can be explained in part by the global ascendency of neo-liberal economics and the corresponding transformation in official Labour politics. But abstract ideology is not the decisive factor (after all, Heath’s Tory government nationalised Rolls Royce in 1971). The crucial factor is the strength of the organised working class as a whole and, specifically, within the threatened workplaces.

In 1974 our class was strong and the Longbridge plant was probably the most powerfully organised (as well as the largest) workplace in Britain. The story of the Longbridge shop stewards’ movement contains important lessons for a generation of trade unionists who have known little but the defeats and humiliations of the last thirty years or so.

The shop stewards’ movement

Longbridge had been gradually unionised after World War Two. Communist Party members played a central role, often risking their jobs in the process. The plant’s first recognised union convenor, Dick Ethridge, was a CP member and in those days it seemed a natural step for active, militant trade unionists in the plant to join the Party. By the 1960s, the Party had a factory branch numbering around 50, and sales of the Daily Worker (later Morning Star) inside the plant (not on the gates) were in the hundreds. Management once tried to prevent sales by seizing a bundle of Workers and were forced to back down by immediate strike action.

The CP’s influence went far beyond its formal membership and permeated the entire Joint Shop Stewards’ Committee (JSSC), numbering around 500 stewards from the AEU, TGWU, Vehicle Builders, Electricians and the multitude of smaller white and blue collar manufacturing unions like the Sheet Metal Workers. Read the rest of this entry »

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Louis Armstrong: simply the best

August 4, 2017 at 9:10 am (civil rights, culture, good people, jazz, Jim D, modernism, music, New Orleans, Sheer joy, United States)

Louis Armstrong: born August 4 1901, died July 6 1971


Above: possibly his greatest recording, West End Blues (1928). For a detailed analysis, read what the of the Director of the Louis Armstrong House Museum (in Queens, New York), Ricky Riccardi, wrote, here.

Louis Armstrong never knew the date of his birthday. As Terry Teachout writes in his excellent biography Pops – A Life Of Louis Armstrong (2009):

‘Until the day he died, Louis Armstrong claimed that he was born on July 4, 1900. He said so in Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans and Swing That Music, his two published memoirs, and on innumerable other occasions, and although at least one biographer found the date too pat to be plausible, it was only in 1988 that a researcher located an entry in latin for “Armstrong (niger, illegitimus)” in the handwritten baptismal register of New Orleans’s Sacred Heart of Jesus Church. According to that record, Louis Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901, the natural son of William Armstrong (known as Willie), who spent most of his adult life working in a turpentine factory, and Mary Ann Albert (known as Mayann, though her son spelled it different ways over the years), a fifteen-year-old country girl who came to New Orleans to work as a household servant.’

What was never in doubt is the simple fact that Louis was born  at the absolute bottom of the US socio-economic pile. He was black, his mother was an alcoholic and an occasional prostitute and his father deserted the family before he was born. He seemed destined for a life of poverty and petty crime until a Jewish family, the Karnoffskys, took him under their wing and encouraged his musical talent (including lending him the money for his first cornet). Louis never forgot them and wore a Star of David under his shirt for the rest of his life. That early experience also seems to have conditioned his approach to the race question. He was proud of his Afro-American roots but never a seperatist. He almost always had at least one or two whites in his All Stars – a policy that his manager Joe Glaser encouraged for commercial reasons but that Armstrong believed in as a matter of principle. His closest musical friend was the white trombonist Jack Teagarden, to whom he (allegedly) said on their first encounter, “I’m a spade and you’re an ofay. We got the same soul – so let’s blow.”

Armstrong is, simultaneously, by far the best known figure in jazz and one of the most underrated. The reasons for this have little to do with music and everything to do with image, perception and ideology. Most of today’s jazz fans (despite the sterling efforts of Wynton Marsalis, Stanley Crouch and others) know little of Armstrong and see him as an avuncular buffoon singing lightweight pop songs in a gravel voice. He’s not considered a real jazz musician like, say, John Coltrane or the oh-so-cool Miles Davis. And then there’s that “Uncle Tom” tag. We’ll come to that in a moment.

What is all too easily forgotten in any discussion about Armstrong is the straightfact that he was the single most revolutionary exponent of the most revolutionary music of the Twentieth Century. Long before he became the jovial entertainer the world remembers, he almost single-handedly created jazz as we know it today.

Anyone who doubts this should listen to Armstrong’s first recordings, made with his mentor Joe ‘King’ Oliver’s band in 1923: Olver and the others chug along in the staccato semi-ragtime rhythm that characterised early jazz. Armstrong (playing second cornet to Oliver) uses triplet-based quarter and eighth notes, riding on a 4/4 beat that only existed inside his head. It was the rhythm that that twelve-to-fifteen years later would be called “swing” and make Benny Goodman, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller and a lot of other (mainly white) bandleaders rich and famous. That rhythm, together with the concept of the virtuoso solo, improvised over the chords of the tune, which Armstrong also pioneered, was the springboard for Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and most of what followed in in jazz, up to this very day.

It is of course true that had Armstrong never been born, someone else would have made these musical breakthroughs sooner or later – they were almost necessities waiting to happen. Phillip Larkin (an unstinting Armstrong fan)  oversimplified matters, but had a point when he wrote that Armstrong “simply did what everyone else was doing (but) twenty times better.” We know that Armstrong’s New Orleans contemporary, the clarinet and soprano sax virtuoso Sidney Bechet, was playing along similar lines in the early twenties, with a power and imagination that came close to matching Louis’s. But Bechet was a (literally) wayward character who spent a lot of time travelling in Europe while the epicentre of jazz was the US and, incresingly, New York. He lacked Louis’s personal warmth and although he recorded quite extensively, he didn’t achieve widespread public recognition until he settled in France in the 1950’s where he became something of a folk-hero in his final years.

To understand Armstrong, the man and the performer, you have to understand something of the society he was born into. New Orleans at the turn of the century was a hotbed of vice and violence. It was also, in comparison to the rest of the USA, relatively tolerant in racial, social and cultural matters. The French had founded the city and brought with them a tradition of opera, symphony, dances and parties. This had melded with the work-songs and “shouts” of the black slaves. As a result New Orleans was, as far as can be judged, the birthplace of jazz. The city’s mixed-race “creoles” constituted the vast majority of early jazz musicians of note. It is a myth that early jazz was the preserve of Afro-American “negroes”. In fact creole musicians emphasised their French and/or Spanish heritage and tended to be quite disparaging towards negroes like Armstrong and Oliver.

On New Year’s Eve of 1912 Armstrong was arrested for some high-jinks with a pistol and sent to the “Colored Waif’s Home” – a borstal, albeit a relatively enlightened one for its time. In fact, Louis often stated that being sent there was the single best thing that ever happened to him, mainly because the Home had a band and he soon became lead cornet in it. Years later, in the 1930’s, Louis revisited the place, found his old room and immediately snuggled down on the bunk.

From the Waif’s Home Armstrong went on to become second cornet with King Oliver in Chicago (jazz followed the black migration to the new industries up there), star trumpet soloist with Fletcher Henderson’s sophisticated big band in New York, and then to make the legendary Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings with his old New Orleans confrères Kid Ory (trombone) and Johnny Dodds (clarinet). Listening to the Hot Fives (recorded between November 1925 and December 1927) is an education in personal development: Armstrong soon outstrips and overwhelms his old comrades, making their contributions sound anachronistic, stilted, and generally surplus to requirements.

By the early 1930’s Armstrong was an international star and one of the first black American entertainers to tour Europe; Paul Robeson and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (a big influence on Armstrong) were the only others. At this point a big contradiction becomes apparent: Louis’s stage persona was by then that of an extrovert, exuberant virtuoso. Personally, he was completely insecure (remember that visit to the Waif’s Home), always in need of a tough guy (like the ex-Capone man Joe Glaser) or strong woman (notably second wife Lil and final wife Lucille) to look after him. And even after all the plaudits and awards, he desperately needed the approval of an audience. After the last performance of his life (undertaken against medical advice), he watched a TV review of the show in his hotel room and was devasted by the slating he received; he turned to Joe Glaser with tears in his eyes and asked: “You’ll still book me, Joe?”

Louis ‘mugged’ and played the harmless black minstrel to white audiences throughout his life. Younger black musicians and performers accused him of being an Uncle Tom and there was a tiny grain of truth to the charge. Billie Holiday famously said (affectionately) “Louis toms from the heart” and Sammy Davis Jr. (less affectionately) denounced him for being willing to play for segregated audiences. Terry Teachout comments, “Sammy Davis, after all, had a point: the All Stars did play for segregated audiences, and Armstrong never complained to Glaser about it. ‘I never question owners of dance halls or my manager about the racial patterns of places I am contracted to play… I have been with Joe Glaser too many years to worry about where I play and for whom,’ he had told a reporter for the Courier  in 1956. Nor would he ever take part in civil-rights demonstrations.’My life is music,’ he explained to a reporter. ‘They would beat me in the mouth if I marched, and without my mouth I wouldn’t be able to blow my horn…”

But there was one occasion when even the apolitical Armstrong was unable to contain his inner rage in the face of racism: in 1957, three years after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision required public schools to de-segregate and allow black puils to enroll. But in Little Rock, Arkansas, Governor Orval Faubus openly defied the court’s decison and the Federal Government, ordering the state’s National Guard to join with a mob of howling bigots outside the city’s Central High School to intimidate and obstruct nine black children who were trying to enroll.  Louis, on tour as usual, watched these scenes on his hotel televison shortly before he was interviewd by a cub reporter from a local paper. When the subject of Little Rock came up Louis exploded with rage, calling Faubus a “no good motherfucker” (later changed to “uneducated plowboy”) and denouncing President Eisenhower as “two faced” with “no guts.” He continued: “The way they’re treating my people in the South the government can go to hell,” and vowed that he would not agree to tour the Soviet Union for the State Department, calling Secretary of State Dulles “another motherfucker.” The young reporter had the scoop of a lifetime and Associated Press put the story on the wires.

Eisenhower later sent the army into Little Rock to enforce de-segregation and ensure the Nine were admitted to the school. Whether or not Armstrong’s intervention was a decisive factor in forcing Eisenhower’s hand is still a matter of debate, but the fact that a much-loved and generally apolitical figure had spoken out so strongly must surely have had some effect.

But this was an uncharateristic moment. Louis was not a political person and certainly no black militant. His background and natural inclinations made him an instinctive integrationist. And he generally let his music speak for itself, as when he sang Nobody Knows the Trouble I Seen on the Ed Sullivan Show during the Montgomery bus boycott or performed You’ll Never Walk Alone with the All Stars for a segregated black audience in Savannah, Georgia.

Louis’s sheer humanity is summed up by the New Orleans guitarist Danny Barker (quoted in James Lincoln Collier’s 1983 biography Louis Armstrong – An American Genius), describing Louis on tour, in the dressing room:

“…He be sittin’ down in his underwear with a towel around his lap, one around his shoulders an’ that white hankerchief on his head, and he’d put that grease around his lips. Look like a minstrel man, ya know…an’ laughin’ you know natural the way he is. And in the room ya see, maybe two nuns. You see a street walker dressed all up in flaming clothes. You see a guy come out of the penitentiary. Ya see maybe a blind man sitting there. You see a rabbi, ya see a priest, see. Liable to see maybe two policemen or detectives, see. You see a judge. All of ’em different levels of society in the dressin’ room and he’s talking to all of ’em. ‘Sister So and So, do you know Slick Sam over there? This is Slick Sam, an ole friend of mine.’ Now the nun’s going to meet Slick Sam. Ole Notorious, been in nine penetentiaries. ‘Slick Sam, meet Rabbi Goldstein over there, he’s a friend of mine, rabbi good man, religious man. Sister Margaret, do you know Rabbi Goldstein? Amelia, this is Rosie, good time Rosie, girl used to work a show with me years ago. Good girl, she’s a great performer. Never got the breaks.’ Always a word of encouragement, see. And there’d be some kids there, white and colored. All the diverse people of different social levels…an’ everybody’s looking. Got their eyes dead on him, jus’ like they was lookin’ at a diamond.”

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Clancy Sigal: RIP

August 1, 2017 at 5:49 pm (culture, good people, Human rights, literature, mccarthyism, posted by JD, RIP, solidarity, workers)

Clancy Sigal, author of the mining classic Weekend in Dinlock. Born 6th September 1926. Died 16 July, 2017.

By John Cunningham

The author of possibly one of the best novels about British coalminers and their communities, Clancy Sigal, was a Chicago-born Jew who came to Britain during the McCarthy period having previously been an organiser for the United Automobile Workers. The author of numerous novels and a prodigious journalist Sigal travelled to South Yorkshire and made a number of visits to various pit villages particularly Thurcroft, about 10 miles north east of Sheffield. Here he befriended the miners and wrote about their lives and in 1960 his novel based on this experience, Weekend in Dinlock, appeared (published by Secker and Warburg).  He developed a close, if somewhat rough and ready, friendship with a miner called Len Doherty who became a source for ‘Davie’ the main character in the novel although Sigal insists both Davie and Dinlock were composites of people and places he had encountered while in South Yorkshire. Doherty, himself an accomplished writer and one-time member of the Communist Party, went on to work for the Sheffield Star and is best known for the novel The Man Beneath (published in 1957 by Lawrence and Wishart). Davie, by no means an idealised ‘hero’ is often cantankerous, drunk and never backs down from a punch-up. Yet he is also a brilliant painter and is torn between moving to London to establish himself as an artist or to stay with his community in Dinlock (in the end the latter wins out). Although the novel occasionally lapses into cliché – tough Chicago Jew shows he’s as hard and boozy as any Yorkshire miner – Weekend in Dinlock nevertheless shows a world which had been rarely expounded in literature, at least since a short-lived boom of writing about mining life in the 1930s with the novels of B. L. Coombes, Fred Boden, the poetry of Idris Davies and others.

Weekend in Dinlock was much-discussed at the time of its publication, particularly in the New Left Review where it received mixed comments but was clearly seen by all as an important publishing event at the time. Kim Howells, in his obituary of Sigal in the Guardian, states that that the British left pooh-poohed the novel dismissing it as exaggerated. Howells, the clapped out cultural ambassador of Blairite philistinism, doesn’t mention any names and in fact this, by and large, didn’t happen. Even those who had reservations about the novel took it seriously. Weekend in Dinlock appeared at the same time as the so-called ‘kitchen sink’ or ‘social realist’ novels such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (Allan Sillitoe) and Room at the Top (John Braine) were shifting critical and cultural attention from London and the south east to the industrial north. Unlike both these novels however, Weekend in Dinlock was never adapted for the big screen, although it may have had some influence on Ken Loach’s film Kes and his TV drama The Price of Coal. Sigal went on to write a number of other novels, including Zone of the Interior (1976), The Secret Defector (1992) and a memoir of his mother A Woman of Uncertain Character (2006). Eventually, he returned to America and ended his life as a screenwriter in Hollywood, never abandoning his maverick, hard-hitting left-wing stance. It is highly likely, given the author’s death, that Weekend in Dinlock will be republished. If so go out and buy it; this is a classic. I re-read it just last year and despite some rough edges it has stood the test of time and although the novel describes people and places now receding into history, this is a history that did much to shape our world.

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Kay Starr: a true Star(r) right to the end

July 9, 2017 at 2:29 pm (good people, jazz, posted by JD, song, The blues, United States)

Katherine Laverne Starks (aka Kay Starr) July 21 1922 – Nov 3, 2016

One of my favourite singers, Kay Starr, died last November almost unnoticed, despite the fact that she’d had some big hits (Wheel Of Fortune, Rock And Roll Waltz, etc) in the 50’s.

Kay came up in the late thirties and sang with the big bands of Joe Venuti, Bob Crosby, Glenn Miller and Charlie Barnett, but was equally at home with hillbilly music, small group jazz and the blues. Legend has it that Billie Holiday said Kay (whose dad was Native American and mum Irish) was the only “white gal” who could really sing the blues.

I meant to write something at the time of her death, but somehow didn’t get round to it. However, this month’s Just Jazz magazine carries a delightful reminiscence by US bandleader Jim Beatty that deserves a wider readership. It’s not altogether politically correct, but exudes affection, respect and a little bit of sadness.

Remembering Kay Starr
By Jim Beatty

When I was a young guy in high school Kay Starr was one of the most popular singers on the United States pop charts. But she covered all the bases and sang all styles from Country, Swing, to jazz. Not only that, she was cute and good looking — the kind of girl that my friends and I would love to have a date with.

She was born in Dougherty, Oklahoma in 1922, her father was a full blown Iroquois Indian and her mother was Irish. Kay’s family did not make a lot of money, but raised chickens at home and every day when Kay got out of school she came home and sang to the chickens. Her parents entered her into a talent contest: she won, and that led to a 15-minute record show at three dollars a show. They later moved to Memphis, Tennessee, and she went into radio there as well. Jazz violinist Joe Venuti was passing through town with his band and listened to her sing on the radio and offered her a job. She was only 15 years old and still in school, but she sang with Joe and his band in the summertime when school was out. Joe Venuti was very protective of her and on top of that her mother came with her to all her jobs. She was with the Glenn Miller Orchestra for two months before going with Charlie Barnett and his band in 1945. She later went on her own as a featured singer and in 1956 recorded the number one hit in the United States and UK – The Rock And Roll Waltz. Kay followed that with more smash hits, such as Side By Side and Wheel Of Fortune.

David Christopher had booked Kay into his Lyons English Grille showroom on Memorial Day weekend 2010, and asked me if I’d like to play the show. Of course I was there with bells on. I met Kay in the musicians’ room so we could all run over the show together. She was wonderful to talk to and surprised that I knew so much about her early life singing jazz with Joe Venuti. We had a packed house that night and Kay sang many of her favourites, along with a beautiful rendition of If You Love Me. That night turned out to be Kay Starr’s last public appearance.

Following the show, Katie (that’s what her friends called her), her assistant Ann, along with David Christopher and I, sat down and relaxed with some drinks. I noticed that my scotch and water was disappearing rapidly and I didn’t remember even having a sip. What was happening was Katie chugalugging her scotch and water and switching her glass with me when I wasn’t looking, putting her empty glass in front of me and taking my full one. We later heard from her assistant Ann, that Katie loved her scotch and you had to keep an eye on her at all times.

David Christopher and I went to a restaurant and got some cold sandwiches which we brought back to Katie’s hotel room. So there I was, sitting on a bed with Kay Starr, eating a sandwich and drinking a glass of white wine. My childhood dream came true and I was in bed with Kay Starr. The only trouble was that I was 76 years old and Kay was 88, plus we were accompanied by Kay’s assistant and David Christopher. Katie hadn’t lost her sense of humour and when we opened the sliding door onto the hotel patio to leave —  she said, very loudly so everyone could hear — “Thanks for the business, boys!”

Below: Kay Starr with Les Paul in New York, five years before the final gig with Jim:

 

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Simone Veil, courageous fighter, passes

June 30, 2017 at 5:38 pm (Andrew Coates, anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, Feminism, France, good people, Human rights, women)

Image result for simone veil

Andrew Coates writes:

Simone Veil, the revered French politician who survived the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz and defied institutional sexism to push through a law legalising abortion in France, has died on June 30th 2017. She was 89.

France 24:

A widely respected figure across the political divide, Veil was the first female leader of the European Parliament and the recipient of France’s highest distinctions, including a seat among the “Immortals” of the Académie française, the prestigious state-sponsored body overseeing the French language and usage. She was renowned for her endeavours to advance women’s rights and the gracious but steely resolve with which she overcame male resistance throughout a remarkable life scarred by personal tragedy.

As one of the more than 76,000 Jews deported from France during World War II, Veil appears on the Wall of Names at the Shoah Memorial in Paris, under her maiden name Simone Jacob. So do her father André, her mother Yvonne, her sister Madeleine and her brother Jean. Of the five, only Madeleine and Simone survived the ordeal, though Madeleine would die in a car crash just seven years after the war.

Simone was the youngest of four siblings, born in the French Riviera resort of Nice on July 13, 1927, in a family of non-practising Jews. Her father, an award-winning architect, had insisted her mother abandon her studies in chemistry after they married. Like most other Jews in France, he reluctantly obeyed orders once the Nazi-allied Vichy regime came to power in June 1940, registering his family on the infamous “Jewish file” – which would later help French police and the German Gestapo round up France’s Jews and deport them.

As French nationals living in the Italian occupation zone, the Jacob family avoided the first round-ups, which targeted foreign Jews, mainly in the northern half of France that was occupied by German troops. But they suffered the sting of anti-Semitic laws, which forced André Jacob out of work and led to Simone adopting the name Jacquier to conceal her origins.

The situation worsened after September 1943, when the Nazi occupiers swept all the way down to the Riviera. Simone, then aged 16, had only just passed her baccalaureate when she was arrested by two members of the SS on March 30, 1944. The Gestapo soon rounded up the rest of the family with the exception of Simone’s sister Denise, who had joined the Resistance in Lyon. Denise would later be detained and deported to the Ravensbruck concentration camp, from where she returned after the war.

[…]

Still only 17, Simone returned to France devastated by the loss of her parents and sister, but determined to pursue the career her mother had been denied. She studied law at the University of Paris and the Institut d’études politiques, where she met Antoine Veil (1926-2013), a future company manager and auditor. The couple married in October 1946, and would go on to have three sons, Jean, Nicolas, and Pierre-François.

Simone Veil began work as a lawyer before successfully passing the national examination to become a magistrate in 1956. She then took on a senior position at the National Penitentiary Administration, part of the Ministry of Justice, thereby securing a first platform to pursue a lifelong endeavour of advancing women’s rights. She notably strove to improve women’s conditions in French jails and, during the Algerian War of Independence, obtained the transfer to France of Algerian female prisoners amid reports of widespread abuse and rape.

Switching to the ministry’s department of civil affairs in 1964, Veil continued to push for gender parity in matters of parental control and adoption rights. A decade later, her appointment as health minister in the centre-right administration of President Valéry Giscard D’Estaing paved the way for her biggest political test. She first battled to ease access to contraception, then took on a hostile parliament to argue in favour of a woman’s right to have a legal abortion.

“No woman resorts to an abortion with a light heart. One only has to listen to them: it is always a tragedy,” Veil said in a now-famous opening address on November 26, 1974, before a National Assembly almost entirely composed of men. She added: “We can no longer shut our eyes to the 300,000 abortions that each year mutilate the women of this country, trample on its laws and humiliate or traumatise those who undergo them.”

After her hour-long address, the minister endured a torrent of abuse from members of her own centre-right coalition. One lawmaker claimed her law would “each year kill twice as many people as the Hiroshima bomb”. A second berated the Holocaust survivor for “choosing genocide”. Another still spoke of embryos “thrown into crematorium ovens”.

“I had no idea how much hatred I would stir,” Veil told French journalist Annick Cojean in 2004, reflecting on the vitriolic debate decades earlier. “There was so much hypocrisy in that chamber full of men, some of whom would secretly look for places where their mistresses could have an abortion.”

The bill was eventually passed, thanks to support from the left-wing opposition, though Veil had to withstand the affront of swastikas painted on her car and home. Today, the “loi Veil” enjoys overwhelming support in France, where few mainstream politicians dare to challenge it.

At the end of this fine tribute is written:

…she was elected to the Académie française, becoming only the sixth woman to join the prestigious “Immortals”, who preside over the French language. Her ceremonial sword was engraved with the motto of the French Republic (“Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”), that of the European Union (“United in diversity”), and the five digits tattooed on her forearm in the inferno of Auschwitz, which she never removed.

Libération:   Simone Veil, une femme debout.

 The extreme right hated Simone Veil, and still do,

This is a recent blog piece:

Un site d’extrême droite se réjouit de l’état de santé de Simone Veil

The French Communist Party leader Pierre Laurent saluted Simone Veil:

mone Veil fut une femme de courage, de conviction essentielle pr la liberté des femmes. Nous honorons sa mémoire.

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Wally ‘Trog’ Fawkes: master of the political cartoon and the jazz clarinet

June 23, 2017 at 7:15 pm (Art and design, good people, jazz, Jim D)

Wally Fawkes is presented with his award for 'Caricaturist Of The Year' by Dennis Norden at the annual Cartoonist Of The Year award in 1997

Above:  Wally is presented with his award for ‘Caricaturist Of The Year’ by Dennis Norden at the Cartoonist Of The Year award in 1997 (Photo: Christopher Cox)

Belated birthday wishes (he was born 21 June 1924) to a hero of this blog, Wally Fawkes. Wally has at least two claims to fame: he was, until failing eyesight forced him to give up a few years ago, the (mainly, but not exclusively) political cartoonist ‘Trog’ …

    'The Hand Of History', a cartoon by Wally Fawkes (Trog) about Tony Blair appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on 12th April 1998.

 Above: cartoon from 12th April 1998 (Sunday Telegraph)

… and also one of the finest jazz clarinettists Britain has ever known. Here he is with Humphrey Lyttelton’s band, recorded live at the Royal Festival Hall, London, in 1954. The tune, appropriately enough, is his own composition, Trog’s Blues:

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Khadija Saye: artist

June 18, 2017 at 8:08 pm (Art and design, good people, humanism, posted by JD, RIP, tragedy)

Khadija, pictured left, and her mother Mary Mendy are believed to have died in the fireKhadija Saye , pictured left, and her mother Mary Mendy are believed to have died in the fire (Credit: Facebook )

Waldermar Januszczak in today’s Sunday Times:

Amid the preeners and posers, she warmed hearts
I never met Khadija Saye. My only qualification for writing about her id that I knew her art. But I can say that she was not, as the MP David Lammy well-meaningly puts it, “an emerging artist”. Real artists are never emerging. They have already emerged.

To understand why I say that you need to imagine the Venice Biennale. Every two years the entire international art world descends upon the tiny islands of Venice to argue about who is best at this or that. They call it “the Olympics of modern art”. It’s a crazy, frantic and occasionally horrible event that chews up artists and spits them out.

This year Khadija Saye showed up in Venice. Indeed, she is still showing there, until November 26, in an exhibition at the Diaspora Pavilion. I’d never heard of her before. She was showing a set of small and haunting photographs of women in African dress. Some were self-portraits., Others were pictures of her mother. All had an ancient look to them as if they had been discovered in some 19th-century scrapbook left behind by a retired colonel.

This ancient look was the result of a process called wet collodion tintype. It’s an early photographic process that results in an especially soft and haunting array of grey and black.

In my review in Culture on May 21, I said Khadija “heaps poetry and sadness onto her imagery”. In a biennale full of posturing and preening, games-playing and posing, her heartwarming portraits, with their palpable sadness and their sense of a lost colonial past, saved the day.

So no, I’ve never met Khadija Saye. But I know she stood out from the crowd. And that she was a true artist.

Image may contain: one or more people
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Image may contain: one or more people
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