The great jazz composer and arranger Billy Strayhorn was born 100 years ago, today.
He joined the staff of Duke Ellington in 1939 and wrote the Duke’s signature tune ‘Take The A-Train’:
…note tenorist Paul Gonsalves, clearly out of it.
Strayhorn joined the Duke, initially, as a lyric-writer and had already written the music and lyrics to the remarkable song ‘Lush Life’:
Strayhorn died of blood cancer in 1967, but kept composing and arranging from his hospital bed right to the end. Shortly after Strayhorn’s death, his boss and friend Duke Ellington (and the Ellington Orchestra) made an album called …And His Mother Called Him Bill; the final track was the Duke himself, alone at the piano for most of the time (then joined by Harry Carney on baritone sax), playing Strayhorn’s composition ‘Lotus Blossom’:
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I had just been to a club for the first time. I drank vodka and I drank beer. I stayed at a friend’s flat near Baker Street that night and we walked back there together in the dark. The streets were wet from a downpour we had missed while inside. It always rains in London.
We arrived back to his place where his mother told us Rabin had been shot. I knew of him vaguely as an Israeli politician, the President or the Prime Minister of Israel, I wasn’t sure.
In death he influenced me more than in life he ever could have. In one way or another modern Israel is dominated by the man who was shot in Tel Aviv while I was enjoying my first tastes of alcohol in London. Every negotiation since, every war since has been devoid of any hope, any real belief that the result will be anything other than more of what lay before. Everything stands in contrast to the hopes of the generation that elected Rabin their Prime Minister.
While the current crop of leaders fall over themselves to pretend that the man who disagreed with them on just about every level was actually their friend I wonder what happened to the traits of leadership embodied by Yitzhak Rabin. People too easily ignore the fact that he was the most hated Prime Minister in the short history of the country. His course towards peace was one that far more people than just Yigal Amir sought to disrupt. People came to his house to hurl insults at him and his family, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to express their hatred of him for sitting down at the peace table with Yassir Arafat and countenancing the creation of a state of Palestine.
And he ignored them all. For me this old, chain smoking, man embodied the term courage. He was elected to lead the country and lead the country he did. It may have been an unpopular policy but when you are elected to office you take the responsibilities on your shoulders to do what you feel is best for the country, not what is popular. The people can then decide at the next election.
This kind of leadership is sorely lacking right now. The people can’t decide because there is no clear policy, too much obfuscation and not enough people willing to stand up and be clear about what a vote for them means. For me Rabin’s legacy is that which he died for, the willingness to stand at helm of the ship and set sail in a clear direction.
Now, in 2015, no one knows where we are, we don’t even know if we’re going through an Intifada or not and we don’t know how we’re going to get out of it if we’re in it.
Great acts of leadership throughout the ages have always been turbulent. Be it John F Kennedy insisting on integration in Alabama or Winston Churchill telling the British people he has “nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat” or Ben Gurion declaring statehood with the knowledge that a war would follow for which Israel was ill equipped to fight. Leadership requires people to take responsibility on their shoulders for making decisions that will affect the lives of their citizens intimately. Rabin was such a leader.
He was killed for being such a leader.
Rabin’s legacy will always be a tragic legacy. But the tragedy is not that he was killed before the peace fell upon us, nor even for the fact that he fell at the hands of a fellow Jew. The real tragedy is that he is fast being revered as the only man who possibly could have brought peace to Israel. If that is true then it is a sad reflection of the state of Israel’s leadership today. If it is false then it is a lie not worthy of the man who guided the state through so many of the tests that defined the nation of Israel.
20 years have gone by since he died, more than enough time for those who took on the mantle of leadership of the party he once headed to get their act together. The man who sold Israel on the hope of peace was murdered and now his successors lack the courage to tell Israelis the truth about the lessons learned the night Israel’s innocence died.
To tell them that there will be no end to extremism or to terrorism but that it can be an occasional heartache or a constant war. It can involve the suffering of millions or it can involve the suffering of hundreds. There’ll be no signature on a piece of paper that will end the terror, no ceremony on the White House lawn and no handshake that will make everything okay.
It will be a long struggle for peace but a struggle that we must embark on nonetheless. The alternative is more of the same nothing we have now.
It is a tragedy of the Middle East that the fate of millions lies not with elected governments but with a very few people willing to give their lives to kill others. The man who killed Rabin was willing to give up his life not just to kill his Prime Minister but to kill the hopes of so many. Now another Israeli Prime Minister is weighing up whether to remove the residency rights of 80,000 people because of the actions of several dozen. A war was started in Gaza last year because three boys were kidnapped and murdered by a couple of terrorists.
Israelis and Palestinians live their lives in the shadow of these people.
Rabin was a leader who wasn’t prepared to hand over his elected mandate to the few prepared for violence. Now it is the terrorists who control the agenda and an Israeli government flailing around trying to keep up.
It’s been 20 years since a great man of the Israeli left was shot dead in the street. He preferred to risk being shot dead if it meant doing what he thought was best for the country. There hasn’t been another leader like him since, there hasn’t been a braver one since. So long after the event I don’t mourn for Rabin, I mourn for the Israel that might have been had he been allowed to live just a little longer and the Israel we became without his guiding hand.
By Ann Pettifor (This blog originally appeared at LabourList)
Michael Meacher has died as he lived, seldom attracting any fuss or attention, and seldom burdening his friends and comrades. That makes me sad, as he was a man deserving of attention – and not just as he was dying.
He was marginalised for most of his political life, often by the same people that will today mourn him. And that disregard for, and dismissal, of his unerringly principled political stance was wrong – both in political and moral terms – because Michael Meacher was magnificently right on the key democratic, economic and environmental issues of the day.
He was often patronised by some Labour MPs, but his intellect, decency and courtesy meant he had few real enemies. Those who opposed or marginalized him were mostly wrong, often unpleasantly so.
His understanding of the key challenges facing our country was outlined in his latest book: the British State We Need. Its House of Commons launch went unheralded – attended by only two Labour MPs – Kelvin Hopkins and Andy Burnham, and a few of Michael’s real friends. Michael did not mind: instead he shared his knowledge and analyses generously, and focused his energies on supporting those both inside and outside the House of Commons willing to fight the good fight – for social justice, a sound economy and a sustainable and liveable environment. He not only maintained and regularly contributed to Left Futures but also sponsored and hosted progressive campaigns, most recently Economists Against Austerity.
I loved our discussions. Michael was a great intellectual – thoughtful, scholarly, well briefed and numerate. He was also considerate, enthusiastic and kind. A gentle man.
We first met more than thirty years ago – when he was a leading light in the ‘soft Left’ as it was then known, and in particular the Labour Coordinating Committee (LCC). Together with Stuart Weir and Frances Morrell, Michael had founded the LCC after the electoral debacle of 1979. I met and got to know Frances through the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. Appalled by the results of the ‘79 election when only eleven women were elected as Labour MPs – just a few more than fifty years earlier when eight were elected in 1929 – we were both active in the Labour Women’s Action Committee (LWAC). Michael consistently supported our campaign for positive action to expand the number of women selected as candidates for parliamentary seats.
At the LCC Frances, Stuart and Michael were a formidable team producing thoughtful and sharp analyses and strategies for the Labour Party after the election of Margaret Thatcher. Together they provided a much-needed antidote to the deeply ingrained anti-intellectualism of the Labour Party. Frances took a fiercely independent stand when she backed the right-wing trade unionist Frank Chappell in his call for the general management committees of Constituency Labour Parties to be bypassed, and for the vote instead to be extended to individual members: the “one Member one Vote”, OMOV campaign.
Looking back, both Michael and I were on the wrong side of that argument. As the election of Jeremy Corbyn proved just before Michael died, Frances was right. Sadly, she too has not lived to see the full impact of what at the time was her very unfashionable stance on the Left.
Fortunately Michael lived to witness the election of Jeremy Corbyn, which pleased him enormously. But he was not uncritical of his friends in the Campaign group, as one of his last blogs testifies. He maintained his economic acuity, political integrity, and indeed his passion, until the end.
He leaves a big vacuum in British politics – a vacuum unlikely to be filled by many in his party who are less principled, informed, decent, loyal and courteous. Which is why his abrupt departure from political life causes me great sadness.
Ann Pettifor is Director of Policy Research in Macroeconomics and is a member of John McDonnell’s Economic Advisory Committee.
You meet the nicest people … on facebook.
Pee Wee Russell, the eccentric poet-genius of jazz clarinet, has always been a personal favourite of mine.
I’m so grateful to Herb Gardner for sharing his memories of PWR in the course of a facebook exchange a few weeks ago. The exclamation mark after “milk” is significant. Milk was not known to be a favourite tipple of either PWR or Eddie Condon, even at breakfast:
JD: Herb: I’m presently reading Robert Hilbert’s ‘Pee Wee Russell: The Life of a Jazzman’ and have come across a reference to you playing in the ‘New York’ band led by Max Kaminsky, with Pee Wee Russell at the New Orleans ‘Jazzfest ’68’: “The band started off with a hard-hitting ‘Dippermouth Blues,’ with Kaminsky playing a fiery solo and Pee Wee sounding very inventive and self-assured.”
Have you written about this? I’d love to hear your thoughts about PWR, in particular.
Herb Gardner: Yeah, that was a memorable trip. I’ve always felt that I spent a month in NO that weekend. The Haggarts and I asked locals about secret good places to eat, so we had some of the best seafood ever. One evening I got to march in a parade with the Onward Brass Band, including Louis Cottrell and the Barbarins, playing bone next to Frog Joseph.
Pee Wee was always uniquely inventive and unpredictable. When he mumbled you couldn’t tell what he said, but when he played it was inspiring. I also worked a week with him, playing piano in an Eddie Condon Band up in the White Mountains of NH. This was near the end of his life, and my lasting image was of him and Eddie having milk (!) and doughnuts for breakfast in the coffee shop.
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Rest in Power, Grace Lee Boggs
Grace Lee Boggs passed away peacefully on Monday morning aged 100. We are so grateful for the vision of justice and human connection that she gave us and feel incredibly privileged to have been able to share her story with others [writes her namesake, film-maker Grace Lee]
POV is streaming the film [‘American Revolutionary’] for free until Nov 4: www.pbs.org/pov
JD adds: In her youth, Grace Lee Boggs was a member of the ‘Shachtmanite’ Workers’ Party and a key figure in the CLR James/Raya Dunayevskaya “Johnson-Forest Tendency”, playing a pioneering role in the development of ‘Third Camp’ revolutionary politics. She remained firmly and actively on the left for the rest of her life, though she moved away from Trotskyism, towards (as I understand it) a more “Third-Worldist’ political philosophy and community activism in Detriot, where she and her auto-worker husband lived from the 1950’s. Anyone who knows more about her is welcome to comment below.
New York Times obit, here
A more detailed appreciation from Comrade Coatesy, here
H/t Daniel R
Terrible news from Marxist Revival:
Shahrokh Zamani, the well-known labour activist imprisoned in Karaj’s Rajai Shahr prison, has died “suddenly”.
According to HRANA, the Human Right Activists News Agency, on Sunday September 13, his cell-mates found that Shahrokh was dead when they tried to wake him for his morning walk in the prison yard.
Iranian Workers’ Solidarity Network is deeply saddened by the news of Shahrokh Zamani’s death and sends its heartfelt condolences to his family, friends and comrades.
Although the Iranian regime’s authorities claim that Shahrokh has died of a stroke, his cell-mates have said that he had “black and bruised” areas on his body. His corpse has now been transferred to the coroner’s officer for a post mortem examination. We demand that the results of the autopsy are made available to international experts who have an impeccable professional reputation and a consistent track record of solidarity with labour activists.
The responsibility for Shahrokh’s death, whether due to a genuine stroke or any other so-called ‘natural’ death, lies with the Iranian regime and its policy of systematic persecution of labour activists and socialists. To put it simply: Shahrokh and all other labour activists and socialists have not committed any crime and therefore should not be in prison. The slightest mishap that happens to any of them while in prison is this dictatorial regime’s responsibility.
In addition to being incarcerated and being kept away from family and friends, activists like Shahrokh are forced to go on hunger strike many times to defend their basic rights, to resist solitary confinement, frequent transfers, denial of medical care, denial of visits and a whole range of other petty measures that the regime thinks will break their spirits. These all add to our suspicion as to the official cause of Shahrokh’s death.
Shahrokh Zamani was arrested in Tabriz on June 4 2011, and without being made aware of the charges against him, was sentenced to 11 years in prison. During his second hunger strike, which lasted 50 days, he lost 24 kilograms in weight. The Iranian regime would not even allow Shahrokh to attend his mother’s funeral or his only daughter’s wedding! The particularly harsh treatment of Shahrokh Zamani was undoubtedly due to his uncompromising belief in the Leninist concept of the vanguard party of the proletariat.
Sadly Shahrokh is no longer among us. We will, however, remember Shahrokh every day when we struggle to free every single jailed labour activist and political prisoner.
Iranian Workers’ Solidarity Network
13 September 2015
Shahrokh Zamani’s statement from jail
Imprisonment and maltreatment of Shahrokh Zamani and other trade unionists in Iran
Shahrokh Zamani transferred to Rejai Shahr prison’s infirmary
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Photograph: Adam Scourfield/BBC/AP Photo/AP
The neurologist and author Oliver Sachs died yesterday aged 82. I read his most famous book, The Man Who Mistook his Wife For A Hat, a few years ago, but beyond that know little about him. According to the obit in today’s Guardian, he was criticised for writing “fairy-tales” in that his case histories lack the meticulous detail that contemporary science expects of practitioners. He was also accused of breaching patient confidentiality, although as far as I am aware, he took care to protect patients’ identities and certainly never used their real names in his writing.
What I do know about him is the sheer humanity he demonstrated in everything I’ve read by him, not least the very moving essay he wrote in the New York Times on learning of his terminal illness in February of this year:
It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can. In this I am encouraged by the words of one of my favorite philosophers, David Hume, who, upon learning that he was mortally ill at age 65, wrote a short autobiography in a single day in April of 1776. He titled it “My Own Life.”
I urge you to read the whole thing, here.
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Nicholas Winton with one of the children he rescued during the second world war.
Gene (of Harry’s Place) writes:
I hope the life and achievements of Nicholas Winton, who died at the age of 106, are getting full recognition in the British media.
Winton was belatedly recognized for his role in helping to rescue and find families for at least 669 Jewish children from Nazi-controlled Czechoslovakia in the months before the outbreak of World War II.
“I called myself Honorary Secretary of the Children’s Section of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia,” Mr. Winton told The Washington Post in 1989. “The other people,” he added, referring to government bureaucrats and others confronted with his doggedness, “they just called me a bloody nuisance.”
…He wrote letters to government leaders around the world, including in the United States. Nearly all of them turned down his requests for assistance. “If America had only agreed to take them, too,” he said, “I could have saved at least 2,000 more.”
Sweden agreed to take in some of the young refugees, as did Britain — provided that Mr. Winton could identify families willing to care for the children until they were 17 years old. The government also required that he secure the staggering sum of 50 pounds per child for their eventual return home.
Many of the children would lose their parents in the Nazi death camps and had no home to return to after the war.
While holding down his job at the stock exchange and with help from assistants, including his mother, Mr. Winton gathered or forged travel documents for the children, raised the necessary funds and recruited host families through newspaper advertisements and other means.
I was especially touched to learn that one of the children he rescued was Karel Reisz, who grew up to direct two of my very favorite movies: Who’ll Stop the Rain and Sweet Dreams.
My good friend Ricky Ricardi, archivist of the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, NYC, commemorates the 65th anniversary of Louis’ recording of ‘La Vie En Rose’ (from Ricky’s blog ‘The Wonderful World Of Louis Armstrong’):
65 Years of “La Vie En Rose”
Louis Armstrong with Sy Oliver’s Orchestra
Recorded June 26, 1950
Track Time 3: 26
Written by Mack David, Edith Piaf and Louiguy (Louis Gugliemi)
Recorded in New York City
Louis Armstrong, trumpet, vocal; Melvin Solomon, Bernie Privin, Paul Webster, trumpet; Morton Bullman, trombone; Hymie Schertzer, Milt Yaner, alto saxophone; Art Drelinger, Bill Holcombe, tenor saxohpne; Earl Hines, piano; Everett Barksdale, guitar; George Duvivier, bass; Johnny Blowers, drums; Sy Oliver, arranger, conductor
Originally released on Decca 37113
Currently available on CD: It’s on “Satchmo Serenades” and about a thousand compilations.
Available on Itunes? Yes.
65 years ago today, Louis Armstrong tapped into his French side by recording two songs he’d perform for the rest of his career: “La Vie En Rose” and “C’est Si Bon.” What follows is a slightly updated version of my original 2010 posting on “La Vie En Rose” and I’ll be back in a few days with a fresh look at “C’est Si Bon.” Enjoy!
For the last couple of decades, “What a Wonderful World” easily wins the title of the most ubiquitous Louis Armstrong recording, being used in a countless amount of films, television commercials and high school reports (just check YouTube). But “La Vie En Rose” is definitely a close second. According to Imdb.com, it’s been used in at least eight major motion pictures since 1994, most notably in the Pixar classic “Wall-E,” as well as television shows, commercials, you name it. And anyone who has spent three minutes and 26 seconds in its presence can easily understand the phenomenon. You’d have to have the heart of the Tin Man (pre-Oz) to not be moved by it.
Of course, the song truly belongs to Edith Piaf, the legendary French singer who co-wrote it and made it famous to the point where a documentary and a feature film about her life each bear the title “La Vie En Rose.” Piaf apparently wrote the song in 1946 and sat on it for a while before she finally gave it a go in public, where it was received tremendously. In 1948, she sang her original French lyrics on a recording that was picked up in the United States by George Avakian of Columbia Records. I’ll let George tell the story, as he eloquently did in the liner notes to an Armstrong boxed set on the Hip-O label, “An American Original”:
“That same year, Edith Piaf took New York by storm an me by surprise. I was doubling as International and Pop Album director at Columbia in those days, and when Piaf’s manager told me she was coming back to New York despite a cool reception the first time ’round, I asked our Paris affiliate to send me samples of her interim releases so that I could try to choose something which might appeal to the American public. I recognized one melody as ‘You’re Too Dangerous, Cheire,’ a failed pop tune I had liked a couple of years earlier. The label said ‘La Vie En Rose,’ and the impassioned French lyric was far superior to wishy-washy English words I knew. We gave it a shot and to everyone’s astonishment but ‘Ay-deet’s,’ it sold a million copies.”
For those who aren’t familiar with it, hear’s Piaf’s original French version, courtesy of YouTube:
As of today, multiple YouTube versions have amassed over 20 million views, a testament to the lasting power of Piaf and that song in particular. But who is in second place? Ol’ Pops with just over 19 million views himself. As Avakian added, “Of the countless cover versions that followed, Louis’ was easily the best, and he never stopped singing it.” Read the rest of this entry »
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