Grenfell Tower: ruling class criminal negligence

June 15, 2017 at 9:55 pm (campaigning, capitalism, class, Conseravative Party, crime, hell, Human rights, Jim D, Tory scum, tragedy)

“People were waving scarves, flashing phones, torches, flapping their windows back and forth, crying for help … At first people [on the ground below] were trying to help them, pushing at cordons. I could see the smoke billowing behind them and in some cases I could see the flames, until they disappeared … [by 4am] there was no sign of life. Everyone was in a resigned state of shock. We couldn’t do anything and we were coming to accept the fire brigade couldn’t do anything either … I’ll never forget the sound of those screams: the screams of children and grown men” (would-be rescuer Robin Garton, quoted in The Times).

The faces look out from the newspaper, smiling in happier times. Many of them black or Middle Eastern with names like Khadija Kaye, Jessica Urbano  and Ali Yawa Jafari. But also Sheila Smith and Tony Disson. Then you read about people throwing their children out of high windows in the hope that someone would catch them, people jumping (some on fire) to almost certain death (shades of 9/11) and mother of two Rania Ibrham sending a Snapchat video to a friend who described it: “She’s praying and she’s saying ‘Forgive me everyone, goodbye’.”

This all happened in 2017 in one of the wealthiest boroughs in London, under a Tory council and a Tory government. But these people weren’t wealthy: they were amongst the poorest in the city, living cheek by jowl with people of enormous wealth.

It turns out that the local residents’ group, the Grenfell Action Group, had repeatedly warned the council and the so-called Tenant Management Organisation (ie the landlord) that a disaster was coming. In November of last year Edward Daffarn published a post on the Grenfell Action Group blog, entitled Playing with Fire, in which he warned that “only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the Kensington and Chelsea Management Organisation (KCTMO) and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders.”

Local (Labour) councillor Judith Blakeman attempted to raise concerns with council officials and the management body “ad nauseam” since refurbishment of the block began in 2014: “They kept reassuring us that everything was fine” she said.

The refurbishment involved encasing the building with cladding that fire safety experts have long warned compromises the safety of tower blocks whose original “compartmentalised” design had incorporated rigorous fire safety standards (it also meant that advice to residents to “stay put” in the event of a fire was fatally inappropriate). An “external cladding fire” had caused the death of six people in Lakanal House tower block in South London in 2009. At the inquest into that disaster, the coroner had recommended that the government should review fire safety guidance to landlords and, in particular, the danger of the “spread of fire over the external envelope” of buildings (ie the use of external cladding). She also recommended that sprinkler systems be fitted to all high-rise buildings. None of this happened.

So why were the warnings ignored? Why did Gavin Barwell, who was housing minister until he lost his seat last week (and is now Theresa May’s chief of staff) fail to act on the warnings prompted by the Lakanal House fire? Why did his predecessor Brandon Lewis, tell MPs that it was “for the fire industry”, not government, to “encourage” the installation of sprinklers rather than “imposing” it? Why did then-communities secretary Eric Pickles treat the Lakanal House coroner’s recommendations as “advice” to local authorities rather than as instructions?  And why didn’t Grenfell Tower even have a building-wide fire alarm?

The answer is as simple as it’s shocking: these residents are poor working class people, many of whom are also ethnic minorities and migrants (in an especially tragic twist, the first body to be identified is that of a Syrian refugee, Mohammad al-Haj Ali). Such negligence and cost-cutting would never be tolerated in the luxury high-rise flats and offices peopled by the rich: these are built to the highest standards, using the safest materials.

This is ruling class contempt for the poor – also exemplified by May’s refusal to meet with local people during her brief and tightly-policed visit to the scene earlier today.

Let no-one tell you this was simply a “tragedy” as though it was some sort of natural disaster. This was criminal negligence by the ruling class and their political party, the Tories. Our response – and the only response that will truly honour the victims – must be to pursue the class struggle with renewed vigour. Starting by kicking out the Tories as soon as possible.

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A bloody evasive woman

May 30, 2017 at 1:16 pm (campaigning, Conseravative Party, elections, Jim D, television)

Anyone who missed May’s wretched performance on the TV debate last night, should watch this. The audience openly heckled and mocked her evasions and hypocritical attempt to accuse Labour of failing to provide costings. One audience member even mouthed “bollocks” as she avoided giving a serious answer on NHS funding.

Corbyn, by contrast, gave an impressive performance and dealt with Paxman’s barely-concealed hostility with ease.

What a pity he made such a pig’s ear of Women’s Hour the next morning …

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Remembering Ella

May 27, 2017 at 7:59 am (jazz, Jim D, song)

Ella Fitzgerald was born just over 100 years ago on 19 April 1917, and died  on 15 June 1996. Mid-way between these two anniversaries seems like a good time to remember possibly the greatest of all jazz singers. Come to that, not just the greatest jazz singer: no one interpreted the ‘Great American Songbook’ as effectively as Ella; and no singer in any genre could equal her for sheer beauty of sound.

And yet Ella has had something of a bum deal in terms of reputation – particularly from jazz purists, who almost to a man (and I chose that expression carefully), will compare her unfavourably to her near-contemporary Billie Holiday. Billie (goes the Jazz Party Line) may have had a limited voice, but she exuded passion, sincerity, true jazz feeling and a natural affinity with the blues. Ella, on the other hand, (this is still the Party Line, you understand) was all vocal technique, but had little or no feeling, no blues sensibility and – if you want the bald truth – was scarcely a jazz singer at all!

All of which is not just unfair to Ella: it’s complete rubbish that owes more to ignorant mythology than it does to any serious musical appreciation. The idea that Billie was an authentic “jazz singer”, whose every note was suffused with passion, sincerity and suffering, is a nonsense that owes more to her ghosted (and highly unreliable) ‘autobiography’ Lady Sings the Blues (and the awful Diana Ross film based upon it), than to any boring old facts.  In reality, Billie -given the opportunity- demanded lush strings and ‘commercial’ arrangements on her later recording sessions (on which her voice was often dire). And Ella could sing with sincerity and passion (try Ill Wind from her Harold Arlen album, or Do Nothing till You Hear from Me from her Ellington album – both on ‘Verve’), in addition to simply swinging like the clappers.

Jazz has always been very male. It was one of the first art forms to insist upon racial equality: how could it not, when all (excepting a few whites like Beiderbecke, Goodman and Teagarden) its leading practitioners were black Americans? But the fact remains that, for all its racial equality, jazz was always seriously sexist.

Women were allowed in jazz as vocalists, provided they were pretty. Mary Lou Williams was the exception and even she had the advantage of being “the Pretty Gal Who Swings the Band”; she played the piano better than most men, and also arranged for Andy Kirk’s band. Ella Fitzgerald, who could never have been called a “Pretty Gal” started singing in the 1930’s, copying the white New Orleanian Connie Boswell: Ella , nervous as she alwys would be, won a talent competition at the Apollo Ballroom , and wasn’t pretty – but had the most fabulous voice. Benny Carter heard her there and recommended her to bandleader Chick Webb. From then on her career took off, first with Chick Webb’s band (which she took over for two years when he died in 1939), and then as a soloist.

She adapted to bebop with ease; almost every record she made from the late 1940’s through to the mid 1950’s is a lesson in bop phrasing. She could also scat-sing with a facility and wit unmatched by anyone except Louis Armstrong or Leo Watson. Then, Norman Granz (of Verve records) came up with the “Song Book” idea: give Ella the task of recording all the significant songs of – say- Gershwin, Porter, or Mercer, and give her the lush backing of Nelson Riddle, or the brassy drive of Billy May, and you have a series of classics. No serious music lover (even if you’re not particularly into jazz) should be without them.

But Ella, despite her success, was never really happy. She wasn’t obviously unhappy the way Billie Holiday was (although Billie’s reputation as a tragic victim is at least in part the result of her own “successful exploitation of her (own) personal life” in the words of one commentator). Ella’s unhappiness was, apparently, that she simply felt unloved and felt unattractive to men. Sarah Vaughan – another wonderful vocalist – felt the same way. Ella was married to the bass player Ray Brown for a while in the 1950’s, but that didn’t work out (nor did a second marriage), possibly because of her inferiority complex. Her friend, Marian Logan, at the time of a 1950 European tour with Norman Granz’s ‘Jazz at the Philharmonic’ described her thus;

“She was shy and she was very insecure about her looks. She used to tell me, ‘You’re so beautiful’. It was hard on Ella. Everyone around her was so young and slim and she was young and fat, and she thought of herself, I guess, as kind of ordinary. Nobody ever made her realise that she had a beauty that was a lot different and a lot more lasting than the beauty of those ‘look pretty and the next day look like a raggedy-bose-of yacka-may’. Nobody ever made her feel valuable even for her talents. Nobody made much over her. She was always a very lonely person”.

The jazz world is -rightly- proud of its organic anti-racism; it has little to be proud of in its treatment of women. The reason for Ella’s underappreciation in jazz circles has, I suspect, a lot to do with her looks. She was – to put it bluntly – “matronly”(“homely” is another frequently used description) in a world where female singers were judged as much by their looks as by their voice. Billie Holiday was not exactly a conventional beauty, but even in her declining years she remained a striking, handsome woman. Ella just had that voice.

She ended up as the elder stateswoman of jazz: honoured and acknowledged by all, but lonely. Her performances never moved me in quite the the way Billie Holiday’s do. But she kept the “Great American Songbook” alive the way no-one else could. For that – if nothing else- she deserves to be remembered.

Yes, Ella had real beauty, and not just in her voice (although that was -quite simply- the most gorgeous vocal sound ever produced in jazz or anywhere else): she was a lovely, loving, modest and strangely child-like talent who never quite believed in her own ability. In fact, she seems to have seriously doubted herself throughout her career. Her life strikes me as more tragic than that of Billie Holiday, who may have made bad choices in men and in many other matters, but did so voluntarily (it has even been suggested that she -Billie- was a masochist). Ella was lonely, insecure and never realised how good and important she was. The sexism and superficiality of the jazz/showbiz world, and the wider society it existed within, was, in large part, to blame. But that voice

(NB: Fortunately, Ella’s geatest recordings are widely and easily available: I recommend ‘The Best of the Song Books’, Verve 519 804-2 and ‘The Best of the Song Books: The Ballads’, Verve 521 867-2)

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Manchester Arena blast: the people rally round

May 23, 2017 at 4:09 am (good people, humanism, Jim D, solidarity, terror)

The BBC reports:

Within an hour of reports of the incident emerging, people began offering spare rooms and beds to people stranded in the city using the hashtag #RoomForManchester.

Hundreds of tweets offering places to stay are being shared and re-tweeted thousands of times.

#RoomForManchesterImage copyright Mark McGregor

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Thornberry skewers Fallon over fawning on Assad

May 15, 2017 at 6:06 pm (elections, Jim D, labour party, reformism, Syria, Tory scum, TV)

We’ve not always been big fans of Ms Thornberry, here at Shiraz, but her demolition of Michael Fallon on Sunday’s Marr Show was simply superb, and an object lesson to other prominent Labour figures in how to conduct yourself when faced with a Tory liar:

Fallon had attempted to make capital out of Jeremy Corbyn’s contacts with the Provisional IRA prior to the Good Friday Agreement:

Thornberry asked Fallon where he was on May 27 2007. “No, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me,” he replied.

She continued: “You were in Syria and you were celebrating, at a reception, the re-election of President Assad with 99 per cent of the vote.

“Now I am not going to judge you on your going to a reception for Assad, and I don’t think you should judge Jeremy for trying to talk to people who might be open to a settlement in Northern Ireland.”

Suddenly remembering his visit, Fallon: “There is a little bit of a difference. It was a parliamentary visit. An all-party visit. MPs have gone every year during better times in the relationship.”

Thornberry: “But you were at a party.”

Fallon: “I don’t recall any party. I remember a fact-finding visit to Syria.”

Andrew Marr intervened: “But did you meet Assad when you were there?”

Fallon: “I did meet Assad. Indeed.”

Marr: “Did you shake his hand?”

Fallon: “Indeed I met Assad.”

Thornberry: “And you celebrated his re-election.”

Fallon: “I did not celebrate his re-election.”

Thornberry: “But that was what the reception was for. It was a celebration of his re-election.”

Thornberry continued by saying Fallon had earlier claimed that she had wanted to negotiate “the future of the Falklands.”

“That is bollocks,” she said.

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The net closes on Trump: either a traitor or a useful idiot

May 11, 2017 at 8:10 pm (Asshole, corruption, fascism, Jim D, nationalism, plutocrats, populism, Putin, reaction, Russia, strange situations, Trump)

It’s pretty obvious that former FBI director James Comey was sacked because the FBI’s investigation of Russian government interference in the 2016 election was closing in on Trump. All other explanations – and in particular, that the cause was Comey’s handing of the Hillary Clinton email affair – are simply preposterous.

Trump has denied any collusion: but he would, wouldn’t he? All the (admittedly, so far largely circumstantial) evidence points to Trump being either a traitor or Putin’s useful idiot.

Putin has always denied attempting to influence the US presidential election: but he would, wouldn’t he? Albeit, with a smirk.

Comey spoke in March at a rare open hearing of the congressional intelligence committee, which is also investigating the links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. He said the investigation was “very complex” and he could not give the committee details that were not already publicly known. He also said he could not give a timetable for its completion. “We will follow the facts wherever they lead,” he said.

Also testifying before the committee was National Security Agency (NSA) chief Admiral Mike Rogers.

He said the NSA stood by an intelligence community report published in January, which said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered a campaign to damage the presidential  prospects of Hillary Clinton.

What are the allegations?

In January, US intelligence agencies said Kremlin-backed hackers had broken into the email accounts of senior Democrats and released embarrassing ones in order to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.

Since then, Trump has faced well-sourced allegations that his campaign team had links to Russian officials.

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said he is in no doubt that the Russian government was behind the hacking of the Democratic Party during the election, but that at the time he left his post in January, he’d seen no evidence of collusion.

However, Adam Schiff, the committee’s top Democrat, said the material he had seen offers circumstantial evidence that US citizens collaborated with Russians to influence the vote.

If the Trump campaign were found to have colluded with Russia it would eclipse the Watergate scandal and be the most outrageous act of treason in US history.

Which campaign members have been accused of deception?

Two senior officials in the Trump administration have been caught up in the allegations – former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Attorney-General Jeff Sessions, who was forced to recuse himself from any federal probe of Russian meddling in the presidential election, because of his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the US, but now – outrageously – turns out to have been heavily involved in the Comey sacking.

Flynn was fired after he was exposed as having lied about his conversations with the Russian ambassador before he was appointed national security adviser. Flynn has a long history of close and friendly relations with the Putin regime, and has received payments from the regime’s propaganda channel RT.

flynn.jpg Flynn (left) dines with Putin

He lied about having discussed US sanctions with ambassador Sergei Kislyak. It is illegal for private citizens to conduct US diplomacy.

Meanwhile, Sessions was accused by Democrats of lying under oath during his confirmation hearing in January, when he said he had “no communications with the Russians”:  it later emerged that he had met Kislyak during the campaign.

Sessions denied any wrongdoing, but removed (‘recused’) himself from the FBI inquiry into Russia’s interference in the election: now it transpires that he’s played a key role, at Trump’s behest, in getting rid of Comey.

Trump could be heading for impeachment over his corruption and treacherous links to Russia. But, unlike even Nixon, Trump doesn’t play within the rules of bourgeois US politics.

Trump is still very popular with his base. He can argue plausibly that he has tried using Executive Orders to do what he said he would do. Where these orders are being reversed by the courts or bureaucracy he will point to the key idea that the system is broken and dominated by a liberal elite.

The Russian issue doesn’t currently  impinge on his supporters’ admiration for him as they are in general isolationists. He’s on 80% approval ratings with Republican voters.

Trump won’t go quietly and the ace up his sleeve is the movement behind him. It is a  genuine mass movement, plebeian in character (often sole traders, shop keepers, small business owners, lumpen blue collar workers, the unemployed, farmers etc) and radical in the sense they don’t defer to authority. If he wanted he could probably mobilise enough of them to turn up outside the Capitol with guns and set up camp. There is a history of this kind of thing happening in the US at state level.

The impeachment of Trump would in all likelihood enrage his mass base, fuelling ‘deep state’ conspiracy theories and resentment against bourgeois democracy: fertile ground for American fascism.

That doesn’t mean that the left shouldn’t use the charge of treason and collaboration against Trump, or not campaign for his impeachment. Some on the left (and even the liberal-left) have recoiled against this, on grounds of supposed “McCarthyism” (a claim that Trump himself has raised): but that’s nonsense. The suggestion of collusion with Putin is not comparable to the anti-communist witch-hunts of the 1950s and ’60’s: Putin is behind an ultra right wing international campaign to promote reaction, nationalism and isolationism wherever he can. He’s backed Brexit, Trump, Le Pen and a host of other ultra-right and semi-fascist movements.

It’s not McCarthyism to denounce Trump for his links with Putin, up to and possibly including outright treason. But it’s not enough: the US left must also engage with Trump’s working class base and convince them that this billionaire racist, shyster and charlatan offers nothing worthwhile to American workers.

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But the SWP *is* a joke

May 8, 2017 at 3:54 pm (Beyond parody, comedy, Jim D, SWP)

Unlike some people, us Shiraz’ers can usually spot a joke.

But….

… is this a joke?

The SWP are asking people to sign a petition to kick the Tories out!

Who does that petition go to? The government? The Labour Party?

Ah! (thanks to Jason Hill, in btl comments) it goes to Corbyn – he needs to be told,  by the SWP,  of the importance of kicking out the Tories…

The petition’s on the SWP website.
https://www.swp.org.uk/resource/1726

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The late Roy Fisher and the real Joe Sullivan

April 30, 2017 at 5:30 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D, literature, poetry, RIP)

 Roy Fisher, once described as ‘Britain’s greatest living poet’, in his garden at Earl Sterndale, Derbyshire. Roy Fisher in his garden at Earl Sterndale, Derbyshire. Photograph: Jemimah Kuhfeld

I have only just heard that one of my favourite poets, Roy Fisher, died last month. There were obits in the Graun and the Telegraph (of which more in a bit), but  – evidently – I missed them.

Anyway, as well as being a poet, Roy was an accomplished jazz pianist who’d accompanied Bud Freeman, Wild Bill Davison and the soul singer Ruby Turner. One of his finest poems was a tribute to the great, but latterly neglected, Chicagoan pianist Joe Sullivan.

Dave Gelly, writing in the present issue of Jazz Journal, takes up the story:

Our resident pedant writes…
Why do people who go to great pains to avoid showing their ignorance of painting, literature or classical music blithely drop dreadful clangers when mentioning anything to do with jazz? The Daily Telegraph recently carried an obituary of the poet Roy Fisher, who, as you may know, was also a semi-pro jazz pianist in the Midlands. (He was proud of having once been the “token white” in Andy Hamilton’s Caribbean Combo.) Anyway, one of his poems is The Thing About Joe Sullivan, and the obituary goes into some detail about it. Unfortunately, the writer (Telegraph obits are anonymous) makes the elementary mistake of referring to “the imaginary pianist Sullivan”.

Now, you don’t expect literary folk to know much, if anything, about jazz, but you do expect them to do a bit of basic checking. It would have taken less than a minute to Google Joe Sullivan and ascertain whether he was a real person or a figment of Roy Fisher’s poetic imagination.

And it’s by no means the first time this sort of thing has happened. A particularly choice instance occurred in 2000, when the American play Side Man, by Warren Leight, was staged at the Apollo Theatre, London. It’s about a trumpet player who, according to the review I read in (I think) The Spectator, idolises an “imaginary figure”, called (wait for it) Clifford Brown!

JD: I suspect the Telegraph obit may have been written by Ian McMillan, who made precisely the same error at an event last year in Birmingham in honour of Roy: I should have corrected him, but feared coming across as a jazz bore. For the record, here’s the real Joe Sullivan on TV in December 1963, followed by Roy’s poem:

The Thing About Joe Sullivan

The pianist Joe Sullivan,
jamming sound against idea

hard as it can go
florid and dangerous

slams at the beat, or hovers,
drumming, along its spikes;

in his time almost the only
one of them to ignore

the chance of easing down,
walking it leisurely,

he’ll strut, with gambling shapes,
underpinning by James P.,

amble, and stride over
gulfs of his own leaving, perilously

toppling octaves down to where
the chords grow fat again

and ride hard-edged,  most lucidly
voiced, and in good inversions even when

the piano seems at risk of being
hammered the next second into scrap

For all that, he won’t swing
like all the others;

disregards mere continuity,
the snakecharming business,

the ‘masturbator’s rhythm’
under the long variations:

Sullivan can gut a sequence
In one chorus-

-approach, development, climax, discard-
And sound magnanimous,

The mannerism of intensity
often with him seems true,

too much to be said, the mood
pressing in right at the start, then

running among stock forms
that could play themselves

and moving there with such
quickness of intellect

that shapes flaw and fuse,
altering without much sign,

concentration
so wrapped up in thoroughness

it can sound bluff, bustling,
just big-handed stuff-

belied by what drives him in
to make rigid, display,

shout and abscond, rather
than just let it come, let  it go-

And that thing is his mood:
A feeling violent and ordinary

That runs in standard forms so
wrapped up in clarity

that fingers following his
through figures that sound obvious

find corners everywhere,
marks of invention, wakefulness;

the rapid and perverse
tracks that ordinary feelings

make when they get driven
hard enough against time.

 

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Why ISIS (as well as Putin) may be supporting Le Pen

April 21, 2017 at 5:10 pm (elections, Europe, fascism, France, islamism, Jim D, nationalism, populism)

Russian President Putin shakes hands with French far-right party leader Le Pen during their meeting in Moscow
Photo: Sputnik/Reuters

Putin’s de facto support (including financial support) for Le Pen is well known, and all of a piece with his pro-Trump interference in the US election and his backing of the Brexit cause.

It has now been plausibly suggested that Le Pen may also be the unwitting recipient of the conscious and deliberate support of ISIS.

An unsubstantiated piece of pure speculation? Maybe, but I found this report from a serious and well-informed source, at the very least, worth taking seriously. This is no wild conspiracy theory:

How The Champs-Élysées Attack Affects The French Presidential Election

Why Islamists Might Want Le Pen In Power

By M.G. Oprea

There’s good reason to believe ISIS was involved in planning, not just inspiring, Thursday’s attack, considering the swiftness with which it claimed responsibility, and the fact that the terror group knew the attacker’s name. But given Le Pen’s strong rhetoric against ISIS and Islam in France, why would the Islamic State plan two attacks in one week, knowing full well that it would benefit Le Pen alone among the candidates?

One possibility, as elaborate as it may sound, is that if Islamists want to keep French Muslims from integrating into French society and encourage them to resist through violence, it would be in their best interest to have Le Pen in power. A Le Pen presidency would give the Islamic State the narrative they need to radicalize a very susceptible French Muslim community.

As we know, ISIS is incredibly media-savvy. It strains credulity that two attacks were planned for the week before the election with just enough time for the media to really dig into them but not enough time for them to fade from voters’ memories. The timing doesn’t seem like coincidence.

It’s hard not to think that the men arrested in Marseilles, or whoever helped them plan, knew full well the result a terror attack could produce in Sunday’s elections. When police prevented the well-planned plot, the terror cell, with or without direction from ISIS, went to Plan B—a man with a machine gun on the Champs-Élysées.

Regardless of how Thursday’s attack came to pass, it will almost certainly help Le Pen in Sunday’s election. But it will hurt future prospects of quelling the tensions between France and its Muslim community, or of stifling Islamist influence in those communities—something that was never going to be easy in the first place.

M.G. Oprea is editor of the foreign policy newsletter INBOUND. She holds a PhD in French linguistics from the University of Texas at Austin. You can follow her on Twitter here.

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A musical interlude from Miss Lee Wiley

April 14, 2017 at 12:07 pm (jazz, Jim D, music, Sheer joy, song, United States)

Just in case anyone wondered where I’ve been this week, here’s a favourite singer with a clue:

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