Phil Woods RIP

October 3, 2015 at 10:34 am (jazz, Jim D, music, RIP, United States)

I’m ashamed to admit that I came late to Phil Woods and have only been listening intently to his superb playing since news of his death, aged 83, came through earlier this week.

He played his final gig on September 4th using an oxygen mask and, before the final number announced that due to emphysema, he was retiring with immediate effect. Due to his extensive work as a session man on pop records, many people who are not particularly into jazz, will have heard his playing without knowing it: he plays the sax solo on Billy Joel’s Just The Way You Are, for instance.

But it is as one of the greatest of post-Parker altoists that he will be properly remembered. Here he is on a live recording from 1976 (‘Live From the Showboat’), in truly magisterial form on ‘Cheek To Cheek’, a difficult song not obviously suited to jazz improvisation – but Woods makes it all sound so easy:

Phil Woods (alto) with Harry Leahey, guitar Mike Melillo, piano Steve Gilmore, drums

H/t: Pete Neighbour, who wrote on facebook, “This is one of ‘THE’ Phil Woods tracks… I remember playing this endlessly when I first got it on vinyl; desperately trying to get somewhere near this masterful performance – and failing dismally I hasten to add. My mind struggling with the harmonic complexities that Phil found in this standard….. desperately trying not to copy…but wanting… so, so wanting to be influenced and to let some of his genius seep through my playing. Today, with everyone seemingly accorded ‘superstar status’ to listen to this brings home the meaning of true musical genius. I know all this sounds ‘gushing’……..but….if it does…..I don’t care!”

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Patriotism before internationalism says Boyd of Campaign Against Euro-Federalism

October 2, 2015 at 7:17 pm (Beyond parody, class collaboration, conspiracy theories, Europe, Jim D, reactionay "anti-imperialism", stalinism)

Above: the anti-EU ‘left’ at the TUC

Accuse any member of the Communist Party or supporter of the Morning Star of being a “Little Englander” or even just a nationalist, over the EU and they’ll get very hot under the collar. Robert Griffiths, general secretary of the CPB recently wrote a self-righteous letter to the New Statesman to complain about the magazine having quoted yours truly describing the MS “plumb[ing] the depths of reactionary Little England nationalism” in its coverage of the EU.

Now, I don’t know for sure whether or not John Boyd is a member of the CPB, but the MS certainly gives him a lot of coverage, regularly printing his anti-EU rants on their letters page, and quoting him approvingly in articles blaming the EU for the decimation of British industry, the undermining of British democracy, the war in Ukraine and the very existence of neoliberal capitalism, etc, etc, etc. Mr Boyd is secretary of the so-called Campaign Against Euro-Federalism, one of a number of interchangeable Stalinist/nationalist anti-EU outfits which evidently meet with the approval of the CPB and the MS.

Yesterday’s Morning Star published Mr Boyd’s latest letter, which I think is worth reproducing for posterity here at Shiraz, if only because letters published in the print edition don’t appear on the MS website. It is a chemically-pure statement of the fanatical, laughably ignorant, and utterly preposterous nationalism and isolationism that lies at the diseased heart the supposedly “left” anti-EU movement. The anti-EU ‘left’ should have this ludicrous, rambling, non-sequitur-ridden missive thrown in their faces at every opportunity. I presume, by the way, that Manu Bazzanu had written a letter attempting to assert elementary socialist internationalism, thus enraging the pro-patriotism Mr Boyd:

The nation state must come first for socialists
MANU BAZZANU (M Star September 25) brushes aside the fundamental importance of nations, nation states and their right to self determination. In fact the signs are that there will be more nation states.

Why side with capitalist interests, the European Union, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and its secret investment court system (ICS/ISDS) whose aims are to cull the powers of national governments, democracy and independence?

The main cause of wars is one nation state’s interference in the internal affairs and right to self-determination of another.

The Middle East is in turmoil, with the resultant mass movement of refugees, because governments of Britain and other countries have used military force to destroy infrastructures, change regimes with no respect for nation states’ governments, the nations or the peoples within them.

The objective of Islamic State (Isis) is to bring about a worldwide caliphate which does not recognise international borders, nation states and a lot more. Readers of the Morning Star vehemently oppose this.

Is it not correct that support that support should be given to a united Ireland where the Irish nation has been struggling for over 800 years to get rid of English imperialism?

Is it wrong for the French Communist Party congress to sing the Marsellaise before the Internationale? That is patriotism and internationalism in the correct order.

Dockers in the past carried out international solidarity with workers in other nation states by refusing to load or unload particular ships. That is just one example of internationalism.

Even within the EU, and in light of the refugee and Eurozone crises, national governments on behalf of their nation states have rocked this reactionary prison-house of nations to its foundations.

We are currently subjects of the British monarchy, but this does not preclude writing English, Scottish and Welsh patriotic national anthems. They should reflect the national patriotic history and aspirations, clearing us of a few obstacles!

JOHN BOYD, Secretary, Campaign Against Euro-Federalism


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Hands Off Syria?

September 30, 2015 at 7:37 pm (apologists and collaborators, imperialism, internationalism, Jim D, Middle East, Russia, Stop The War, Syria)

Stop the War holds Hands Off Syria protest at US Embassy London

Above: ‘Stop The War’ placards outside US embassy, June 2013

30 Sept 2015: A Russian general asked the U.S. to remove its planes from Syrian airspace Wednesday, just hours before Russian airstrikes began there.

 The Russian three-star general, who was part of the newly formed intelligence cell with Iraq, Iran, and the Syrian government, arrived in Baghdad at 9 a.m. local time and informed U.S. officials that Russian strikes would be starting imminently—and that the U.S. should refrain from conducting strikes and move any personnel out. The only notice the U.S. received about his visit was a phone call one hour earlier.

The Russian strikes were centered about the city of Homs, according to initial accounts in the local press and in social media. That’s significant, because Homs is not known to be an ISIS stronghold (CNN)

The leaders of the Stop The War Coalition claim to be against all interventions into Syria (without a UN mandate) … so we can expect a, STW-organised demo outside the Russian embassy any day now, eh ..?

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Trident vote: are unions reverting to their traditional role, backing the Labour Right?

September 28, 2015 at 9:10 pm (class, Europe, internationalism, Jim D, labour party, reformism, unions, Unite the union) ()

Above: Trident nuclear submarine patrolling (Getty Images)

Jeremy Corbyn has suffered his first defeat as Labour leader: and it’s been Unite and the GMB who’ve brought it about.

The decision by delegates at the Party conference not to have a debate on Trident came about because Unite and the GMB, with tens of thousands of their members’ jobs dependent upon the renewal of the nuclear weapons system, made it clear that they’d vote against any anti- Trident resolution.

Today’s Morning Star front page headline declared ‘Dismay As Trident Vote Is Blocked’ while the story beneath quoted CND’s Kate Hudson, at some length, decrying the decision as “bitterly disappointing, not just for the Labour delegates and members who wanted to see that debate take place, but for many, many others round the country who wanted to see Labour stand up unequivocally against the government’s determination to rearm Britain with nuclear weapons … Failure of Labour to change its policy means that in spring next year , when the government seeks Parliament’s approval for Trident’s replacement, Labour policy will be on the wrong side … Labour will give the Tory government a blank cheque for nuclear rearmament.”

Tucked away at the end of the Star‘s article is a brief reference to the role of Unite, the paper’s main funder: ‘Setting out his opposition to unilateralism, Unite leader Len McCluskey said: “I understand the moral case and the huge cost of replacing Trident, especially in this era of austerity, but the important thing for us is jobs and the defence of communities.”

The embarrassment of the Morning Star aside, the significance of the votes of Unite and the other major unions on this issue, is that they seem to be reverting to their traditional role as bastions of right wing pragmatism, against the leftist idealism of much of the Party’s rank and file (although, having said that, only 7.1% of constituency delegates voted for a debate on Trident). It also points to the failure of the anti-Trident left to deal effectively with the questions of jobs: Unite and the GMB in reality regard Trident as a massive job creation scheme and so far (beyond vague references to the Lucas Alternative Plan of the 1970’s) the left has failed to come up with a convincing answer.

Meanwhile the GMB’s recently-knighted buffoon of a general secretary, ‘Sir’ Paul Kenny has lined up with Labour’s Europhobes (some of the most right wing people in the Party) in urging the Party to “keep its options open” on EU membership and, in fact, campaign for withdrawal if Cameron’s renegotiation results in any weakening of British workers’ rights – quite how leaving the EU will prevent the Tories attacking workers’ rights in Britain is not explained by Kenny or his europhobic friends. In fact, Corbyn’s recent clarification on Europe (stating that he “cannot envisage” Labour campaigning for withdrawal and that the Party will re-instate any workers’ rights bargained away by Cameron) is plainly the only rational left-wing position.

For all his fake-left posturing, Kenny’s position on Europe (like his position on Trident) is, objectively, an attack on Corbyn … from the right.

It’s time for Corbyn’s supporters to start organising seriously in the unions.

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The refreshing candour of John McDonnell

September 18, 2015 at 6:07 am (BBC, Ireland, Jim D, labour party, reformism, republicanism)

“What I tried to do for both sides is to give them a way out with some form of dignity otherwise they wouldn’t lay their arms down.

“And can I just say this, because this has been raised with me time and time again – I accept it was a mistake to use those words, but actually if it contributed towards saving one life, or preventing someone else being maimed it was worth doing, because we did hold on to the peace process.

“There was a real risk of the republican movement splitting and some of them continuing the armed process. If I gave offence, and I clearly have, from the bottom of my heart I apologise, I apologise.”

McDonnell was honest, straightforward and (I thought) convincing on last night’s Question Time. In stark contrast to his boss in July, when asked perfectly reasonable questions about his warm words towards Hamas and Hezbollah:

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The legality of the killing of Reyaad Khan and his fellow fash scum

September 8, 2015 at 5:38 pm (anti-fascism, apologists and collaborators, fascism, Human rights, islamism, Jim D, law, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Stop The War)

L to R: Asim Qureshi of Cage, John Rees of Stop the War Coalition and Cerie Bullivant answer questions at a press conference about Mohammed Emwazi. John Rees of Stop the War Coalition flanked by Cage representatives, making excuses for ‘Jihadi John’ earlier this year

I personally find it extraordinary that any sane person could have any moral or political objection to the British government’s killing of ISIS fascists. The organisations that have been bleating about this – CND, Reprieve and Stop The War, have long since exposed themselves as outfits who will sympathise with any forces, no matter how barbaric, who oppose the ‘West.’ At least Reprieve is in business to mount legal challenges to the government when it believes human rights are a stake (though they seem mightily selective about whose human rights they’re concerned with); but what the hell is CND doing commenting on this issue? As for the misnamed Stop The War Coalition – we all know that they operate on the basis of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” and will ally with some of the vilest organisations and individuals on the planet, in the name of supposed “anti-imperialism.”

But what about the legal grounds for the killings? Leading legal blogger Carl Gardner opines that the action was probably legal, but acknowledges that it’s not entirely clear-cut:


Some would argue that an armed attack has to be by a State, or attributable to one, before the UK can defend itself. Here, the RAF’s attack violated Syrian sovereignty but Khan’s plans, whatever they were, can’t obviously be blamed on the Syrian regime. But I don’t think this is a strong argument against the UK .

In any event, the insistence that self-defence can only be invoked against sovereign states seems to me unreal after 9/11. Either international law on the use of force is an ass, unfit for purpose in the 21st century; or its principles must be capable of application to today’s real threats to peace and security. I think the latter.

Read the rest of Gardner’s opinion here

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Britain welcomed refugee children …. until now

September 3, 2015 at 1:43 pm (children, Europe, Human rights, immigration, Jim D, Middle East, Racism, Syria, Tory scum, tragedy, turkey)

refugees britainMarch 1939: German-Jewish refugee children arrive at Southampton on the US liner Manhattan as part of the Kindertransport programme(Fox Photos/Getty Images)

refugees britainOctober 1950: Latvian refugees arrive in Penzance after escaping from a Baltic port(Fox Photos/Getty Images)

refugees britainNovember 1956: The first of 2,500 Hungarian refugees offered settlement in Britain arrive at Blackbushe airport in Hampshire(Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

refugees britainSeptember 1971: Vietnamese war orphans travel on a coach on their way from London Airport (Heathrow) to the Pestalozzi Children’s Village in Sussex(Central Press/Getty Images)

refugees britainOctober 1978: A group of Vietnamese boat people hold a large banner saying, “Our Gratitude to Elisabeth II and the English people for hospitality to the Vietnamese refugees”(Colin Davey/Evening Standard/Getty Images)

refugees britainApril 1999: Well-wishers wait to greet Kosovar refugees at Leeds Bradford airport(Reuters)

   September 2015: Syrian boy lies dead in the surf near Bodrum, Turkey (Reuters)

David Cameron: “I don’t think there is an answer that can be achieved simply by taking more and more refugees” (see:

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Migrant / refugee crisis: Cameron and Tory xenophobes shame Britain

September 2, 2015 at 7:54 pm (David Cameron, Europe, Germany, Human rights, immigration, internationalism, Jim D, Racism, Tory scum, UKIP)

Embedded image permalink

Above: yesterday’s Bild, Germany’s biggest-selling newspaper. The headline accompanying the picture of Cameron translates as “The slackers of Europe – they take far fewer refugees than they could.” First among the slackers, says Bild, is “Great Britain – it has so far taken 114 refugees for every one million residents, one third of the EU average. For comparison, Germany has taken 905 per million population and Hungary 3,322.”

Cameron’s increasingly xenophobic stance, as he seeks to appease the anti-EU Tory right and fend off UKIP, should be a warning to the anti-EU idiot-left: however you may wriggle and squirm, you’re giving “left” cover to some of the most reactionary forces in British politics. The forthcoming referendum is, in reality, going to be a vote on immigration, with the anti-EU forces standing for isolationism, little-Englandism and (in some cases)outright racism.

The principled left should stand for more European integration, not less. The following letter was sent to the Morning Star on 31 July, but (perhaps unsurprisingly) not published:

Dear Morning Star,

It is obvious that the only possibility of resolving the present migration crisis in a fair, humane and rational manner will involve more European co-operation, solidarity and integration.

Migrants should be allocated between EU member states on the basis of a country’s wealth, size and number of those of the same heritage already settled in a given country. This approach would involve abandoning the Dublin accord (which requires refugees to seek asylum in the first EU country they enter) and arranging any resettlement immediately after the application is made, to ensure a family or individual isn’t wrenched away from somewhere they’ve come to regard as home. It would almost certainly have to happen before an application is either approved or rejected, with all the difficulties that entails for cross-border information sharing and language barriers. It would also mean countries that have previously experienced low levels of immigration having to accept more.

As has been shown by both the deal forced on the Greeks and the unsuccessful attempt to establish such an agreement earlier this year, such solidarity is not always forthcoming: more EU integration is the only possible way forward. The main reason the British government would oppose any such arrangement is that it would mean taking in more people. For all the cost to the economy of Operation Stack and policing the tunnel, the Tories put cutting immigration figures and being seen to oppose European integration ahead of seeking a rational and humane solution. The anti-EU left need to take note. 

Jim Denham

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The sheer humanity of Oliver Sacks

August 31, 2015 at 10:52 am (good people, humanism, Jim D, literature, mental health, philosophy, science)

In this 2007 photo provided by the BBC, Neurologist Oliver Sacks poses at a piano while holding a model of a brain at the Chemistry Auditorium, University College London in London.  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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Jon-Erik Kellso in The The Land Of Beginning Again

August 29, 2015 at 4:02 pm (culture, jazz, Jim D, music, New Orleans, United States)

Blue Roof Blues: A Love Letter to New Orleans

Ten years on from Katrina, and New Orleans is still recovering. Great progress has been made (no thanks to the wretched initial response from the federal government under Bush), but it’s been uneven and problems remain – not least in working class black areas like the Lower Ninth Ward.

Trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, though based in New York, has long regarded NO has his spiritual home:

“I was there playing at the Satchmo Summer Fest right before the hurricane … and then again at Jazz Fest (the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival), nine months after the hurricane. A dear friend took me on a reality tour, from the ‘blue roofs,’ protective blue tarps on wind-damaged roofs, to the devastation of whole neighborhoods totalled by the flooding. The Ninth Ward looked like a war-ravaged ghost town. It broke my heart to see my beloved New Orleans in such a state’ (quoted by Michael Steinman, of the most excellent Jazz Lives blog, in his notes to Jon-Erik’s fantastic 2007 Arbors CD Blue Roof Blues – A Love Letter To New Orleans).

Now Jon-Erik has released a new CD/album celebrating the Crescent City’s partial recovery: it was recorded in NO in April and as well as Jon-Eric, features his New York pal, guitarist and vocalist Matt Munisteri and two New Orleanians – clarinetist Evan Christopher  and bassist Kerry Lewis. The album is entitled In The Land Of Beginning Again, and Jon-Eric writes of the title:

“Why ‘In The Land Of Beginning Again?’ Louis Armstrong spoke of playing this song regularly in his early days as a member of Fate Marable’s band on a Mississippi Riverboat. It was their closing theme. This wistful, seldom-heard song is a fitting theme for this album … as it reflects New Orleans’ resiliency. It is a huge relief to see how this unique and wonderful Gulf Coast city has bounced back and reinvented itself since ‘the storm.’ It seems my hometown of Detroit is now being talked about as another ‘land of beginning again,’ with its ‘keep on keepin’ on spirit.”

NB: I have no commercial interest in this CD (on the Jazzology label), but can personally recommend it. As well as the fantastic music by Jon-Erik, Evan, Matt and Kerry, it comes with notes by the A.J Liebling of jazz writing, Michael Steinman and cover art by Cécile McLorin Salvant – a fine vocalist who turns out to be an equally excellent graphic artist.

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