Saturated Fats for Christmas

December 24, 2015 at 6:19 pm (Christmas, jazz, Jim D, music, Sheer joy, whisky, wild man)

My favourite Christmas record:

Fats and the boys recorded this in Chicago on November 29 1936: they’d obviously begun celebrating a wee bit early.

Best wishes to all readers.

Normal service here at Shiraz will be resumed shortly.

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Kingsley Amis’s seasonable booze recommendations

December 24, 2014 at 7:50 pm (booze, Christmas, posted by JD, whiskey, whisky)

British novelist and comic writer Kingsley Amis prepares for another sip of wine

Some in general,  excellent advice from a man who – like me – seriously objected to the intrusion of religion into the true, alcoholic, spirit of Christmas. His judgement broadly coincides with my own, and is therefore sound, except upon the question of beer: bloody Carlsberg!?! What was the man thinking of? I recommend Guinness’s revived West Indian Porter, anything from the Hobgoblin people , or – if you really must have larger, Veltin’s. Anyway, here’s Amis:

From Every Day Drinking (1981 – to be bourn in mind re: prices quoted ), by Kingsley Amis

Here is a mixed bag of seasonable concoctions.  First and foremost and indispensable, Irish Coffee. It’s a bit of a pest to make, but never was such labour more richly rewarded. To make each drink, stir thoroughly in a large pre-heated wine-glass 1 teaspoon of sugar or a bit more, about a quarter of a pint of your best and freshest black coffee, and 1-2 oz Irish whiskey — no other sort will do. When the mixture is completely still, pout onto its surface over the back of a spoon about 2 oz chilled double cream. The cream must float on the other stuff, not mingle with it. If this goes wrong, take Michael Jackson’s excellent advice: “Don’t serve the drink to your guests — knock it back quickly yourself, and try again.”

Other drinks have sprung up in imitation with the same coffee and cream content but with other spirits as a basis, like Benedictine, which gives Monks’ coffee, and Drambuie, which gives Prince Charles’s Coffee — yes that’s what the UK Bartenders Guild call it. Of those I’ve tried, none compared with the original.

Except for being warm, the next drink could hardly be more different. This is the Raging Bull, an Amis original, though no great powers of invention were called for. Make Bovril in a mug in the ordinary way and stir with a shot of vodka , a couple of shakes of Worcester sauce and a squeeze of lemon juice (optional). That’s it. Very heartening in cold and/or hung-over conditions.

Now, an unusual evening warmer, the Broken Leg. having had a real broken leg myself earlier this year I puzzle over the significance of the name, but the drink’s straightforward enough. Slowly heat about a quarter of a pint of apple juice in a saucepan with a few raisins, a cinnamon stick and a lemon slice. When it starts to bubble, strain into a preheated glass or mug. Pour a couple of ounces of bourbon whiskey into the pan, warm for a few seconds and pour into the remainder. Formula from John Doxat.

Lastly, American Milk Punch. You drink this cold, but it’ll soon light a fire in you. The previous evening — this is the hard part put milk instead of water into your refrigerator ice trays. On the day, mix thoroughly in a jug one part bourbon whiskey, one part French cooking brandy and four parts fresh milk. Pour into biggish glasses, drop in milk cubes, stir gently, dust with grated nutmeg and serve. This punch is the very thing for halfway through the morning of Boxing Day, when you may be feeling a little jaded and need a spot of encouragement before some marvellous treat like the sons-in-laws coming over for lunch. In fact, it can be treated as Snowy Mary, sustaining as well as uplifting, and much kinder to the digestion than the old Bloody Mary, a delicious drink, I agree, but full of acid fruit juices.

Remember the Milk Punch for the New Year as a heartener before air trips, interviews, etc.

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Christmas is traditionally a time when we behave kindly to our fellow human beings and push goodwill about all over the place. Well, to get myself into any kind of shape for being nice to others, I’ll have to take a lot of care of myself — and no more devotedly than in the sphere of drink. I intend to see that I have ample supplies of the few key items without which my Christmas would be a mockery, leaving me with no good will to spare for anyone.

My list leads with the Macallan Highland malt whiskey, my Drink of the Year (also of last year) and widely regarded in the trade as the king of malts. The flavour’s rich, even powerful, but completely smooth, as smooth as that of a fine cognac, and immediately enjoyable. Over Christmas I’ll be staying off it until comparatively late in the day, because the only drink you want after it is more of it. Macallen comes in various strengths and ages. I’ll be going for the standard 40 per cent alcohol at ten years old rather than the Macallen Royal Marriage, a unique blend of whiskies from 1948 and 1961, the couple’s respective birth years — wonderful stuff but a bit steep at £26.

I’ll also need a malt of a different type for when I’m not drinking the Macallen, selected from Highland Park, Isle of Jura, Tormore, Bowmore. And a good blend, preferably Famous Grouse, both for itself and for the interesting results if you move to a malt after it.

Must check that the Dry Martini makings arte in place — Gordon’s gin, Martini Rossi dry vermouth, and a jar of the largest possible hard, white, acid cocktail onions, much more of a sweat to find than the gin and vermouth. Check too on basic Bloody Mary makings — vodka, Worcester sauce and expensive tomato juice.

Table wines are not my forte, but on special occasions like the appearance of the Christmas turkey and trimmings I enjoy throwing down a good strong red. The one I’d go for is a Chateauneuf-du-Pape, not too recent, say ’76 or ’77. Any left over will go well with the Stilton. (perhaps a spot of port too with that, nothing fancy — somebody’s Special Reserve at about £5.)

I won’t be able to resist spoiling myself with some Musca de Beaumes de Venise, a sweet white wine from the Rhône that’s been tremendously successful here in the last couple of years. Made with the muscatel grape, fruity, flowery, and all that, an ideal desert wine, good with melon too.

We’re now beginning to deal with luxuries and treats, rather than the sheer necessity of Scotch or gin. Among liqueurs I’d certainly favour Kümmel, which with its caraway flavour does seem to take the fullness off after the plum pudding. Or a gross concession to guzzling like Bols apricot brandy or cherry brandy. But I’ll probably end up with Drambuie, drinking some of it cut 50-50 with my malt whisky, if I can spare any.

Back to the realm of stark need with the question of beer. I’ll be filling the refrigerator as full as I’m allowed to with large can of Carlsberg Special Brew and about half as many of the ordinary Carlsberg Pilsner Lager. Special Brew is a wonderful drink, but after a certain amount of it you do tend to fall over. Diluted with a weaker version of itself it gives you a longer run. To quaff the two of them half and half, really cold, out of a silver tankard produces as much goodwill as anything I know.

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‘Come Rain Or Come Shine’ with Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith and Thelma Carpenter

May 17, 2014 at 7:11 pm (jazz, Jim D, music, Sheer joy, song, TV, whisky)

I was up late last night (well, this morning, to be precise), drinking single malt and surfing the net. I came upon this Youtube clip, featuring the great Harlem stride pianist Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith and a singer I’d been only very vaguely aware of, Thelma Carpenter. It’s from a 1964 TV salute to bandleader/promoter/man-about-jazz Eddie Condon, and is not typical of the hot music (sometimes called “Dixieland”, though Eddie hated the term) that predominates in the rest of the show: it’s the sophisticated Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen ballad ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’, a song whose difficult chord sequence and structure momentarily wrong-foots even the usually impeccable trombonist Cutty Cutshall.

In truth, Thelma Carpenter isn’t a singer in the same league as, say, Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald (or, indeed, Eddie’s favourite, Lee Wiley), but she does a good enough job here, and seems to have been an engaging personality. The Lion’s opening banter with her reminds us that he was – believe it or not – Jewish, and on his business cards described himself as “The Hebrew Cantor.”

Al Hall is on bass and the great George Wettling is at the drums. Melting-pot music…

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Kingsley Amis spends an evening with Dylan Thomas

May 5, 2014 at 6:33 am (BBC, beer, culture, literature, poetry, posted by JD, whisky, wild man, wireless)

Portrait of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas with wife Caitlin Thomas. Picture: Lebrecht  Thomas with wife Caitlin 

For no particular reason that I can fathom (the centenary of his birth is not until this coming October), BBC Radio 3 has decreed today ‘Dylan Thomas Day’. Oh well, this gives me an excuse to republish Kingsley Amis’s account of a meeting with Thomas in 1951.  Amis had little time for Thomas either as a man or as a poet, as the following account makes clear. Surprisingly, and under circumstances that have never been made clear, Amis was appointed executor of Thomas’s estate.

This account was first published in the Spectator in 1957, republished in 1970 as part of the Amis anthology What Became of Jane Austin? and finally appeared again in modified form in Amis’s 1991 Memoirs. What appears below is from the latter, with the 1957 conclusion appended:

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I met Dylan Thomas on a single evening in the spring of 1951, when he had accepted an invitation to give a talk to the English Society of the [University] College [of Swansea]. The secretary of the society, a pupil of mine, asked me if I would like to come along to the pub and meet Thomas before the official proceedings opened.  I said I would like to very much, for although I had lost all my earlier enthusiasm for his writing, I had heard a great deal, not only in Swansea, of his abilities as a talker and entertainer of his friends. I arranged with my wife and some of our own friends that we would try to get Thomas back into the pub after his talk and thereafter to our house just up the street from there. I got down the pub about six, feeling expectant.

The foregoing paragraph is based on a brief account I wrote of this meeting in the Spectator in 1957. If I had known about him then what I have since learnt, I would still have turned up, but with different expectations. For one things, I would certainly not have entertained the idea of getting him along to my house then or at any other time, indeed, would have done my best to conceal its location from him. I will now go on with a version of what I went on to write then, cut and amended where necessary.

Thomas was already in the pub, a glass of light ale before him and a half-circle of students round him. The impression he made was of apathy as much as anything. Also in attendance was, I said in 1957, a Welsh painter of small eminence whom I called Griffiths. In fact this person was a Welsh poet of small eminence by the name of John Ormond Thomas and later known professionally, I understand, as John Ormond. In the course of the session he told us several times that he had that day driven down from his house in Merionethshire (north Wales, now part of Gwynedd) on purpose to see Thomas, whom he had known, he said more than once, for several years. Thomas seemed very sedate, nothing like the great pub performer of legend. He was putting the light ales down regularly but without hurry. After some uninspired talk about his recent trip to America, he announced, in his clear, slow, slightly haughty, cut-glass Welsh voice, ‘I’ve just come back from Persia, where I’ve been pouring water on troubled oil.’

Making what was in those days my stock retort to the prepared epigram, I said boyishly, ‘I say, I must go and write that down.’ What I should have said, I now realise, was something much more like: ‘What? What are you talking about? That means nothing, and it isn’t funny or clever, it’s infantile playing with words, like that silly line of yours about the man in the wind and the man in the west moon. Or the phrase in that story about Highlanders being piping hot. They weren’t hot or piping hot, but saying so is a bit naughty, I agree. Taff.’

Read the rest of this entry »

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Remembering Rod Cless

February 28, 2014 at 6:03 pm (history, jazz, Jim D, music, United States, whisky)

I recently came upon a stash of old jazz magazines, including some copies of ‘The Jazz Record’, edited by pianist-bandleader Art Hodes and his sidekick Dale Curran between 1943 and 1947. It’s fascinating stuff, full of contemporary reports of what was going on at Nick’s in Greenwich Village and what the likes of Pee Wee Russell, Sidney Bechet, Eddie Condon and James P. Johnson were up to. The piece reproduced below is from the January 1945 edition of the magazine, and I found it particularly moving. Clarinettist Rod Cless is now all but forgotten, but in the early 1940’s was a well-known and popular figure on the New York jazz scene. He died in December 1944 as a result of a fall over a balcony after heavy drinking, and then drinking some more from a bottle or flask smuggled in to him in hospital. This obituary – by someone who is obviously a close friend – strikes me as worth republishing as an example of how jazz people mourn:

By James McGraw

The rain fell from our hats in rivulets and formed little puddles on the warm mahogany. The old bartender looked annoyed as he served the two drinks we had ordered. We drank the raw whiskey in silence and pushed the shot glasses in front of us to indicate another round. Ray Cless fidgeted with his change. My finger traced designs with the water on the bar. Ray lit another cigarette while the other one in the ash tray still burned. He had brought cartons of them all the way from Greenland for his first leave from army duty in sixteen months. He had come to New York to celebrate the leave with his brother Rod.

We had been like this all the way in the cab. The wind slapped the rain against the misted windows with a force that made it sound like hail. The tires hummed a dirge on the wet pavement. We were wet and cold and gloomy. We tried to make conversation. Whatever subject we chose ended up the same way. No matter what we tried to talk about, Rod’s name was soon brought in and then we became silent again. That’s the way it was when we left St. Vincent’s Hospital and started up to the Medical Examiner’s Office at Bellevue and stopped off at this bar for a drink we both needed badly.

The doctor in the white apron at St. Vincent’s had been polite. Polite and nice in an officious way. He had asked Ray the usual perfunctory questions about relatives, names, dates of birth and so forth. He had escorted us down to an oven-hot basement to identify the body. He had said, “There are the remains of Rod Cless.” No reflection on him. he was hardened by the sight of corpses every day — every hour. He could not be held accountable for saying , “There are the remains of Rod Cless.”

How was he to have known that the real remains of Rod Cless were not on that cold slab before him? How could the poor fellow be expected to know that the best remains of Rod Cless were at that very moment and always would be rooted deeply, indelibly in the hearts and minds and souls of myriad jazz lovers in all corners of this war-torn world? How could he ever understand the lasting enjoyment that Rod’s clarinet had brought to all those who had been fortunate enough to hear his music? Did he ever experience the great thrill of hearing Rod play Eccentric and notice the technical mastery with which he handled his instrument? Did he hear him on records with Muggsy’s Ragtime Band or did he happen to catch him any night this past summer at the Pied Piper with Max Kaminsky when it was 90 outside and 120 in?

No, Doctor, those are not the remains of Rod Cless. His remains are scattered widely — in churches and in saloons, in brothels and in sewing circles, in fox-holes, submarines and bombers, in drug dens and in missionaries’ huts, in schools, in offices, in factories, in spaghetti joints on the south side and in Harlem rib emporiums, in tawdry dance halls and in glittering night clubs — everywhere you look — north, South, East, West, up or down — he’s there and he’s playing the clarinet; blowing his top and loving it, putting his heart, his soul, his guts, yes, his very life into that slender piece of black wood.

Why did he do it? Because he loved it and because tens of thousands of others love it. He was born to be a jazzman and he died just that. No more, no less, Doctor. Here is how it happened:

He was born George Roderick Cless in the year 1907 in Lenox, Iowa. At the age of 16 he played saxophone in the school band. Later, his family moved to Des Moines and at the age of 20, Rod went to Chicago. That was in the days when Chicago was the “toddling town.” Rod hung around the speaks where the finest jazz was being made. He listened for a while and he practiced constantly and then he took a job with a small band. Before long the quality of his playing (he doubled on alto and clarinet) was found out by such noted Chicago jazzmen as Teschmaker, Freeman, Condon and McPartland. Soon he played many dates with these men in top-notch bands and came to be known as one of the outstanding musicians in those parts. One night he went to the Sunset Café to hear Louis’ outfit. Johnny Dodds was sitting in. Rod listened to the clear, beautiful notes that came from Dodds’ clarinet. He was playing Melancholy Blues. The purity of tone and the amazing flash and brilliance with which Dodds used his instrument, decided Rod that this was it. Here is what he was after and he would settle for nothing less. At every opportunity he listened to the wondrous melodies, the variations which Dodds could produce from a well-worn clarinet. He took some lessons from Johnny. He knew now he was on the right path. He never played the sax again. From there he went to Spanier’s Ragtime Band. Read the rest of this entry »

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Remembering Cliff ‘Ukelele Ike’ Edwards

August 24, 2012 at 3:56 am (anarchism, jazz, music, song, United States, whisky, wild man)

By Thomas ‘Spats’ Langham

I first heard ‘Ukelele Ike’ when I was 8!

I was ukelele mad and my father searched far and wide for any ‘uke’ records to satisfy my addiction. Little did I know that an ‘Ike’ record would set me on a career in vintage jazz.

‘Ukelele Ike’ (or to give him his real name, Cliff Edwards), has been almost totally forgotten in the history of jazz, cabaret, film singing, etc. But he did it all! Space doesn’t permit me to list his achievements, but the only well-known and commercial aspect of his career was that he was the voice of Jiminy Cricket in the Walt Disney cartoon version of Pinnochio. This brought him great success and money, but, as always with Cliff, it never quite worked out.

Edwards had made lots of money over the years (a reputed four thousand dollars a week in 1925!!), but he seemingly got divorced more times than he got married.

He didn’t really understand the tax laws and was partial to a drink or two. It’s easy to see him as a tragic character, but I don’t think he was — he loved life and lived it to the full.

While on tour of in the USA years ago I met a chap who’d been a pal of Edwards’; I of course asked the question, “What was he like?” The old gent replied, “Every day with Cliff was like New Years’s Eve!”

This Upbeat CD of Edwards is a gem. The balance of the content is superb — early vaudeville hits, hot jazz recordings, sentimental ballads, Howaiian exotica, British recordings, and a few naughty ‘party’ recordings. Using original records, the sound quality is warm and clear. Some radio transcriptions give us a chance to hear the man in a different setting. I have never previously heard the title track, I Did It With My Little Ukelele, so hats off for finding this beauty.

Mike Pointon’s research for this album is incredible; the sleeve notes alone are worth buying, but this is the studious, caring approach that we have all come to expect from the Pointon pen.

I know I’m biased as I’ve spent the last 30 years championing Edwards, but I can wholly recommend this release. It’s all here, and I defy anyone not to find all of it charming. In fact, when I listen to Edwards sing Just like A Melody From Out Of The Sky, it’s not just charming, it’s class that we just don’t hear these days.

Three cheers for Cliff!

This is a slightly edited version of Spats’ review of the Upbeat CD I Did It With My Little Ukelele  that appeared in Just Jazz magazine, February 2012.

It is my intention to have an arts, TV, cinema or music article every Friday: if you’d like to contribute, please let me know, via the comments box, or to jimcftu@yahoo.com -Jim D.

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Frank Parr: Jazzman, cricketer, raver…and legend

May 17, 2012 at 11:13 pm (booze, good people, jazz, Jim D, sport, whisky, wild man)

“I should inform you that he can be a grave social risk” Cyril Washbrook (about Frank Parr).

Frank Parr, hero to several of us associated with this blog, died on 8th May.

The Independent gave him a decent obit:

He would have been a wonderful breath of fresh air in English cricket in the 1950s, an entertainer with a bohemian streak, but it was not to be. Jazz and cricket did not make easy bedfellows, certainly not with a conventional man such as Cyril Washbrook in charge. On one occasion, at Oxford, Parr played his trombone in the dressing room, with a team-mate beating time with a stump: “Much to Washy’s disgust.” Washbrook’s vitriolic words, on the racial origins of jazz music, were never forgotten.

Parr was not bitter, though. He was too intelligent, too independent for that. “I’ve been extraordinarily lucky,” he would say. “I’ve made a living out of the two things I loved.”

Francis David Parr, cricketer and musician: born Wallasey 1 June 1928; died London 8 May 2012.

He learnt to be an athletic wicket-keeper when at Wallasey Grammar School and developed into an outstanding performer behind the stumps, playing for Lancashire from 1951-4.

Achieving 90 dismissals for his County, Frank impressed the England selectors as a mobile, effective ‘keeper and was chosen for the MCC at Lord’s in a Test trial. The Lancashire side was strong in the early 1950’s with a shared title in 1950 followed by top three placings in the Championship.

We’ve previously quoted the late George Melly on Frank (jazz trombonist and Lancashire wicket-keeper), but the following is just great:

“It might…appear extraordinary that, far from playing cricket for England, the following summer (1956 -JD) saw Frank touring with a jazz band. The reason had nothing to do with Frank’s wicket-keeping, but it had a lot to do with Frank. From what I can gather, although the ‘gentlemen’ and ‘players’ labels have disappeared, the attitude of the cricketing establishment remains firmly entrenched. The professional cricketer is not just a man who plays cricket for money. He has a social role. He is expected to behave within certain defined limits. He can be a ‘rough diamond’, even ‘a bit of a character’, but he must know his place. If he smells of sweat, it must be fresh sweat. He must dress neatly and acceptably. His drinking must be under control. He must know when to say ‘sir’.

“Frank, we were soon to discover, had none of these qualifications. He was an extreme social risk, a complicated rebel whose world swarmed with demons and Jack O’Lanterns, and was treacherous with bogs and quicksands. He concealed a formidable and well-read intelligence behind a stylised oafishness. He used every weapon to alienate acceptance. Even within the jazz world, that natural refuge for the anti-social, Frank stood out as an exception. We never knew the reason for his quarrel with the captain of Lancashire, but after a month or two in his company we realised it must have been inevitable…

“Food and drink were the other weapons in Frank’s armoury. He was extremely limited in what he would eat for a start. Fried food, especially bacon and eggs, headed the list; then came cold meat and salad, and that was about the lot. Any other food, soup for instance or cheese, came under the heading of ‘pretentious bollocks’, but even in the case of food he did like, his attitude was decidedly odd. He would crouch over his plate, knife and fork at the ready in his clenched fists, and glare down at the harmless egg and inoffesive bacon, enunciating, as though it were part of some barbarous and sadistic ritual, the words ‘ I’ll murder it.’ What followed, a mixture of jabbing, tearing, stuffing, grinding and gulping, was a distressing spectacle.

“In relation to drink he was more victim than murderer. He drank either gin and tonic or whisky and, once past the point of no return, would throw doubles into himself with astonishing rapidity, banging the empty glass down on the counter and immediately ordering another with a prolonged hiss on the word ‘please’. He passed through the classic stages of drunkenness in record time, wild humour, self pity, and unconsciousness, all well-seasoned with the famous Parr grimaces. His actual fall had a monumental simplicity. One moment he was perpendicular, the next horizontal. The only warning we had of his collapse was that, just before it happened, Frank announced that he was ‘only fit for the human scrap heap’ and this allowed us time to move any glasses, tables, chairs or instruments out of the way.

“Frank’s spectacular raves didn’t stop him looking censorious when anyone else  was ‘going a bit’ – he used the same phrase for socks or drunkenness – but then we were all like that.

“If I think of him I can see certain gestures; his habit of rapidly shifting his cigarette around between his fingers, his slow tiger-like pacing, his manner of playing feet apart, body leaning stiffly backwards to balance the weight of his instrument.

“His music was aimed beyond his technique. Sometimes a very beautiful idea came off, more often you were aware of a beautiful idea which existed in Frank’s head. In an article on Mick (Mick Mulligan: Melly’s and Parr’s bandleader in the 1950′s -JD) in the Sunday Times, Frank was quoted as saying: ‘All jazzmen are kicking against something, and it comes out when they blow.”

“This was a remarkably open statement for Frank who, during a wagon discussion on our personal mental quirks and peculiarities, had once told us that he was the only normal person in the band.

“This gained him his nickname, ‘Mr Norm’, and any exceptionally Parr-like behaviour would provoke the conductor (ie: bandleader Mick Mulligan – JD) into saying: ‘Hello Frank. Feeling normal then?’”

George Melly – “Owning Up

RIP, Frank

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Dick Wellstood: neglected master of stride and beyond

March 17, 2012 at 6:22 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D, Sheer joy, Soul, whisky)

As regulars here will know, I occasionally take a break from light-hearted political banter and introduce the serious matter of jazz. It’s particularly gratifying when one of my jazz posts elicits a response from someone with an intimate knowledge of, or direct connection with, the subject. This happened a little while ago when one Emily Wellstood Clarke got in touch to say how much she’d appreciated a post and Youtube clip here at Shiraz, featuring her late dad, the pianist Dick Wellstood. In a number of exchanges, on and off this blog, Emily told me about her memories of her Dad: very moving stuff, some of which I’d love to publish but would, of course only do so with her express permission. I don’t think I’m betraying any confidences, however, when I quote this from Emily: “My favorite Youtube video is Germany 1982…..he was as I will always remember him. He was on top of his game but the best part is I can hear him humming! He used to whistle and hum at the same time. I thought that was endlessly entertaining when I was a child.”  So here it is (The film is a bit flickery but the sound is fine and Wellstood himself is on great form, seguing  from a brief ‘Perdido’ into ‘Caravan’ in what was, presumably, an Ellington medley):

While we’re at it, here’s what Wellstood’s longstanding musical and personal buddy Marty (son of George) Grosz, wrote about him:

“As a seventeen year old tyro Dick would pass out printed cards which read “Will somebody please introduce me to Joe Sullivan.” The flavour of the great Chicagoan’s style [ie the older pianist Joe Sullivan’s style -JD], its pugnacity, its spiky sentimentality, its barrelhouse bass lines, permeated Dick’s inventions throughout his life. Dick’s impovisations gave scant succour to the sleep deprived, unlike those of many of his contemporaries. He resisted the smoothing process that has relegated much contemporary jazz to the role of background music at cocktail parties and dentists’ offices. As they age, many players lose the heat and incisiveness of their early years, settling for bland moderation where once passionate risk held sway; but Dick’s intelligence and sense of adventure precluded his sliding into comfortable banality. Though an intellectual sophisticate, he evinced the sqeaking of saloon doors, the redolence of whisky and cigars, the swish of dancers’ feet in his renditions – renditions expounded with plenty of (to use one of his catchprases), ‘grease and funk.’

…”It is to the discredit of several authors and critics (names supplied upon request) that they have either glossed over or ignored Dick Wellstood. While shouting the praises of trendy lightweights they have chosen to ignore this master, presumably because he followed his own course and wouldn’t cut his jib to fit the prevailing winds of fashion. It is to be hoped that the issuance of this recital and other Wellstood offerings will help redress these inequities and will work towards according him his rightful place in the pantheon of great jazz pianists.”Marty Grosz, February 1997  [from his notes to ‘Live at the Sticky Wicket’, Arbors double CD ARCD19188]

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Nicol Williamson walks off the stage

January 27, 2012 at 8:52 pm (cinema, jazz, Jim D, literature, music, song, theatre, TV, whisky, wild man)

Nicol Williamson, actor. Born 14 September 1938; died 16 December 2011

A wild, erratic talent:

“Nicol Williamson, whose death of oesophageal cancer at the age of 73 has been announced, was arguably the most electrifying actor of his generation, but one whose career flickered and faded like a faulty light fitting. Tall and wiry, with a rasping scowl of a voice, a battered baby face and a mop of unruly curls, he was the best modern Hamlet since John Gielgud, and certainly the angriest, though he scuppered his own performance at the Round House, north London, in 1969, by apologising to the audience and walking off the stage…” The rest of today’s Graun obit here.

Rather eerily, here he is on the Frost On Saturday show (London Weekend TV, circa 1968 at a guess) talking about death…

That was when chat shows didn’t insult your intelligence.

Here’s one of his finest filmed performances, The Bofors Gun (1968, dir: Jack Gold):

Note the young John Thaw and David Hemmings

Finally, as Jack Gold notes in the Graun, “if ever there was a piano handy, he was immediately seated there, singing ballads, blues, rock, jazz. He loved the great musicians and improvisation. I think that, latterly, that is where his heart truly lay.” Listen to him singing I’ve Got The World On A String:

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Lucky Jim’s morning after

December 30, 2011 at 11:53 am (beer, Jim D, literature, whisky)

More from that hangover expert, Kingsley Amis:

Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eye-balls again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.

Fom Lucky Jim (pub. 1953).

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