Christmas Alphabet : R for Rickie Lee Jones & Ramsey Lewis

At Christmas Time we have a tradition that the honour of placing the Star atop the Tree falls to the youngest in the family.

For the last 15 years this has been my son, Tom.

Now, since August when my granddaughter was born, he is an uncle and no longer the youngest.

So, I was especially proud of him when he said the other day as we put up the Tree, ‘Now, Dad, it will be Heather’s turn to put the Star on – I know she’s really small so I’ll lift her up so she can do it.’

So it goes on.

Adding to the store of memories from those golden days of yore.

Hanging that shining Star on the very highest bough so that we are all lit up by its radiance.

And, if the fates allow that’s what we will do at Christmas next year and the year after and the year after ….

Gathering near, with friends and family dear to us, we will sing with lightness of heart:

‘Have yourself A merry little Christmas now’.

‘Have yourself A merry little Christmas now’.

And, for that blessed time, all our troubles will be as nought, miles away, out of sight.

May it be so for you.

‘Have yourself A merry little Christmas now’.

Rickie Lee Jones, in her inimitable way, makes the radiance of that shining Star real for us all.

 

Now, time to kick up our heels and breeze down Santa Claus Lane because here comes a very hep Swinging Santa in his Jazzy Sleigh driven by Ramsey Lewis.

Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen, not to mention Rudolph will surely be inspired to put on enough speed to circle the globe on Christmas Eve so that Santa can put a present under every tree!

Did someone say, ‘Pass the Eggnog’?

The Alphabet Series will continue on 11/13/15/17/19 and 21 December.

Underline those dates in your Calendars!

Onward.

Christmas Alphabet : H for Emmylou Harris & Francoise Hardy

Christmas is a time when memories cascade – especially for those of us steeped in age.

Christmas, if we surrender to its spell, opens the door for the Child within to breathe again.

Music, in the form of songs we learned in our youth, when we had no sense we were learning them, invites us to be once more, once more, the wide eyed Child of days long past as counted by the turning of the Calendar’s pages.

So, let’s call upon a Jukebox favourite, Emmylou Harris, to stir that Sense of Wonder once again.

Come they told me
Pa rum pum pum pum

Our finest gifts we bring
Pa rum pum pum pum

Shall I play for you
Pa rum pum pum pum
On my drum

Oh, play it please.

Play it please, Emmylou.

 

Now, when I was a teenager, I became, in the way that a certain sort of teenager does, a deep dyed Francophile.

If you had asked me why I would have said, with proper teenage pomposity, it was naturellement, because of the visionary poetry of Rimbaud, the kaleidoscopic brilliance of the mind of Blaise Pascal and the mystical beauty of the films of Robert Bresson.

I would have said less about the allure of the Disque Bleu Cigarette Packet and the taste of Pastis 51.

But to tell the truth, the heart of my devotion to French Culture was to be found in my prized collection of records by the Yé-yé girls of the 1960s – France Gall, Sylvie Vartan and above all, far above all, the divine Francoise Hardy!

I could definitely hear her calling me across La Manche.

And, when she sang, in her uniquely seductive plangent tones, about the falling snow and the north wind blowing, the cool of the evening sky and the falling star, I had my own Christmas Anthem, whether anyone else recognised it as a Christmas Song or not!

It may be, after the two selections above, that some Jukebox Readers, will think the criteria for an appearance on The Alphabet Series is having a melancholy voice combined with being extremely photogenic.

Long time Readers will know that my taste is somewhat broader than that!

And, to prove it, here’s the wonderful Stanley Holloway, with one of his inimitably great recitations – masterpieces of comic character and timing.

Embed from Getty Images

At the same time as I was assiduously practicing the Yé-Yé Twist I was learning by heart party pieces like, ‘The Lion and Albert’, ‘Sam, Sam, Pick oop thy Musket’, ‘One Each Apiece All Round’ and ‘It’ll All be the Same (A Hundred Years from Now).

Of course, when Christmas rolled around, with a hat cocked on the side of my head and fortified by some fine fortified wine, I would launch, unstoppably into, ‘Sam’s Christmas Pudding’ in homage to the great Stanley.

I might well do it again this year!

Come on! Join In!

It was Christmas Day in the trenches
In Spain in Penninsular War,
And Sam Small were cleaning his musket
A thing as he’d ne’re done before …

 

Now, weren’t that reet grand, Reet Grand.

The Alphabet Series will continue on 9/11/13/15/17/19 and 21 December.

Underline those dates in your Calendars!

Onward.

Christmas Alphabet 2018 C for : John Cale & Chet Baker

Who knows where the time goes?

A couple of blinks since the start of another year and suddenly, shockingly, it’s Christmas Time again.

That distant train in the distance is now gliding into the station – ready to go!

And, for The immortal Jukebox, where Tradition is prized, another celebration of the Season in song.

So, without further ado, let’s start another Christmas Alphabet with a Welsh Wizard and one of the most intriguing figures in popular culture – Mr John Cale.

John Cale was, of course, a founder member of The Velvet Underground which alone would ensure him an honoured place in History.

But, the fearless avant garde seeker, the manic viola player, was, is, also the singer in the Chapel Choir, the organist lifting the old hymns to the celestial rafters.

The devotee of William Burroughs and John Cage was also steeped in lyrical Welsh Poetry.

John Cale knows the power of mystery expressed in rhythm, rhyme and ritual cadence (perhaps intuited from hearing the stories in the great Welsh treasury of Mythology and Romance, The Mabinogion).

‘A Child’s Christmas In Wales’ is a signature Cale song from his 1973 masterpiece record, ‘Paris 1919’.

 

Now, a Christmas we can all recognise is in there :

‘With mistletoe and candle green’

‘The cattle graze bold uprightly’

‘The hallelujah crowds’

‘The prayers of all combined’

‘Good neighbours were we all’.

But, this is John Cale!

So, we also have the ten murdered oranges, the references to Sebastopol and Columbus and the long legged bait.

There’s a fevered dream here as well as nostalgic memory.

The child, the adult and the dreaming psyche containing both, uniting to produce glowing beauty.

Continuing the theme of glowing loveliness and dream let’s invite the seductive Horn of Chet Baker to still our hearts and set us all waltzing towards Christmas.

Did ye get healed?

Chet’s Trumpet is joined here by Wolfgang Lackerschmid on Vibes, Nicola Stilo on Guitar and Flugelhorn, Gunter Lenz and Rocky Knauer on Bass, Peri Des Santos on Guitar and Edir Des Santos on Drums.

The Alphabet Series will continue on 7/9/11/13/15/17/19 and 21 December.

Underline those dates in your Calendars!

As a special gift for this initial offering here’s a standout solo Live version of, ‘A Child’s Christmas In Wales’ to fortify us all.

Onward!

 

Contemplative Music 2 : Chopin, Dowland, Herbert Howells, Janet Baker

And breathe again!

Janet Baker is an artist of the highest order.

 

Her utter technical command and her ability to unerringly find emotional truth resulted in a legendary career garlanded with landmark recordings and never to be forgotten stage performances.

Her performance of, ‘Che faro senza Euridice’ will live with me always as I make my journey through the dark wood.

Spirit refreshing music courtesy of John Dowland who can genuinely be described as a Renaissance Man in view of the time he lived in and the depth of his talents as a composer, Lutenist and singer.

His works will enter your consciousness like a pebble dropped into a pond with ever widening circles of effect.

Julian Bream is another musician with, ‘The Touch’.

Music played by Bream flows purely and naturally from his fingers to our hearts.

 

Devotees of Chopin and his piano works, especially The Nocturnes, can spend long hours debating which great pianist has searched their depths most successfully.

I have never wavered in my conviction that the magical recordings made by Claudio Arrau must wear the crown.

His version of The Nocturnes has the quality of meditative prayer.

 

Herbert Howells music has an English reticence which belies the oceanic depths of feeling it can summon from the listener.

His, ‘A Spotless Rose’ especially when sung with the aching purity of The New College Oxford Choir tenderly ushers the cosmic into our mortal consciousness.

For music to take you away from the daily tumult I offer you a precious work of the heart.

‘A Stor mo Chroi’ as performed by The Voice Squad (Phil Callery, Fran McPhail and Gerry Cullen) insists that we each attend to what is truly important in all our lives; the love we offer and the love we share.

Where else is your treasure to be found?

 

Jukebox Jive 

This is the last Post of 2017.

Many thanks to all my readers and followers and especially those who take the time to comment.

I was touched by so many good wishes at Christmas and for New Year and such kind words about The Jukebox.

When I started The Jukebox I little thought I would find so many kindred spirits!

Christmas Art Gallery 2

More Paintings for contemplation and inspiration!

El Greco – ‘The Adoration of the Shepherds’

‘The Adoration of the Shepherds’ is a work of blazing, visionary brilliance by El Greco who had the artistic bravery characteristic of genius in all ages.

el-greco-nativity

El Greco depicted the human body and used colour and perspective in a manner that was wholly individual.

The awe inspiring intensity of his vision breaks down any conventional, ‘tutored’ response.

To my mind his art is a true veil shredding glimpse into a co-existing reality : present then and present now.

This painting, more than any other I know, captures the enormity of the event which took place some two thousand years ago.

It is a peerless hymn of exultation and adoration.

Peter Paul Rubens – ‘The Adoration of the Magi’

A painting, more accurately the the modello (a sketch shown to a patron for approval of the composition) for the altarpiece painted by Rubens for the convent of the Dames Blanches, Louvain now in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge.

rubens-adoration

There is a wonderful humanity in this work.

Though the event depicted was of universal importance it was witnessed, experienced, by, ‘ordinary’ men and women (and let us not forget animals as the peering camels here humorously demonstrate) on a day when the sun rose and set like any other.

Miracles take place (far more often than, ‘common sense’ will allow) against the background of every day events.

Rubens manages to make each of the individual characters in the scene vividly present.

I feel as if I could walk directly into this company and be made welcome.

Andrei Rublev – Nativity

rublev-nativity

Andrei Rublev’s Icons and Frescos are supreme works of devotional art.

They are works to be still before.

If you surrender to these works they will work in your soul.

Rublev, following the Orthodox tradition, sees the events of The Nativity not as historical episodes but as living events the faithful community participated in as they celebrated the liturgy.

The calm and peace of the image contains immense and complex feeling.

The birth of The Saviour is shown as a cosmic event which is yet an acceptance of human mortality and frailness.

Duccio Di Buoninsegna – Nativity

From the great Master from Sienna, Duccio Di Buoninsegna.

Since I first discovered the work of Duccio as a teenager I have been in thrall to the luminous beauty of his works.

His paintings seem to me to have been deeply pondered in his heart which gives them qualities of stillness and humility which I find overwhelmingly moving.

In particular, something about, ‘Duccio Blue’ sets my heart aflame.

 

duccio-the-nativity-with-the-prophets-isaiah-and-ezekiel-1308-1311-dw7c5b

Contemplative Music 1 : Arvo Part, Kathleen Ferrier & Bill Evans

And breathe!

To initiate the contemplative mood I turn to the contemporary Estonian Composer, Arvo Part with his luminous, liminal setting of Mary’s eternal prayer, ‘The Magnificat’.

Part has been labelled a Minimalist and a retro Medievalist.

I prefer to think of him as having the gift to make time past, time present and time future bloom before us through his music.

When Kathleen Ferrier recorded, ‘Das Lied von der Erde’ the shadow of death was looming over her.

This is music making of the very highest order.

Here Kathleen Ferrier does not so much perform a song as become the song.

The rare emotional reach of her extraordinary voice bringing flesh and spirit to Mahler’s masterwork touches something very deep and unnameable within humanity.

Bill Evans was the supreme lyric poet of the piano.

Listening to Bill’s unique sense of musical time and weight I find my spirit awakened, refreshed and released.

‘Blue in Green’ showcases the amazing precision and delicacy of his touch as a musician.

He is always instantly recognisable – the hallmark of true greatness.

This version of what has become a Jazz standard is from the Christmas 1959 session issued as, ‘Portrait in Jazz’.

You have to believe in telepathy when you hear Bill Evans play with Scott LaFaro (bass) and Paul Motion (drums)

This trio remains the benchmark for all piano trios.

 

From the Hebrides.

The Christ Child’s Lullaby or Taladh Chriosda in Scots Gaelic is full to the brim with maternal feeling for the vulnerable new born.

Mother and child, once one, now two, create together a sacred space where love and mutual regard dwells.

The standing stone vocals of Mae McKenna and Mairi Macinnes, switching fluently between languages, supported by the pellucid instrumental playing of William Jackson and Tony McManus casts a timeless spell.

 

 

 

Now Heart stilling music composed by one of the most extraordinary figures of the Middle Ages (indeed of all Ages!).

Hildegard of Bingen was a Benedictine Abbess whose haunting compositions refelect her mystical experiences and her philosophical beliefs.

I vividly recall the first time I heard this music in Tower Records at Piccadilly Circus in London. As the gorgeous vocal lines enchanted me I knew, at once, that this record would be a life time companion. And so it has proved.

The majestic soprano Emma Kirkby wonderfully complemented by The Gothic Voices under the direction of Christopher Page takes us into mystical terrain where every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.

Terrain where Hildegard’s vision of herself as a feather on the breath of God makes perfect sense.

We are all feathers on the breath of God.

Happy Christmas 2017 from Bob Dylan, Judy Garland, Charles Dickens & The Immortal Jukebox!

Traditions must be maintained!

An Etching by Rembrandt

A Literary extract from Charles Dickens

Music by Bob Dylan, Judy Garland & Shostakovich conducted by Rostropovich, played by Maxim Vengerov.

Our painting today is by Rembrandt who may be the most searching anatomist of the human heart who has ever lived.

rembrandt

There is such depth of humanity in Rembrandt’s etching of Mother and Christ Child.

The scene glows with immediate and eternal love and intimacy.

Our first music selection today is one of the great works of the 20th Century.

Shostakovich lived through dark times yet, perhaps because of this, his work while never denying the darkness always returns to the light.

Maxim Vengerov is a musician to his fingertips and urged on by Rostropovich he wrings every scintilla of emotional power from the work.

Onward!

So, at last – the twelfth day of our Sleigh’s journey and it’s Christmas Eve!

I hope you have enjoyed the music and reflections on the way here.

I have agonised over the music choices in this series and have many years worth stored up for Christmases to come (you have been warned!).

But today’s choices were the first I wrote down and were my inevitable selections for the day before the great Feast.

First, the Keeper of American Song, Bob Dylan, with his inimitable spoken word rendition of Clement Moore’s, ‘The Night Before Christmas’.

It is safe to say that Bob’s pronunciation of the word ‘Mouse’ has never been matched in the history of the dramatic arts!

Of course, in the process of his more than 50 year career Bob has continually been reinventing himself and in so doing has gloriously renewed American culture.

The clip, above comes from his wonderful, ‘Theme Time’ radio show where over a 100 episodes he displayed an encyclopaedic knowledge of twentieth century popular music and a wicked sense of humour.

Bob also recorded for the season at hand the deeply heartfelt, ‘Christmas In The Heart’ album which gets better and more extraordinary with every hearing.

It is clear that Bob, who is well aware that it’s not dark yet (but it’s getting there) is consciously rounding out his career by assuming the mantle of the grand old man of American Music tipping his hat to every tradition (hence the deeply stirring Sinatra covers CDs).

The only safe thing to say about Bob is that he will have a few surprises for us yet!

And, indeed he recently assumed, in a typically enigmatic way, the mantle of a Nobel Laureate.

The man never known to make a foolish move managed by not attending the investiture ceremony to harvest more publicity than all those who did!

In his nicely judged acceptance speech he managed to be both filled with humility and unblinkingly directly compare himself to Shakespeare!

Now that’s the one and only Bob Dylan!

Now we turn to Judy Garland with a Christmas song without peer, ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’. Her singing on this song seems to me to be almost miraculous.

It’s as if her singing really came from the secret chambers of the heart all the rest of us keep under guard.

No wonder she has such a deep impact on us – we know she is expressing a profound truth about the human condition – our need to love and know we are loved.

Judy Garland paid a high price in terms of personal happiness for living her life and art with such an exposed heart and soul but she fulfilled a vocation given to very few and left an indelible mark on her age and will surely do for aeons to come.

Today, not a poem but the concluding passages from, ‘A Christmas Carol’ by the incomparable Charles Dickens – a writer for all seasons and situations.

‘Hallo!’ growled Scrooge, in his accustomed voice, as near as he could feign it. What do you mean by coming here at this time of day?

‘I am very sorry, sir’ said Bob, ‘I am behind my time,’
‘You are?’ repeated Scrooge. ‘Yes. I think you are. Step this way, sir, if you please.’
‘It’s only once a year, sir,’ pleaded Bob, appearing from the Tank. ‘It shall not be repeated. I was making rather merry yesterday, sir.’

‘Now I’ll tell you what my friend, said Scrooge, I am not going to stand that sort of thing any longer. And therefore, he continued, leaping from his stool and giving Bob such a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into the Tank again, and therefore I am about to raise your salary!’

Bob trembled and got a little nearer to the ruler. He had a momentary idea of knocking Scrooge down with it, holding him, and calling to the people in the court for help and a strait-waistcoat.

‘A merry Christmas Bob! said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. ‘A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit!’

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed; and that was quite enough for him.

He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards, and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.

May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, Every One!

And who am I to do anything other than echo Mr Dickens and Tiny Tim?

So, to all the readers of the Jukebox I wish you a peaceful and joyous feast – however you choose to celebrate it.

God bless us, Every One!