Christmas Alphabet ; A for Amos Milburn & Ahmad Jamal

After the last Post’s deep dive into mysticism it’s time to relax and indulge in a little Christmas cheer.

And, who better to provide such cheer than our old Friend and carousing companion, Amos Milburn!

In our house the Christmas wreath adorns the front door.

The tree is decorated and the lights are twinkling.

Underneath the carefully chosen presents are mounting.

The invitations to family and friends have been sent.

We won’t worry about those pesky January bills.

No, we are getting good and ready (I’m practicing my charades mimes!).

We’re gonna dance in the hall and the kitchen and the living room.

We’re gonna finger pop ’til New Years Day.

Because, when all is said and done, Christmas comes but once a year.

Once a year.

Let the good times roll.

Enjoy!

 

And, there will come a moment when all the preparations are complete.

A moment when stillness is all around.

The children are, finally!, asleep.

Somewhere, from a moonlit sky, the snow is falling, hushing the world.

Let it snow.

Ahmad Jamal, a favourite of Miles Davis (and any favourite of Miles’ …), conjures up the scene with his Trio.

Let it snow.

The last Post in the Series will be on the 21st – Don’t Miss It!

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 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!

 

John Martyn : May You Never

It’s a New World.

A New World.

Now, there’s a baby in the house.

The air is suffused with Love and Wonder and a daily sense that Miracles are all around us.

The Decibel Level sways between the extremes.

In the intermittent pools of perfect Peace there is time for reflection.

You find that your first and second thoughts are no longer about yourself but about the one dreaming those unknown snuffling dreams in the Crib.

You find a certain sense of repose overtakes you.

And, in that blessed state, out of the mysterious mental ether, the melodies and the words flow.

Melodies and words from a man, John Martyn, a musician and miracle worker, who lived ten large and generous lives in his bare three score years :

And may you never lay your head down
Without a hand to hold
May you never make your bed out in the cold

Embed from Getty Images

Oh, please won’t you, please won’t you

Bear it in mind – Love is a lesson to learn in our time.

The version below, one of the most perfect recordings ever made, comes from John’s Immortal Album, ‘Solid Air’.

The story goes that John, knowing that this was a Song of Songs, felt every take wasn’t just right.

Producer John Wood, a key figure in so many great records, about to master the album, put his foot down – ‘.. For Christ’s sake, John, just go back in the studio and play it again and record it!’

And, so is History made.

May You Never takes up its place as A50 on The Immortal Jukebox.

 

John Martyn said there was a place between words and music and right there was where his voice lived and breathed.

As for his guitar on this song all I can say is that the mixture of attack and restraint, of power and tenderness has rarely if ever been matched.

Sometimes all the planets and stars are in perfect alignment and the music of the spheres comes through loud and clear.

Loud and clear.

May You Never is a Song I loved with a passion from the first time I heard it over 40 years ago and it has yielded vein after vein of treasure as I have listened to it many hundreds of times as the decades flowed by.

John Martyn, especially in the 1970s, was a sorcerer in live performance.

His Guitar playing achieves a level of duende that goes far beyond technical brilliance – it’s a revelation of the Soul.

Combined with his, ‘Come closer, I’m letting you in to a great secret’ vocals he set up an immensely attractive gravitational force that drew you in and captured your heart and soul.

 

 

There can be no denying that John Martyn through his immense appetite for Alcohol and other substances made mighty efforts to sabotage his enormous talents.

Yet, gifts such as he was given, though shadowed are rarely wholly extinguished.

Here’s a performance from his later years showing that the magic could still light up fellow musician and an audience.

In particular I want to draw your attention to the Bass playing of Danny Thompson who was virtually a brother to John Martyn.

When they had a night out on the town, trailing havoc in their wake, it was as if John Wayne and Victor McLaglen had been reincarnated as Master Musicians!

The lines about never losing your temper in a bar room fight were born of deep experience!

But, in the studio or on stage their soul friendship produced  music making of the very highest order.

Kathy Mattea and Dobro King Jerry Douglas add diamond decoration.

No wonder he liked that one.

Take it to Church John!

Take it to Church.

 

 

All that’s left to say is that I wish my granddaughter and all of you a warm hand to hold and   may we all bear in mind that Love is the lesson to learn in our time.

In Memory of John Martyn 1948 to 2009.

Notes:

I am going to write many more Posts on John Martyn.

For now I would urge you to purchase, ‘Solid Air’ as a matter of urgency

Madeleine Peyroux sings Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen & Hank Williams

Charisma is hard to define but easy to recognise.

It’s nothing to do with how loud you shout or how sharp you dress.

No. If present it surrounds the possessor like a solar corona that exerts invisible influence on distant objects.

Madeleine Peyroux has a charisma that is insistently present in her recordings and in performance.

When Madeleine sings she doesn’t come at you like a full force gale. Rather, standing still and singing softly she invites you to still yourself, lean in and listen closely.

She selects songs that have emotional depth; songs that resonate with our lived experience and our dreamscapes, songs that never let us go, songs that no matter how many times heard always retain a core of unfathomable mystery.

Songs a true singer can sing over and over again because they continue to engage the person and the performer.

Madeleine had a peripatetic bohemian childhood and adolescence taking in Canada, France, England and the USA.

Her parents were radical academics who had a record collection which exposed her to Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.

As she was beginningto play guitar she was struck by the self possessed quiet authority of Tracy Chapman.

While living and busking in Paris as a teenager she encountered the Chanson tradition through the works of Josephine Baker and Edith Piaf.

All very good preparation for taking on songs by the greatest songwriters of the 20th  century!

Embed from Getty Images

 

Let’s start with her languorously hypnotic take on Leonard Cohen’s, ‘Dance Me To The End of Love’.

 

Now, it’s immediately obvious that Madeleine swings.

She feels where the beat is and chooses when and how to engage with it.

She’s both above and within the song slyly pausing and eliding notes to emphasise the ritual cadences of Leonard’s lyric.

She’s barefoot dancing through the song, her voice burning incandescently as like the homeward dove she leads us safely through the suppressed panic till we’re safely gathered in.

Safely gathered in.

In a sense every song Madeleine sings becomes a tent of shelter against the cruelties of the world both for herself and through her singing for her audience.

For the duration of the spell cast no matter how threadbare our spiritual and emotional raiment we are given glimpses of wholeness and redemptive hope.

You can bet that Leonard laboured long and hard to write, ‘Dance Me To The End of Love’ juts as you can safely assume that Bob Dylan received, ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’ as a more or less direct transmission from his extravagant Muses.

The miraculous flow of the song is Bob at his Olympian best entrancing us with his sensuous mastery of language.

The song is a tapestry of images strartling in their freshness, beauty and tenderness.

It would be idle to pick out individual lines in a song which has such imaginative, lyrical and musical unity.

Madeleine gives the song  a highly attentive reading so that time seems to meander and eddy as we listen.

 

Perhaps the gretest Songwriting Forefather for both Bob and Leonard was the one and only Hank WIlliams.

Hank is dead for 60 years now.

But, of course though Hank is dead he will never be gone.

For Hank wrote songs that speak with shocking intimacy to the bare forked animal inside every one of us.

The snow falls round the window and dream worlds fall apart.

Fall apart.

Oh God forgive us if we cry.

Forgive us if we cry.

Madeleine knows that with a Hank Williams song only minimal ornamentation is required. Hank has put so much feeling in the song that to sing it truly is to become a Medium channeling his spirit.

 

 

I’m going to leave you with a grand cadeu for the New Year.

Madeleine paying homage to Josephine Baker and the Chanson tradition with a song from 1930 written by Vincent Scotto, Henri Varna and Geo Koger.

Now wasn’t that pure pleasure!

Madeleine has had an erratic recording career. It’s clear from my choices above that I have  a particular fondness for her, ‘Careless Love’ album.

Yet, every record she has made will surely repay your interest as she illuminates a treasury of great songs within Jazz, Blues, Country, Folk and Chanson.

Load up your Jukeboxes!

Ry Cooder, Captain Beefheart, John Handy : Hard Work! Hard Work!

Hard Work. Hard Work.

Never killed anyone.

Or so the sages say.

But, Lord, Lord, it sure can make you dog tired.

What brought me to these thoughts?

Moving House.

Moving up into the hills.

Farming country criss crossed with ancient footpaths.

Moving all our stuff.

All our stuff.

All the Books!

All the Vinyl!

All the DVDs and CDs.

All the accumulated treasures and trifles of a lifetime to be boxed, bagged and loaded.

Now that is hard work!

Hard Work.

So, Dear Readers, precious little time to research and ponder deeply before writing.

So, so, I set the numbskulls free to roam in my brain’s music data base with ‘Hard Work’ as the search tag.

And, look what emerged!

From the 1970s two paens to the Working Life.

First up Saxophonist John Handy.

An alumnus of the Great Charles Mingus Band.

Classic solo on, ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’

Here, he digs in and you just gotta go with the groove.

Hard Work. Hard Work.

Next. From the Soundtrack of Paul Schrader’s, directorial debut, ‘Blue Collar’ the one and only Captain Beefheart in the guise of a classic Blues Singer with, ‘Hard Working Man’.

Can’t you feel the gears grinding and the metal shuddering!

A constellation of talent on show.

Written and produced by Jack Nitzsche a shadowy guiding hand and presence involved with many great records for decades.

Guitar by Ry Cooder.

Ry has impact whenever he plays.

Hard Work! Hard Work!

A Jolly Holiday .. Louis Armstrong .. Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo!

It’s that time of the year again.

Time for a Jolly Holiday.

Time to gather the family, rev up the family car (The Roadster safely tucked up in the garage) and set off to the far, far West.

Finisterre as it were.

The Atlantic Ocean thrashing and murmuring through the hours according to the dictates of the distant Moon.

The last rays of the Sun over the land.

Suitcases stowed along with :

Surfboards, Wetsuits, Kites (Kites are skittish things), Quoits, Cricket Bats and Compendium of Games (can I retain my title as supreme draughts/checkers champion?).

Laptops, IPods, IPads, Cameras, Tripods, assorted chargers and batteries.

For me three books guaranteed to please whatever the weather.

To make me laugh out loud P. G. Wodehouse :

‘It’s no use telling me there are good aunts and bad aunts. At the core, they are all alike. Sooner or later, out pops the cloven hoof.’

To inspire me, ‘Stepping Stones’ – conversations between Seamus Heaney and Dennis O’Driscoll illuminating the great Poet’s dedication to his vocation :

‘If you have the words, there’s always a chance you’ll find the way’.

To utterly sweep me away, ‘Moby Dick’ :

‘Yes, as everyone knows, meditation and water are wedded forever.’

Obviously, a selection of music to suit all our ages, all times of the day and night and all our humours.

As we drive down we check off the Way stages of our journey laughing as we recount previous adventures.

Old memories celebrated. New memories minted.

And, there’s always one song that elects itself our Summer Song.

A mysterious process but agreement on the chosen song is always by acclamation and lusty choral sing song.

So I am pleased to open the envelope and announce to a breathless world that this years song is the fantastic, frolicsome, ‘Bibbidi, Bobbidi, Boo!’ by the one, the only, Louis Armstrong!

Take it away Satch!

Well, I have to say I can’t think of another song by another singer more guaranteed to have a family laugh out loud with delirious pleasure!

Louis Armstrong was a certified musical genius.

But, he was also a man who radiated warmth and bonhomie.

I only have to imagine his face or listen to the echo of his unique tones to feel that life is a very fine enterprise.

I wholly agree with Tony Bennett – ‘The bottom line of any country is, What did we contribute to the World. We (the USA) contributed Louis Armstrong.’

Now, I’m aware many of you are not on Holiday.

No, you’re straining at the coal face or the chalk face or the work station counting down the hours.

There are, I am told, many fine books on mindfulness and mediatation that might help you in such circumstances.

Yet, I have never found a better way to lift my mood than to call up Louis Armstrong in my mind and sing, sing, sing,

Bibbidi, Bobbidi, Boo! Bibbidi, Bobbidi, Boo!

Happy Holidays.