Charlie Watts & The Jukebox agree : Earl Bostic is Boss – Flamingo!

 

A 7 year old gets introduced to Jazz (and is never the same again).

’Before I wanted to play the drums I wanted to play the Alto Sax. Earl Bostic’s Flamingo was the record that turned me on to Jazz’ (Charlie Watts)

 

Up until the age of 7 I lived in Church Street, Paddington, just over a mile from Marble Arch the landmark that stands as the official centre of London.

Also a mile or so away was Abbey Road Studios where just before my 7th Birthday The Beatles began their epochal recording career.

Nearby was St Johns Wood Library.

Less than half a mile away from home was my parish church and the school where I began my academic studies.

Such were the coordinates of my early life.

Right at the centre, of course, was the home I shared with my parents and my younger brother.

Three rooms above a Betting Shop –  a bedroom partitioned in two, a small living room and a tiny kitchen.

Outside torrents of sound from Church Street Market where you could buy anything from a hair piece to a hula hoop to a handsaw (and I dare say if you knew the right man to ask you could buy a Hawk too).

Photo:Church Street Market

Now, I can’t swear the boy in the picture below is me (though his look and aura matches mine) but I do remember standing in some awe listening to the Salvation Army Sisters preach and sing uplifting hymns with the aim of saving souls.

Photo:A Gathering

Remember what those clever Jesuits said :

Give me a child for his first 7 years and I will give you the man.’ 

In my case almost certainly true.

The 7 year old Tom was;  an obsessive reader, a hundred mile an hour talker and questioner and someone who always wanted to know the who, what, when, where and why about every topic that flashed across the mind.

Both my parents worked long hours in demanding jobs – looking back I must have exhausted them with my relentless enquiries yet they rarely showed any impatience with their effervescent son.

One, nigh infallible, way to staunch my chatter was to play music on the radio or even better to let me cue up a 45 on our Ferguson Radiogram (the pride of our Living Room).

You’ll know some of these as I’ve written about them here :

Runaround Sue’ by Dion,

Walking Back to Happiness’ by Helen Shapiro, 

‘Right Said Fred’ by Bernard Cribbins and, 

’Stranger on The Shore’ by Acker Bilk.

Where did we buy our records?

Why, where else but from a stall just yards from our door – in Church Street Market.

Listening to the stall holders was my introduction to spiel and patter and the art of the dramatic soliloquy :

Now, listen here, gather round, I’ve got juicy tomatoes and melons as big as Sophia Loren’s’

’If you want your whites whiter than white you’ve got no right to go anywhere but John White’s right here!’

’I got cockles and I’ve got mussels, I’ve got eels all the way from the Sargasso Sea – have these every day and your brain will grow as big as Einstein’s’

And, my favourite clarion call :

’If its in the top 10 I’ve got it. If Elvis sang it, I’ve got it.

If its been on the bloomin’ BBC or Luxembourg I’ve got it.

If you can’t remember the name but you can hum it I’ll bet i’ve got it!’

That last peroration from Sid (Symphony Sid of course) who became my favourite stall holder and my most important teacher.

I took to hanging around Sid’s stall when he was closing up for the evening (don’t bother me when I’ve got customers queueing up boy!).

When he was packing up the vinyl treasure it was my chance to ask questions :

‘ I love Twisting The Night Away – tell me about Sam Cooke?

’well boy there ain’t no one alive or dead who sings as naturally as Sam. ‘Course you oughta know that his very best singing, his very best ain’t any of the pop stuff. No! If you want that you’ve got to listen to his gospel stuff with The Soul Stirrers – those records would make a believer out of the deepest atheist I’m telling you!’

’Some people say Elvis is no good since he went in the army but I think, ‘His Latest Flame’ is fantastic – how about you?

’Now Boy, you don’t want to be giving the time of day to those kind of people. I’m telling you 50 years from now the people who really know (and you might be one of ‘em) will tell you that (Marie’s the name) His Latest Flame backed with Little Sister might just be the greatest 45 that anyone, anyone, ever recorded!’

Weeks later he would test me to see if I’d been listening (if you don’t listen close Boy you ain’t ever gonna learn nothin’) :

’What was the gospel group Sam Cooke started out with?’

‘That would be The Soul Stirrers Sid!’

’Good Boy – Look I’ve got a copy here of Del Shannon’s Runaway with just a tiny scratch, fantastic sound that’ll put a your head in a swirl .. take that home now and let me pack up the van in peace.’

’Boy, what was on the other side of ‘His Latest Flame’?

’Easy, Sid, easy that would be Little Sister’.

’Spot on Boy – now I’ve got something special for you here been untouched on the back of this stall for many a year now but I’m telling you this one will outlast all your pop palaver … Earl Bostic playing the Alto Sax on ‘Flamingo’ .. got this off the Jukebox in an American Base .. listen to this Boy, it’ll put hairs on your chest and give you a whole new kind of dreams!’

And, that was how at 7 I got introduced to Jazz, the Alto Saxophone, Earl Bostic and Flamingo!

Now, it took another 7 years before those hairs sprouted on my chest but he was absolutely right about the dreams.

From the moment I first heard Earl’s fruity tone on the Alto Sax I was gone, solid gone.

I had never heard music with such blood and guts life force.

And, dig those Vibes!

Listening to Flamingo I was transported to a shadowy, black and white world where knives flashed and dames smiled dangerously from the doorways of clubs no one like me should ever be allowed to imagine let alone enter.

But that’s the great thing about imagination – once it’s released it’s released and there ain’t t no going back.

Earl became my idol and I drove Sid three quarters mad asking him to find me more Bostic.

Over the next few months along more Bostic beauties : ‘Temptation’, ‘Cherokee’, ‘You Go to My Head’, ‘Sleep’ and, ‘UpThere in Orbit’.

Each new disc became a sacred object for me.

Compared to the full bodied vigour of Earl Bostic most everything else seemed parched and anaemic.

But, like they say, you never forget your first and Flamingo was my first foray into Jazz.

Since then of course I’ve found out that Earl was a legendary saxophone technician with complete mastery of his horn.

I discovered that stellar Jazzers like Benny Carter, Teddy Edwards, Tony Scott, Stanley Turrentine and the blessed John Coltrane himself all played with and were influenced by Earl.

I learned that Earl believed Jazz should never lose sight of The Blues.

Blues had a character that got under the skin and a canny musician could extemporise around that character and have people smile and dance and spend their hard earned money freely.

Earl was very successful because you knew an Earl Bostic Record was going to be an unalloyed pleasure and that you would never, ever, grow tired of listening to Earl’s imperious sound.

Many years later, he became even more of a favourite when I came across a record called, ‘Brooklyn Boogie’ featuring the great Louis Prima and members of my favourite Baseball outfit The Brooklyn Dodgers and reading the credits realised it was written by none other than Earl Bostic!

There’s a legendary figure on the British Jazz scene called Victor Schonfield and I take my hat off to him for this summation of Earl Bostic’s career :

’.. his greatest gift was the way he communicated through his horn a triumphant joy in playing and being, much like Louis Armstrong and only a few others have done’

Bravo Victor and Bravo Bostic!

I’ll leave you with a little more personal history.

One of the many discoveries of our series of house moves over the last few years was a clutch of faded yellow exercise books from my primary school days.

Digging out the book from Spring Term 1962 I see that in very careful script I had answered a series of questions posed by the saintly Sister Mildred as follows :

Favourite Colour – Purple

Favourite Food – Fish and Chips

Favourite Football Team – Spurs

Favourite Book – Treasure Island

Favourite Music – Earl Bostic Flamingo!

Fifty Seven years have rolled around since then but I have to say I’m not minded to change  a single answer.

Take it away Earl.

Blow, Mr Bostic, Blow!

Notes :

I unreservedly recommend, ‘The Earl Bostic Story’ on the Proper Label.

Four CDs, 106 tracks of sheer joy.

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!