Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"But Beautiful" by Geoff Dyer (plus music)

Great jazz and good writing has been a wonderful combination for many years now.   So by even its cover I knew this book is going to of some interest.  Geoff Dyer has a real appreciation for the visual imagery of jazz - meaning that his writing is almost a series of snapshots of various legendary jazz figures. He captures each moment  that is both touching and 'wow.'

The individual pieces in this book are held together by brief episodes of Duke Ellington and Harry Carney on the road that reads sort of existential that they do what they do - which is to travel, eat at dodgy diners, go to club/theater, play music and then go forward.  But during this activity Ellington is consistently thinking of writing new music and he finds inspiration on the pacing and details of 'road' life.   A very nice touch, and then it goes into incredible 'at the moment' portraits of Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Chet Baker, and the ultra-cool and poisonous Art Pepper.   Dyer gets it right, and this is a really 'must' type of book for one's jazz library.  Or I should just say music.   You like sound, then get the book.

Here's the music makers that are in the book:

Lester Young
Lester Young - Tenor Sax
Billy Butterfield - Trumpet
Hank D'Amico - Clarinet
Dexter Hall - Guitar
Johnny Guarnieri - Piano
Billy Taylor - Bass
Cozy Cole - Drums

Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins, 1958
Charlie Shavers, trumpet; J C Higginbotham, trombone; Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, tenor sax; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Harry Sheppard, vibraphone; Willie "The Lion" Smith, piano; Dickie Thompson, guitar; Vinnie Burke, acoustic double bass; Sonny Greer, drums

Lester Young and Billie Holiday.  With Gerry Mulligan

Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk - piano. Charlie Rouse - tenor. Larry Gales - bass. Ben Riley - drums

a long set with Thelonious Monk.

Bud Powell Trio

Ben Webster
Ben Webster - Tenor Saxophone, Kenny Drew - Piano, Nils Henning Orsted Pederson - Bass, Alex Riel, Drums

Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus Double Bass
Eric Dolphy Bass Clarinet
Dannie Richmond Drum
Clifford Jordan Tenor Sax
Jackie Byard Piano
Johnny Coles Trumpet

Chet Baker

Art Pepper

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Gainsbourg the Biography by Gilles Verlant

When Serge Gainsbourg died in 1991, France went into mourning: François Mitterand himself proclaimed him “our Baudelaire, our Apollinaire.” 

Gainsbourg redefined French pop, from his beginnings as cynical chansonnier and mambo-influenced jazz artist to the ironic “yé-yé” beat and lush orchestration of his 1960s work to his launching of French reggae in the 1970s to the electric funk and disco of his last albums. But mourned as much as his music was Gainsbourg the man: the self-proclaimed ugly lover of such beauties as Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin, the iconic provocateur whose heavy-breathing “Je t’aime moi non plus” was banned from airwaves throughout Europe and whose reggae version of the “Marseillais” earned him death threats from the right, and the dirty-old-boy wordsmith who could slip double-entendres about oral sex into the lyrics of a teenybopper ditty and make a crude sexual proposition to Whitney Houston on live television. 

Gilles Verlant’s biography of Gainsbourg is the best and most authoritative in any language. Drawing from numerous interviews and their own friendship, Verlant provides a fascinating look at the inner workings of 1950s–1990s French pop culture and the conflicted and driven songwriter, actor, director and author that emerged from it: the young boy wearing a yellow star during the German Occupation; the young art student trying to woo Tolstoy’s granddaughter; the musical collaborator of Petula Clark, Juliette Greco and Sly and Robbie; the seasoned composer of the Lolita of pop albums, Histoire de Melody Nelson; the cultural icon who transformed scandal and song into a new form of delirium.

Release date: July 31, 2012
ISBN: 9780966234671
Translated from the French by Paul Knobloch

Saturday, May 19, 2012

F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Cruise of the Rolling Junk"

Such a small book one can fit it in their back pocket, yet, this small object had a profound affect on me. Written as a magazine piece for the upscale Saturday Evening Post, the article eventually found a home in a less prominent publication - a car magazine.

Originally written as a serial, "The Cruise of the Rolling Junk" is 'On the Road' for F. Scott Fitzgerald and his somewhat nutty but beautiful wife Zelda. One morning Zelda had a passion to have fresh biscuits and peaches from her natural home in Alabama. So taking off from Connecticut, in a very unreliable car - the re-named "Rolling Junk" they go on the road to pleasure. But alas, things don't work out.

For one they have consistent problems with their automobile on this trip, which often left them stranded in the back woods of even badder hotels and in the hands of a series of rotten car mechanics. But in reality they are sort of 'the truth' vs. the unreality of the Fitgerald's. In what seems like a nice weekend trip turns into an obsessive journey to the couple's inner world. The landscape of this piece is 'charming and funny but there are very dark overtones that takes over the reader in the 21st Century.

Written while he was working on The Great Gatsby, F. Scott's attenna was up and working. But sadly and quite disturbing is his attitude toward Black Americans. The cruel side of his observations comes to front, so that alone makes it difficult to 'like' him as a narrator. And Zelda's personality (via Scott) is sort of troublesome as well. She is sort of a combination of a nagging so-so and a spoiled child. What must have been read in the early 20th Century as funny becomes somewhat sad and disturbing in the 21st Century.

Which brings up to mind does Fitzgerald's writing has something to say to people now in 2012? Well, for one, this book is very close to the edition that was originally published in "Motor" in 1924. The book comes with photographs of Scott, Zelda, and the Rolling Junk as the adventure happens. So it is very much a period piece of its time - but what's contemporary is the mental attitude of Fitzgerald as he and Zelda wonder back into the Southern past, that for sure will bring failure.

Like the image of most male americans, Fitzgerald is not one with his car. A cowboy has his loyal horse, and the male has his relationship with their car. Here The Rolling Junk practically rebels against Scott's wishes for a solid car outing. The humor in this book is a good few chuckles but the real 'dark' humor is the failure of communication, the lack of understanding of machine, and the need to entertain a wife who is slowly going out of the picture.

The trip ends as a failure of sorts, and Fitzgerald for sure sees this as an aesthetic that things rot from the inside to the exterior. A throw-away literature but what I think is a masterpiece from F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald reading Shakespeare

Some film footage of the couple.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

TamTam Books Tribute to Hasil Adkins

"She Said"

"Waitin' for the Graveyard"

A six minute documentary in French on French TV.  Great footage

"I Need Your Head" has to be the most demented rock n' roll song ever.  Horror on a grand scale.

"Walk and Talk With Me"

documentary trailer

Roxy Music Live in 1972

Recorded for the BBC, this 35 minute set shows the aural power of Roxy Music. Noisy, brilliant, borderline prog, and just plain great.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

More Cars for Michel Gondry's film version of Boris Vian's "L'écume des jours"

Gainsbourg the Biography by Gilles Verlant

The cover of Gainsbourg by Gilles Verlant
Is it fair that the publisher of this book gives it a review? Probably not. But then again I think this is probably the most amazing biography on Serge Gainsbourg. The author, Gilles Verlant, spent over 100 hours interviewing Gainsbourg as well as his family, friends, and other incredible french music/film artists from the 1950's till the early 1990's. 

And without a doubt it is the best (and maybe only) book in English that covers the French pop music world in such wonderful detail.  More then half of the book is oral history of Gainsbourg and French pop/film world.  Verlant is very much part of that world, and his access to the French pop stars, Serge's family, and various people around the music world at that time is pretty amazing.  Also in this book you get some of Gainsbourg's brilliant lyrics wonderfully translated by Paul Knobloch.