Words To Live By

A writer friend sent me the following quote:

If you don’t feel that you are possibly on the edge of humiliating yourself, of losing control of the whole thing, then probably what you are doing isn’t very vital. If you don’t feel like you are writing somewhat over your head, why do it? If you don’t have some doubt of your authority to tell this story, then you are not trying to tell enough.
~ John Irving

I might add that this is just as applicable to living in general as to writing in particular.

I’ll never learn…

Instead of paring down, I took on more. In the midst of all my writing projects, I have been building websites and blogs for people (arnoldrichards.net, missnancywilson.com, and boomerhead.com, to name a few) …..but it was for money. Got to do a little something to fill the coffers while waiting for the SnapSizleBop projects to earn their keep.

Speaking of which, we have now officially launched the At the Feet of a Jazz Master project — that’s the one based on John Levy’s long life in the jazz world. The end result of the project is a high-quality soft-cover coffee table book of exquisite color photos (shot by Leroy Hamilton) interspersed with short essays and vignettes that celebrate John’s life, the lessons he’s learned, and the legacy that he leaves. But there is much to the online project experience that will not make it into the book — for example, photos from John’s personal archives, lots of streaming audio on the SnapSizzleBop radio player, audio interviews with many artists and friends, and maybe even some streaming video clips.

We’ve launched seven participant levels ranging from the $30 Download Participant and the $50 Mail Order Participant, to the $2500 Collector Participant (includes a poster with dozens of great autographs) and the Enduring Legacy Participant that lets you give the gift of jazz education to the school of your choice for only $3500.

Here’s a direct link to the complete list of participant offers and here’s a link to the overall project description. I hope you’ll check it out.

Those were the days….

My ongoing, online, elementary school reunion (first mentioned back in June) suffered a brief hiatus when the politics got too hot and heavy, but I’m glad to say that we’re back in action albeit with more benign subject matter. We are currently focused on childhood memories of school plays, favorite foods, birthday parties and tv shows. One of the “boys” remembered playing frogman in the bathtub with another “boy.” The response?

Frogmen? In my bathtub? I remember being obsessed with scuba divers, having decided that this would be my future career at an early age after watching some TV show with Lloyd Bridges about divers. But I don’t recall playing with you in my bathtub.

The tv show seems to have been Seahunt, but I thought it might have been Diver Dan, which I remember watching. That led another classsmate to send me the lyrics and a link to hear Diver Dan:

Below in the deep there’s adventure and danger;
That’s where you’ll find Diver Dan!
The sights that he sees are surprising and stranger
Than ever you’ll see on the land!
He moves among creatures
Of frightening features:
Flashing teeth, slashing jaws,
Flapping fins, snapping claws!
He protects and he saves
His friends under the waves;
That’s where you’ll find Diver Dan!

Oh my, what we can find online. Suddenly, instead of working, I am trolling for sounds from childhood tv shows, such as Batman, Casper the Friendly Ghost ( I remember the visual, but I have no recollection of this audio), but I do remember this sound of the Chipmunks, and then there was Dick Tracy and of course Dudley Do-Right.

As you can see, I didn’t get past the Ds yet, but break time is over and it’s back to work for me.

Love Me, Love My Mess

I was in New York City last week for the annual jazz educators conference and NEA Jazz Masters events. It was a busy busy few days, and now I need a vacation, but alas it’s not yet in the cards for me. Meanwhile, I received this tip from a reader:

Wondering if you saw the review in the Sunday (Jan. 7) L.A. Times that immediately made me think about your recent poem submission!!!

The book is called “A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder” by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman.

It took me awhile to find the piece in question. Being in a hurry as usual, I jumped immediately to Sunday’s book section online and couldn’t find the review. Maybe my tipster meant The New York Times I thought, having been there this past weekend. Nope, not there either. I tried a search; nada. Back to the Los Angeles Times where a search for “A Perfect Mess” yielded nothing.

Duh! If I would slow down enough to read carefully, thoughtfully, I might have noticed the detail — “Jan. 7” — albeit in parentheses. Still, it took many more mouse clicks to find it, and that’s because it was not a feature book review, but just a squib in the brief reviews. Here’s what Susan Salter Reynolds wrote in her Discoveries column:

A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder
Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman
Little, Brown: 336 pp. $25.99

Good news! Organization is overrated. Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman offer studies and interviews revealing the tyranny of organizing, our unwarranted guilt about messes, the beauty of mess and how suited it is to the way the mind works. (“Our brains evolved to function in a messy world, and … when we insist on thinking in neat, orderly ways we’re really holding our minds back from doing what they do best.”) Einstein’s desk at Princeton was an example of “stupendous disarray.” Desk mess seems to grow with education, salary and experience. Whereas neatness “whittle[s] away at … quantity and diversity,” messiness “comfortably tolerate[s] an exhaustive array of … entities.” There are chapters on the history of mess (starting with efforts to control nature), our fear of domestic mess, the need for messiness in city planning and the Seven Highly Overrated Habits of Time Management. The authors rely heavily on data and methods of the burgeoning and amusing organization industry, including the National Assn. of Professional Organizers. Their book is thought-provoking, well-organized, badly needed.

Wish I had time to read it; sounds like good news, indeed.

More About Erroll Garner

This past weekend Mr. Rifftides posted a piece about Erroll Garner in which he citied the “cheer and optimism” that was inherent in his playing, recommended some wonderful CDs, and included a link to a fabulous YouTube videoclip. My husband was the bass player on Garner’s very first recording and I know just how much he loved Garner’s playing because the two most frquently played recordings during the early days of our courtship were Nancy Wilson’s Lush Life and Garner’s Concerts By The Sea. Here’s what John Levy has to say about that session and about working with Garner (excerpted from “Men, Women, and Girl Singers” – pages 58-60):

One recording date I’ll never forget was with Erroll Garner. On September 25, 1945 we recorded four sides, or singles, for Savoy Records: “Somebody Loves Me,” “Laura,” “Back Home Again in Indiana,” and “Stardust.” But the reason I remember it so clearly is not because of the tunes, but because the elevator operators were on strike. When I got to the building and saw what was happening, I called upstairs from a pay phone in the lobby, and got the producer, Herman Lubinsky on the phone. “You’ll have to pay me an extra $50 for hauling my bass all the way up there,” I told Herman. In those days the union didn’t require you to get paid for cartage, but I wasn’t going to play a note until he agreed. That’s probably the only time I wished I had stayed a piano player.

When I finally got upstairs Erroll really looked surprised. “Man, how’d you make it up 30 flights of stairs carryin’ that bass?” Later he told me that he tried to get the date postponed. “Can you imagine? Herman asked me ‘Can’t you do without the bass?’ I told him ‘no way,’ and that’s when you called.”

Herman did pay me the extra money, but we fell out over it. “You’ll never work for me again,” was the last I ever heard from him, but I didn’t care. Once we started to play, the memory of all those stairs just disappeared.

It was just a trio session—Erroll and I, and a drummer named George de Hart. All I remember about this cat is that he was a hunchback from New Jersey who, just like Denzil, was a good solid drummer; he just laid it down, nothing fancy. I never saw him again after that date.

There were no parts to read on this session because Erroll, like many of the great musicians, didn’t read or write music. He picked standard tunes and we figured out little interludes, intros and endings, talked down the solo choruses and then recorded. We did all four sides in a single three-hour session in those days; none of this elaborate re-recording and punching in individual notes or mixing in a different solo. We might have run it through once or twice, and then they’d roll tape. If we didn’t like the way it went we might do two or three takes, but that was it.

Erroll Garner had a natural gift, perfect pitch, and Earl Hines and others influenced his style. I think Hines was one of his favorites. Erroll’s style was orchestral rather than pianistic. He had a full-orchestra sound, with a rhythm left hand that sounded like a guitar comping while he did off-beat stuff with the right hand. Comping is when one player lays down the chords for a soloist to improvise over; it is supposed to complement what the other player is doing. Erroll had a really unique style. He wasn’t a bebop player but he was highly respected and admired by Bud Powell and other pianists of that era; actually, all musicians admired Erroll. He was a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. He didn’t have a lot to say, but he always seemed to be a happy fellow sitting on top of his telephone books and humming along with his tunes.

On a live gig, Erroll would never call a tune; he’d just start vamping and then suddenly take off. Stuff Smith was the same way; he never said what he was going to play. Some things you had introductions on, so before he’d go into it, maybe he’d give you a little cue, then again, maybe not. Sometimes you’d have to wait for the first couple of notes to know what he was doing.

Erroll sure could mess up a lot of drummers and bass players because he had a pronounced behind-the-beat kind of style that some players couldn’t get with; they’d get lost. He’d be swinging, but you weren’t supposed to drop back with him, you were supposed to stay on top, rather than behind. In other words you couldn’t play laid back with Erroll, because if both of you laid back you’d just drag it down.

No pianist has come along since who has the same kind of feeling as Erroll Garner. I loved to play with him, and when we were both playing on 52nd Street I couldn’t wait to go to work at night so I could run down and catch one of his sets during our break. One night he even came by the Onyx and sat in with our group. He was such a nice man, and he’d do all kinds of crazy things on that piano. But it was always swinging, always moving. Garner would set down the tempo and that’d be it, and all you had to do was just play the basic notes. And that would be the right thing to do because he layed it down for you. And he never played anything the same way twice. He might play a tune in an A flat tonight, tomorrow night he’d play it in A, and the next night it might be in B, wherever he decided to start off from the piano, that’s the key it would be in because he knew nothing about keys. Erroll Garner was a joy to play with and I miss him.

By Request

My husband loved the before christmas poem about losing my shoes and has now requested that I write about my office…so take it up with him.

Clean it up, and find your shoes,
my helpful husband offers.
He is not aware of what he asks,
it’s here I fill my coffers.

Although the floor is piled high
with music, books and papers,
in this space that’s mine alone,
I work on all my capers.

My room is roughly 10 x 12
with overflowing shelves,
I don’t know how the work gets done,
it must be all those elves.

Van Gogh, Kandinsky, and Picasso
hang on butterscotch walls.
A four-line phone atop my desk,
it’s here I field the calls.

No office furniture in my room,
I much prefer a den.
It’s such a mess, oh can’t you guess,
I’ll never find my pen.

Notebooks and file folders
cascade on a serving cart.
I can’t keep track of all there is,
I’ll have to make a chart.

My desk an oblong dining table,
belonged to my grandmother.
It’s piled high with reference books
and so I need another.

From great Aunts Hattie and Tillie
comes my oval dining table.
It’s here I sit and window watch
whenever I am able.

I’ll never find my shoes or keys,
as much you might suspect.
Don’t give me that look, i’m writing three books,
what else do you expect?

“It’s very clear, it’s a disaster my dear.”
“I know,” I say with a sigh.
“If you clean it all up, you might be in luck.”
“Okay, well maybe I’ll try.”

No One Gets Out Of Here Alive

Now there’s a cheery thought to start off the new year. What a spectacle it’s been with the three major deaths in the news all at the same time. And what a trio: a villianous dictator/murderer, a past president, and the godfather of soul.

So what is it about death that makes us want to watch? Why have the masses been queing up to “say goodbye” to people they never met in life. How many hundreds walked through the rotunda and the Apollo theater to “pay their respects”? Millions watched on tv as the godfather’s gold casket arrived at the Apollo by horsedrawn carriage and a processional entourage. Today millions will watch Ford’s funeral and many will cringe while the current president delivers a eulogy — an honor that comes with the office and cuts both ways. But what’s really scary is how many millions of people would really have liked to have witnessed Sadam’s execution.

Maybe we all have a dark side, or maybe we like to view the dead to reassure ourselves that we’re still alive — you know, kind of like laughing at the guy who slips on the banana peel. Maybe we want to see the really bad guys die with our own eyes — seeing is believing. Of course, in the midst of all of this, we took a time out to watch the Rose Parade — those of a certain age watched especially to see the Star Wars’ Storm Troopers — followed by four games where bunches of guys tackled one another. What fun! But I didn’t stick around long enough to see how many, if any, got carried of their battle field.

You know I’d opt for music over politics or hoopla any day — perhaps a nice little requiem for the salvation of the souls of the departed.