Friday, October 26, 2007

Buried treasure... the form of a CD, still in its original shrink-wrap, that I found while cleaning out my music cabinet. It's at least five years old; maybe more, and is a remastering of sides cut by legendary jazz pianist Oscar Peterson between 1952 and 1957. Why I never listened to it is a mystery; I was buying jazz discs by the dozens in those days, and Oscar was -- and remains -- one of those jazzmen I most enjoy.

This disc is special because of the people working with him. Each cut has one of his "friends" sharing the spotlight: Lester Young, Milt Jackson, Anita O'Day, Sonny Stitt, Fred Astaire, Roy Eldridge, Buddy Rich, Stan Getz, Lionel Hampton, Ben Webster and Ella Fitzgerald. Dynamite stuff.

The recording -- or at least the remix -- has an annoying flaw, in that the soloists are miked very closely. One can hear the "clank" of Hampton's mallets hitting the vibraphone bars, hear the clicking of the valves on Young's saxophone, hear Fitzgerald drawing breath between phrases.

Doesn't bother you after the first hearing. I've played it through three times so far tonight.

The real highlight for me was the re-discovery of a haunting tune written by the legendary Billy Strayhorn for Duke Ellington's Orchestra back in 1949. Lush Life is a magnificent piece of music; I learned it, years ago, but never truly mastered its intricate harmonic patterns, or the depth of emotion in the melody.

It's a New York City kind of song. I've been in bars there, and only there, where its story might come to life. But Billy was a New York kind of songwriter, conditioned by the years with the Duke at the Cotton Club and everywhere else.

Ella was not the ideal vocalist to record it; neither -- though I bless her for trying -- was Linda Ronstadt. The lyrics, and the tune, demand a special kind of voice, sultry, dark and smoky.

Still, this, like a very few other great songs, touches a nerve deep inside. There is a veneer of cynicism, but below the surface, is pain made beautiful, but no less painful for its beauty...

I used to visit all the very gay places
Those come what may places
Where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life
To get the feel of life from jazz and cocktails

The girls I knew had sad and sullen grey faces
With distingué traces
That used to be there you could see where they'd been washed away
By too many through the day twelve o'clock tales

Then you came along with your siren song
To tempt me to madness
I thought for a while that your poignant smile
Was tinged with the sadness of a great love for me
Ah yes I was wrong, again I was wrong

Life is lonely again
And only last year everything seemed so sure
Now life is awful again
A trough full of hearts could only be a bore
A week in Paris could ease the bite of it
All I care is to smile in spite of it

I'll forget you, I will
While yet you are still burning inside my brain
Romance is mush, stifling those who strive
So I'll live a lush life in some small dive
And there I'll be
While I rot
With the rest of those whose lives are lonely too


Anonymous said...

Those are some dynamite accompaniests (sp?even a word??) Some of the old jazz doesn't do much for me, but Lionel Hampton, Stan Getz, Buddy Rich...even if you didn't like the music, which I might, it'd be interesting just to hear them play!

I remember when the CD format first was popularized, my father once remarked to me, "You know, these remasters of thus-and-such symphony is fantastic, but it's TOO good--you can hear the musician's turning the pages of their music, and sometimes you'll hear a clarinet or sax setting his keys a few beats before he starts to play.

I guess, even with clarity, you can have too much of a good thing.

Congrats on your great re-find....have a good weekend!

MrScribbler said...

Null -- Of course I love the music, so another dose is always welcome.

The only thing I like about digital recording is the convenience. A clean tape or grooved-disc recording has a warmth that digital can't match. That's inherent in the nature of digital recording.

But I suspect the original recording engineer(s) goofed. Not much you can do about that.

Justfly said...

It is always sweet to find a forgotten present to yourself.
Reading your entry brought back memories of the yearly visits from Duke Ellington to our school.

"painful for its beauty" you really do have an art for words MrScrib. I can understand how you are a successful writer.