Saturday, May 26, 2007

Paul Desmond

Paul Desmond died thirty years ago, May 30, 1977 -- Memorial Day in the US. A web site called has a biography, discography, and other good stuff. The interviews are interesting because Desmond's conversation was a lot like his playing: there's an overall appearance of modesty and self-deprecation on top of an obviously massive talent. There's surface humor beneath which is a deep and serious commitment: wit in the service of high art.

In 2001, Dave Brubeck reminisced about Paul during a show about a PBS documentary. At one point Brubeck tells an anecdote that shows Paul's combination of wit and virtuosity. The interviewer is Hendrick Smith.
SMITH: Paul had this thing about quotes, and he had this thing about telling stories uh, in music. And wasn't there one night when you guys were riding in Pennsylvania and…and the cops pulled him over the side of the road for speeding - I can't remember the story. What….what happened? Do you remember what I'm talking about?

DAVE: The cops pulled us over and Paul was driving and I guess speeding a little. And, [the cop] told us to follow him and he took us down across the railroad tracks to a farm house where there was a judge. And we had to pay a certain amount of cash to this judge. Well there wasn't time to rehearse or even talk about this and the next night at the concert, in the middle of a tune, Paul laid out the whole sequence in quotes. Titles of songs that would tell the story. The first place the cop was supposed to be wearing a broad rim hat like they do in Pennsylvania, kinda, you know like the Canadian Mounted Police. The first quote he played was "Where did you get that hat?" The next thing was "Down by the railroad station, early in the morning." All wove into another tune -- quote after quote after quote that made absolute sense as a jazz chorus. And of course Paul just strung out these quotes -- he could do that.

SMITH: You told me he would even do that on stage playing with you and sometimes he'd play, I don't know, Don't Fence Me In, I mean he'd…I mean he'd play things that were sorta, you know, giving you the elbow.

DAVE: Oh yeah, he had some good quotes. We'd be playing in the middle of a song and I might hit a chord that was too far out and the next thing he would play would, you'd hear "You're driving me crazy." What did I do? (laughter)

Dave Brubeck Quartet, "These Foolish Things"

Some Desmond quotes:

Complexity can be a trap. You can have a ball developing a phrase, inverting it, playing it in different keys and times and all. But it's really more introspective than communicative. Like a crossword puzzle compared to a poem.

I think I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted it to sound like a dry martini.”

I would also like to thank my father who discouraged me from playing the violin at an early age.

We used to get on planes, and they'd ask who we were, and we'd say, 'The Dave Brubeck Quartet', and they'd say, 'Who?' In later years they'd say, 'Oh', which amounts to the same thing.

Writing is like jazz. It can be learned, but it can't be taught.

I have won several prizes as the world's slowest alto player, as well as a special award in 1961 for quietness.

I was unfashionable before anyone knew who I was.

I tried practicing for a few weeks and ended up playing too fast.

I discovered early in life that if you take gym first period, you can go into the wrestling room and sit in the corner and sleep.

On the secret of his tone: "I honestly don't know! It has something to do with the fact that I play illegally."

He was an English major in college. His reason for not pursuing a literary career, "I could only write at the beach, and I kept getting sand in my typewriter."

Desmond's fondness for scotch was well known. So in early 1976 when a physical examination showed lung cancer, he was ironically pleased that his liver was fine. "Pristine, perfect. One of the great livers of our time. Awash in Dewars and full of health."

If you're still with me, check out PAUL DESMOND interviews CHARLIE PARKER. It's a transcript from a radio broadcast from early 1954. The announcer is John McLellan. I particularly like the section in which Desmond gets Parker to tell about the hard work he devoted to the development of his skill.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Lili Schonemann (& JWvG)

As you can see from my Current Reading list, over on the right panel, I've given over historical research in order to ingest John Armstrong's Love, life, Goethe : how to be happy in an imperfect world. So far, it's pretty much what the publisher and reviewers say: an invitation to see Goethe anew, not as a distant and inapproachable component of the Western Canon of Literature, but as someone we can read for pleasure and learn from. Says Booklist: "Armstrong invites readers to appreciate Goethe as an eminently human genius perpetually striving toward personal growth and wholeness, balance and beauty." I'm one of those who find Goethe difficult to read. I like his Italian Journey, but find Werther, Faust, and the rest pretty tough going. Reading about Goethe is another matter and this is not a bad book on him; perhaps having read it, I'll do better then next time I tackle works by the man himself.

In reading Armstrong, I just got to an account of the love between the 23-year-old Goethe and 16-year-old Lili Schönemann. Armstrong says Lili was seductive with a look full of erotic knowledge and a passion for sharing little secrets with men who admired her. One of these secrets, she told Goethe, was a habit of gaining the love of men, and then showing her dominance by breaking off from them. She might have intuited that Goethe was similarly inclined. He too had loved and been loved in return, and then, like Lili, taken his leave. Armstrong says this affinity was the main reason that, having once bonded, neither wished to break off and, just as much, neither wished to marry the other.

Armstrong shows us this portrait of Lili and adds a provocative question.

The picture puts me in mind of a similar raised eyebrow in last fall's production of Hedda Gabler at Goucher College.


Ralph Waldo Emerson put Goethe on a plane with Shakespeare and celebrated both throughout his life. In his portrait of Goethe in Representative Men, he seems to be writing of himself as much as his subject:
His failures are the preparation of his victories. A new thought or a crisis of passion apprises him that all that he has yet learned and written is exoteric, — is not the fact, but some rumor of the fact. What then? Does he throw away the pen? No; he begins again to describe in the new light which has shined on him, — if, by some means, he may yet save some true word.

Scholars or writers see connection where the multitude see fragments, and are impelled to exhibit the facts in order, and so to supply the axis on which the frame of things turns. {This is a bit of a paraphrase.}

[The writer] reports the doings of the miraculous spirit of life that everywhere throbs and works.

[Goethe] exists for culture; not for what he can accomplish, but for what can be accomplished in him.

An intellectual man can see himself as a third person; therefore his faults and delusions interest him equally with his successes. Though he wishes to prosper in affairs, he wishes more to know the history and destiny of man; whilst the clouds of egotists drifting about him are only interested in a low success.

Source: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Representative Men, Goethe or, The Writer

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Lloyd Alexander

Lloyd Alexander has died. We loved his books well, first read aloud at bed-time, then read and re-read to ourselves. We actually met him once, at a reading at the Library of Congress where Gobbergo -- not quite 10 -- got to tell the man how much he liked his work and where he received a warm response.

Here is a link to his author page on LibraryThing and one to his name page on Worldcat Identities. There are plenty of obits. I've listed a few at bottom.

He was 83; died from cancer a couple of weeks after the death of his wife, Janine Denni. They had been married 60 years and lived in Drexel Hill where he had been born and raised.

The New York Times quotes his acceptance speech on being awarded the Newbery Medal in 1969: "In whatever guise — our own daily nightmares of war, intolerance, inhumanity; or the struggles of an Assistant Pig-Keeper against the Lord of Death — the problems are agonizingly familiar. And an openness to compassion, love and mercy is as essential to us here and now as it is to any inhabitant of an imaginary kingdom."

Tim Burke enlarges on this theme in a tribute at Easily Distracted. Says he, "To me, the books were valuable not just as a story of swords and sorcery or even of the journey from childhood to adulthood, but also as an exploration of what it means to make moral choices. ... I think it is utterly counterproductive to teach morals by diktat and repetition. Any story for children that has a single or obvious moral teaching is a story begging to be ignored, subverted or rejected. The Prydain books explored morality as it is lived, even for children, in difficult choices, in painfully-won wisdom, from the inside of consciousness rather than the outside infrastructure of social life. ... The main characters are not noble by fiat.... One of the incidents that made the biggest impact on me as a boy was when Taran is compelled to accept the possibility that his lost father is not of noble birth, but a shepherd, and the shameful feelings he struggles with as a result. Characters die, characters suffer. When they come to a moral decision, you’re taken along with them inside the process of experience and reason that brings them to that moment. ... This is not about saying that everyone’s right, that all choices are ok. These are the kinds of fictions that take children (and adults) through the process of moral reasoning and make them relive ethical choices as painful, difficult and not blandly equanimous."

Some obits: NYT, CBC, LA Times, Boston Globe, NY Mag Washington Post.

{photo sources: at top: LibraryThing author page, Next: E. P. Dutton, about 1971 from NYT, and, last, AP photo via NYMag}

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Monty and Joost

I've been quiet about Monty Panesar for months now. He was not selected for the team that lost to Australia in the Ashes Cup test match series last fall and has not been attracting much press notice all this season. You may recall that he's seen as relatively young and unpolished. He's a spinner at a time when that style of bowling has been out of favor (think knuckball pitcher in US palance). And his fielding is sometimes laughable.

The cricket press says things appear to be changing. In a test match against the West Indies team, he bowled the English side out of trouble, dismissing batters with deceptive throws. The umpire awarded Monty three lbws, that is he ruled that three bowled balls would have struck the wicket if the batter had not put his leg in front of it. Here's and extract from the account in the Times, first noting the erratic fielding, then celebrating his bowling:
Monty’s early contribution to England’s cause yesterday at Lord’s was typical. Stationed at mid-off, his geometry was so askew he headed right while the ball sped past his left hand to the boundary. Cue the usual chortles from the cheap seats. Monty was back and a good summer’s vaudeville was in prospect. But 10 minutes before lunch Andrew Strauss threw him the ball and the tempo of the match was transformed. In one ball. A ball that had flight and a deceptive loop and which turned and bounced outside the tentative forward prod of Devon Smith. The dismissal was an exact replica of Justin Langer’s in Perth and was greeted with similar disbelief by the batsman and with trademark jig by the bowler.

Inexorably, the West Indies were drawn into the plot as Panesar bowled unchanged from the Nursery End from just before lunch to late into the evening. By then, four West Indian batsmen had succumbed, three of them left in varying states of anguish by the raised finger of Pakistan umpire Asad Rauf. The dismissals were almost carbon copies, a front leg thrust forward, a bat tucked just behind the front pad and a ball which straightened just enough to persuade Rauf to give the lbw decision.

Darren Ganga, who had compiled a watchful 49, walked away holding his bat the wrong way up in a gesture of disgust.

Runako Morton left with the rueful smile of a man on the wrong end of a conspiracy theory. Brave umpiring? Hawkeye suggested all three would have hit the stumps.
{Image credit:}

I've also been silent about Joost Posthuma. Recovering from an injury suffered in a race last month, he was hit by a car during a training ride. He bounced onto the hood of the car and fell onto the pavement. Treated in the hospital for deep bruises, he has been recovering from this injury over the past few weeks. The Rabobank web site has a couple of articles, in English: Joost Posthuma hurt during training and Posthuma takes a rest after accident. Here is the second of them:
Every cycling fan in the Netherlands was scared stiff after receiving the news that Rabo cyclist Joost Posthuma was involved in a major traffic accident near the Dutch-German border. He was obviously frightened as well after the crash, because that is what it was. "We were just about to take a left turn, when that car hit me. It was an 80 km-road and the police have already indicated that the driver was going too fast. One can imagine what sort of a gigantic blow it must have been." Posthuma hit the hood of the car and the windshield and was then launched. "My hat was still stuck to the windshield. The hat, by the way, looked terrible as well."

Hence, the outcome of the accident could have been a lot worse: a bruised body, strained ribs and a strained left ankle, and the most serious injury, a torn muscle in the upper leg. "It will take some time for me to be back at my old level. Fortunately, I do not feel any pressure from the team, and I am not going to put myself under pressure either, because otherwise your entire career might be at stake. There is no specific recovering time assigned to this type of injury, so I will need to listen to my body." The chances of him being able to compete in the Tour de France seem to be slim. "Never say never, but if you are realistic, you know that I will probably not appear at the start."

On the day of the accident, the Dutchman was having his second practice after suffering a knee injury a couple of weeks ago. Posthuma was just about to peak at that moment. He managed to finish second in the ranking of the three-day cycling stage race of De Panne-Koksijde. "I was in a very good shape. I was very focused on the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix. Everything that has happened over the last couple of weeks has been a major setback for me. But, of course, the accident has nothing to do with cycling. That could have also happened if I had gone for a ride with my girlfriend."

Posthuma usually lives in Lanaken, a village located in Belgium near the Dutch-Belgian border, but because he could not practice a lot, he decided to stay in his native region for Easter. He will now stay there a little longer. "I am not that mobile, so I can let people take care of me. It has its advantages," joked the time trial expert so as to put things into perspective. He will start his recovering process during the upcoming days at the facilities of the soccer team of FC Twente, in cooperation with the medical staff of the cycling team.
Joost's own web site has a link to a video interview with him in the training center of the FC Twente soccer team.
{Image credit:}

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Drummer Hodge

We watched History Boys. One of its achievements is to reveal the greatness of Thomas Hardy, the poet. He wrote the following a couple of months after the outbreak of the Boer War.
Drummer Hodge, Thomas Hardy

They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
  Uncoffined – just as found:
His landmark is a kopje-crest
  That breaks the veldt around;
And foreign constellations west
  Each night above his mound.

Young Hodge the Drummer never knew –
  Fresh from his Wessex home –
The meaning of the broad Karoo,
  The Bush, the dusty loam,
And why uprose to nightly view
  Strange stars amid the gloam.

Yet portion of that unknown plain
  Will Hodge forever be;
His homely Northern breast and brain
  Grow to some Southern tree,
And strange-eyed constellation reign
  His stars eternally.
{Boer words in the poem: kopje: small hill,
velte: prairie, Karoo: South African plain.}

From a review of the play:
Who could have thought that one of the most gripping scenes on Broadway this season would be a secondary-school teacher explaining a poem by Thomas Hardy?

It happens in "The History Boys," Alan Bennett's funny, touching and eloquent play about the meaning of education, which opened Sunday at the Broadhurst Theatre.

The teacher, Hector (the superb Richard Griffiths), has just been told he must retire from the North of England secondary school where he's worked for many years because he's been observed groping -- rather ineffectually -- his students.

Posner (Samuel Barnett), the pupil he's speaking to in an otherwise empty classroom, is confused about his sexuality, wondering if he's gay. But the scene is not about sex. It's about the consolation of poetry, thinking and understanding, connecting to something outside yourself.

The poem, "Drummer Hodge," concerns a young British soldier killed in Africa, and the usually exuberant Hector discusses it quietly and a bit wearily. ("Un-coffined is a typical Hardy usage. A compound adjective ... un-kissed, un-rejoicing, un-confessed, unembraced. ... It brings a sense of not sharing, of being out of it ... a holding back. ... Can you see that?")

The scene fascinatingly dramatizes what "The History Boys" is about: the unquantifiable value of learning.
Phillip Mallett has a good page on Hardy and the war on the home page of the University of St. Andrews.

Addendum: I've previously written about a famous battle -- Spion Kop -- and its connections with the Liverpool Football Club.

Friday, May 04, 2007

a song for summer

Here is another poem from Parnassus, the anthology compiled by Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1874 (pdf).
The Grasshopper, by Richard Lovelace (1649)

To my Noble Friend, Mr. Charles Cotton

O thou that swing'st upon the waving hair
    Of some well-filled oaten beard,
Drunk every night with a delicious tear
    Dropped thee from heaven, where now th' art reared.

The joys of earth and air are thine entire,
    That with thy feet and wings dost hop and fly;
And when thy poppy works thou dost retire
    To thy carved acorn-bed to lie.

Up with the day, the sun thou welcom'st then,
    Sport'st in the gilt-plats of his beams,
And all these merry days mak'st merry men,
    Thyself, and Melancholy streams.

But ah the sickle!  Golden ears are cropped;
    Ceres and Bacchus bid good-night;
Sharpe frosty fingers all your flowers have topped,
    And what scythes spared, winds shave off quite.

Poore verdant fool! and now green ice, thy joys
    Large and as lasting, as thy perch of grass,
Bid us lay in 'gainst winter, rain, and poise
    Their floods, with an o'erflowing glass.

Thou best of men and friends!  we will create
    A genuine summer in each other's breast;
And spite of this cold time and frozen fate
    Thaw us a warm seat to our rest.

Our sacred hearths shall burn eternally
    As vestal flames, the North-wind, he
Shall strike his frost-stretched wings, dissolve and fly
    This Etna in Epitome.

Dropping December shall come weeping in,
    Bewail th' usurping of his reign;
But when in showers of old Greek we begin,
    Shall cry he hath his crown again!

Night, as clear Hesper, shall our tapers whip
    From the light casements, where we play,
And the dark hag from her black mantle strip,
    And stick there everlasting day.

Thus richer than untempted kings are we,
    That asking nothing, nothing need:
Though Lord of all what seas embrace; yet he
    That wants himself, is poor indeed.
A biography of Lovelace is here.