THE DUKE AND THE COUNT

Contrary to what the above title may suggest, this post is not a narrative of two nabobs of European nobility in medieval times. Rather, it’s about two giants of jazz royalty in Big Band-era America: one whose birthday, and the other whose expiration day, occurred last week. I refer to Duke Ellington (born 4/29/1899) and Count Basie (died 4/26/1984).

If you’re of a certain age, no doubt you’ve heard of them, but unless you’re a pre-rock jazz buff, that’s probably the extent of it. Permit me, then, to introduce you to these musical titans of yesteryear, and to a sampling of their legacy.  After all, it’s not every day that you get to meet a Duke and a Count.

I could get carried away with all there is to say about the former, but in the interest of not getting carried away, I will confine my remarks mainly to this quote:

Ellington has often credited his sidemen with the success of his band. But those who knew Duke and his music best — and this includes those very sidemen — will invariably tell you that what set Ellington’s apart is just one thing: the brilliant conductor-composer-arranger-pianist-bon vivant and leader of men, Duke Ellington himself. –George Simon (from his book, THE BIG BANDS)

Here are two of the Duke’s many compositions, the first from the 1930 film CHECK AND DOUBLE CHECK, and the second from a European tour decades later:

Let us now turn to that other distinguished composer-pianist-band leader, Count Basie, whose talents weren’t as multifaceted as the Duke, but whose orchestra likewise outlasted the end of the Big Band era. Quoting George Simon one more time:

For several years [after] the days of the big bands, Basie didn’t do well, and he was forced to cut down his group to a sextet. But then he made a comeback and, aided greatly by support from Frank Sinatra, who helped him get lucrative bookings in Las Vegas and appeared with him in a series of successful concerts, the Basie band [again] rode high. 

 Let’s jump to a conclusion with this swinging rendition (especially the last seventy seconds) of Basie’s own composition and theme song:

MARRIAGE TO A-MUSE

Marriage is a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution? –Groucho Marx

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My wife and I celebrated our 48th wedding anniversary yesterday. You may think that, unlike the 50th, a 48th wedding anniversary is no big deal — and I wouldn’t disagree. But, being in need of an idea for this post, I wasn’t about to look a gift source in the mouth; thus, yesterday’s anniversary became my inspiration to write about….divorce.

Ha ha — just kidding (my wife might kill me if I were serious). This post will, of course, be about MARRIAGE….a fate which, as fates go, beats being killed (almost) any day. Ha ha ha. Just kidding again! Lest there be any doubt concerning my true feelings about marriage:

Yes, just as in the song, ask the local gentry, and they will say it’s elementary. But why stop with the local gentry? I believe my readers are nothing if not broad minded:

Marriage is the most licentious of human institutions — that is the secret of its popularity. –George Bernard Shaw

Getting married, like getting hanged, is a great deal less dreadful than it has been made out. –H. L. Mencken

It’s no disgrace for a woman to make a mistake in marrying — every woman does it. –Ed Howe

A good marriage would be between a blind wife and a deaf husband. –Michel de Montaigne

Marriage is like paying an endless visit in your worst clothes. –J. B. Priestley

When a man opens a car door for his wife, it’s either a new car or a new wife. –Prince Philip

Marriage is a feminine plot to add to a man’s responsibilities and subtract from his rights. –Evan Esar

Before marriage, a man declares he would lay down his life to serve you; after marriage, he won’t even lay down his paper to talk to you. –Helen Rowland

The majority of husbands remind me of an orangutan trying to play the violin. –Honore de Balzac

I haven’t spoken to my wife in years. I didn’t want to interrupt her. –Rodney Dangerfield

Ha ha ha ha….I mean, Yes, dear — I’m listening. Seriously.

 

TELLTALE TITLES

How much time and thought do you devote to coming up with just-the-right title for your story, poem or article? If you take writing seriously, the answer is probably: as long as it takes to nail it — which could be almost no time at all, if it comes to you in a flash — or, more time than a less intense writer is willing to allot.

Ernest Hemingway, for one, evidently wasn’t the latter type. Case in point: in writing his definitive Spanish Civil War novel, he didn’t settle for less than a killer title that would encapsulate ‘the moral of the story,’ eventually finding it in this passage from a 1624 work by the poet John Donne: “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

As a writer of (mostly) humorous poems and posts, I’m inclined to go for witty and/or wordplay titles. Many times, the title to a particular piece all but suggests itself, but more often, no such luck, and I’m stuck — until eventually (as with the title of this post) a eureka moment rewards my resolve….or a poem resists my labeling efforts, and I just settle for:

UNTITLED

This poem’s title is Untitled —
Not because it is untitled,
But because I am entitled
To entitle it Untitled.

If I’d not titled it Untitled,
It would truly be untitled….
Which would make it unentitled
To the title of Untitled.

So it is vital, if untitled,
Not to title it Untitled,
And to leave that title idled,
As a title is entitled.

Moving on, suppose we try a title quiz based on the Papa Hemingway model (sorry, those of you who’d prefer the mistermuse model). Here are five passages from classic original works from which later authors lifted titles for their novels. Can you name the five later works and pin each tale on its author (ten answers total)? If you name all ten correctly, you win the title (with apologies to Cervantes) of Donkeyote Of All You Survey.

PASSAGES FROM ORIGINAL WORKS:

Gentlemen-rankers out on the spree/Damned from here to Eternity/God ha’ mercy on such as we/Ba! Yah! Bah! –Rudyard Kipling

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft a-gley/An’ lea’e us naught but grief an’ pain/For promised joy! –Robert Burns

By the pricking of my thumbs,/Something wicked this way comes. –Wm. Shakespeare

Come my tan-faced children/Follow well in order, get your weapons ready/Have you your pistols? Have you your sharp-edged axes?/Pioneers! O pioneers! –Walt Whitman

No Place so Sacred from such Fops is barr’d,/Nor is Paul’s Church more safe than Paul’s Churchyard./Nay, fly to altars; there they’ll talk you dead/For Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread. –Alexander Pope

TITLES (WITH AUTHORS) FROM  ABOVE PREVIOUS WORKS:

FROM HERE TO ETERNITY –James Jones
OF MICE AND MEN –John Steinbeck
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES –Ray Bradbury
O PIONEERS! –Willa Cather
WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD –E.M. Forster

How many of the ten titles/authors did you get? That last title, parenthetically, became part of Johnny Mercer’s lyrics to this 1940 hit song composed by Rube Bloom:

And now I fear I must tread on out….before something wicked this way comes.

 

DRIVING MUSE CRAZY

“What’s the matter with you? Want to get your head full of lead? Get out of here.”
–James Cagney to Pat O’Brien in ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (1938 gangster movie)

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As you’ve probably heard, Flint, Michigan, has a problem. To save money, the powers-that-be in that distressed city decided to change the source of their water supply from the Great Lakes to the lead-laden Flint River….whereas they could’ve bitten the bullet (if they wanted to get their heads more full of lead than their constituents) and found a way to pay for safe drinking water for those with less desire to live dangerously.

More water problems in Flint, Michigan

Not to make light of man-made malfeasance, but humans aren’t the only ones who suffer. Suppose you’re a fish in that river –or other such stream or body of water. I think it’s safe to say you’d carp about any amount of brain-damaging lead, much less having our elected blowfish bargain for more. Holy mackerel — even a bullhead knows adding pollution is no solution! Can you imagine facing death floundering around like a crazed piranha because a bunch of political pikers don’t give a crappie about your well-being?

So I’m glad I’m neither a fish nor a resident of Flint….as if there aren’t already enough things that drive us crazy in this dogfish-eat-dogfish world, without having to worry about budget-balancers compromising our health. Now, I’m willing to allow that they dood it more out of ignorance than pure evil, but poison by incompetence is little comfort to its victims. Talk about a costly can of worms.

Of course, screw-ups aren’t the only thing DRIVING MISS DAISY crazy (you may think said film title is a stretch as far as a connection here is concerned, but take another look at this post’s title). Word play aside, I could probably come up with a plethora of pet peeves, but why go to all that trouble when I can sum it all up in four words: LIFE drives me crazy! — or, as my wife might call it, a short trip for a big drip. Well, love o’ my life, perhaps you’ve forgotten the words to our (some might say) fin-icky love song:

As for those of you who are drowning in pet peeves and want them spelled out, I hope the following will serve the porpoise:

76 Incredibly Accurate Pet Peeves That Will Drive. You. Nuts.

P.S. But after all is said and done….

OH, WHAT A RELIEF IT IS

Life is just a dirty four-letter word: w-o-r-k.  –J. P. McEvoy, writer/comic strip creator

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If you have a job that stinks because your caseload is overwhelming (like maybe social work, child welfare or criminal court), you can probably relate to this:

http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2016/01/09/3737789/ohio-judge-poem-mocks-inmate/

If I’m any judge, that’s a Judge (and fellow Ohioan) who knows how to do creative “sentencing” — a Cain who is able, as Judge Cain himself might pun. As a poet, I see poetry as a way to express myself creatively, but the above case demonstrates that poetry is also good for getting a load off one’s mind. Take those times I’m on the throne, dumping a commodious b. m. — I’d liken it to killing two turds with one stone, because at times, it may be the only place I find peace and quiet to compose the poems I post….such as this com-post:

THE REAL POOP BEHIND THE FLOOD

Noah did build a mighty ark;
He worked by day and he worked by dark.

From lands afar he gathered pairs
Of kangaroos and polar bears,

Of groundhogs and water buffalo,
And every creature, bound to go

With him o’er deserts, swamps and seas,
Across the Alps and Pyrenees,

Taking those beasties from where they were at,
Straight to his ark for a cruise to Mount Ararat,

Got them on board, two of each species,
Ere long to amass a mess of feces,

And though the elephants brought their trunks,
Two hoses could but horse with a stench like skunks.

Fortunately, as much as decks stinked,
Dinosaurs and mastodons had become extinct.

But how do we know Noah knew their gender?
The pairs multiplied like rabbits by THE ENDer….

HIGHER AND HIGHER

This post isn’t about what you may think it’s about (like maybe mountain climbing, drugs or seduction). No, friends — just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, you shouldn’t judge the title of a post by its lover.

And what am I a lover of? Faithful readers know that from time to time, I indulge my love for 1920s-1940s popular music/jazz with a post honoring a songwriting giant of that era (forgotten though he or she may be today). Dec. 10 is the birthday of one such songwriter, and this is such a post (sorry about the letdown).

Lyricist Harold Adamson was born on this date in 1906. He studied law at Harvard, but songwriting had a greater appeal and, as luck (and talent) would have it, his first published song became an all-time standard: Time On My Hands, written for the 1930 stage show SMILES, starring Fred and Adele Astaire….and who better to do it justice than Billie Holiday, backed by Teddy Wilson, Lester Young & other jazz greats:

Working with such composers as Jimmy McHugh, Vincent Youmans, Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington, Vernon Duke and Victor Young, Adamson went on to write lyrics to such hits as Manhattan Serenade, Everything I Have Is Yours, It’s A Wonderful World, It’s A Most Unusual Day and many more. Here, from the 1936 film SUZY starring Jean Harlow and a very young Cary Grant, is one of Adamson’s lesser known songs (and the only time Cary Grant ever sang in a movie):

In 1943 (at the height of WW II), Adamson teamed with McHugh to write the songs for Frank Sinatra’s first starring movie, HIGHER AND HIGHER. Quoting McHugh:

Adamson and I trekked into our office at RKO and found the script glaring coldly at us from the top of the piano. It informed us that there’d be a minor lover’s quarrel in the story, also the need of a big production number. Nothing happened with us that first day, but at 3 a.m. the next morning, Adamson phoned me and said he’d been listening to a musical shortwave program that suddenly had been cut off for a news announcement.
“There’s our title for the production number, Jim,” he said, “The Music Stopped.”
Then I began concentrating on the lovers’ spat and came down with insomnia. As the thousandth  sheep jumped over the fence, both tune and title landed: “I Couldn’t Sleep a Wink Last Night.”

But to my mind, the best of the McHugh-Adamson songs from that film is this one:

Note that the above recording is a V-Disc, which is a story in itself. James Petrillo, head of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), had called a national ban on recording by its members in 1942, meaning no new recordings could be made by commercial record companies using AFM musicians. To get around this ban, songs were recorded a capella, without instrumental accompaniment. However, there was an exception for records, called V-Discs, made for American troops overseas….thus the orchestral accompaniment for this song from the film’s CBS rehearsal session was recorded as a V-Disc. This, and many other V-Discs, survive to this day because, although such discs were supposed to be off-limits in the U.S., this edict was largely ignored by returning GIs.

I close at the bottom of  this HIGHER AND HIGHER post with the title song from TOP OF THE TOWN, a film with screenplay co-written by humorist Robert Benchley:

 

 

 

 

 

ACT NOW!

Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today. –Philip Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield

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I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. I mean, what is there about a resolution on New Year’s day that couldn’t just as well, if not better, be undertaken any day — like today? For example, if you’re a couch potato with overlapping buns, why wait until January 1 to start dieting and exercising?

Or, if you’re a nine months pregnant woman, why would you wait until a January 1st due date, when you could get to work now on producing a tax deduction for this year? Time is money! Really — which do you believe is more likely to deliver the goods: the title of this post, or the title of this song:

Still not convinced? Consider these pearls of wisdom; they won’t make you more resolute, but this article is too short for me to stop now (or it would be, if I were getting paid by the word):

New Year’s Day is now the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual. –Mark Twain

Good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account. –Oscar Wilde

A New Year’s resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other. –Anonymous

New Year’s resolutions should be taken with a grain of salt — and two aspirins. –Evan Esar

A man and his resolution are soon parted. –Evan Esar