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:

IT’S RAINING MUSIC, SON

He picked up the lemons that Fate had sent him and started a lemonade stand. –Elbert Hubbard, American author and philosopher, 1915

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Man can indeed make lemonade out of lemons, but is just as prone to do the reverse — for example, when a relationship turns sour. Such is life, my son. Wait a minute….I don’t have a son. Anyway — whoever you are, nowhere is love-gone-wrong more poignantly expressed than in rainy regrets captured in song, as rendered here by three of the most expressive singers in popular music history:

In my previous post last week, I might have asked Mother Nature this question:

Finally, it is right as the rain that the last of our three songs be sung by the one and only Ella Fitzgerald, who was born on this day (April 25, 1918):

NOTE: Stormy Weather was composed by Harold Arlen, who also composed the 1944 show tune Right as the Rain and many other all-time standards.

FOR YOU, MORE HUMOR

N’yuk-n’yuk-n’yuk! –Curly Howard, The Three Stooges

April being NATIONAL HUMOR MONTH, I thought I’d humor you with humor-us woids of wisdom from some of my favorite humor-ists. I’d have begun with a self-sample, but thought it best to start on a higher plane — and who in comedic history soared higher than Curly when it comes to debonair comedy? So it is written that I must take second place in my own post (third, if you count comedienne Joan Rivers’ intro to my poem):

THE DIVINE COMEDY CLUB

Humor is God’s gift to all of us.
–Joan Rivers

Thank God for funny
because seriously
we could be
dying out there.

Being a comedian is a lonely occupation; you stand on the stage talking to yourself, being overheard by audiences. –Fred Allen

Humor is merely tragedy standing on its head with its pants torn. –Irvin S. Cobb

Humor is just another defense against the universe. –Mel Brooks

When humor works, it works because it’s clarifying what people already feel. It has to come from someplace real. –Tina Fey

Humor is the first of the gifts to perish in a foreign tongue. –Virginia Woolf

Start every day off with a smile and get it over with. –W. C. Fields

The secret source of humor is not joy but sorrow; there is no humor in Heaven. –Mark Twain

Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is. –Francis Bacon

I don’t want to run for office; there’s already too many comedians in Washington. –Will Rogers

Without a sense of humor, I don’t know how people make it. –Marlo Thomas

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We close on an upbeat note from this laughing-at-life jazz great whose birthday is April 7:

 

THE FLOCKS AND THE CROW, a play on Aesop’s fable THE FOX AND THE CROW

crow, v. To exult, esp. over another’s misfortune; to boast exultantly. –Webster’s New College Dictionary

You have no doubt heard many devotees of Donald Trump defend their support for America’s Crowmmander-In-Chief because “he says what he thinks” — as if such a character trait trumps all else as a Presidential prerequisite. Trust me: by that standard, a few of my in-laws are characters of sufficient grandiosity and shortness of breadth to be Prez. I declare, even Adolph Hitler (had he been born/raised here) might have ridden megalomania and bombastic B.S. to the White House. If drunk with power, no less a windbag than yours truly might rise to the occasion — Lord nose it’snot unthinkable.

My problem, however, is that I’m apt to think and think again before I crow what I think to my flock (otherwise, the by-line on my posts may as well be “by misterspews” instead of “by mistermuse“). Some might call this tendency over-thinking. Some might assert that was President Obama’s hangup. If so, then this guy certainly couldn’t cut it as President:

The Thinker by Rodin

The Thinker by Rodin

Well, then, shouldn’t we be seeking the fabled middle ground between extremes: under-thinking and over-thinking? But that smacks of compromise, and we certainly can’t have that.

What to do, what to do. Surely there must be a way to get ALL of what we want, if we’re foxy enough:

Any questions?

Any doubts?

Any rags?

02/20 VISION

In the tumult of men and events, solitude was my temptation; now it is my friend. What other satisfaction can be sought once you have confronted History? –Charles de Gaulle

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Indeed.  Where else but in my solitude can equilibrium’s vision be sought (much less found), if the following selection of February 20 events from “confronted History” is representative of “the tumult of men and events”:

1513 Pope Julius II (aka The Fearsome Pope and The Warrior Pope) died and was laid to rest in a huge tomb sculptured by Michelangelo [In those days, Catholic artists regarded such Popes as ‘Patron’ Saints

1839 U.S. Congress prohibits dueling in the District of Columbia [What a bad idea this turned out to be, given that since then, no one in D.C. has had a clue how to better resolve differences]

1907 President Theodore Roosevelt signed an immigration act which excluded “idiots, imbeciles, feebleminded persons, epileptics, and insane  persons” from being admitted to the U.S. [Unfortunately, there has not been a comparable act excluding such persons from becoming politicians]

1909 F.T. Marinetti, Italian poet, published the first Futurist Manifesto in the Paris newspaper Le Figaro and in Venice, including the statement “We want to glorify war – the only cure for the world.” [Evidently a utopian exception to “The cure is worse than the disease”]

1927 Golfers in South Carolina were arrested for violating the Sabbath [Talk about playing a-round!]  

1933 Congress completed action on an amendment to repeal Prohibition in the U.S. [and “I’ll drink to that!” rang out across the land]

1942 Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate Majority Leader, was born [Coincidentally, the cartoon character Pruneface premiered (in a Dick Tracy comic strip) the same year]

1996 Gangsta rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg acquitted of murder in 1993 shooting of alleged gang member [Draw your own conclusions]

2002 The Pentagon stated that its recently created “Office of Strategic Influence” would not spread falsehoods in the media to advance U.S. war goals. Office was shut down six days later (Feb. 26) [Apparently the bummed guy in this snapshot was the last to get the message]:

Love’s labor lost. Lament in SOLITUDE. But despair not. It seems that Love, like the passions and madness of history, is where you — and a buoyantly young Julie Andrews — find it. So don’t be [Venetian] blind, it’s/all around you/everywhere.

 

 

I’M BOOKED

It is easier to buy books than to read them, and easier to read them than to absorb them. –William Osler

Well, I done done it again: done went traipsin’ off to another bargain book sale at the local library, and done ended up taking home more cheapo tomes than Trump takes ego trips. How many books do I own? I stopped counting around 720 (which, by the way, was a very good year, so I hear). Let’s just say that if all the books I’ve accumulated were people, they’d be so crammed together that they’d be begging for as much space, in relative terms, as tin-packed sardines have (not that I’d want space for relatives — my house ain’t no hostel for visiting bedlamites). My books, on the other hand, deserve more space because they’re doomed to wait longer than sardines for me to ‘digest’ them all — like until there’s peace on earth or Goodwill in store for my boatload of books after I sale off into the sunset.

Anyway, the end result of all this trumpery is to take another ‘skip-a-post to read-the-most’ books I can — like the break I decided to take two months ago after I brought home my last used book bonanza. I’ll be back Feb. 15, more bleary-eyed but less behind (or, if you like, less in arrears) in books to read….Lord willin’ and the library don’t have another sale.

 

THIS POST IS FOR THE BARDS

Larry was writing rhyme at the age of six; by 1910 [age 15], he’d been christened “Shakespeare” by friends. [He had] a passion for Shakespeare, a delight in wordplay, and a fondness for anachronistic juxtaposition. Not for nothing was Hart known as “Shakespeare.” –Dominick Symonds, author of WE’LL HAVE MANHATTAN (subtitled THE EARLY WORK OF RODGERS & HART)

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My previous post featured the words and music of Richard Rodgers and Larry Hart, which — along with the above — conveniently serve as segue into Shakespearean speculation:

BARD’S TUNE

What would William
have done with jazz?
Would he take jazz
where no one has?

Would jazz-you-like-
it, he accost?
Would he find jazz
love’s labor lost?

Would he have played
jazz instrument
measure for meas-
ure, or hell bent?

Or would he have,
a jazz voice, been —
the ‘King of Sing’
of noted men?

No! Peerless bard,
writer of wrongs —
if you dug jazz….
you’d write the songs.

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BARDSTOWN

is an itty-bitty city in my neighboring state of Kentucky, voted “Most Beautiful Small Town in America” and noted for its annual KENTUCKY BOURBON FESTIVAL, MUSEUM OF WHISKEY, and MY OLD KENTUCKY HOME STATE PARK, site of the farm which inspired Stephen Foster to write “My Old Kentucky Home” (the state song of Kentucky).

http://www.visitbardstown.com/

I find the story of Stephen Foster most interesting, starting with the date of his birth: July 4, 1826 — the same day that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died hours apart. Foster was a dreamer whose love of music trumped more profitable ways of earning a living. Though he composed almost 200 songs (many of them popular in his own time), his last years were marked by poverty, a craving for liquor, and suffering from what may have been tuberculosis, dying 153 years and one week ago today (Jan. 13, 1864).

Foster can truly be considered the original bard of American music, as this 1946 quote by the late American composer and music critic, Deems Taylor, suggests:

What quality have they [Foster’s songs] that gives them such tremendous staying power? After all, other men in his day wrote songs that were as popular as his, possibly more so. What was his secret? It was, I think, that he helped fill a gap that had always existed in our musical culture. Our ancestors, coming here from all quarters of the globe, brought with them the folk songs of their native lands, but they were not peculiarly ours. It is ironic that the only race that developed a folksong literature in this country is the race that was brought here against its will, and was and has been the most brutally exploited of all — the Negro. The Negro spirituals and Stephen Foster’s songs are the nearest to completely indigenous folksongs that we have. Nor is it a coincidence that most of the best of his songs are in Negro dialect and sing the woes of the Negro. 

But I will close, in keeping with the theme of recent posts, with one of Foster’s love songs: