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Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Signs his cheques Mr Jazz

These days jazz is like ballet. I enjoy both provided someone else has gone to the trouble of booking the event, getting me there and sitting me down at my ease.

My jazz tastes are fuddy-duddy, end of WW2 to about 1975. After that things started getting - there's only one word for it - etiolated. Look it up if it's new to you. A useful word; lots of things in 2011 are etiolated.

So big bands like Ellington and Basie, giants like Charlie Parker, the Gerry Mulligan quartet, the MJQ, and a whole slew of marvellous practitioners on the big booting tenor sax. I'm listening to the prototypical tenor man at the moment - Coleman Hawkins. There's a word for him too although Carl Nielsen has already snaffled it for one of his symphonies. Inextinguishable! Inextinguishable Hawk.

I don't think of him belonging to any particular style or fashion. He could play fast or slow, bop if you like, ballads, or something he wrote himself. Just now, as I listen, he's engaged in his own Bean Soup and earlier he launched himself à toute vitesse into a very urgent Get Happy.

But let me try and catch his essence. Not as breathy as Ben Webster; can be smooth at the upper end when smooth's called for but more often (I think; I've only heard him about a thousand times) he prefers a buzzy sort of rasp. He was a bulky sort of chap and his shape is reflected when he's down below mid-range and the tone is more chocolatey but with a certain hiss. It's almost unnecessary to say it but even in the most complex variation - and he was never complex for the sake of it - he always swung. Hell would have frozen over before he lost that quality.

No sense of strain, of course. No enormous changes of volume. He wasn't dramatic probably because he thought the word really meant melodramatic. Nothing much I can say about him except that when someone says "jazz" it's Hawkins' broad, generous face that swims to mind.

The sleeve note says he battled alcoholism. If that's true he did it offstage.
FROM MY SHELVES
I love Strauss operas but I've not seen Elektra and it's rather jagged to take in from a CD. Solution: A DVD version for Christmas

5 comments:

Julia said...

One of our friends here grew up in Philadelphia. When she was a child, the city was still segregated, and when jazz greats came to town they couldn't stay at hotels. Instead they'd stay with local families, including hers. She grew up meeting people like Charlie Parker (only once, her mother banned him after one night), Ella Fitzgerald and others. I'll have to ask her if she ever met Coleman Hawkins.

earlybird said...

So I suppose you would you etiolate endives? (for example)

Thanks for that - now I have two new words (the English and the French)

Lorenzo da Ponte said...

Julia: Most people would ban Bird after one night. Perhaps even earlier.

EB: Let your eyes slide on to the secondary meaning: to make (something or somebody) weak, pale or sickly.

mike M said...

offstage battle with alcohol....very funny....of course you know that Anita O'Day was a junkie for many years, smacked up during her performance in "Jazz on a Summer's Day".

Roderick Robinson said...

I saw JOASD when it came out. I seem to remember AOD singing Tea For Two - fine, but it became a little mannered at the end when she played up to the crowd.