One of the things I like best about Judith Weir’s music is that there’s only music in it: no dogma, no extraneous rhetorical gestures, no showy displays of compositional chops . . . you know what I mean: she’s pared it down to the essential, purely musical statement and that’s aplenty. I’m reminded of Sibelius’ claim to be providing pure spring water; Weir is in the same business. The sixty-year-old composer, raised in England but of Scottish origin, was recently made Master of the Queen’s Music—the musical equivalent of Poet Laureate—the first woman to hold that position, so this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Niagara Falls time— celebrates her with three pieces: a piano concerto, a string quartet, and her wonderful orchestral composition The Welcome Arrival of Rain. The rest of the show falls in line with modern melodic mostly non-abrasive music like Orion and the Pleiades by Takemitsu, Zemlinsky’s Sinfonietta, and the papa-daddy of the idiom, Jeux by Claude Debusssy—cooling summer music, it seems to me; in any case the kind of thing I’ve wanted to listen to this week. Come by for a sip if you like.
The famous jazz version of Victor Young’s Delilah, love theme from CB DeMille’s wonderfully schlocky Samson and Delilah—Hedy Lamarr was a wiz with torpedo guidance systems but took forever to figure out the haircut gimmick—was by the Clifford Brown & Max Roach Quintet, but John Coltrane performed it in Copenhagen on November 20 1961 with his quartet plus Eric Dolphy, and Trane was in astonishing form on soprano that night, much in the style of The Promise, but longer and maybe more electrifying. This week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Radio City time—also anniversaries a towering Naima from Antibes in July, 1965. Otherwise the show hasn’t finished saying farewell to Charlie Haden, and there are tracks featuring Ornette Coleman, Shirley Horn, and Pat Metheny, plus two more ballads from the recently released album of duets with Keith Jarrett. The show opens with a change of pace: a brilliant CPE Bach piano sonata that seems situated midway between his dad’s music and that of Haydn, and closes with some new Willie Nelson and then a Charlie Haden vocal for which I should probably be arrested. If you have tears, prepare, you know, and please don’t call the cops.
Mingus used to call him not Charlie or Haden but “Bass”—a heavy compliment, coming from him—though I can remember a time when people would look at you funny when you started raving about Charlie Haden as a great bassist. That pretty much ended with his first album of duets in 1976, but until then even some musicians were so infatuated with fast, supposedly hornlike bassplaying that they couldn’t get with what Haden was doing. The startling thing about those duets was not only that most of us had never heard such an intimate degree of listening before, but that Haden’s attention and his struggle for truthfulness of expression also pointed us back to life and suggested a way one might be able to live it. I first met him at around that time and his personal impact on me was as great as that of his music, which is why I’m such a lousy deejay on this week’s Updoc—8PM Friday and noon next Tuesday, Roundtrip Broadway Blues time. I just keep choking up and muttering “Charlie”, but most of the two-hour show is music, with an appropriate amount of Ornette Coleman, some duets with that petulant pianist, whatsisname, a few trips on the Escalator Over the Hill, and Charlie singing Shenandoah—he was born in Shenandoah Iowa and for all his jazz authenticity he never stopped being country—among other projects and highlights. He was one of the greats, and with him deep really did mean deep. Do drop in. It’s a long way down, and up.
It made me feel like Pogo the Possum: “The 4th of July show comes on the 4th of July this year.” The automatic picks were Charles Ives’ 4th Symphony, which in its last movement gathers together the whole of Creation and slam–dunks it into a New England Transcendentalist quadrant of all-receiving Heaven, and lots of Louis Armstrong. And Sidney Bechet, and Pres with Basie, and a lot of Charlie Parker. When I was a kid I sang “The House I Live” In with Earl Robinson’s chorus—“What is America to me?”—and was awed to meet Paul Robeson after the performance, which was plenty of America for me as a child of ten; but in putting this show together I was struck by what I had to leave out of its mere two hours: Carla Bley’s Spangled Banner Minor, gospel in several colors, not enough Duke Ellington, and, and, and. I may have to do a supplementary July 11th show next week, and end it with Charlie Haden singing “Shanendoah”. Meanwhile, please come by for the fireworks, such as they are—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Hudson River time—and yes I did manage to fit in some of Ornette Coleman’s Ivesian Skies of America, but not nearly enough, so please do keep watching the skies until we meet again.
Think of Horace Silver and the heart warms, the smile begins, even now. If he was one of the architects of post-bop jazz, there was soul in the architecture, church in the soul, and funk in the church, and what he brought to the music is still helping keep it alive. He died the other day at the age of 85, and this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday—plays some of his classic sides in tribute and fond memory. Speaking personally, in 1959 I was a kid who’d happened into jazz via Henry Mancini’s music for Peter Gunn and I didn’t know which end was up or where the center was. Then a cousin of mine I hardly knew said Listen to this, and it was Sister Sadie off the new Horace Silver record Blowin’ the Blues Away. In minutes I had the compass, a map I could begin to unfold, and a world I could get to know. For an additional boost the cousin played me Leeway. Lee Morgan and Art Blakey! I was ready to go. About midway, Updoc takes a break with some Fado because of Silver’s roots in the African-Portuguese Cape Verde Islands, then leaps to India, I’ll tell you why on the show, for the great Indian Singer Pandit Nasraj. Otherwise it’s classic Horace Silver Quintets, including the 1954 night at Birdland with Art Blakey and Clifford Brown; the music is as full of life as it ever was, and Sister Sadie is the first to testify, because.
Here’s an odd detail: Jimmy Scott sang at Dwight D. Eisenhower’s inauguration in 1953 and at Bill Clinton’s forty years later, although he spent too much of the intervening years in an obscurity that sent him home to to Cleveland to work as a cook and a nurse’s aide, among other odd jobs. (See the fine obituary by Peter Keepnews in the NY Times for more). There’d been hits, then bad breaks, and another constant factor, people’s confused apprehension of the man, whose growth was stunted and then restarted by a version of Kallmann’s Syndrome that kept his voice, and most of the time his look, apparently androgynous (which he was not). His early singing possessed a searing intensity that obliterated the gap between blues and jazz and gospel; in his later years, after a rediscovery (in which taintradio’s Kip Hanrahan played no small part) accorded him every honor the jazz world could provide, the voice itself was seared by time and what is lightly called experience. He was eighty-eight years old when he died the other day, and once his music gets to you, you will never forget it. After a long vocal set built around his work, Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Hudson River time—takes a trip from death to life with Mahler’s 5th Symphony, revisiting Claudio Abbado’s superlative Mahler cycle with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. It’s a pretty full two hours. People get ready, as Scott sings, about twenty minutes in.
A couple of weeks ago Updoc gave a few quintessential American symphonies a run for their money and now, after last week’s Miles Davis binge , the show gives the Opposition a shot—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Moscow-on-Hudson time—in what looks like a Mostly Miaskovsky Festival, starting with his ironbound, brutalist 10th Symphony from the larky Soviet year of 1926, although Yevgeny Svetlanov’s probably definitive performance also gives the music’s lyrical impulse free enough rein. Stick around and you’ll also hear Miaskovsky’s last symphony, his 27th, written shortly before the composer’s death in 1950. His mastery of every element of symphonic form and orchestral composition is so assured that you may not even notice it, and you’d be excused for finding it merely pretty. For me it’s a masterpiece whose rapprochement with a pretty brutal stretch of Soviet century, including denunciation in the recent Zhdanovschina, is deeply and spiritually achieved. It’s also conducted by Svetlanov, who does seem to be the Miaskovsky Man. Between Miaskovskys, Mieczyslav Weinberg sounds about as much like his friend Shostakovich as usual, but in this 6th String Quartet, of 1946, he may well surpass his master’s work in that medium at the time, achieving a depth of expressive texture Shosta’s rigorous simplicity may have denied him. Yes, the Updoctor does eventully call in the A-team, with Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements and Shostakovich’s juggernaut passacaglia from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, but even without them the Oppos would have won that Cold War had there been one. Don’t worry, children, I’ll bring the Ives 4th Symphony to the rally on the July 4th show, along with Louis Armstrong and Count Basie, and all will be well, om Shantih.
Got some rare Miles and Coltrane for this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Birdland time—starting with two dates issuing from New York’s Café Bohemia in 1957, the first one broadcast just before Miles fired Trane and Philly Joe Jones for being such irresponsible junkies, each in his own way, though it sounds like it’s Red Garland rather than Miles who’d had enough of Trane, bombing one of his solos with fortissimo block chords. On the next set from the same venue about a year later, Trane has cleaned up, graduated from the school of Thelonious Monk, and you can hear the difference, even though he experiments with mixed results. Miles is strikingly consistent and inspired, and continues being so on the live sextet broadcasts that follow. By the time of the better-known TV show on which Miles and Trane play So What, the tenorist has achieved full awesomeness. After all that it’s Julius Eastman’s composition for four pianos he entitled Evil Nigger. Eastman was African-American, gay, transgressive, and in at the birth of minimalism, which he inflected in original ways. His life ended tragically at the age of fifty in 1990, and he should not be forgotten; I think you’ll remember him after this. After that it’s Miles from the Isle of Wight in 1971, more intense and focused than his official releases at the time, followed by seven piano haikus from John Cage and some keyboard noodling by salt-water otters at a couple of American zoos. That’s right, otters. You got a problem with that?
I know, three mid-century American Third Symphonies, all premiered by Koussevitsky and definitivised by Bernstein, it seems like a gimmick, but they relate. William Schuman’s postwar 3rd is full of imperial American thrust, a New York City of symphonies, skyscrapingly virtuosic; Roy Harris’ wonderful prewar 3rd takes somewhat Sibelian developmental strategies out into prairie air and cowboy light; and Aaron Copland’s 3rd is iconic Americana, incorporating the famous Fanfare for the Common Man into its last movement. Why, together they’re like . . . um, how about an American tapestry! Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic put their brand on this music’s flanks, and that’s who plays them for us on this week’s Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Lincoln Center time—with their original recordings of the first two and the update of the Copland. After that I wanted to give the conductor some, with one of Lenny’s best classical pieces, the Serenade based on Plato’s Symposium, a violin concerto in all but name, but it wouldn’t fit into the two-hour show and the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story slotted right in, so we’ll have to Symposiate on some future Updoc. In the meantime, drop by and get all American if you’re in the mood.
One of the things that happened to me last week is that I started listening to Gil Evans and couldn’t stop—a phenomenon aficionados won’t need explained—and I thought, languidly enough and under the influence, Why not pass the experience along via Updoc—Friday at 8PM and noon next Tuesday, Manhattan Sunset time. Gil Evans proposed the most credible and enjoyable alternative to the principal big band sound epitomised by Duke Ellington and Count Basie, evincing a lean toward the French impressionist pallettes of Debussy and Ravel, though if you want to parse this construction along black guy/white guy lines you’ll have to deal with Evans’ profound personal feeling for the blues, surely central to his unassailable greatness as a musician. Though seriously, if you bend an ear toward Deb and Rav, Gil sounds almost nothing like them apart from a predilection for pastel gentilesse. In fact, his alchemical voicings of wind intruments owes more to Ellinton and Strayhorn without, however—the best kind of learning—sounding anything like an imitation. Gil Evans loved some certain sounds and he was going to make them, no matter what; so let’s raise a cheer for the courage of a man so laid back we’d think any kind of martial tribute beyond him. After an hour’s worth of Gil, Updoc turns to an Art Blakey drum record featuring 80% of his Messengers plus Roy Haynes, Philly Joe Jones and Ray Barretto, then goes radically un-Gil, since Evans was the antithesis of anything mechanistic, with George Antheil’s Ballet Mecanique, before relapsing into an Evans paradise and taking it out with Frank Sinatra. You could do worse than tune in, so why not try?