Betty Garrett, Bill Evans, blizzard, Chris Barber, Ethel Ennis, Ethel Gabriel, Frank Sinatra, John Coltrane, John Stowell, Maine Ice Storm of 1998, Middle Jam Road, Miles Davis, Nat King Cole, On the Town, Portland Oregon jazz, Tall Jazz
As I write this tonight, my friends all along the East Coast are bracing for what might be one of those truly memorable winter storms. I wish for all of you a safe and warm journey over the next few days as you wait to see how this one will play out.
I know a little about those storms. I made it through what is now known as the biggest natural disaster in Maine, the Great Ice Storm of 1998 that hit us in early January. I was living alone in a sweet cottage on Middle Jam Road in North Gorham, on the bank of the Presumpscot River. The storm ravaged trees and buildings, and took down power lines that left 700,000 Mainers, including me, in the dark and cold. I was teaching at the University of Southern Maine and I’d planned to use the Christmas break to work on a novel. Without power – in the cold and dark – this was an impossibility. Surviving was the only real possibility one wanted to consider. But I did think I could do one thing as I sat by the fireplace. I could decide what to name my female protagonist. After much thought, I knew what I wanted to call her. And I scribbled it down on a scrap of paper.
On Middle Jam Road we were without power for two weeks. But the day the power came back on and I was clearing things up from the days in the dark, I came across that scrap of paper and burst out laughing when I saw what my psyche had delivered to me in the darkness as the right name for my heroine: Sunny.
So in honor of those dark January days and nights and with thoughts of my East Coast friends tonight, I give you Nat King Cole with this one. It’s a good one. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fOnKElFGsK4
My old hometown, Portland, Oregon, is known in many circles as a great jazz city. Some of the old favorite clubs have closed since I was there, but others have opened. And several Portland musicians are known far and wide, well beyond the borders of Stumptown as it was once called. Once of those musicians is jazz guitarist John Stowell with whom I became acquainted several years back when I interviewed him for an article about jazz in the Willamette Valley. John is an amazing guitarist…mention his name in guitar circles and an air of awe comes over the conversation. For my money, John plays guitar the way Bill Evans played piano…the silences between the notes count. A lot. John plays all over the world, but tonight he’s here, playing for us with “I Should Care,” a tune by Axel Stordahl, Paul Weston and Sammy Cahn, published in 1944 and first heard in the movie, “Thrill of a Romance.” Hi, John, wherever you are tonight. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_G7eE2JgJgI&list=PLhYEwpoFHYxab6mLbDEYQ0R56UzN-HBAk&index=1
This year, 2015, has been named the Year of Sinatra in honor of his centennial birthday. Old Blue Eyes would not have hit the centennial year until December, but the JazzCookie will be touching base with him through the next months. There are so many Sinatra tunes to choose from, but I thought it would be fun to go waaaaay back and take a look at the young Frank Sinatra – and listen to him, too – in the 1949 movie, “On the Town,” with music by the illustrious Comden and Green. The song, “New York New York” (a helluva town) is the best known, of course, but here’s Frank with Betty Garrett in the playful, “You’re Awful.” It’s pure Sinatra. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3DQMgmgFAI
For some reason I was thinking about my grandparents this week. They were not jazz fans as far as I know (but whoever knows everything about their grandparents). What I do know is that they loved to dance and my grandfather was way more romantic than a lot of guys, right through the years. I used to hear them in the kitchen of their big house laughing while my grandmother tried to cook breakfast and my granddad tried to get her to dance as he serenaded her with one of his favorite songs. This is not quite the same as listening to my granddad croon in the kitchen, but I hope you like this Dixieland version of “When You Wore a Tulip,” performed by the Chris Barber Jazz and Blues Band. Barber has been a strong musical influence in England and elsewhere since his debut in 1953. You might recognize the names of one or two musicians and groups who paid attention to Barber when it came to rhythm and blues – names like Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones. I knew you’d know them. Hit it, Chris. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vKEdTU0ntU
There are so many unsung jazz musicians all over the country and the world, talented musicians who deserve a lot more notice than they ever get. If you live where there’s live jazz, take the time to get out and hear it. Support your local musicians. Here’s a group from Portland (again, Portland) that I put in that category, a group who call themselves Tall Jazz because they’re – well – tall. They all have day jobs, but they’ve managed to bring some terrific jazz to the Portland scene and to play in a lot of other places, too, singly or as a trio. I used one of their tunes as entr’acte music for a spoken word CD I did a few years ago. Give a listen to Tall Jazz from the Portland Cathedral Park Jazz Festival in 2001, on “Blue Rondo.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PYxSMj1dX0
And with blue in mind, I’m going to hop right on over to Miles Davis and John Coltrane, who need no introduction at all, on “Kind of Blue.” 1950s. Cool. Let me just say that many jazz critics and aficionados believe this one to be the quintessential jazz album. That’s Bill Evans on piano.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FEPFH-gz3wE
I’m going to bookend Nat King Cole with another vocalist, this time girl singer Ethel Ennis. When I did temp work for RCA in New York several years ago, I was assigned to the A&R group run by an amazing lady, Ethel Gabriel. Over the course of the days I was there, Ethel and I clicked and when she retired, I was invited to the party – it was a great experience for a small town girl from Oregon. All the greats were there because Ethel specialized in jazz. When I signed into the guest book, there I was right below – Ethel Ennis. New York can be a wonderful place but as E.B. White once wrote, “You have to be willing to be lucky” to live there. I was willing. Oh boy, was I willing. Here’s Ethel with “Taking a Chance on Love.” I don’t know how lucky I’ll be with that, but I’m willing. Take us home, Ethel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlrUD7HstqQ
That’s it for tonight, JazzBabies. If you’re in that blizzard zone, batten down whatever hatches need battening, stay home and play good music. If the power goes out, sing. You know all the words. And if you feel like writing, let me know you’re okay.
Con amore, con brio from sunny southern Utah (8 weeks ‘til my move to San Diego!).