Voltarol - related music

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Folk me sideways part 1

In September of 1961 I left school. I had returned after the summer holidays for my GCE ‘O’ level year and had been summoned to the headmaster’s office. I was by now an active CND member and Committee of 100 supporter and this fact had come to his attention. Furthermore, I was now wearing a CND badge to school, which was guaranteed to cause grief. It did. There was a short discussion during which the headmaster suggested that I remove the badge without further ado and I suggested that this was unlikely to happen and he suggested that if I didn’t remove it I should go home and I said “Goodbye” and walked out of school, never to return.

To say that my father was not pleased would be something of an understatement. After much shouting and threatening I was duly despatched to the local careers advice officer, who frowned at my CND badge and asked me about my hobbies and interests. “Music” I said, “art, literature and drama”. He pondered this for a minute or two, jotted a couple of notes on a pad, pushed said pad to one side, folded his hands and pronounced sentence. “Tell me” he enquired, “have you ever thought about the army?” I got up and left without bothering to reply.

By the Wednesday of the following week I had found myself a job with a literary...ish connection. I was due to start work the following Monday for W. H. Smith’s as a trainee assistant manager on their Uxbridge Underground Station book and paper stall, at the princely wage of £4. 10 shillings per week. Of this I would pay £3 a week for my keep and the rest was mine to forge a life with. On the Thursday I learnt that the film Jazz on a Summer's Day was showing at a nearby cinema and managed to persuade my mother to advance me some of the wages that would be mine at the end of the following week. I spent the money on three consecutive nights watching the movie and came to the conclusion that life might not be so bad…The downside to this jazz feast was that it involved first sitting through Raising the Wind, an appalling sub -‘Carry On’ type British film comedy set in a music school and starring Kenneth Williams and James Robertson Justice. The upside was that I got to hear and see the likes of Jimmy Giuffre, Jim Hall, Bob Brookmeyer, Chico Hamilton, Anita O'Day and Thelonious Monk every night for three days. (It never occurred to me at the time that I should not bother with the second feature – however bad it was. I had, after all, paid for it.) Here are some clips (from the main feature!)

Here's the opening sequence with the Jimmy Giuffre Three - Giuffre, Jim Hall and Bob Brookmeyer - playing 'The Train and the River'

Here's Thelonious Monk with 'Blue Monk'

and here's The Chico Hamilton Quintet playing 'Blue Sands'

By way of contrast I had also become a firm fan of The Temperance Seven (see Pop and me). I think that it was the Hayes branch of the YCND who promoted a concert featuring them at a local school. It was certainly through fellow members that I heard about it. With my friend Paul I had founded the Hillingdon branch of the YCND but its membership had been small. We had amalgamated with the Hayes branch having met up with a lot of them on that year’s Aldermaston March and I had made a lot of new friends, many of whom were into both ‘trad’ and folk music. One or two of the hipper ones were also into modern jazz. Suddenly I was mixing with people of my own age who shared my musical interest and my politics.

I think that the ‘Temps’ gig was the first proper music concert (we had not yet learnt to call them ‘gigs’) that I ever attended. I had, by this time, joined the Jazz Book Club and I remember somewhat pretentiously taking my latest purchase along (I think it might have been Barry Ulanov’s ‘The Jazz Handbook’) and getting the band to sign it for me. The uniform cover design for the series consisted of the title of the book printed over a collage of cartoon instruments – saxophone, trumpet, trombone, drums etc. - and each member of the band signed over the appropriate instrument. It makes me squirm more than some what to think of it now, but I was delighted at the time. The novelty must have worn off a long time ago because I can’t for the life of me remember what I did with it. My remaining Jazz Book Club books went to the charity shop about three years ago and that one wasn’t among them.

My interest in folk music continued to grow, spurred on by a combination of my regular dips into the Topic Records catalogue and my newfound friendships. There was also a growing ‘can-do’ attitude, born initially from the idea of promoting fund-raising concerts for the cause. I attended a number of CND benefit concerts around this time at venues ranging from The Albert Hall, Kensington Gore (home of the Promenade Concerts) to The Albert Hall, Hayes (home of the Hayes and Harlington Spiritualist Society). It was at the latter venue that I first heard Louis Killen in person, having previously bought some of his EPs of Tyneside and Northumbrian songs. At the former I got my first taste of George Melly and also of ‘Professor' Bruce Lacey and The Alberts (more of them later).

Around about this time I also joined the Hayes Young Socialists and started to attend meetings. It was through the YS connection that I was elected as a representative to Southall Trades Council to help in the setting up of Arnold Wesker’s Centre 42 Festival in Hayes. This in turn would shunt me sideways into setting up my first folk club…

To be continued...

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Dorival Caymmi 1914 - 2008

I got an email from my son in Brazil on Saturday, telling me that the legendary Brazilian singer and composer Dorivall Caymmi had died that morning. Given that he was 94 I suppose it was not exactly an unexpected passing but it was certainly a significant one. He was a hugely influential figure who apart from creating some wonderful music was to a large degree responsible for shaping the image of his native state of Bahia. He even appears as a character in some of the novels by his great friend, the writer Jorge Amado, notably in 'Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands'

Caymii was responsible for some of my favourite music. His 'Promessa de Pescador' (Promise of a Fisherman) was a cornerstone of Sergio Mendes' groundbreaking and innovative 1971 album 'Primal Roots'. João Gilberto (see previous posting) also recorded many of his songs, notably 'O Samba de Minha Terra', 'Doralice' and 'Rosa Morena', thus introducing them to a wider audience. However, most people probably became acquainted with his work originally because Carmen Miranda sang one of his songs in a 1939 Brazilian film 'Banana da Terra'. Here she is performing 'O Que É Que A Baiana Tem?'

Here by contrast is 'Doralice' performed by the singer and pianist Eliane Elias in 2005

and here is João Gilberto performing 'Rosa Moreno' in Argentina in 2000

Dorival Caymmi could also have featured in my May posting, Keeping it in the family, as his three children all became musicians and have achieved fame in their own right. Daughter Nana Caymmi has had a long career as a singer, including a period of involvement with the Tropicalia movement of the sixties. Here is a video of her performing Milton Nascimento's beautiful song 'Ponto de Areia' in 1985

Danilo Caymmi is a singer, guitarist, flautist and arranger who is perhaps less well known than his sister and his other brother but never the less worked with some of the best in the business. Here he is singing 'Felicidade' with its composer Tom Jobim at the Montreal Jazz Festival, I would guess, some time in the eighties.

Dori Caymmi is probably the most well known member of the family outside of Brazil, having translocated to Los Angeles at the end of the eighties, where he has worked with Dionne Warwick, Branford Marsalis, John Patitucci, Herbie Mann, Larry Coryell and Toots Thielmans, as well as almost every Brazilian artist you can think of! He is a fine singer and guitarist as well as being a first rate arranger. Here he is playing one of his father's compositions, 'É Doce Morrer do Mar' .Unfortunately the video footage is someone's 'visual interpretation'...

Finally, Here's a clip of Dorival himself performing 'O que é que a Bahiana tem', the song that helped launch his - and Carmen Miranda's career.

Well, this is a rather poor tribute to a great artist, but I hope it will inspire you to go and find out a bit more about his music, as well as that of his family. I hope you get as much pleasure from the experience as I've had over the years.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Bossa Nova - the new way

It's generally agreed that the first true bossa nova record was João Gilberto's recording of Antonio Carlos "Tom" Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes' 'Chega de Saudade which was released in July 1958. (The version you see here is a much later performance). However, as is so often the case, this 'new thing' or 'new way' didn't just emerge fully formed from nowhere. As I observed in my last posting, there were strong elements of it in the work of Laurindo Almeida and Bud Shank in 1953, but the true early stirrings of it can be traced back to Noel Rosa and his fellow musicians of Bando de Tangarás, who were probably the first to bring a more progressive approach to the form known as Samba-canção. I include this extremely rare clip, not because it sounds much like bossa nova, but because it illustrates a factor in the development of the music. The essentially Afro Brazilian samba was beginning to acquire white middle-class practitioners that were taking it in a new direction, in much the same way that the 'cool school' jazz had developed in the U.S.A.

A figure often mentioned in the same breath as the more famous bossa nova practicioners is Dick Farney, and his 1946 recording of 'Copacabana' (a composition by Bando de Tangarás member - Braguinha) was another recognisable step along the route. Here is Farney performing the song sometime in the seventies, accompanied, I thought, by the great Brazilian pianist, Cesar Camargo Mariano. I now know that it is in fact Hilton Valente, and I thank the correspondents that put me right on this (see comments below). The song may well be familiar to you bossa enthusiasts out there, but how many of you realised that it predates the official birth by 12 years? I certainly didn't until I started digging!

Another significant figure is the guitarist Garoto, who was experimenting with more complex harmonies, using many of the altered and extended chords (although in the context of Samba and Choro) that were to become such a part of the bossa sound and would influence so many guitarists. I could find no clips of Garoto himself but here are two of his compositions performed by another great Brazilian guitarist, Paulo Belinatti.

Meanwhile, the Rio based singer and pianist Johnny Alf (real name Alfredo José da Silva - he had been advised to change it when he joined an artistic group at the Brazil-United States Institute) was beginning to evolve his own style, mixing Brazilian songs by the likes of Dorival Caymmi with North American influences that undoubtedly included Bebop. He played regularly in the clubs and bars that were frequented by many of the soon-to-emerge new breed of bossa nova musicians. His 1955 recording of Rapaz de Bem was another distinct milestone along the way. This performance of it recorded in 2005 shows that he continues to deliver the goods!

The stage was more or less set and the artists that would put the final elements of bossa nova in place were now beginning to emerge - Louis Bonfa, João Donato, Tom Jobim, Carlos Lyra and Roberto Menescal started to produce a string of compositions that were quickly taken up by the public in Brazil. By the time that Marcel Camus' multi-award winning film Orpheo Negro ('Black Orpheus'), with it's sound track of Bonfa and Jobim compositions, was released, the world seemed ready for this new sound. That the North American 'cool school' jazz musicians took such an interest in it is not surprising, given that the harmonic approach that drove bossa nova owed a lot to jazz in the first place: what was more surprising was the enthusiasm with which it was taken up generally. By 1963, the phrase 'Bossa Nova' had become thoroughly mainstream and was being used indiscriminately to promote all manner of things. Unfortunately, the music itself often got forgotten along the way, witness this dreadful Elvis Presley clip - 'Bossa Nova Baby" (Don't worry. It's mercifully short).

I have a few theories of my own about the development of this music and the influence of North American jazz upon it. There is no doubt that Messrs Farney and Alf were influenced by jazz, or that Garoto had visited the United States and met jazz musicians there. Laurindo Almeida was consciously trying to blend the two elements of Brazilian music and jazz together. Jobim cites J.S.Bach and Hector Villa Lobos as influences, but was also an enthusiastic admirer of many of the composers responsible for The great American songbook. The idea of taking the samba and some how 'cooling it down' was at the heart of the groove, the trick being to retain the fire of the 2/4 samba in a laid back 4/4 beat. This was achieved by stretching the basic rhythmic phrase over two bars and the addition of the kind of harmonies that were more often associated with 'cool' jazz went a long way towards completing the picture. But there was also Rio de Janeiro itself. All of those ingredients could have come together in São Paulo or Salvador and the results would have been very different.

One last element: we associate Bossa Nova with a very laid back style of singing - undersinging even - and my theory is that Chet Baker's vocal style was an influence on this. I have some recordings of João Gilberto that predate 'Chega do Saudade' and he is much more of a 'sambista' in style. We know by their own testament that many of these innovators were listening to West Coast musicians, and Gerry Mulligan is often mentioned. Could it be that Gilberto heard the 1956 'Chet Baker Sings' album and was inspired?*

If you want to know more about this subject I can recommend a book - 'The Brazilian Sound. Samba, Bossa Nova and the Popular Music of Brazil' by Chris McGowan and Ricardo Pessanha. (ISBN 1-56639-545-3) and a new DVD -'Bossa Brazil: Stories of Love. The Birth of Bossa Nova' narrated by Carlos Lyra and Roberto Menescal. (Warner DVD 5 051442 806328).

I'll conclude this post by including a little clip from the end of Orpheo Negro, not because it's a bossa nova milestone but because it invokes the spirit of the music for me - and the spirit of an innocence that is, alas not so easy to find in Rio these days. The tune is Louis Bonfa's 'Samba Do Orpheo'. I have taken the liberty of including a comment on this video from the YouTube site that I thought was particularly pertinent:-

MP S Shanahan writes -"By itself this scene can seem too sweet. But in the film it immediately follows the death of Orfeu, Euridice in his arms. This moment of hope in the wake of tragedy, with its sense of an ancient tradition being carried forward by the children, is one of the most bittersweet endings in all of cinema. It is, to me, a much more satisfactory ending than most other retellings of the Orpheus myth (while several great operas tell this story, for example, none of them have particularly good endings)."

- and if that whets your appetite to see the film then so much the better!

* The answer to my speculation would seem to be -probably not. I have just (12/8/08) found this excellent and informative piece about him by the splendid Daniella Thompson:-


Friday, 8 August 2008

Sheer Brazilliance

I'm not one of those people who prefer the sound of vinyl to that of the CD - I won't bother to rehearse any arguments here because that's not the subject of this post - so I'm constantly on the lookout for CD reissues of favourite albums. As a consequence I was thumbing through my remaining LPs the other day looking for a particular piece of information when I came across Brazilliance Volume 1 by guitarist Laurindo Almeida and saxophonist and flautist Bud Shank. I bought this when it was reissued in the sixties but realised that I hadn't actually heard it for some 25 years or more. A brief scan of the track list fired up the memory and I was soon on line and searching. Sure enough it had been reissued and was available to buy (for those that are interested it's on World Pacific: CDP 7 96339 2). I listened to it again when it arrived the day before yesterday and immediately wished that I had replaced it years ago.

I have mentioned Laurindo Almeida before (The twang's not the thang). It was only when I read the sleeve notes for this album that I realised that he was (a) Brazilian and (b) that he did not play exclusively classical music. I immediately fell in love with this album, having recently heard and embraced bossa nova for the first time, but didn't realise that it had actually been recorded in 1953, predating the official birth of bossa nova by more than five years. Although it's not strictly a bossa nova album it has enough of the ingredients that went into that form to be clearly identified as a very close relative, in that it brings together Brazilian rhythms and West Coast or Cool School sensibilities. It is now generally agreed that many of the Rio de Janeiro based originators of bossa nova were strongly influenced by the harmonic approach of those jazz forms although at least one of their number - Carlos Lyra - wrote a song about it called Influência do Jazz which expressed a certain degree of unhappiness about this state of affairs.

A few years back I interviewed the Brazilian singer Mônica Vasconcelos in São Paulo for BBC Radio Cornwall's 'Sounds of Jazz' programme. When I asked her about the jazz influence she was not forthcoming. "We do what we do." she said, somewhat enigmatically, although it's interesting to note that her long term collaborator has been the superb German-born saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock.

Bud Shank must share equally in the praise for this album, because his openness to other musical forms (he also went on to collaborate with the great Japanese Koto player Kimio Eto) allowed him to adapt his approach to suit the music. It wasn't a forced fit, it was a genuine amalgamation of ingredients. Which is not to say that the accommodation was all one way - Laurindo Almeida had moved to the U.S.A. originally to join Stan Kenton's band, where a young Bud Shank was already beginning to make a name for himself. Although Almeida was never an improviser he was perfectly able to swing and to make what he played seem spontaneous. He had a definite feel for jazz and was to continue to collaborate with Shank on and off for the rest of his life.

Nobody has posted any of the material from this album to YouTube and I do not make links to free download sites, but here's something from Brazilliance Volume 2, which came out five years later

Here is a good example of Almeida's classical technique subtly transmuting into something else with this bossa version of Debussy's 'Claire de Lune' -

and here's Bud Shank playing his own composition, 'Elizete', on the 1963 'Brasamba' album that he made with - among others - Clare Fischer, Joe Pass and ex Jimmy Giuffre bassist Ralph Peña.

I could bang on some more about this - with hindsight - hugely significant album but I won't, except to observe that some of the tunes on the disc went in a lot deeper than I realised. When during my first visit to Brazil I heard Pixinguinhas classic choro composition 'Carinhoso' for the first time, I felt as if I had known it all my life, which of course I very nearly had. I hadn't made the connection with this album because the feel is a lot different and the title had been misspelled as 'Carinoso' on the original sleeve (and in fact the CD reissue has yet another spelling, giving it as 'Cariñoso').

I'm now inspired to pick up the bossa nova story in my next posting. Given that this year saw the 50th Anniversary of the 'New Thing' it seems only appropriate.

Regular readers of this blog will realise that I have, at last solved the mystery of how to embed the YouTube clips. I shall be revising all the previous entries over the next few weeks, which should make for a slightly less tedious viewing experience. Now if only I can solve the mystery of why the Blogger software sometimes won't let me format my paragraphs properly...

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

It's Trad, dad

By 1959 a lot of things were beginning to change for me. I had passed the 13+ (technical) exam and gained a place at Southall Technical College, the family had moved (instead of living in the flat over the shop we now lived in a three bedroomed semi with a large garden, about a quarter of a mile away from it) I had acquired my first guitar and I had abandoned The Eagle comic in favour of a weekly publication entitled Jazz News. I was also beginning to become politicised. These things affected me in various ways.

The move to the new school was a bit of a shock to my system. I had hated my Secondary Modern school even more than I had hated Primary school and so had made a determined effort to pass the exam that would get me out of there. Quite how I emerged as suitable fodder for the Technical curriculum is anybody's guess - and anybody less suited to such a regime than me would be very hard to find. I had (and have) no mechanical aptitude or enthusiasm, an interest in chemistry that extended only as far as the ability to create spectacular explosions from common household ingredients (under the helpful tutelage of my friend, Fen), a total lack of interest in Physics and a total lack of comprehension of applied mathematics. The only other 'grown up' discipline that I tackled was Economics and here I waded in with great enthusiasm, writing long and closely reasoned essays that were invariably marked with an 'E' and deemed 'socialistic nonsense' by the Economics master.

In my first year at Southall Tech I had developed an unpleasant and disabling skin disease that affected my hand and feet, resulting in a long period of hospitalisation and recuperation that meant that I was away from school for best part of half a year. The good part was that I was excused engineering when I returned, on the grounds that I was probably allergic to the various greases, oils and cutting compounds that one came into constant contact with in the engineering work shops. As a consequence I started spending two whole afternoons a week in the newly commissioned Art Department (The 'Tech' was soon to be amalgamated with Southall Grammar School and as a consequence their was a statutory requirement for Art facilities as the Grammar's intake started at age 11). This 'art' time was also to prove influential in my life.

Sadly, I can find no trace of information about Jazz News on line, but I remember the publication with great affection. The infamous 'Trad' boom was beginning to happen, which meant that the cover story was generally about Chris Barber, Acker Bilk or Kenny Ball, but within its pages (all of which I devoured avidly -up to and including the publishing and printing details in small print at the bottom of the last page) all forms of jazz and related musical forms were catered for. I'm pretty sure that that was where I saw a review of Red Bird Dancing on Ivory, a poetry and jazz experiment by Christopher Logue and The Tony Kinsey Quintet (an EP which I immediately went out and bought). It was certainly where I first saw an advertisement for a Topic EP entitled 'All For Me Grog' by A.L.Lloyd, which introduced me to English folk music, although this was not until about 1961). I also remember seeing an ad in the classified section which offered jazz piano lessons given by somebody with the unusual name of Manfred Mann.

The main change in my life that the guitar brought about at this point was sore fingers. It took me a very long time to master my first three chords as I am not by nature very dexterous, but I did plug away fairly determinedly, despite always having to ensure that my father was nowhere in the vicinity before I started to practice. I managed to get the E and A major chords under my belt fairly quickly, but the contortions required for the B7 chord remained so foreign to my fingers that a slick change was next to impossible for me. I recently found a photograph in my archives, taken in late 1962, of my friend Paul and I playing and singing together in a pub. As he pointed out to me when I sent a copy to him (and that's another story!), my hand is firmly locked in the B7 position although I am not actually playing at that point, whilst Paul is clearly playing E7 ( D7 capo-ed at the 2nd fret). I'm damned sure that I'm holding on to that chord shape so that I don't forget it.
I'm sure that Jazz News also heralded the Beaulieu Jazz Festival of 1959, which I have strong memories of watching on TV. That strange brief emergence of 'Trad' (or British Traditional jazz - most of which was dominated by the incessant plunking of a banjo) as a pop music fad had just started to happen and the Beaulieu event, which was a clearly recogniseable ancestor of today's pop festivals, featured quite a lot of it. Trad was also beginning to find its way onto all sorts of pop programmes on both radio and television. My father walked into the living room one day when I was watching one of these programmes. The band - probably Barber's, Ball's or Bilk's - were on a bandstand in the studio and a bunch of young and (to my father's jaundiced eye) extremely eccentrically dressed people were skip-jiving to them. "What in God's name is all that about?" said the old man. "It's trad." I replied. "Baah!" he spat. (He really did used to say Baah.) "They're just a load of pimps and panders!" Then he stalked out of the room leaving me somewhat baffled. At the age of fourteen I had some notion of what a pimp was but as yet was only aware of panda's with an 'a', and thought it quite the most peculiar insult I had ever heard.
By the start of the sixties, an increasingly 'must-have' item of apparel was the C.N.D. badge, and one was frequently to be seen adorning the baggy jumper that was part of the trad uniform. My brother, Alcohol, had recently finished his National Service and was beginning to get involved with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. It was not long before I, too, was sporting a badge and attending 'Ban the Bomb' demonstrations, where trad jazz and folk music was much in evidence. I began to meet like-minded people that lived near by and to hang out with them of an evening. Meanwhile, back at school, I was becoming more and more of an outsider. Most of my fellow pupils were into The Shadows, motorbikes and football and I had no time for any of these things. In the meanwhile I had made good use of my art room time and gained a Royal Drawing Society Diploma. On the strength of this I was offered a place at Art school but my father refused me permission to take up the offer, on the grounds that he wasn't going to '...have a damn beatnik in the family...'.
Battle lines were being drawn.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Comments and opinions...

When I first started writing this blog I did actually consider the 'ego' side of it. Who cares what I think about anything? What right have I to write? After some deliberation I decided that it couldn't do much harm. Nobody is forced to read this stuff and one or two people might actually enjoy some of it. I certainly enjoy writing and feel that I have enough knowledge and experience of my main subject to make these pages informative and interesting. I also looked forward to some lively debate where appropriate. After all, when I go into 'review mode' I am stating opinion and not fact (although I do go to considerable lengths to show how these opinions were - and continue to be - shaped.

I was vaguely disappointed when I picked up my first adverse comment (after Little Jazz Birds and other related species) - not because it was adverse but because it was illiterate, spiteful and anonymous - but I let it stand. I didn't bother to reply to it at the time because I doubted very much if the perpetrator would return to these pages (unless, of course it was to see if he/she had scored a hit and got a rise out of me). Then a couple of days ago I got another one (after Jazz, delicious hot, disgusting cold) which was again anonymous and intended to offend. Two things became apparent after reading this one - (1) The perpetrator was unlikely to be the same one and (2) he/she had patently not actually read the piece in question. I subsequently went back and posted a reply to both comments and gave as good as I got.

I'm a big boy now. I can take criticism. I can take offensive remarks come to that and hand them out. But there seems to me something very puerile about this kind of anonymous sniping on the web. A little research has revealed that this is very common practice all over cyberspace. People who plainly would not have the courage to make such remarks in person will gleefully shower bile and poison around behind the cloak of anonymity. 'But surely' I hear you cry, 'You hide behind a 'nom-de-blog' too'. Well, yes, but it's not actually very hard to work out who I am if you know me and if you don't know me then it doesn't matter that much anyway, but I DO give an email address at which I am contactable and will happily enter into a dialogue with anyone who has a serious point to make. In fact I will happily enter into a dialogue with anyone that has an entirely frivolous point to make - I am, after all, in the throws of growing old disgracefully - but in future no further anonymous remarks will be shown in these pages.

One last thing before I stop ranting. There is a major difference between 'like and dislike' and 'good and bad'. I can tell the difference. 'I like/don't like this because...' is an opinion, something which I go to great lengths to make clear at all times. Furthermore I have been - and will continue - laying out the details of the life time's accumulation of musical information that has led me to these opinions. You don't have to read them. You don't have to agree with them, but if you don't then for goodness sake tell me why you think I'm wrong. Don't just sneak past and piss through the letterbox.