Duke Ellington and race in America

Duke Ellington

‘Two years before Ellington died, in 1972, Yale University held a gathering of leading black jazz musicians in order to raise money for a department of African-American music. Aside from Ellington, the musicians who came for three days of concerts, jam sessions, and workshops included Eubie Blake, Noble Sissle, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Max Roach, Mary Lou Williams, and Willie (the Lion) Smith. During a performance by a Gillespie-led sextet, someone evidently unhappy with this presence on campus called in a bomb threat. The police attempted to clear the building, but Mingus refused to leave, urging the officers to get all the others out but adamantly remaining onstage with his bass. “Racism planted that bomb, but racism ain’t strong enough to kill this music,” he was heard telling the police captain. (And very few people successfully argued with Mingus.) “If I’m going to die, I’m ready. But I’m going out playing ‘Sophisticated Lady.’ ” Once outside, Gillespie and his group set up again. But coming from inside was the sound of Mingus intently playing Ellington’s dreamy thirties hit, which, that day, became a protest song, as the performance just kept going on and on and getting hotter. In the street, Ellington stood in the waiting crowd just beyond the theatre’s open doors, smiling.’ (The New Yorker)

The Top 13 Hidden Tracks

Cover of "Abbey Road (Remastered)"

‘The hidden track dates all the way back to The Beatles’ Abbey Road, which includes “Her Majesty,” a 23-second unlisted song at the end of the album’s second side. Since then, many bands have surprised their fans with secret songs, though many of them are merely discordant noise or otherwise eminently forgettable. Sometimes, though, these tracks are hidden gems that deserve to be heard. For that reason, we decided to put together a list of the very best hidden tracks, and listened to dozens of them to find the standouts.’ (The Top 13)

Neurological problems of jazz legends [J Child Neurol. 2009]

Charlie Parker

Abstract: “A variety of neurological problems have affected the lives of giants in the jazz genre. Cole Porter courageously remained prolific after severe leg injuries secondary to an equestrian accident, until he succumbed to osteomyelitis, amputations, depression, and phantom limb pain. George Gershwin resisted explanations for uncinate seizures and personality change and herniated from a right temporal lobe brain tumor, which was a benign cystic glioma. Thelonious Monk had erratic moods, reflected in his pianism, and was ultimately mute and withdrawn, succumbing to cerebrovascular events. Charlie Parker dealt with mood lability and drug dependence, the latter emanating from analgesics following an accident, and ultimately lived as hard as he played his famous bebop saxophone lines and arpeggios. Charles Mingus hummed his last compositions into a tape recorder as he died with motor neuron disease. Bud ‘Powell had severe posttraumatic headaches after being struck by a police stick defending Thelonious Monk during a Harlem club raid.’ Neurological problems of jazz legends. (J Child Neurol. 2009)

R.I.P. Vic Chesnutt

[Image 'https://i0.wp.com/graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2009/12/26/nyregion/26chesnutt_CA0/articleInline.jpg' cannot be displayed]

Singer and Songwriter Dies at 45: Vic Chesnutt, whose darkly comic songs about mortality, vulnerability and life’s simple joys made him a favorite of critics and fellow musicians, died Friday in a hospital in Athens, Ga., a family spokesman said. He was 45 and lived in Athens.

He had been in a coma after taking an overdose of muscle relaxants earlier this week.

Mr. Chesnutt had a cracked, small voice but sang with disarming candor about a struggle for peace in a life filled with pain. A car crash at age 18 left him partly paralyzed, and he performed in a wheelchair.

The accident, he has said, focused him as a songwriter, and it became the subject of some of his earliest recordings. “I’m not a victim/Oh, I am an atheist,” Mr. Chesnutt sang in “Speed Racer,” from his first album, “Little,” produced by Michael Stipe of R.E.M. and released in 1990.

In a recent interview on the public radio show “Fresh Air,” he told Terry Gross: “It was only after I broke my neck and even like maybe a year later that I really started realizing that I had something to say.”

Although he never had blockbuster record sales, Mr. Chesnutt was a prolific songwriter who remained a mainstay on the independent music circuit for two decades, making more than 15 albums.

Musicians flocked to work with him: he recorded with the bands Lambchop, Widespread Panic and Elf Power, as well as the jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, and in a recent burst of creative activity he made two albums with a band that included Guy Picciotto of Fugazi and members of the Montreal indie-rock group Thee Silver Mt. Zion.

Because of Mr. Chesnutt’s fondness for simple guitar chords — after his accident his fingers could no longer form the jazzier ones, he has said — his work was often described as a variant of folk-rock. But the sound of his albums changed with their revolving collaborators, from stark recordings of Mr. Chesnutt alone to finessed full-band arrangements.

…He sings about suicide in “Flirted With You All My Life,” from his recent album “At the Cut,” describing death as a lover he must break up with because his accomplishments in life are incomplete:

When you touched a friend of mine I thought I would lose my mind

But I found out with time that really, I was not ready, no no, cold death

Oh death, I’m really not ready.

(New York Times obituary)