Wednesday, May 31, 2017

How Long Has This Been Going On?

It's hard to believe that anyone can really be called Jazzmeia Horn, but that's what the name tag reads on the most exciting new jazz singer we've heard in a long, long time.  Fred Kaplan, a New Yorker writer, had an article recently praising another singer (with another striking name: Cecile McLorin Salvant), and there was a lot of justified enthusiasm for Amy Winehouse's bluesy style, but while it is a pleasure to hear their work, it is Jazzmeia Horn who sets the place on fire.

She's a 26-year-old Texan, and she's been singing for a while--she won the 2015 Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition--but her name (and who could forget her name, or her voice, once heard?) seem only recently to have reached these distant shores. Catch her performance on YouTube. Go for "East of the Sun," at Dizzy's Club CocaCola.

It has seemed for a long time that nothing especially surprising was happening in jazz. And to quote Whitney Balliett, the essence of jazz is "the sound of surprise." That's what we get with Jazzmeia Horn.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Fashion News from Victoria

Re: The appearance together yesterday of John Horgan and Andrew Weaver. Did the presumptive premier borrow that purple suit from the Joker?

Monday, May 29, 2017

Summertime, and the rhymin' ain't easy

Of the many summer songs--"A Summer Place," "The Long Hot Summer," "Summer in the City"--"Summertime," by  the Gershwins and DuBose Heyward, is probably the best known. The loveliest may be "Summer Song," music by Dave Brubeck, lyrics--"Love, to me, is like a summer day"--by Iola Brubeck. Louis Armstrong, who sang the words beautifully, said, "This is very good, Mrs. Brubeck."

But certainly the oldest summer song (and the oldest known song in the English language) is this:

Svmer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu!
Growep sed and blowep med
and springp pe wde nu.

Aw bletep after lomb,
Ihoup after calue cu,
Bulluc stertep, bucke uertep,
Murie sing cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu,
Wel singes pu cuccu,
ne swik pu nauer nu!
Sing cuccu nu, Sing cuccu!

Sing cuccu, Sing cuccu nu!

Saturday, May 27, 2017


May 27 was the birthday of Dashiell Hammett, John Cheever and Herman Wouk, and wouldn't you like to have been at their party? Hammett was born in 1894, Cheever in 1912, and Wouk in 1915. Hammett and Cheever, not surprisingly, have departed, going to wherever good writers go--probably a bar. But Wouk, happily, is still with us, and even published another book--"Sailor and Fiddler"--two years ago.

Hammett, it's usually said, wrote five novels, but "The Big Knockover" and "Blood Money," taken together, really form one more. The toughest and shortest of Hammett's novels is "Red Harvest." The strangest is "The Dain Curse." "The Maltese Falcon" is generally considered his masterpiece, but his own favourite was "The Glass Key." His last, "The Thin Man," dedicated to Lillian Hellman, has been considered lightweight, but it is really a very rewarding book, and certainly was for Hammett.

Frank Sinatra, speaking of Johnny Hodges, Duke Ellington's longtime alto saxophone soloist, said he "never played an untasty note." One could say of Cheever that he never wrote an ungraceful line. Cheever wrote at least four novels, but he's remembered more for his two hundred or so short stories. Collected into one volume, they won the Pulitzer Prize in 1978.

Herman Wouk's first job was writing gags for Fred Allen, although he said later that he and the other writers spent most of their time clipping newspaper items they thought might interest Allen. When he was in the US Navy in World War Two, Wouk wrote a comedy about radio and advertising called "Aurora Dawn." Not well known, and hard to find, but worth a search, as is his later comedy, "Don't Stop the Carnival." His great success, of course, was "The Caine Mutiny," a true page turner, with a great collection of characters--Keefer, Maryk, Barney Greenwald, and, most of all, the unforgettable Captain Queeg.

Interestingly, some current critics believe the Wouk book likely to endure longest is "Marjorie Morningstar," the story of a young woman whose real name is Marjorie Morgenstern, and her journey through romance and show business.

So this evening, we think you should go to your shelves and pull out three books, one each by Hammett, Cheever and Wouk, mix a martini, put some old Benny Goodman Quartet records on the turntable, and wish the writers a happy birthday.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

On to the Cup

Canadian hockey fans, dismayed because once again there will be no Canadian team in the Stanley Cup (And you think you feel bad? How about bartenders in Ottawa?) should remember that all of the players in the NHL, no matter what their jerseys say, are from either Trois Rivieres, Quebec or Loon Lake, Saskatchewan.

Our choice in the finals? We're going for the Predators, because so many good tunes have come out of Nashville. How much music has come out of Pittsburgh?

Meanwhile, Lord Stanley, reached via a seance and Skype, said, "Had I known there would be so much agitation, I would have given the cup to cricket."

For PD Sports, this is Slap Maxwell.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Blessing the Fields

May 21 was Rogation Sunday, an observance coming before Ascension Day, or Holy Thursday. On Rogation Sunday, it was the custom for churchgoers to walk the boundaries of their parishes--"beating the bounds" was the old phrase. Clergy and people would process, blessing the fields and asking protection for the year to come. (The word "rogation" is derived from the Latin "rogare"--"to ask.")

Early spring processions predated the Christian era, but, along with other ancient customs, they were absorbed into the church calendar.

Probably few congregations walk the parish boundaries today--those attending metropolitan churches would have difficulty knowing what those boundaries are. But a few years ago, St. James, on Vancouver's downtown east aside, did observe Rogation Sunday in the old manner, and many church members walked the boundaries, which stretch from Cordova and Gore to Commercial Drive, over the First Avenue Bridge, along Terminal Avenue, and north on Main Street.

Some of us ran the route, and were happy to see a parish refreshment stand by the VIA Rail Station, and happier still to arrive back at the church, to find St. James priests grilling hotdogs and hamburgers behind the Clergy House.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Rule, Victoria!

Today we celebrate the long and illustrious reign of the British monarch under whose rule we gained not only the postage stamp and the Christmas tree, but also Victoria's Secret.

And what was Victoria's secret? Only Albert knew.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Why Comie Had to Go

Okay, there's been a lot of disloyal talk, a lot of fake news, and my subordinates have been feeding you the wrong stuff, so I'm going to let you know the real reason I had to fire James Comey.

In a word, he was too tall. Way too tall. Where did he get off, towering over me like that? What, he's six-eight? Are you kidding me? Things were better at the FBI when it was run by Hoover, who was five-five tops, even with lifts in his shoes. No cracks about high heels, please.

You know, i'm not convinced Comey really is that tall. I think there's a good chance he's standing on stilts inside those 42-inch pants. I'm appointing a special commission to investigate that.

I like guys around me who are short and plump, like little Jeffie Sessions, guys I can carry in my pocket. 'Cause that's where I want 'em to be.

Sally Yates, she was too tall too. ("Too tall too"--Like the rhythm in that? Get me Herb Alpert on the phone.)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mothers--Whistler's and Trollope's.

Many mothers to remember this day, especially those who have affected our lives, but the two we chose to write about are Anna McNeil Whistler and Frances Trollope.

Anna was the mother of James McNeil Whistler, artist, wit and bon vivant of the Victorian era--American but spending most of his career in England. (He and Oscar Wilde were pals, and played their own version of "Can You Top This?" After Whistler got off an especially funny line, Wilde said, "I wish I'd said that." Whistler replied, "You will, Oscar--you will.)

It was in London in 1871 when the model scheduled to pose for Whistler didn't arrive, so he cajoled his aged mother into taking her place. As one can tell, looking at the painting--now in the Musee d'Orsay in Paris--she was not particularly pleased. We can imagine her saying, "How much longer do I have to sit like this, Jimmy?" And her son saying, "Only another hour or two. Try not to move, Mother."

The painting is formally titled "Arrangement in Grey and Black #1." But, of course, the world knows it as "Whistler's Mother."

Anthony Trollope is remembered as the enormously industrious, disciplined and prolific author of the mid-19th century ("Barchester Towers," "Barry Lyndon," etc.). What isn't generally known is that his mother may have been even more industrious, disciplined and prolific. When her husband lost his wealth, Frances Trollope, to keep the family together and eating, sat down and began to write. Mother Trollope produced 114 books.

A happy Mother's Day to all, and especially artists and writers lucky to have had the right mothers.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Dumb Don or Lucky Lemon?

Or maybe "Tale of the Two Dons."  No, that's dumb. Which brings us to President Donald Trump's assertion that Don Lemon of CNN is "the dumbest person on television."

Undoubtedly Lemon--clearly the brainier of the two Dons--is relishing this. It is the sort of recognition people prized when they found they were on Richard Nixon's "enemies list." Paul Newman made that, and considered it an honor right up there with an Academy Award.

What will this mean next for Don Lemon? Much higher ratings.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Distressed Knees Distress

Seeing an endless stream of teenagers wearing jeans with ragged holes at the knee, we assumed it was further evidence of grave poverty among our young people. Then we found that not only are torn jeans (or jeans with "distressed knees,"as they are known) de rigeur, but that they frequently cost a great deal of money. Top of the line appears to be the Balmain Ripped Skinny Jeans, at $2,357.66.

How far will this fashion lead? Will hip government leaders, like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron, wanting to remain au courant, attend international conferences wearing suits with distressed knees? Will we see Hollywood stars walking the Red Carpet in ripped skinny tuxedos?

We do not own a pair of jeans. But we do have our own distressed knees--a takeaway from our days as a go-go dancer at Oil Can Harry's.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Morning After

Guten morgen, Mr. Horgan.

It's okay to bark, Still Premier Clark.

Leave it to Beaver, Dr. Weaver.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Trevor Linden votes. Do you?

Of all the election commercials televised over the past several weeks, the best have come from Elections BC, ending with Trevor Linden looking earnestly into the camera, and saying: "I vote. (pregnant pause) Do you?"

I know we're all going to miss the rash of campaign advertising, the telephone calls from candidates, and the knocking on the door of people we don't know nor wish to know, soliciting our vote.

But the campaign has not been without its amusements. We have been especially pleased to see the candidacy of Joe Keithley, the Pavarotti of DOA, even though Joe rejected our campaign slogan: "Punk for the People!"

Vaughn Palmer, onetime rock critic turned political commentator for the Vancouver Sun and Shaw TV's "Voice of BC," had a fine column for election day citing the value of every vote. He listed numerous instances in which elections had been decided by fewer than fifty votes, and even one that was taken by single vote. The outcome would have gone the other way if the losing candidate and his wife had themselves bothered to vote.

One more thing to remember: having enough snacks and strengthening beverages on hand to last through five hours or so of election coverage. Longer than the Super Bowl and not nearly as entertaining.

Trev and I vote. (beat) Do you?

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Georgia Straight at 50

The Vancouver newspaper "Georgia Straight", moving forward like an aging hipster, veteran of the hippie trek across Canada to Fourth Avenue, the Gastown riots, Mayor Tom Campbell, the rock 'n' roll rivalry of the CKLG Boss Jocks and the C-FUN Good Guys, the Retinal Circus and "Grass and Wild Strawberries," is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary.

A must-have issue, and not least because it bears a cover by Bob Masse, the Aubrey Beardsley of our time, the great illustrator of psychedelia. A curious omission is no mention of Masse in the text; nor is there a word about Jurgen Gothe, whose column "Uncorked" was for years one of the paper's principal pleasures. And where are the Alex Waterhouse-Hayward photographs?

But there are many good things, including snippets from interviews collected over the decades, and a review of Vancouver music, as shown by vintage LP covers, many of the discs now high-priced collectors' items. Hands off my "Pacific Salt."

"Georgia Straight" at 50--available at a sidewalk box near you.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Very Warm for May

"Very warm for May," he thought, strolling back from lunch at Chez Meme, and casting off garments until he was down to his Argyle socks and was pulled up by a police car.

Then he remembered that "Very Warm for May" was the title of a musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein that was, for the team that produced "Showboat," an unexpected flop. It opened on Broadway in late 1939, and ran for only fifty-nine performances.

This despite having a score that included "All the things You Are," and if that isn't a perfect song, what is?

Any number of great jazz performances, beginning with Dizzy Gillespie's brilliant introduction, later expanded by Kenny Dorham into a variation he called "Prince Albert." Charlie Parker, who loved the song, called his reworking "Bird of Paradise." Also worth seeking: Helen Merrill's version, with Tom Harrell and Torrie Zito, and Sarah Vaughan's with the Basie band.

Enjoy the May warmth. May it last until November.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Make mine Bombay Sapphire

It has been reported that some 1.14 litre bottles of Bombay Sapphire gin were found to contain not the 40% alcohol listed on the label, but 77%.

The company says all high octane bottles have been removed from liquor store shelves.

Disappointed shopper Albert MacGrog lamented, "Now they tell us."