Saturday, 25 April 2015

Waste Not

"Blue Skies" as performed by Ella Fitzgerald

It's her real birthday today, but we are the gift-receivers. The word "scat," in one of its usages, means shit. Here it's its own opposite. She does uncontaminated magic with the words and melody, too.

You don't need me to talk about this great performance. Just listen to it (more than once if I were you).

Monday, 20 April 2015

Happy Birthday (For Me)!

"Mack the Knife" as performed by Ella Fitzgerald

I inadvertently discovered today that Ella Fitzgerald's birthday is a few days from now. She would've been ninety-eight. Normally, the birthday boy or girl gets presents and other extra demonstrations of love: cake, singing, smiles, forgiveness, attention. Death (especially long-ago death) obviously makes that a problem, but I guess the last of those gifts is possible, even with the recipient's absence from the festivities. In the case of Ella Fitzgerald, let my taking of her brilliance and beauty (my attention) be my giving. Happy Birthday, Ella Fitzgerald!

I've been listening to her all afternoon, and only because as a musical amateur I have no filter that might help me choose the greatest instances of her greatest singing (that's just too much sifting), I offer you (you get a present, too!) this tuneful, swinging, clever, immediately brilliant, brilliantly immediate performance. Digging into this great song, the forty-three-year-old Ella Fitzgerald starts by identifying herself as a girl (on April 25th, she's the birthday girl!) who's hoping to remember "all the words." By the second verse, you know she hasn't, which doesn't matter since what follows is so imperfectly perfect: scat singing that puts sensible English syntax to shame, playful vocal shifts, witty self-mockery, ecstatic players -- an aural encyclopedia of casual, musically dazzling craft and execution, all of it in just four-and-a-half minutes.

(Rappers, take note: Ella Fitzgerald, right on the spot, some fifty-five years ago in Berlin, Germany, rhymed "recognize it" with "surprise hit.")

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Two Hands Clapping (Now, Not Zen)

"Tighten Up" by Archie Bell and the Drells

This song is so very simple and so very friendly. Archie Bell introduces himself and his Drells very politely, tells us where they're from and what they do: they sing, they dance, they play, they play tightly, they fall into each other, but they don't get too tight, they don't neglect the sound of two hands clapping. (Double-time hand-clapping is a neglected craft.)

I was a stupid teenager when this song first came out of my radio. It was effervescently chimey and dumb forty-seven years ago, and although I'm not happy to report that I'm just as dumb so many years into its future and mine, I still love its innocent, funky, elemental vibe, its proof that music is for everyone, whether you live in Houston, Texas or not. 

Anyway, good luck trying to sit still when you listen to it. 

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Puppy Love

"Walking The Dog" by Rufus Thomas

There are a lot of dogs in my neighbourhood, none of whom I would ever want to walk. They're all too small, too coddled by domestication, too distant and different from wolves. If I'm gonna walk a dog, I want its turd not to fit inside a mere sandwich bag.

No, if I were walking a dog, I would want one who at least reminds me of something wild and young, a dog that can't be contained by a bit of plastic. Which is why I don't like those small dogs -- they're fussy, and cautious, and weak, and too much like me. (I also use plastic a little at a time, but I still use a lot of it, so maybe there's still some wolf in me.*)

I've been listening to a lot of blues music lately, one song of which prompted the preceding paragraphs. I don't have a dog and have no plans to procure one, but "Walking the Dog" promises to teach me how to walk a dog, and it's such a frivolously cheerful flurry of saxophone and electric guitar and drums and a voice that means soulful business that it makes me think my owning a dog isn't as outlandish as I might immediately imagine. And, after all, how often do you get an offer to be taught something you don't know how to do? You usually have to learn on your own.

The song sounds like the result of everyone in one room, singing and playing and having fun together.

(* As a conscientious grandfather of a shiny new grandson who's going to live for a long time into a garbage-laden future world, I re-cycle all that plastic. Grrrrr . . .)