Monday, March 31, 2014

the last book I ever read (Gore Vidal's Burr, excerpt eight)

from Burr: A Novel by Gore Vidal:

I now act even to myself as if I were writing the full story of the Colonel’s life when, actually, I am only on the track of one small portion of it which Leggett assures me will change history. Though I sometimes wonder how different history will be if the president is Clay rather than Van Buren. Also, do I want to be the key that opens such a door? Odd situation to be in for someone who dislike politics and politicians. It is my secret dream to live in Spain or Italy and write stories like Washington Irving. I am counting on this work to bring me the money to travel. I only hope that the Colonel is dead when I publish. No. I cannot hope or want that. But I must publish within the next year and a half. Before the presidential election. It is a hard business I have got myself into.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

the last book I ever read (Gore Vidal's Burr, excerpt seven)

from Burr: A Novel by Gore Vidal:

Madame stands at the head of the Napoleonic sofa on which Colonel Burr is stretched out beside a roaring fire. He wears a quilted robe. The face is as smooth and keen as a boy’s. To the doctor’s bewilderment (but not mine), he is making a fine recovery from the stroke. The left leg is still partly paralyzed but he can now hobble about unaided—on the rare occasions when Madame lets him. She spends all day and night with him, assisted by the niece. The traitor Nelson Chase is not in evidence.

I spent two nights in the mansion. Having lived in boarding-houses since I was sixteen and went to Columbia, I found it a remarkable experience to be waited upon by eight servants, with a fire in my bedroom all day and night. I now see why everyone in New York is so eager to be rich.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

the last book I ever read (Gore Vidal's Burr, excerpt six)

from Burr: A Novel by Gore Vidal:

As I was crossing Wall Street, I saw my father coming out of the Post Office. He was well dressed and not drunk, though not sober either. “Charlie.” He gave me a vague look. “It is you, Charlie?”

“Yes, it is.” We had not met since he killed my mother three years ago.

“You are still in Colonel Burr’s office.”

“You are still at the tavern.”

Two statements, requiring no answer.

“I’ve been buying stamps, you know.” My father indicated the Post Office as though it would corroborate his story.

Friday, March 28, 2014

the last book I ever read (Gore Vidal's Burr, excerpt five)

from Burr: A Novel by Gore Vidal:

Perhaps it is simply a liking for easy games of chance that draws so many Americans to politics of the usual sort. Yet affecting to love democracy, every last one of them does his best to make sufficient money in order to exclude himself from the common round. I suppose that kind of blindness to motive is normal. At best, however, I prefer the man like Burr who, failing to gain power in the conventional way, breaks up the game—or tries to—seizes the crown—or tries to—and in the failing…

But what do I really know of Aaron Burr? Or of myself? I am only scribbling idly, trying to put myself in his skin as I sit now at my desk in Reade Street, waiting for him and the others to come to work on a hot August morning. No breeze.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

the last book I ever read (Gore Vidal's Burr, excerpt four)

from Burr: A Novel by Gore Vidal:

“Colonel Burr was at the reception, and I danced with him. Then—right after—ah, l’ironie, the irony! I danced with Mr. Hamilton. Curious, come to think of it. I admired them both, yet both were tiny and I’ve always been partial to tall men.”

Madame’s gaze took in my own less than tall figure. She gave me a coquettish smile. “But my passion, my adoration seems reserved for me of small stature but unique quality, comme l’Empereur. Vive NapolĂ©on!” She shouted suddenly, causing a group of upstate Quakers—Poughkeepsie writ large on their dull faces—to scatter before her furious progress.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

the last book I ever read (Gore Vidal's Burr, excerpt three)

from Burr: A Novel by Gore Vidal:

He stopped. Relit the stump of his seegar. “So a number of us began. But then who finished? Not I, as we know.” He blew rings of smoke in my face. “At the end the laurels went to a land surveyor from Virginia who became the ‘father’ of his country. But let us be fair. Since General Washington could sire nothing in the flesh, it is fitting that he be given credit for having conceived this union. A mule stallion, as it were, whose unnatural progeny are these states. So at the end, not to the swift but to the infertile went the race.” Burr found this image amusing. I was a bit shocked. Like everyone else I think of Washington as dull but perfect.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

the last book I ever read (Gore Vidal's Burr, excerpt two)

from Burr: A Novel by Gore Vidal:

“Wild, empty, beautiful country.” Suddenly he poked the map hard. “Here’s where Mr. Jefferson had me arrested.” He grinned like a schoolboy. “With forty-five men I was, he claimed, going to separate the western part of the United States from Greater Virginia, as the union was sometimes referred to by those of us who took no pleasure in Mr. Jefferson and his junto.”

“What had you meant to do with those forty-five men?”

Burr’s face shut. There is no other way to describe his expression when he chooses not to communicate. Yet the politeness never falters; he simply ignores the impertinence.

Monday, March 24, 2014

the last book I ever read (Gore Vidal's Burr, excerpt one)

from Burr: A Novel by Gore Vidal:

I am not used to night travel. To be cooped up in a carriage in the dark is to be totally subtracted from the usual world. Non-existent yet perversely made aware of not existing by the clatter of hooves, jingle of harness, coachman’s curses and—on this night—by a hideous white half-moon that had drained the world of colour, caused trees and fields to hemorrhage their green, turn to black, white, silver all nature. For a time, I thought I was dead.

Certainly the two old men opposite me did not dispel the mood. Burr: “Wasn’t that the Wentworth place, the farmhouse there, with the three chimneys?” Dr. Bogart: “No, Colonel. It was the Dutchman’s place. You know his name. With the bald wife who drowned at Fishkill in seventy-two or seventy-three.”

Will I be like them at their age? Talking of grisly deathbeds and redundant gallantries? But then I am to have a short life, according to the Italian fortune teller at Castle Garden. No garrulous old age for me. Good.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

the last book I ever read (Stanley Crouch's Kansas City Lightning, excerpt sixteen)

from Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch:

We know nothing about how Charlie Parker arrived in the room where he recorded that day, how long it took him to get ready for his saxophone, how much time elapsed before it was ready for him, prepared to stand up under his enthusiasm. Yet we can picture him: Standing or seated, in dark glasses or none, eyes open or closed, at the perfect angle to see through a glass darkly. He blows without hesitation, lurching forward with pure lyric power. Swing and control of time are already there. No prisoners taken and none demanded. He sees the music clearly and knows what he must do with it. It comes to him in an unfinished outline, and he proves himself in private, not for that moment alone, but for all time. A whole leg spins audibly on the turntable. It is Charlie Parker, indisputably stepping through the air and waiting for the other limb to drop.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

the last book I ever read (Stanley Crouch's Kansas City Lightning, excerpt fifteen)

from Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch:

The saxophone told him so, every time he picked it up. The horn no longer treated him like a stepchild; it had begun to submit to him. That alto gave him things. When he had it in his mouth now, the reed and the mouthpiece seemed more natural. His fingers fell into place almost automatically. His embouchure was just like the one in the book, a dimple on either side of his mouth. The weight of the horn was no longer heavy. The keys and his fingers were getting along better and better. Sometimes something would jump out of the instrument and almost scare him: it seemed so much like a revelation. This music was his life when he was living exactly the way he wanted to live. It was on him all the time. Passages and rhythms went through his mind. He was hearing something different now, though it was still foggy, the notes and the tone indistinct. That was his style, still hiding from him, flitting up and disappearing. Every now and then he snatched a piece of it and held on until it was settled in his saxophone, locked in his soul, committed to a life sentence in his memory.

Somewhere along the way, he had taken to kissing his alto saxophone, to calling it his “baby.” It was surely his true love, for he had no other honest relationships. The saxophone was the only thing that gave him exactly what he wanted and he gave in return.

Friday, March 21, 2014

the last book I ever read (Stanley Crouch's Kansas City Lightning, excerpt fourteen)

from Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch:

Though Charlie was the soul of attentiveness and manners when he was in Buster Smith’s presence, once the job was done he was more than ready to stay out all night long. Those long nights included running over to Fourth and Main, where an Italian woman known as “Moms” sold marijuana, four reefers for a quarter, a full red Prince Albert tobacco can measured into a paper bag for three or four dollars if you had it. Since the automobile accident, Charlie had learned how to clean out the seeds and the stems, pinch off the sometimes gummy marijuana into a cigarette paper, lick it, and inhale the smoke with the loud viper puff that was more a theatrical gesture among reefer smokers than a necessity. The smoke in his bloodstream slowed things down; it brightened the sound of music, the textures of voices, the songs of birds, the industrial noises of city life. He even put his digital virtuosity to work on the party trick of rolling a cigarette with one hand. He also started experimenting with the stimulant Benzedrine, which allowed him to go on and on, practicing, jamming, walking the streets and looking in windows, talking of his dreams with friends, and remaining out until those who’d gone off to bed hours before were awake again and ready to play.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

the last book I ever read (Stanley Crouch's Kansas City Lightning, excerpt thirteen)

from Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch:

After a Halloween dance in 1936, Count Basie and his band left Kansas City on a series of jobs that would lead them, permanently, to New York. Their time as regulars in the sin-for-sale kingdom of Pendergast was over. It was a turning point for Charlie Parker: no longer could the young saxophonist listen to his idol on the bandstand at the Reno Club or in those relaxed but electric after-hours jam sessions, picking up a scrap of music here, a scrap of music there. He would never have the moment of direct communion that fellow saxophonist Frank Wess did a few years later in Washington, DC, when he and a buddy went to Young’s hotel to pay their respects—and were called up to his room, where the tenor saxophonist greeted them in his long underwear, hat atop hs head, cigarette case filled with reefers, and his horn out. As the young musicians sat rapt before him, Lester Young shared a lifetime’s worth of lessons: alternate fingerings, breathing techniques, advice on tone production, the great man a light-skinned oracle right before them.

No, none of that for young Charlie. His unrequited apprenticeship ended when Basie took Pres off to New York City. He would have to find another mentor.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

the last book I ever read (Stanley Crouch's Kansas City Lightning, excerpt twelve)

from Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch:

Bolden became a professional in an era when there was a great deal of tension between the light-skinned Negro Creoles of New Orleans, who were trained in European music, and the city’s intuitive, self-taught “ear” musicians, who made up the core of the early jazz innovators. Bolden himself was one of the so-called “fakers,” who would sometimes substitute imagination for memory and who developed a reputation for playing embellishments that struck his audiences as exciting, surprising, and sometimes even superior to the original compositions.

Bolden did more than challenge the primacy of written music. He also pioneered an equally profound revolution by changing the instrumentation of conventional groups, combining elements of brass bands and string ensembles, and reversing orthodoxy by giving the wind-blown instruments the leads and the strings the supporting roles. In Bolden’s day, the brass bands performed marches and some rags, while the string ensembles played dances and parties. Bolden did them all, but he was primarily a leader of a dance band—smaller than the norm but, by all accounts, possessed of tremendous power. He himself was capable of playing with a volume that not only expressed his passion but also advertised his presence, often “calling the children home” from outdoor concerts where other bands were performing. The strings couldn’t project with the power of the brass in those preamplified days, nor had Negro musicians begun to approach their instruments the way Bolden did his cornet, incorporating the vocal intonations of black speech and song, and bringing a moan to his sound on the blues that touched listeners with a power akin to that of church music.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

the last book I ever read (Stanley Crouch's Kansas City Lightning, excerpt eleven)

from Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch:

Johnson retained his crown for more than six years. And he became a legendary, challenging figure on the American landscape. He partied night and day with white women, plenty of wine, gourmet food, and songful jazz music in which he even played the bass and conducted bands in a turning style, slowly spinning around and doing dance steps with a baton in his hand. And he became more than obliquely important to the aesthetic world of blues and swing—most directly because he owned some expensive sporting rooms, and when he sold the one in New York known as the Club Deluxe, the sizable four-hundred-seat room was remade into a swank imitation of a plantation with log cabins and renamed the Cotton Club.

Under its new moniker, the Cotton Club became a high-society upstairs hideout way up in Harlem. But it was off-limits to Negroes, who were not allowed to cross the color line of segregation—Jack Johnson, of course, being one of the few exceptions. The club became a showcase for the hoary tropes of the minstrel tradition, maintained by Negroes entertaining white folks while in tattered plantation attire, or other, equally noxious costumes if the routines called for them. One favorite was a titillating skit about hero flyboys lost after crashing in the jungle of the cartoon dark continent, reveling among attractive, light-skinned, comely, savage, and sexy women ready to have at it with a light-skinned or a so politely tan, tall, and terrific flier—while other, more frightening men lurked nearby, grunting in rhythm: dark brown savages growling while they waited to devour the fallen sky boys. It was a place where white customers could experience so-called “jungle nights” in Harlem, full of what they thought to be the darkies’ “natural” behavior—authentically imbecilic, if not amusingly or intriguingly subhuman, much like the thug-and-slut hip-hop world of today.

Monday, March 17, 2014

the last book I ever read (Stanley Crouch's Kansas City Lightning, excerpt ten)

from Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch:

So Charlie Parker was an heir to all of that, as were all American Negroes.

For the serious jazz musicians of the early 1930s, whose ranks he would soon join as a professional, the dictates of minstrel behavior rarely extended to burnt cork. But they did include a demeaning version of stage behavior in which the Negro entertainer, or performing artist, was expected to reassure his audience that he and his fellow black men were far from the sharpest knives in the drawer. Singing, dancing, and acting the fool were what the Lord intended. That’s why darkies were born: to bring pleasure to far better folks, and to enjoy doing just that. Charlie had yet to struggle with that long, long cotton sack. But it was right there waiting on him.

The regime of segregation would last about ninety years from its point of inception in 1877. Its intent was to put the recently freed Negro back in his place, to stop him from being publicly elected, and to get the colored people back as close to where they were before the Civil War as white power could push them. And yet, as he fixed his gaze upon the adult world, Charlie Parker was preparing to join a league of dignified musicians like Duke Ellington, of athletes like Jack Johnson and Joe Louis, of generations of lay persons who were buffeted about until they got their bearings and found as many ways to be unsentimentally happy as they could. It was a league of Negro Americans who assumed a triumphant sense of life in the face of the shortcomings that came to one or to the group or to everyone, regardless of color. These men and women shared a vision of life in which vitality was powerful, in which everyone understood that it was better to learn how to make delicious lemonade—somehow, loudly or quietly—than to cry perpetually over sour lemons. This tradition was waiting for Charlie, too, just like that cotton sack.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

the last book I ever read (Stanley Crouch's Kansas City Lightning, excerpt nine)

from Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch:

But nothing D. W. Griffith did after The Birth of a Nation could put the minstrel back in the bottle. The film sparked a volcanic rebirth of the real-life Klan, America’s conspiratorial domestic terrorists. It served as a model for the Third Reich when it learned to use cinema to bolster bigotry, just as that regime seized on the purportedly scientific balderdash of American eugenics to explain why the white foam was supposed to be on the top. In the long run, though, surely the most devastating impact the film had on black Americans was that its enormous financial success led Hollywood to depend, for more than three decades, on variations of one set of racist images as its nearly exclusive cinematic portrait of black America. It was not evil, Hollywood would say, just business; they chose what to put on the silver screen in order to ensure the success of products that had to address the nation as a whole: North, South, East, and West. Until the emergence of Sidney Poitier in 1950’s No Way Out, Hollywood bent down and genuflected consistently to the redneck insistence that white Southerners, old or young, be depicted as benign or cantankerous or just plain playful types, no harm intended. Black servants must be seen as uncouth clowns, as superstitious, talking work animals, male and female, small, medium, and obese. Bid ‘em in, bid ‘em out.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

the last book I ever read (Stanley Crouch's Kansas City Lightning, excerpt eight)

from Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch:

Griffith and Ellington mirrored America’s democratic dimension by evoking the fundamental tension between the individual and the collective. They both drew broadly from the culture around them: from biblical themes, fairy tales, newspaper stories, the surrealism of cartoons, and so on. They both composed in long, broken lines that had the up-and-down sensation of a roller coaster. Just as Griffith mastered the art of resequencing individual moments of performance into compelling stories, Ellington figured out how to feature his soloists within a complementary context, placing each new improvised solo where the arrangement made it sound better, allowing the improviser to supply the special effect of well-thought-out spontaneity to the written music. They embraced the powers that endlessly rocked in the cradle of the past, whether true or mythic or simply poetic, but never flinched in the face of modern life as it was lived, from the suites to the streets.

And yet, of course, there was a difference. D.W. Griffith’s greatest personal stunt was both a technically revolutionary work of art and a misleading piece of extended-form minstrelsy: the 1915 epic The Birth of a Nation, truly a black-and-white mess. Based partially on an incendiary redneck pimple of propaganda shaped into a suppurating blackhead of a novel called The Clansman, Griffith’s 1915 adaptation was the first three-hour epic. That was something in itself: audiences used to much shorter tales of love and war were glued to their seats. (As they would be, nearly a quarter century later, for Gone with the Wind. The antebellum South was a profitably hot, soothing, romantic topic.) It was also the very first blockbuster, running almost an unprecedented year in New York—the town where the very first blackface Irish American minstrels appeared to resounding popularity in 1843.

But what made The Birth of a Nation notorious was not its success or Griffith’s artistic achievements. Rather, the film marked the beginning of a new way of looking at vengeful white Southerners, not as murderous racists but as radiant rednecks who started the Ku Klux Klan’s campaign of murder and terrorism because they had no choice. After all, Griffith’s epic argued, they were the underdogs. What to do? the film asked. What to do during that dark time when the Confederate states suffered tyrannical military occupation? What to do when those states were losing their independence due to the destructive and invasive War of Northern Aggression, commonly misconstrued as the Civil War? That was the question. What were they to do?

Friday, March 14, 2014

the return of Tell Me When It's Over (kind of)

"It took me maybe two years. I was looking at it out of the corner of my eye. I didn't go out to any of the games and I was right there, the Pistons games was right there, and I had tickets to games and I was welcome there, but I just refused to go. And I was, at that time, telling my daughters, "Whatever you do, don't play basketball." I went and bought them a lot of tennis lessons. I was going to change their whole concept about basketball. I taught my kids to play tennis. Whatever you do, rely upon your skill. One person, one skill set, and you're in charge of your own destiny. No team. You're in control of it all. Until they told me, "This is all fine, Dad, but we like basketball." And boy was I disgusted with them [laughs]."

I was fortunate enough to interview current Basketball Hall of Fame finalist Spencer Haywood for Deadspin.

the last book I ever read (Stanley Crouch's Kansas City Lightning, excerpt seven)

from Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch:

By the time Charlie Parker and Rebecca Ruffin were up to their necks in adolescent romance, celluloid cowboys were clouding the air with the smoke of blanks—even as tales of desperadoes who were all too ruthlessly human dominated the press, magazines, newsreels, and radio broadcasts. Only the deaf, dumb, and blind would not have known of them. Contemporary variations on the James, Younger, and Dalton gangs of the Old west, Depression-era outlaws such as Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, Baby Face Nelson, and Oklahoma’s Pretty Boy Floyd were pulling daring robberies and escapes almost weekly, filling the air with the rattle of machine guns in battle with the authorities, and now and then going down in bloody exclamation points. Unknown to local lawmen and the Bureau of Investigation, the outlaws sometimes hid out in rural Negro communities, where no one thought to search for them, observed local resident Emma Bea Crouch, who recalled seeing Pretty Boy Floyd and Bonnie and Clyde in East Texas when she was an adolescent there. Others found they could hide out easily in Kansas City—even have a good time of it, as a little money here and a little money there would protect their sleep and keep them free of handcuffs. By 1929, as biographer Michael Wallis observes in Pretty Boy, Kansas City “had become the crown jewel on a gaudy necklace of lawless havens—a corridor of crime—ranging from St. Paul and Detroit in the North to Joplin, Missouri, and Hot Springs, Arkansas, in the South. A police reporter of that time compared these cities to the imaginary bases used by children playing tag. Once a criminal with local connections made it safely inside one of these cities, he was home free. He was ‘on base’ and could not be ‘tagged’ by the authorities.”

Thursday, March 13, 2014

the last book I ever read (Stanley Crouch's Kansas City Lightning, excerpt six)

from Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch:

As a reedman, Bushell observed—almost in passing—one other element that would transform jazz’s second generation: “They had also done more with saxophones in Kansas City.” The primacy of the saxophone, paired with the local players’ feeling for the blues, was central to the sound and character of Kansas City jazz. This penchant for saxophones would not only give rise to powerful reed sections that swung, shouted, and crooned the blues, but would also prepare the way for local giants of the instrument, men destined either to blow themselves into the pantheon or to arrive in Kansas City on the whirlwind of legend. After the trumpet, the trombone, and the clarinet, the saxophone was the next horn to contribute to the aesthetic evolution of Negro feeling on wind instruments.

Invented by the Belgian Adolphe Sax in the 1840s, the brass and woodwind hybrid that is the saxophone spent its early life holding down plebian roles in parade music. But the instrument made a thrilling run to glory around the time of Charlie Parker’s birth in 1920. Like the other wind instruments of jazz, the saxophone was redefined in these years for virtuoso center stage action. The pioneers who used it to work out new developments in phrasing, timbre, and technique eventually elevated it to the same position in American music that the stringed instrument has in European concert work. It became America’s violin and cello, America’s singer of domestic song, as soon as American horn players learned to moan the blues through their mouthpieces.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

the last book I ever read (Stanley Crouch's Kansas City Lightning, excerpt five)

from Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch:

Or Americans thought of the broad center of the country, which italicized its difference from the East when three events took place in 1876: when Custer and the Seventh Cavalry got their ashes hauled at Montana’s Little Bighorn; when Jack McCall blew Wild Bill Hickok’s brains out in Deadwood, South Dakota, as the lawman held a hand of aces and eights; and when the Jesse James-Cole Younger gang was fed an afternoon meal of lead in an abortive raid in Northfield, Minnesota. Cowboys. Indians. Gunfighters. Bank and train robbers.

Like all jazz musicians, Charlie Parker embodied many things: three hundred years of black American dance and music, everything from slave cabin steps and field hollers to the melodic-rhythmic revolution of improvised phrases spun out by Louis Armstrong and the arpeggiated harmonic dazzle of Art Tatum. That long march to improvised sophistication began in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619, when African slaves were first brought to North America. But this particular western dog and innovator had his roots in that forgotten American West of Kansas and Missouri—that world of explorers, horses, wars, and settlers. His bloodline was both cosmopolitan and all-American, mingling African, Indian (which is also to say Asian), and European stock. And the Wild West in which he grew up was shaped by the same three sources that constituted his genetic line.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

the last book I ever read (Stanley Crouch's Kansas City Lightning, excerpt four)

from Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch:

Back in the Savoy, the few people in the audience started moving up toward the bandstand as this saxophone player leaned forward, sweating like a waterfall, delivering his message as though he were on a mountaintop. Even Charlie Buchanan ambled up there, caught by the sound, the fury, the determination, the swing that had the radio man jumping. Parker, completely sparked, ran through the changes like a dose of Epsom salts, unwilling or unable to repeat himself.

Stretched out like that, with the rhythm section after his scalp and the cyclical traps of the harmonies ever before him, Bird reached down and called upon all his skills and instincts, all the gifts for perception in emergency that he had developed over the years, even at this tempo making coherent statements, playful variations, and mocking responses to the musical ideas by which he was surrounded, supported, attacked. His obsession with shifting, deceptive rhythm resulted in endless ways of toying with the beat that jelled perfectly with his desire to create melodies accompanied by harmonic surprise. In his hands, a single note functioned on five levels: its individual pitch was melodic; it was a brass-balled harmony note; it was given individual texture through his control of color; its voicing was dictated by the register in which it was played; and it served a rhythmic function within its phrase. As Ramey said, “Bird knew how to dance in and out of that meter, with the tempo, and still get back when Mama comes home for dinner. He could take a chord that had a bastard relationship to the rest of the harmony, and, before you knew it, he has woven that bastard into the flock like it was supposed to be there all the time.”

Monday, March 10, 2014

the last book I ever read (Stanley Crouch's Kansas City Lightning, excerpt three)

from Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch:

Said the novelist Ralph Ellison, who once held won the first trumpet chair with the estimable Blue Devils at rehearsals in Oklahoma City, “We didn’t care about the big bands in the East because they didn’t have that Southwestern swing, which we then called ‘stomp music.’ It was dance music first and foremost. The Southwestern musicians were from many different places, from the Southwest, from the Deep South, some, like Basie, from places as far removed as New Jersey. But wherever they came from, they all developed a way to lope through the rhythm. It was fanciful and it had fervor. I remember heading Fletcher Henderson when he came through Oklahoma City in the early thirties. He had Rex Stewart and he had the young Coleman Hawkins and they were all fine musicians—but that band did not stomp.”

Sunday, March 9, 2014

the last book I ever read (Stanley Crouch's Kansas City Lightning, excerpt two)

from Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch:

Whether or not they thought about it, all good improvisers called upon those resources. But Charlie Parker wanted to be more than good; he wanted to be different. Part of your statement was your sound, and the one he was developing struck some more conventional musicians as brittle or harsh. Parker didn’t care. He didn’t want the kind of rich vibrato that characterized the sound of older players—Coleman Hawkins, Johnny Hodges—that would almost force each note in his compulsively swift phrases to seep into the next. He needed pitches that came out of the horn quicker, that were as blunt as snapping fingers when the inspiration demanded. His tone was absolutely unorthodox, as much like a snare drum or a bongo as a voice. It was assertive, at times comic or cavalier, and though often sweet, it could also sound almost devoid of pity. One trumpeter thought it sounded like knives being thrown into the audience.

When he arrived at the Woodside that night, Charlie smiled. “The sap is flowing,” he said—code for “I’m going to blow my ass off tonight.”

“Yeah, Bird,” McShann responded, “I’m sure it is.”

Saturday, March 8, 2014

the last book I ever read (Stanley Crouch's Kansas City Lightning, excerpt one)

from Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch:

Charlie Parker had been to New York before. He had hoboed up to Chicago in the early part of 1939, escaping a marriage that had gotten in the way of his music, fighting past influences, zeroing in on his own individual voice. After blowing out every alto player in town, he’d hopped a train to New York, where he spent about a year. Just as he’d started getting work, though, and earning the respect of fellow musicians, a death in his immediate family brought Parker back to Kansas City. After briefly working with another outfit, he had rejoined McShann’s new big band. Parker had been overwhelmed by the wild living he’d experienced in New York, but now he had more self-control and got back into the fold. In the next two years, he grew and grew, able to do more and more of what he wanted with the saxophone.

Friday, March 7, 2014

the last book I ever read (Promises to Keep by Joe Biden, excerpt sixteen)

from Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics by Joe Biden:

I made a mistake. I underestimated the influence of Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and the rest of the neocons; I vastly underestimated their disingenuousness and incompetence.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

the last book I ever read (Promises to Keep by Joe Biden, excerpt fifteen)

from Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics by Joe Biden:

In the first months after he took office, George W. Bush reached out to the ranking Democrat of almost every Senate committee, but not to me. I didn’t take it personally. I was the lead Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Bush wasn’t much engaged in foreign policy. He was like most of the other governors I’d seen take office. Carter, Reagan, and Clinton had all been shy about taking on big issues in foreign policy unless and until forced by circumstances. Bush seemed even more uncertain.

And it worried me that he had put in place a team that was essentially at war over foreign affairs. On one side was Secretary of State Colin Powell, an old-school Republican internationalist who seemed to want to engage in the world. On the other side were the neo-isolationists like Vice President Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. The Rumsfeld clique was talking about pulling out of the Balkans, walking away from the international global warming pact called the Kyoto Treaty, and canceling President Clinton’s signature on the international treaty that set up the new International Criminal Court for prosecuting individuals for genocide and other war crimes. They were so intent on going ahead with Reagan’s Star Wars missile defense shield that they were willing to pull out of earlier arms control treaties to get there—inviting, in my view, another arms race. The missile defense system seemed to be the perfect metaphor for the neo-isolationist policy. Let’s arm the heavens, they were saying, and protect the United States of America, the rest of the world be damned.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

the last book I ever read (Promises to Keep by Joe Biden, excerpt fourteen)

from Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics by Joe Biden:

While looking at Bureau of Justice crime statistics in 1990, I was struck by a particular number. The violent crimes perpetrated against men had fallen greatly in the previous ten years; the number of violent crimes against young women trended up. My initial hunch was that because of the women’s movement, more women were willing to come forward and report rapes or domestic violence. But as I looked into it, there was much more than that going on. In fact, I quickly came to see that violence against women was a cultural expectation shared by men, women, and children. I remember reading shocking statistics from a survey of middle-school children done in Rhode Island. If a man takes a woman out on a date and spends $10 on her, one question asked, does he have the right to force sex on her? A quarter of the boys said he did, which stunned me. But the bigger surprise was that a fifth of the girls agreed. This was a big problem, and it was deeply ingrained in our society. I later learned that one in ten American males believed it was okay for a husband to hit his wife if she didn’t obey him. That meant millions of women were at risk of being beaten in their own homes.

I knew from experience that it wasn’t just uneducated thugs who thought this way. I had never forgotten a scene back in 1981 when the Judiciary Committee was rushing to get a big new crime bill out of committee for a vote on the floor. The clock was running out on the session of Congress and I was pushing this to get this bill out the door. We had the votes to report the entire package favorably to the floor. The committee was meeting in a small room just off the Senate floor; Chairman Thurmond called for a committee vote, unless there were any objections. Alabama senator Jeremiah Denton objected, and loudly. Denton was angry about a provision I wanted in the bill that made marital rape a crime indistinguishable from any other rape. “Damn it, when you get married,” he said that day, “you kind of expect you’re going to get a little sex.”

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

the last book I ever read (Promises to Keep by Joe Biden, excerpt thirteen)

from Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics by Joe Biden:

What came clear to me as I wrote the speech was very simple: The central lesson I received from the Catholic Church, my Catholic school education, and my own parents had always been the governing force in my political career. To wit, the greatest sins on this earth are committed by people of standing and means who abuse their power. That was a message constantly reinforced in Sunday sermons, in school, and at home. Jesus didn’t spend time with the Pharisees. Jesus hung out with the prostitutes, with the lepers, with the bad guys. That’s what I remembered about my faith. In my own house the lessons about the abuse of power were constant, big and small—from the Nazi party in Germany to the father on our street in Mayfield who chastised his children with a belt. “It takes a small man to hit a small child,” my dad used to say. My father never once raised his hand to any of his children. I remember Mom and Dad talking in our living room about a friend of theirs slapping his wife across the face. My father, who was not given to temper tantrums, was pacing the floor, enraged.

With power and privilege, I was taught, comes a responsibility to treat others with respect and fairness. Generosity is not simply a virtue; it’s a Commandment. And when we see people abusing power, it is our duty to intercede on behalf of their victims. As I worked on that Georgetown speech, I saw that the lessons I had learned growing up had always been the guiding principles of my career in politics, and that the issues that captured my attention had always all related to the abuse of power. From civil rights and voting rights to my interest in putting police on the streets to protect people from violent criminals in their own neighborhoods, to stopping banks from redlining practices that made it nearly impossible for people living in black neighborhoods to get loans, to pushing for federal guidelines that made criminal sentencing more fair and uniform, to fighting violence against children, to the disgust I felt at watching Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover abuse their high offices (I was one of the few senators who voted against naming the FBI building after Hoover), to the fight against the drug cartels of the 1980s, there was a single common thread. As I looked back on my career, it was obvious that what had always animated me was the belief that we should stand up to those who abused power, whether it was political, economic, or physical.

Monday, March 3, 2014

the last book I ever read (Promises to Keep by Joe Biden, excerpt twelve)

from Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics by Joe Biden:

Later in the speech I reminded some of my colleagues of their own place in the history of “advice and consent.” The ranking Republican on Judiciary, Strom Thurmond, had himself invoked ideology in the confirmation process of Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to sit on the bench. Senator Thurmond emphasized the importance of balance: “This means that it will require two additional conservative justices in order to change the tenor of future Supreme Court decisions.”

Thurmond, I noted, had expressed similar sentiments the next year when lame-duck president Lyndon Johnson nominated Abe Fortas to replace Earl Warren as chief. “It is my contention,” he said to the Chamber, “that the Supreme Court has assumed such a powerful role as a policymaker in the Government that the Senate must necessarily be concerned with the views of prospective justices—of Chief Justices—as they relate to broad issues confronting the American people, and the role of the Court in dealing with these issues.”

Sunday, March 2, 2014

the last book I ever read (Promises to Keep by Joe Biden, excerpt eleven)

from Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics by Joe Biden:

I started hearing it in very blunt terms in my 1978 race in Delaware. My opponent started using the example of Morris, the finicky cat who wouldn’t eat cat food. He said, “I know how to get Morris the cat to eat cat food. Starve him. Starve him. Take away his food and he’ll eat whatever you give him. And that’s what we have to do to government.” Cut revenue, cut taxes and starve the government programs out of existence: That was the new plan. And then they started attacking social welfare in the most disingenuous way. They didn’t take on the welfare programs directly; they didn’t talk about eliminating welfare. They just kept up a steady drumbeat about welfare cheats and how the federal government was wasting the money taken from hardworking taxpayers.

I’ll give the Republicans this much: It was a mercenary message, but it resonated. And they had taken the easy way out. It required a lot less energy, intelligence, and competence to run against government than to try to make government work. But there was also a blowback effect in Congress: Respect for the institution and civility among its members began to ebb.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

the last book I ever read (Promises to Keep by Joe Biden, excerpt ten)

from Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics by Joe Biden:

Eastland and Georgia senator Herman Talmadge suggested I go home and “demagogue the shit out of the issue.” But I wasn’t interested in widening divides or stirring up emotions. People were angry enough. Legal challenges had postponed the implementation of the New Castle busing orders as schools opened in September, but there was no school opening anyway. Teachers went on strike to protest the busing plan. And in early October they were still on strike. People in Delaware just got more and more frustrated. There was something almost primal in voter anger as Election Day neared; all the rational talk in the world wouldn’t change that. The voters would trust me to be fair, or they wouldn’t.

I think I instinctively understood that my most important duty was to be a target. People were desperate to vent their anger, and if they could yell at a United States senator, all the better. Part of being a public servant, I came to understand in 1978, was absorbing the anger of people who don’t know where to turn. If I couldn’t solve the problem for them, I had to at least be an outlet.

I’ll never forget going to an event in the school gymnasium in a working-class town near Wilmington. The room had tiered seating, filled to the rafters. It had to be filled to double its capacity. People were standing in the aisles; it was hot and it was tense. I noted a big police presence when I walked in. As I pushed through to the podium, I could hear people murmuring under their breath: “There he is . . . . Goddam Biden . . . . Kill the sonofabitch.” And these were my voters—working-class Democrats.