Mark Murphy, 83

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Keeping the Light On

I JUST finished floating through nearly 900 pages of dreamy recollections —  those of poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Two books arrive, just months apart, that provide a fresh look at the publisher and poet who was responsible for creating the necessary support for a new generation of thinkers and writers. Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Books — both the publisher and book store — has served as north star in San Francisco’s North Beach for generations. I review two books for the Los Angeles Times — Writing Across the Landscape: Travel Journals: 1960-2010 and “I Greet You at the Beginning of a Great Career” The Selected Correspondence of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg – 1955-1997 .

You can find the review here.

Both books are beautiful offerings. The journals, a vivid testament to the life of the mind; the letters, a celebration of the evolution of a long and tender friendship.

image: City Lights Bookstore via found SF

some jazz appreciation

OF THE many Thelonious Monk quotes that get tossed around (and there are a plenty many), my favorite is his answer to the much-asked question “Where is Jazz going?”

Monk’s retort was quick and sharp: “Where’s jazz going? I don’t know. Maybe it’s going to hell. You can’t make anything go anywhere. It just happens.”

I was reminded of this the other night at Walt Disney Concert Hall as a friend and I settled in into a nice aerie of seats above the stage for a concert featuring pianist Brad Mehldau and his trio and tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman fronting his quartet. Tables turned, I for once was the very happy “plus-one” this evening. redman

I had spent so much of my early jazz-listening days running around hoping I could hear the last of the masters play in person. I got to see many — Elvin Jones, Stan Getz, Max Roach. But there were so many I had missed, some by just a hair. It always hit hard when a name would float up in an obituary, another one down, another one gone. It was like chasing ghosts.

What I heard in Wednesday night’s show was sure evidence of the past and a promise for the future. Music 2012 Brad Mehldau Where Do You Start Two master musicians in the prime of their playing years showing not telling and, in the process, eloquently answering that question. Mehldau’s set was a study in flowing introspection — standards, originals and a props-nod to lesser-known players of the bebop/post-bop era (Case-in-point: You bet I went home and pulled out some Elmo Hope). Redman’s quartet came out swinging — literally: A solid, mood- shifting groove. The quartet went on to lay out a collage of tunes that were pulled both from the American Songbook (a crack-your-heart-wide-open interpretation of “Stardust” for one) and originals — late in the set Redman stared down one his own compositions “GJ”, which he introduced with this admission. “Well, I wrote it, now I’ve got to stick with it.”

And sewn within that tossed off remark, yet another promise.

Here’s that nod to Elmo Hope that sent me digging:

Jazz Appreciation month is off to a very good start …

A Great Day … 55 Years Later

photograph by Art Kane

This morning, I learned that today is the 55th anniversary of this — one of my favorite photographs of all time. I have had it up at pretty much every desk/cubby etc. I’ve worked in.

It’s history.

In many ways, this shot — which came to be known as “A Great Day in Harlem” — is a time-capsule of a shifting moment, something forming/barely stilled  — 57 of the jazz world’s architects and  luminaries — among them: Colemen Hawkins, Thelonious Monk, Count Basie, Lester Young, Charles Mingus, Gene Krupa, Pee Wee Russell, Art Blakey Dizzy Gillespie, Marian McPartland and Sonny Rollins (the latter two, still living).

The image, shot by Art Kane —  midmorning , mid-August —  just outside a Harlem brownstone at 17 East 126th Street, would eventually be published  in Esquire magazine’s January 1959 issue.  He would later call the photo: “The greatest picture of that era of musicians ever taken.”

In 1994 radio documentarian Jean Bach’s film documentary, A Great Day in Harlem,  recounted the much-like-herding-cats affair. A document that is great and essential in its own right.

Below is a poignant 1996 re-enactment image of the survivors by Gordon Parks:

photograph by Gordon Parks

photograph by Gordon Parks

and here is Jean Bach’s lovely documentary: