No Good Seed Goes Un-Pun-ished

As some of you may know, I support my jazz habit by working days at a splendid old law library called The Great Library. Among other things, this makes it easier for people who've heard me play bass to say "Don't quit your day job." The library dates back to the 1840s, when people actually used words like "great" to mean "big" - we've tried to get the name changed to "The Awesome Library", but no luck. One of the more impressive rooms in the library is The American Room, so-called because for years it housed a huge collection of American law reports, before most of them were replaced by digitized on-line versions. (After all, who needs books in a library?) Now it holds a mixture of the American reports we've kept and all of the British law reports. It's an odd combination that gets me to thinking the room would be great for staging re-enactments of American Revolutionary War battles - "hurry lads, man the catwalk, Washington's crossing University Avenue!" - but so far my employers have resisted this idea. The room is sometimes used for movie and photo shoots, as it just screams "big old law library room from the last century". It has a sixty-foot-high ceiling with a massive stained-glass skylight, plaster mouldings, carved wooden arches and eight hanging bronze chandeliers, each with five lights. There's a wrought iron spiral staircase leading to the catwalk and the second tier of bookshelves. The ground floor has carved, recessed wooden bookshelves all around the walls more [...]

Ben Webster: The Heart of the Matter

Ben Webster fell under the spell of Coleman Hawkins' ground-breaking tenor saxophone style early in his career, but eventually discovered himself and largely formed his own style by about 1938. Shortly after this he found a setting as perfect for him as the Count Basie band was for Lester Young - the Duke Ellington Orchestra, from 1940-43. His time with Ellington and especially the exposure to Johnny Hodges further shaped him. Hawkins may have been Webster's original model, but Hodges and another great alto saxophonist - Ben's lifelong friend Benny Carter - were his biggest influences. From Carter he learned breath control and to smooth out his phrasing with more legato, from Hodges he learned how to project emotion by using glissandi and imbuing his sound with an endlessly nuanced vibrato. Even the Ellington band couldn't contain his Promethian temper for long and he left in a huff after an altercation with Duke in 1943. His style evolved somewhat after this in small ways as he and his life changed, but he never really embraced bebop or other aspects of modernism in jazz, his playing remained essentially the same and true to itself. This individuality was celebrated in the 1950s, when Webster found an ideal outlet in the touring Jazz at the Philharmonic troupes and the attendant record labels (Clef, Norgran, Verve) founded by Norman Granz. His many recordings from that time capture him in a kind of golden middle period and moved critics and listeners alike to belatedly more [...]

Grope Things External

...Sorry, that should be "hope springs eternal", have we needed this. After a harsh winter that tried even the hardiest of souls among us, the Boys of Summer are back with their grand old game and not a moment too soon, Opening Day at last. Cue the massed choirs of the Hallelujah chorus, bring on the William Tell Overture, "Auld Lang Syne","Take Me Out To the Ballgame" and whatever other celebratory music seems appropriate. Play it all, make it festive and stirring because once again, our prayers have been answered. The grass (OK, some fake stuff too), the crack of bat on ball, the whoosh of a high, hard one, the ballet of a niftily turned double-play, even the rancid scent of stale hot dogs and overpriced swill-beer, have we ever needed this. The return of baseball is such a balm and a blessing, especially when the nice weather is dragging its butt and we're not out of the winter woods yet. Its arrival comes with other perks too, like the appearance of the first box-scores in today's morning papers. Amid all the wrenching chaos of change - which, after all, is nothing but the gradual stripping away of all that we hold dear - there's something very comforting in knowing that people have been digesting these lovely, tiny columns of numbers and abbreviations along with their corn-flakes and coffee for well over a century now. Keep progress, give me the box-scores. They provide much better morning reading than the sordid, loutish miasma of politics, business more [...]