Multinational Jazz Corporations
For whatever reason, my friend Ted O’Reilly sent out a number of YouTube clips to the Old Farts this morning. They were a series of warm-and-fuzzy Christmas ads for a chain of UK department stores known as “John Lewis”. I’ve included the first one here, which is quite amusing, as English ads often tend to be. The other clips were variations of it along political/satirical lines which I haven’t included because I’m not sure I approve – suddenly, politics don’t seem very funny to me these days.
Although I’ve traveled in Britain extensively a number of times and like to think I’m up on its culture as much as most, I’d never heard of the John Lewis chain. Harrod’s, yes. Marks & Sparks – as they call it – you betcha. Tesco’s, absolutely. But as soon as I saw “John Lewis” in Ted’s message, I expected someone had created some ads for a UK department store chain with soundtracks using music by the composer/pianist and musical director of the MJQ, who is a great favourite of mine. I just assumed they would have used his arrangement of “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen”, also known as “England’s Carol”, it would be a natural. (Obviously, there’s a reason Madison Avenue has not been beating a path to my door all these years.) Here’s a favourite version of it by the MJQ. John Lewis is the one wearing Bermuda shorts, seemingly jotting down a grocery list:
“The Queen’s Fancy”, “Little David’s Fugue”, and “The Golden Striker” are some other Lewis compositions which have an English-Yuletide vibe to them, no pun intended. But no, I was way off. It turns out the John Lewis department stores have been around since 1864, leading me to wonder if it was one of their windows that Tiny Tim peered into with such yearning before his favourite toy was yanked away with heartless abruptness. This all made me feel very out of touch and jazz-centric, but I guess if the shoe fits………
I responded to Ted’s email with most of what I’ve written above, adding that maybe the Americans will start a department store chain called John Dankworth. Ted responded with, “or a tanning salon called Full Monty Sunshine, or a weight loss clinic for Tubby Hayes, or, or, or… (I don’t think the ‘Murkans know what a dank’s worth, or how to convert it.)”
Of course, this got me going and I shot back with: “Yeah, or maybe an outdoor-apparel outlet named Ted Heath, or a beachwear chain called Sandy Brown. Maybe a ritzy home-furnishing franchise called Ray Noble, or a string of Greek coffee shops simply called Ambrose. Or a chain of sperm-bank clinics known as Phil Seamen, or strip clubs called Lennie Bush, where they take it all off! I added that I didn’t even want to know what they’d do with Alan Skidmore……
In short order Ted returned with “Skidmore: Brazilian wax salons?” I really liked it, but thought that Alan Skidmore could also be the name for a brand of asbestos-lined underwear you don’t have to change very often. This lead me to another one I quite liked: a line of cyber-crime instructional schools called – think Cockney here – the Acker Bilk Academy.
The Internet has led to a revolution in access to information which has benefited us all. But when used as a means of communication, the gadgetry of digital technology can occasionally lead to terrific confusion. Sometimes this can be disastrous; fortunately these two instances are merely humorous:
My oldest friend Bob and his wife Susan went on a fascinating cruise from September through October, which took them from Vancouver to Alaska, across the Bering Sea to Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, then down to Japan, where they spent a few days. Although he naturally found it very different and alien – because it is – Bob really liked Japan and “the way the Japanese take great pains over everything, so that you don’t have to.”
Bob is a baseball fan and for the second straight year his travels would take him far away from the heat of the Blue Jays’ pennant race. I kept him abreast as best I could by email and he was determined to see the winner-take-all AL wild-card game between the Jays and Orioles. He was in Tokyo at the time and I assured him the game would be on in a bar somewhere in that baseball-mad city, and to maybe enlist the aid of a concierge.
Sure enough, Bob was watching the game at a bar at nine in the morning, as Anna and I tuned in that night at home. He and Anna exchanged brief texts at various points during the see-saw nail-biter of a game – some optimistic, others not as much. After the Jays won it on Edwin Encarnacion’s towering walk-off homer, Bob texted that he and Susan were going out for a tour of the Imperial Palace, signing off “Sinatra.”
This may seem mildly odd, but I barely batted an eye. Bob is a huge Frank Sinatra fan, and I figured he was all ring-a-ding-ding euphoric after the Jays’ thrilling win. I pictured him and Susan going out on the town, getting some sushi and sake and being somebody.
Later he confessed that he’d signed off “sayonara”, but the auto-correct app on his phone had changed it to Sinatra. This made me laugh for a really long time, I loved it. I mean these phones are “smart” and everything, but they don’t know the nuances of where you happen to be or understand the absurd concatenation of “sayonara” and “Sinatra”, not to mention my febrile interpretation of the mix-up.
I don’t want to give the impression that Bob is some kind of techno-boob – he isn’t, he’s actually very adept with the Interwebz and all. Nevertheless, he’s the source of this latest bit of cyber-comedy too:
On the morning of Remembrance Day, Anna sent me an email saying she had received a text the night before from Bob with the cryptic message “Videntes Stellam. You’re missing it!” She asked if this meant anything to me, and I answered no…. not really, not yet.
Bob’s wife Susan shares my obsession with cryptic crosswords and we occasionally torture each other with stumpers we can’t solve; I confess she’s stumped less often than me. So I thought it must be some sort of word code or anagram designed for my “pleasure” – after all, what else are friends for?
I had a go at it, noticing that “stellam” is “mallets” spelled backwards – aha, now we’re getting somewhere. But “Videntes” was a black hole. I played around with it, finally realizing that videntes is an anagram of invested. Hah! – invested mallets – now I was onto it! Maybe this meant that Bob had gone out on a whim and bought a set of vibes, which wouldn’t be all that unlike him – as a serious and very good hobbyist musician, he’s prone to sudden musical instrument passions. I really hoped not though, because among other things, Anna would kill him. She has a distaste for the vibraphone that borders on the irrational and if she ever really starts to act up about this, I’ll tie her to a chair and play all my Bobby Hutcherson records at full blast. (Anna’s diabolical rejoinder to this is that all she would have to do is randomly switch ten CDs – of the many thousands that litter our house – into the wrong cases and my collection would be forever screwed. A formidable woman is Anna, not to be trifled with.)
Still, the “you’re missing it” part gave me pause. Missing what? Had Bob asked me over for his first vibes recital and I’d somehow missed the invite? I finally cried uncle and sent him an email explaining the situation and that, unless “Videntes Stellam” was a Catholic holiday or an obscure Spanish Inquisition dance ritual I didn’t know about, I was at a loss. I begged that he illuminate, signing off as “Mangara Rolves”.
He got back to me immediately, explaining that “Videntes Stellam” is a choral piece by the French composer Francis Poulenc.”Of course!” I thought, still thoroughly in the dark. For those who don’t know it, here it is, absolutely gorgeous:
Bob further explained that the church choir he and Susan sing in was rehearsing it the night before and Susan, who doesn’t much like the piece, was unable to attend because she was minding their granddaughter. Bob had intended the message for her, but somehow also sent it to Anna. He realized his mistake right away, but left it to see what we’d make of it. Again I ask, what else are friends for?
Bob hates cryptic crosswords, as does Anna, they share a kind of long-suffering kinship over this. He told me he asked Susan about the “Mangara Rolves” business and she had it solved in ten seconds without even looking at it – “anagram solver”. I’ve never liked that woman.
Among the so many important things language is, it remains a limitless source of comedy, and the digital world has only added new layers of wackiness. For this and many other things, I’m grateful.
Best, Vere Fescundo.
© 2016, Steve Wallace. All rights reserved.