Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sunday Music: The Guitar in Modern Jazz, by Wiggia

Wes Montgomery

The Guitar started out in jazz as a rhythm section instrument. It only really came to the fore as a standalone item when Charlie Christian joined the Benny Goodman sextet and started to use amplification; he can’t really be said to be a founding father of be bop but he was instrumental in the run up to that period.

He came from a musical family and he and his two brothers plus the father busked for a living. He originally wanted to play the tenor sax, but was dissuaded in favour of the trumpet, which he declined.

He had no real influences but was himself influential to most of those early be boppers Gillespie, Davis et al. He ruled the Downbeat and Metronome polls for years after his 1940 debut with Goodman. He unfortunately contracted TB at an early age and it returned later and he died in 1942 aged just 25. Partly because of his age and his relatively short time in the spotlight he never recorded as a leader of his own group, so all his recordings are with others or compilations.

This is “Stompin' at the Savoy”, recorded live at Minton's in ‘41. It gives Christian more room to expand his playing than when within the confines of Goodmans sextet:

Within the jazz context I have no hesitation about naming Wes Montgomery as my favorite guitarist. the first guitar album I purchased was his with his brothers, who were also jazz musicians: The Montgomery Brothers “Groove Yard” - not his first but my first introduction to him. He also played on another of my collection, “Work Song” with Nat Adderley, Cannonball Adderley's cornet-playing brother - a lot of brothers involved here !

Born in 1923 he learnt to play the six string guitar by listening to Charlie Christian records. He never learnt to read music and all his playing was by ear; it was that ability to play Christian note for note that got him noticed by Lionel Hampton whom he joined. These were hard times for him and his family of eight back home and he supplemented his income by working shifts in a factory. His career took off when he was “discovered by Cannonball Adderley in ‘59. His first album on Riverside followed a year later: “Far Wes”. he moved to Verve records in ‘64 and his album with Wynton Kelly “Smokin at the Half Note” along with his earlier “The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery” on Riverside are probably his best work in the jazz genre and arguably the best jazz guitar albums full stop; the latter won the Down Beat poll for best jazz guitar alum six years running from ‘60 - ‘67.

Sadly he was another whose career was cut short by ill health: he died after a heart attack in 1968.

He was summed up rather well by Joe Pass, himself no slouch with the instrument:

“To me there have been just three real innovators on the guitar: Wes Montgomery, Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt.”

Here is the man with the “bionic” thumb playing Round Midnight in 1965:

And this number I have on some authority was the equivalent of a war anthem for the coloured troops in Vietnam - his own composition, “Bumpin’ on Sunset”:

Joe Pass, here playing “Satin Doll” -

- was of Sicilian descent and started playing at nine and by fourteen was getting work. he moved from Pennsylvania to NY City and soon in his early twenties developed a heroin addiction, spending most of the fifties in prison. After a two and a half year stay in a rehab center he emerged clean; as he said, ” I didn’t play a lot during that time”. During the sixties he worked with many artists and musicians and produced several albums. He also worked as a sideman for Ella Fitzgerald, with whom he did six albums, and many other singers including Frank Sinatra. During much of this period he worked in and around the LA area in films and TV including the Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin and Steve Allen shows.

In 1970 he signed for Norman Granz Pablo records and produced his finest work, the solo album Virtuoso.

Herb Ellis is best known for his many years with the Oscar Peterson Trio so his solo work is slightly less than would expect from such a distinguished guitarist.

This is “Blues for Everyone”:

Charlie Byrd is best known for his Brazilian-based music and bringing jazz samba to the fore with Stan Getz. Jazz Samba was also the name of the album that with Getz introduced bossa nova to the public and was a long running success. Byrd never strayed far from his Latin theme and unlike many contemporaries finger he plucked a classical guitar; he was classically trained and spent some time studying under Andres Segovia in Italy. Here he is playing Antonio Carlos Jobin’s “Corcovado”:

I always enjoyed Byrd; he was a quiet, gentle antidote to the mad world outside.

In honesty my guitar album collection is not large apart from work by those above and I do not like to comment on musicians that I have heard little of, the likes of Grant Green, Jim Hall and George Benson or nothing at all. It is an area of jazz that I have never given proper time to explore, and that applies to most of the more contemporary players of latter years; it’s partly because many are cross-over artists even based mainly on rock and those whom I have heard in that role I prefer to enjoy as rock guitarists. John McLaughlin is in that category: when he plays “jazz” there is really not much difference to his rock work and the music of Pat Matheney for me falls into the same group. Listening blind you could be forgiven for thinking Pink Floyd had released another album, which in itself is not a bad thing, but is it jazz ? I leave you to judge:

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday Night Is Music Night: Loreena McKennitt, by JD

Canada has produced more than a few singers/songwriters in the field of popular and folk music, the most notable being Kate and Anna McGarrigle. Of the other artists I think only one can match the musical talents of those famous sisters and that one is Loreena McKennitt. Quite possibly nowhere near as famous as she ought to be but over the past thirty years she has quietly created a huge back catalogue of excellent music and has built up a very large and dedicated fan base world wide.

Her music is described on her web site as ‘eclectic Celtic’ absorbing other influences from Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

She is also rather adept at taking the poetry of Yeats, Tennyson and Shakespeare among others and setting their words to music (two examples are included here).

Because of the many styles blended into her recordings she draws on musicians from many genres but there is always a core built around Brian Hughes on guitar, Caroline LaVelle on cello and the excellent Hugh Marsh on violin.

I seem to have gone 'over the top' and posted nine videos but it could have been a lot more, difficult to know what to leave out! Perhaps a part 2 will be necessary.

In the meantime pour yourself a dram or two of uisce beatha ("water of life"), turn up the volume and relax into a reverie of glorious music.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Turkish referendum: implications for democracy and world peace

According to a Dutch news site, 71% of expatriate Turks living in the Netherlands voted in favour of Erdogan's power grab - that is, 71% of the merely one-third of those who chose to take part in the referendum:

Similarly, in Germany 61% of votes favoured Erdogan, but the "high" turnout was only 48.7%:

Yet in Switzerland, 62% said no:

- possibly reflecting the better wealth and education of those who settled there.

Would the results have been much different if all Turks in Europe had been made to vote?

Or are the significant factors:

(a) who is allowed to come into the country,
(b) why they chose to come and
(c) what efforts the host country has made both to welcome the immigrant and to insist on integration into the political and social culture of the country?

My recent EU dystopia (envisioning what might have happened had PM Blair taken us into the Eurozone, as he wished) imagined not only the defeat of the British Army in Ukraine as a result of EU empire-building, but the rise of a Turkish President who exploits the idiotic free-movement openness of the EU to blackmail it into sending him his UK-based opponents so he can eliminate them.

In the same piece, I also looked at the role of Turkey as a NATO counterweight to perceived Russian expansionism, and the possible diplomatic reorientation of the Greeks as they continue to suffer from the economic imbalances within the EU.

Maybe not such a fantasy. Are the attractive yet dangerously naive "Alle Menschen werden Brüder" ideals of the EU to be used against it, judo-like, by a strongman who has ambitions for the Middle East?

What are the conditions for, the limits to, democracy?

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sunday Music: Jazz Piano 3, by Wiggia

Art Tatum
You may or may not be wondering why the piano is getting more coverage from me than any other area or instrument in modern jazz. It is quite simply that when going through my recordings the piano has more prominence than I had expected and the piano is the one instrument that has solo recordings in abundance in the genre.

If you add in the two greatest bands Ellington and Basie being led by two more than accomplished piano players and the fact that most arrangements and scores are written at the piano, you can see why the piano has such prominence. As with previous pieces even taking into account the extra space I have given the piano many great artists will be left out for purely practical reasons, there simply is not space to include all even when justified.

For that reason the likes of Red Garland, Tommy Flanagan, and Ahmad Jamal are left out, but of course almost certainly will feature in other recordings noted in this series.

McCoy Tyner was born in 1938. He grew up in Philadelphia and was encouraged to play the piano at home. By fifteen he knew that music was going to be his vocation. Influenced by Bud Powell, he was early into the be bop scene. After playing with Benny Golson and Art Farmer's Jazztet he joined John Coltrane in 1960 and stayed until ‘65; during that period apart from touring he was on the influential My Favorite Things album, A Love Supreme and all the other great Coltrane albums in that period.

He did make some albums in his own “name” at that time but because of contractual ties could not use his real name. He left Coltrane in ‘65 when he said, "I didn't see myself making any contribution to that music... All I could hear was a lot of noise. I didn't have any feeling for the music, and when I don't have feelings, I don't play." This was when Coltrane started down the free jazz route, not his most successful period with good reason. From ‘67 - ‘70 he was with Blue Note recording with his group and then joined Milestone for a period, when he experimented with different instruments and stayed with them until ‘81. He still records and tours.

I start with one of his later works, Fly With the Wind from the album of the same name from’76. His quartet of Billy Cobham (drums), Ron Carter (bass) and Hubert Laws (alto and flute) is augmented by strings, oboe, harp … a commercial success, it holds up well after all these years.

and here a Jobin Latin American tune, “Wave”:

Dave Brubeck has the distinction ? of being the first recipient of my hard-earned moolah in the jazz world when I purchased his Jazz at Oberlin album and joined the modern jazz world as an enthusiast. Thereafter a lot of Brubeck's work had little effect on me but his overall effect on jazz of the period was immense. You could say he was a “populist” as the public certainly went in droves to his concerts and purchased his albums in large quantities. Too much to put in here but his Wiki page is worth a read……

It was a combination of unusual time signatures and the use of block chording along with his smooth alto player Paul Desmond that kept Brubeck at the top of the jazz ratings for many years. Even after Desmond left his groups still toured to large audiences and his records still sold well, yet it was his ‘57 album Time Out containing all original compositions including the hit Take Five that he will be remembered for by most. Did the Oberlin album stand the test of time? To me it did as for obvious reasons it has a place in my appreciation of the genre; whether it actually stands the test is for you to decide.

How High the Moon from the Oberlin album, still a “tour de force” in my view and it still has the same effect when I listen to it now as then:

Ray Bryant earns a place on here for one reason: I liked him. His 1958 album “Alone with the Blues” is one of those records that I always return to and for that alone he gets his place, in a long career in which he was also a composer of several well known jazz number. He played with many of the greats of the be bop period: Parker, Davis, Hawkins and Sonny Rollins plus the singers Carmen McRae and Aretha Franklin.

From that album a solo masterpiece of blues playing My Blues (Blues No 5):

Herbie Hancock is best known for his fusion smash hit “Headhunters” and much of his fusion cum rock / jazz African music, but he started out as a classically trained pianist and was considered a child prodigy playing Mozart's Piano Concerto No 26 in D major with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the age of eleven!

In 1960 at the age of twenty he heard Chris Anderson play and begged him to be accepted as his student. He then left college and moved to Chicago where he worked with Donald Byrd and Coleman Hawkins, took further courses at Roosevelt University and got a degree in Fine Art to add to his degree in music and electronics he got from his other uni.

After playing with Phil Woods and Oliver Nelson he caught the eye of Miles Davis and joined his second quintet in ‘63. It was here he developed his style, and I quote: “Not only did he find new ways to use common chords, but he also popularized chords that had not previously been used in jazz. Hancock also developed a unique taste for "orchestral" accompaniment – using quartal harmony and Debussy-like harmonies, with stark contrasts then unheard of in jazz.“

He stayed with Davis until ‘68 and during that period made many albums under his own name as well as a sideman with many others on the Blue Note label. His two albums Empyrean Isles ‘64 and Maiden Voyage in ‘65 were to many his zenith in modern jazz as post be bop standards; after this time he started to experiment with larger ensembles using different instruments.

His branching out continued unabated, writing the score for Antonioni’s film Blowup (1966) and several TV commercials. He also started his route where he was incorporating popular music and rock into his work and electronic keyboards. He left Davis in ‘68 and formed his own sextet.

Leaving Blue Note a year after Davis and joining Warner Bros was the start of his electronic voyage. Mwandishi in ‘71 started the ball rolling but was not a success and more followed: it was in ‘73 with his new band The Headhunters that Head Hunters was released; a huge hit maybe, but the jazz world thought he had sold out to commercialism.

Since then he has worked in both the fusion pop rock world and returned to jazz. Much of his “popular music” has been slated but he never stood still and has always mixed the genres with a variable success rate with much of it incorporating electronics.

I own none of his more current work, to me most is interchangeable with almost any fusion/rock/ items out there, little has any point over buying an earlier Rick Wakeman album, but that’s just me.

This is from his Taking Off album of ‘62, Water Melon Man, his own composition recorded when he was just 22, with Freddie Hubbard and Dexter Gordon:

I was going to put up for comparison the later version with his Head Hunters band with Miles Davis in his fusion lost mode, but to me it is self indulgent rubbish; it seems many have gone this route, sadly.

Horace Silver was always a favourite of mine. One of the founders of hard bop, he grew up playing the piano and tenor sax at school. In 1950 he was recruited by Stan Getz and then he moved to NY. His co-founding of the Jazz Messengers with Art Blakey is what brought Silver and his compositions with that group to the public eye. He left the Messengers in ‘56 and formed his own group. In the ‘70s he not only disbanded his group as touring was interfering with his composing and his home life but he also went on a spiritual track. His output in this vein with Blue Note was not successful yet the company indulged him to a degree, though the titles were dropped from the catalogue later. His Silver albums from’75 on were a return to the group and sounds we knew and he finally left Blue Note in ‘78, the longest run (28 years) by any artist. According to Silver the new owners were not interested in jazz so he formed his own record company, toured for six months of the year and composed for the rest. Later he cut back the touring and his royalties from a substantial song book kept him going. Ill health in later life struck several times and his performances became sparser. After suffering undiagnosed blood clots he then contracted Alzheimer's; he died in 2014.

This is the ‘64 version of A Song for my Father, his own composition featuring Joe Henderson on tenor, lovely number and a jazz standard:


From the above it is obvious I have included little or nothing from the current crop of piano players, I have listened to the likes of Brad Mehidau, Keith Jarrett and Cecil Taylor Paul Bley and there is much to admire, the technical ability, the sounds, all can produce stunning music; but overall I find their albums hard work, and if they are hard work to listen to, 15 minute solos of 5 minute standards, then I don’t enjoy and don’t purchase. Yet not all is one beautiful note and a ten second pause: this Paul Bley from ‘62 When Will The Blues Leave with his trio is terrific.

I will leave it there.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Friday Night Is Music Night: Spring, by JD

Here is a selection of Spring (doesn't feel very springlike today but we live in hope):

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Sunday Music: Jazz Piano 2, by Wiggia

Duke Ellington

 With the start of be bop jazz went in only one direction for a while, where Bud Powell took it Thelonious Monk and others carried the flame forward. Monk of course had a separate article so I will not refer here to him in music terms, only by inference.

Lennie Tristano arrived on the scene in the mid to late forties bringing with him an expanded bop ethic incorporating classical harmonic themes from contemporary classical music.

Tristano was stricken permanently blind as a child, and studied music through his mother who played piano and was an opera singer; maybe this was the time that subconscious implanting of the classical harmonics happened ? He went to the Chicago school for the blind and learnt music theory and also played several wind instruments, then to a bachelor's degree in ‘43 from the Chicago American Conservatory of Music. From an early stage Tristano taught as well as played and he did this right up until his death in ‘78.

He also invented “free jazz” in ‘49 when his sextet including saxophonist Lee Konitz produced two albums with no pre set tempo meter or chord progression - this was ten years before the term “free jazz” was coined.

This is him playing “Tangerine” in 1965 whilst in Copenhagen.

From that there is that link to cool jazz, very refined and laid back and the travelling bass line very apparent. And here an earlier piano solo “Requiem” from ‘55, this piece was played at Charlie Parker's funeral.

Bill Evans became one of the most celebrated musicians in jazz on any instrument, another who was classically trained and whose inventive use of harmony, interpretation, his melodic lines and the use of block chording had a profound influence on pianists then and now.

In 1955 he moved to NY and met up with and worked with George Russell the bandleader. In ‘56 he joined Miles Davis and his sextet where his influence was such that the album they produced “Kind of Blue” became the biggest selling jazz album of all time - who indeed doesn’t own it?

He left Davis in ‘59 and set up his trio, a format that stayed with him and also the trio had the bassist Scott La Faro. La Faro died in a car accident in ‘61 after the trio had recorded “Sunday at the Village Vanguard”, an album that contained Evans' best known number “Waltz for Debby” which became a jazz standard. Some of his later work on solo albums involved overdubbing Like Lennie Tristano before him who used overlaid tracks, similar it was new ground.

Evans' own influences on the piano were Earl Hines, George Shearing and Nat Cole then Bud Powell, not obvious associations until you listen to his music.

The dark side of Evans was never far away, from his alcoholic father through struggling to get over the loss of La Faro he turned as so many did at that time to drugs, heroin, and his association with his girlfriend Ellaine who was also an addict saw his playing affected though they both went away and evidently kicked the habit, but in 1970 he turned to cocaine, his health suffered and when his brother committed suicide in ‘78 , he was a schizophrenic, his sister in law said he would not last long and his friend Gene Lees said it was the longest suicide in history , referring to his struggle with drugs. He died in hospital from multiple ailments in 1979.

His legacy is a volume of work that is important regards the jazz piano and always worth listening to. His album “Everybody Loves Bill Evans” was one of my first jazz record buys.

"Waltz For Debby", with Scott La Faro on bass and Paul Motian drums:

and this solo performance from his album “Alone” “A Time for Love” - everything he did was beautiful:

Oscar Peterson is one of those names almost everyone has heard at some time in their life. The son of West Indian parents who emigrated to Canada, he learnt first trumpet and piano but a bout of TB stopped the trumpet playing.

He was a prodigious performer both live and in the studio: there are over two hundred recordings to his credit and a world wide audience for whom he toured endlessly. Over sixty years of performing is good going in anyone's book.

Taught by his sister and then trained by a classical pianist, he was another with that classical background, it seems more prevalent with pianists than any other instrument in jazz, and Peterson would often throw in harmonisations and quotations from classical works. Of all the influences Art Tatum was the biggest and indeed Peterson was often likened to Tatum later in his career.

He worked with various outfits and even played as backing piano (if you can call him that) with Ella Fitzgerald, but it was his trio that defined him in most people's eyes; the one containing Ray Brown on bass and Herb Ellis on guitar is considered his best even by the man himself.

Various formats followed after the fifties.

He suffered ill health from childhood when arthritis formed and an increase in weight later did not help even after a replacement hip; in’93 he had a serious stroke that kept him out of action for two years and his performing after that was somewhat limited. In 2007 his health deteriorated rapidly and he canceled a concert and went home; he died of kidney failure at the end of that year.

His best known album is probably Night Train; his solo albums came somewhat later.

If Peterson had a weakness it was what some would call a lack of advancement: he stuck with what he knew and was another for whom TV beckoned, which meant you always got what you expected - nothing wrong in that.

"It Ain’t Necessarily So":

It Ain't Necessarily So - Oscar Peterson from JB - Jazz & Blues House on Vimeo.

and "Moten Swing" from the Night Train album.

Concert by the Sea is an album that was an enormous success for Errol Garner. One of the most distinctive pianists, his style and sound were instantly recognisable. Self taught, he could play the piano at the age of three, but never learnt to read music - an ear player all his life, with an amazing memory that helped counteract his lack of reading music.

At seven he was appearing with a group on local radio and by eleven playing on riverboats.

Only 5ft 2",  he played sitting on telephone directories; his style was such that comparisons and influences are not easy to define though Earl Hines is mentioned along with Fats Waller.

The Concert by the Sea album was the biggest selling album in its day and followed ten years of recording starting in ‘44. The same album was re released in 2015 by Sony in a 3 CD set with eleven previously unheard tracks, a legacy of his late manager's estate which also released much previously unheard material to add to a large existent catalogue; there are apparently in an agreement in 2016 between two music companies several master discs discovered that have never been published.

He was another who toured for most of his active career and was in demand world wide, appearing on Jazz 625 with Steve Race (for those old enough to remember) in ‘64, he died in ‘77 at the age of 53 after a cardiac arrest believed to be bought on by emphysema.

Here he plays Misty, his own composition and a jazz standard that is much played and was featured in the film starring Clint Eastwood (who is a jazz fan) "Play Misty for Me".

And the unforgettable version of "I’ll Remember April" from the ‘Sea album:

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Academia’s Intellectual Orthodoxy

Quillette has a piece on the invasion of the humanities by an intolerant political orthodoxy.

Over the last three or four decades, the humanities have witnessed a shift so massive that it is barely noticed anymore. What was once an upstart movement has achieved the status of a truly successful usurper—normality. The leather arm patched ancien régime has been exiled to the land of past things. Horn-rimmed glasses, tattoos, and dyed hair no longer occupy the periphery, but the center. It is a revolution so thorough that it has completely painted over the canvas of our mental imagery.

If you consider the stereotypical picture of a literature professor at a major university today, a myriad of images might come to mind—so many, in fact, that it might be impossible to conjure a single, coherent figure. However, what almost certainly won’t come to mind is a Byron-quoting septuagenarian in tweed.

This revolution has been political. Entire disciplines—Literature, Anthropology, Sociology, and the various interdisciplinary programs that end in the word “Studies” – have all become more strongly associated with a particular species of left-wing interpretation that now influences the broader discourse in journalism and on social media. In some departments, the social categories of analysis—race, class, and gender—have attained complete hegemony.

Equally interesting is the first comment on the article which suggests an apolitical cause.

This outcome was foreordained when research surpassed teaching as an academic’s primary duty and function. A teacher needs to love an intellectual field and desire to convey its beauty to a new generation; a researcher needs to generate papers and get them reviewed and approved by peers. The latter is an inherently political activity, and it attracts people whose talent and passion are for assessing the zeitgeist–political, social, intellectual–of a particular community, catering to it, and winning a position of social status in it. It should surprise no one that such people share many traits, and are inclined to disdain–and use their political skills to exclude–those whose intellectual approach is very different from theirs. Nor should it surprise anyone that the research output of such people is of little use to anyone but themselves, and contributes only to their own career advancement.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Monday, April 03, 2017

SJW Competition #1: "Cultural Appropriation"


Because of issues around cultural appropriation, from now on...

- geometry will only be taught by and to Greeks.

Your contribution?

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Sunday Music: Jazz Piano (Part 1) by Wiggia

Bill Evans (image source)

Modern jazz evolved for the piano as it did for all other instruments but the evolution gives as good a guide as any to where we are now with jazz as a music form.

Ragtime was the first stage on this journey and Scott Joplin could be said to have laid down the foundations in the late 1890s. He wrote Maple Leaf Rag, a hit and a breakthrough for Afro American music in being accepted as mainstream, but whilst “groovy” it was not really jazz.

When Jelly Roll Morton combined ragtime with blues improvisation and swing, stride piano was born; his fusion of ragtime and the blues was as near the origin of jazz as any can pin down. His composition in 1915 of Jelly Roll Blues was the first published piece of jazz music.

But although there was plenty of swing in his playing there was little room and indeed virtually no improvisation, it needed Earl “Fatha” Hines to correct that, quote……

“He tried to imitate the sensitive virtuoso line of his friend Louis Armstrong, while playing ragtime with his left hand. Without meaning to he was one of the first piano players that were improvising and swinging in a jazzy manner.”

Stride piano was born. With that, jazz moved from New Orleans to Chicago a new era in jazz started: blues was in !

James P Johnson and Fats Waller were not only great pianists and innovators but also composers of numerous hits of that era. For Johnson his tune “Charleston” was the biggest dance hit of the twenties, for Waller who became the most famous of the jazz pianists of the time it was a huge hit live and for his big selling endless hits he turned out for his record label Victor, his Broadway musical that starred Louis Armstrong in 1929 “Connie's Hot Chocolates” had Louis singing two of Waller's great compositions “Ain’t Misbehavin” and “Honeysuckle Rose”.

All of which leads us to Art Tatum, in the eyes of many contemporaries and many later the greatest of all jazz pianists. He used Waller's stride technique but expanded it with incredible left hand harmonies in very complex ways with amazing chord progressions and his incredible technique put him at the top of the tree. Two quotes from contemporaries say it all: when Tatum dropped in to hear Fats Waller play at a club in 1938 he said to the audience, "I just play the piano, but God is in the house tonight" and Teddy Wilson said “If you put a piano in a room, just a bare piano. Then you get all the finest jazz pianists in the world and let them play in the presence of Art Tatum. Then let Art Tatum play ... everyone there will sound like an amateur."

Art Tatum plays “Tea for Two”:

One is not enough of this man so here he is with Jerome Kern's “Yesterdays”:

The swing era that started in the twenties reached its peak during the thirties and forties and the big bands that gave people some good times during the Depression became exponents of swing, with the dance halls hosting many of the greatest names in jazz, culminating in Basie and Ellington. Swing piano was personified by Teddy Wilson and Mary Lou Williams. Teddy’s wonderful relaxed and flowing style was very successful and he had a string of hits with various singers including Lena Horne and Helen Ward, and played a big part in Billie Holiday's successes. He even had his own big band for a brief period but reverted back to small groups and eventually his trio.

In 1959 he recorded this version of Lullaby of Birdland:

and here at the end of his career in ‘65:

Mary Lou Williams was a much more influential figure than her current status suggests. Not only did she almost span all eras of jazz, always moving on pushing the boundaries, she never stood still or became bogged down in one era, and is acknowledged as the most important woman in jazz for roughly three decades. She was playing spirituals and ragtime by the age of four and playing at picnics and dances in Pittsburg at six !

Her writing and arranging started with her first group and she went on to write and arrange for most the big bands of that period.

When she moved to NY in ‘41 she became an important figure in the birth of be bop and her NY apartment was always full of those early be bop stars whom she cultivated: Gillespie, Davis, Dorham, Parker and Blakey plus many aspiring young musicians.

She was also one of the first to write extended jazz pieces (suites) such as the Zodiac Suite she wrote for Ellington and in later life when she turned to religion after an extended two year stay in Europe, she was rapturously received in the UK and played with the Ted Heath band in ‘53. On her return Stateside she started to write again but in a different vein, though she never forsook her jazz.

She wrote several spiritual pieces including a cantata and three masses, and her album from ‘63 “Black Christ of the Andes” a mixture of blues and gospel should be in everyone's record collection.

Charity works for down and out musicians and several shops sponsored by her to that aim were started in Harlem, and she took an artist in residence position at Duke University where she taught jazz history and arranged, it did not stop her performing in her final years including at the White House.

The lady paid her dues !

This version of “It Ain’t Necessarily So” is as fresh and modern as anything you will hear, beautiful piece:

and this from her ‘74 album “Zoning” on SYL-O-Gism:

Mary Lou deserves to be heard a lot more, a very important and very accomplished figure in jazz.

Into the be bop era and Bud Powell. Powell was the first pianist to adapt the Gillespie and Parker style of playing to piano, as a young child Powell learn the classical piano but was playing jazz at the age of eight; Thelonious Monk had a big part in educating Powell.

Powell's life was riddled by bad health and alcoholism plus spending many visits to mental hospitals for schizophrenia and he spent a large part of his relatively short life in France to escape the racism and pressures that were prevalent in the states. A combination of alcohol TB and malnutrition finally killed him in’66; an enormous funeral in Harlem followed.

His “Golden” period is considered to be ‘49 -’53; not much is available from that period on video and this version of I Want to be Happy with Mingus on bass and Roy Haynes on drums is not the greatest sound wise, but is a good example of the man in that period.

and this from ‘49 with Ray Brown, he was married for some time to Ella Fitzgerald, and Max Roach on drums, Tempus Fugit:

Because the be bop period and on, is so full of wonderful pianists, part 2 will follow.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

EU-GB (2)

And here is "Man with a Polish Wife"'s imagining...

Slowly, slowly the truth dawned.  Well, that is, if you define slowly as a couple of minutes. It only seemed slow because time froze – flashbulb memory and all that.  Nobody would ever forget the enormity of what was happening around them – Europe Day, May 9th, 2017 – the 67th anniversary of the Schumann declaration.

At precisely noon, bells rang out, chimes, hooters and klaxons, a cacophony of sound from all directions.  Strategically placed devices covered the country – no-one was not in earshot. TV stations, computer screens and mobile phones all came to life. Phone conversations were ended, programs interrupted – the ring of stars displayed – then a smiling face….

"Dear subjects", pronounced President Blair, "today is a great day for all Europeans, our regional policy is complete, and the Dunkirk Treaty which we have just agreed is to be implemented with immediate effect.   Henceforth England and English have ceased to exist, and I have the great privilege of saying these words for the last time, as of NOW it will be a criminal offence to use these words again – they have no meaning.

And, once this broadcast is over, peoples of Trans Manche, you will only communicate in French, peoples of North Sea you will only communicate in Danish, and peoples of Atlantic you will only communicate in Portuguese, not forgetting of course, our friends in Northern Periphery where you will now only communicate in Swedish.

What a day for Europe, our integration is complete, and I would like to pay great thanks to my fellow leaders, Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher, John Major and, you know, not forgetting the illustrious Gordon Brown, all of whom demonstrated great leadership in enabling previous Treaties, and now Theresa May, standing here with me today in her last act as your now ex-Prime Minister.  I look forward to working with her in her new position as Secretary General of the United Nations – never was a person more suited to this role.

Congratulations to them, and congratulations to you my subjects for your co-operation and participation as you adjust to your new way of life. Detailed instructions have been downloaded to all your devices, and following this broadcast programs will run continuously to help you adjust.  Common Law no longer exists, Code Napoleon now rules – you are free to do whatever you have been permitted to do.

By my grace you are all now permitted one drink this afternoon, to celebrate and toast your new leaders, and, you know, this wasn’t easy for me - persuading my Council of Ministers to agree to it, so come on, make the most of it.

Then, all males between the ages of 16 and 36 must report to your interreg capital by noon tomorrow for conscription – no exceptions. Please proceed to your nearest high speed rail hub for processing.

Félicitations! Tillykke! Parabéns! Grattis!"

The ring of stars suddenly replaces Blair's visage, an image of a bottle of champagne with cork popping at its centre.

"What are we going to do", John Bull mutters to himself, as he breaks out of his trance, and immediately starts to head home to be with his wife, his desk abandoned, his midday cup of tea going slowly cold - never to be drunk...

EU-GB - a parallel-universe story

In which I accept my own challenge: (

From “The War In The North” by Prof. Noah Williams, Monash University Publishing (2nd edn, 2042)

"…The background to the conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean was as complex as in the years leading up to WWI, and as full of dangerously tempting opportunities for lower order players. Over a long time, Turkey’s President Yildiz pitted greater Powers against each other with all the wiliness of, and considerably greater resources than, Malta’s Dom Mintoff in the 1950s. For Turkey stood over the crossroads of history.

Following the destruction of the Highland Regiments at Dnipro[i] (the first moment when the use of battlefield nuclear weapons was seriously contemplated), Europa resiled from its policy of progressive eastward enlargement and the Ukraine was finally allowed to split into West Ukraine and Donbass, largely along the linguistic and racial outlines that had long existed.

It seemed as though an uneasy but mutually beneficial balance had been achieved. The abandonment of imperial ambitions in Ukraine allowed Europa to redirect its attention southwards to the African littoral, and Moscow’s now-heavy protection around the Soyuz and Blue Stream pipelines in Donbass was not only a safeguard for Russian economic interests but also insurance for Europan consumers against terrorist disruption to their energy consumption.

However, the Odessa Treaty also tightened the Russian hold on the Crimea and the eastern end of the Black Sea. To the infrastructure built up at Sochi under the cover of preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics had been added similar developments further up the coast at Novorossiisk and Anapa, while under another pretext (guarding the projected South Stream Pipeline, a project that was never definitively cancelled but remained on the back burner) the port at Sevastopol had also enjoyed considerable improvement. The surreptitious nuclear hardening of certain underground buildings at all four sites had been carefully noted by the West, but without public comment.

The situation became unstable when Russia started to strengthen its links with Greece. As in Blair’s Britain, the Greek economy had been hollowed-out after joining the Eurozone. Irrecoverably in debt and suffering massive unemployment and the withering of essential public services, Greeks remembered that they had nearly installed a communist government a century before, and warmed to the approaches from the now-nationalist but also socially-sensitive Moscow regime. There had been talks about a spur from South Stream through Greece, headed off by Europa and a nervous US State Department, but the alternative Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), though it ran to Thessaloniki via Turkey, was bringing gas from Azerbaijan, which was part of the nascent Eurasian Economic Union sponsored by the Russians.  The cafes and hotels of Thessaloniki prospered as foreign agents developed their contacts and spied on each other.

Less obvious, yet for that reason possibly more effective, was the de facto intelligence hub of Alexandropouli, 300 km to the east and correspondingly closer to the Turkish border and the Sea of Marmara, in turn the gateway to the Bosphorus and Black Sea. Then there was the listening station built at Mount Athos under the feet of the Russian monks of Panteleimenos, which President Putin visited in 2006 and again a decade later. It was rumoured in intelligence circles that some advanced short-range weapons had also been assembled and stored there. A CIA joke was that one could see Spetsnaz boots under the Orthodox robes.

Amid these clandestine manoeuvrings President Yildiz saw a chance for his aggrandisement.  The rapprochement between the Greeks and the Russians had enhanced the importance of Turkey in bottling up the Muscovite genie. Russia had limited Turkey’s military ambitions in Syria in the mid-2010s but was less interested in the migrant flow through Turkish territory. These unfortunates, some fleeing conflict zones and others the poverty of Pakistan, Afghanistan etc could be weaponised. The 1951 UNHCR Refugee Convention required signatories to offer shelter to refugees in the first safe land to which they came. Europa was now one country, and under pressure from the US State Department had conferred associate status on Turkey. Yildiz realized what this meant: since the Convention did not specify where within that land they had to be accommodated, refugees could be forwarded en masse to anywhere in Europa.

Berlin was reluctant to accept a further influx into the sub-territories of Germany, France, Bulgaria etc because of the political consequences, not least the rise of right-wing and secessionist parties. However, the impoverishment of Britain that had already resulted in the sale of the Channel Islands to secret consortia of billionaires meant that Westminster was prepared to accept responsibility for “Yildiz’ sheep” if money were provided for the building of facilities and crucially, the creation of employment for the local population.

The money would come from Europa and would not benefit Istanbul - but that was not what Yildiz wanted. He wished to eliminate the expatriate Opposition who had been given sanctuary in Britain. Threatening an unlimited number of trainloads westward via the Bosphorus  Express and Channel Tunnel, he secured an agreement to issue Europan Arrest Warrants for the return of the dissident Turks in sealed trains. The British police forces were unhappy and made representations to the National Government, but were overridden by a Presidential decree from Holzhauer.

Had it ended there, in Western shame and the blood of hundreds of innocents, the Continent would not be the wasteland it is today. But unsuspected by almost everybody, Yildiz turned out not to be merely a secularist: the Mahdi planned to go to Damascus…"

[i] This led to another attempt, this time near-successful, at secession from Europa by the Scottish National Party-led Government in Holyrood. Berlin’s response was the forcible replacement of the Sturgeon administration by Mackintosh’s Coalition. Lacking any support from the Nationalists, the Coalition quickly proved unable to maintain its authority locally and capitulated to the reintroduction of regional rule from Westminster.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Stand clear - we've got the threepenny bits!

The new pound coin comes into circulation today...

Reposted from March 12, 2014:

Osborne gives us the threepenny bits

Pic source: BBC
The proposed new-style pound coin is publicised on the day of UK Chancellor George Osborne's Budget speech to Parliament.

The 12-sided design resembles the pre-decimal brass threepenny piece first issued in the reign of Edward VIII. The resemblance is more than physical, as we shall see.

Before 1937, threepence coins had always been based on silver, but the silver content reduced over the years and the coin eventually became inconveniently small. Why? Inflation, the curse of the twentieth century.

This year marks the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War of 1914-18. The Daily Mail's purchasing power calculator [Sackerson: try BoE now!] shows that one pound in 1915 was equivalent to £87 today. Coincidentally, under the old coinage system, there were 240 pence to the pound, or 80 "thrupenny bits". So a modern pound coin is worth much the same as a WWI threepenny bit.

The Chancellor introduced his Budget with the words, "Our country still borrows too much. We still don’t invest enough, export enough or save enough. So today we do more to put that right. This is a Budget for building a resilient economy. If you’re a maker, a doer or a saver: this Budget is for you. "

Actually, it's still not one for savers. I'm on Day 647 of my attempts to get my MP to ask questions in Parliament about NS&I Index-Linked Savings Certificates. All I've had so far is substandard, ill-informed guff in written answers from three different Treasury ministers (see right-hand sidebar on the Money blog).

In Cockney rhyming slang, the "threepenny bits" stands for "the shits". Funny how all these things link up.

Addendum 28.03.2017: Coin-cidentally, Big Maple Leaf has just been stolen:

Monday, March 27, 2017

Secret valediction: Charles Rennie Mackintosh's 'Cyclamens', by Catherine Beaumont

Charles Rennie Mackintosh is an icon of design - his style is unmistakable and his name synonymous with art nouveau.

Born in Glasgow in 1868, Mackintosh had a prolific output of work throughout his life across many spheres, from designing some of the most influential architecture of the 20th century to creating a whole new language of interior décor in everything from stained glass to textiles, from art schools to high backed chairs; but Mackintosh is little known as the gifted painter that he was.

Painted between 1922 and 1923, 'Cyclamens' breaks with Mackintosh's iconic stylised designs, being a vivid yet realist piece that looks more like oil than its true medium of airy watercolour. The giveaway of this painting's origin is the artist's delight in pattern and surface design, the rich swathes of crimson backdrop here resembling a Mackintosh textile swatch. The piece is a melting pot of organic abstraction, even the cyclamen leaves contorting with pattern until reality is reasserted by the stark white blooms. The deep background makes the pure petals shine like silver on a dark Scottish winter night, yet the picture was painted in southern light, Mackintosh having fled from Glasgow to London.

It seems there may be a deeper, symbolic meaning to what appears to be simply a decorative still life... Mackintosh was part of a group of likeminded artists and designers in Glasgow known as 'the Four', the others being the designer Herbert McNair and the artist sisters Margaret and Frances Macdonald.

'Sleeping Princess' by Frances Macdonald 1909 - image: Wikipedia

The group were bound together not only by work but also in their personal relationships, Margaret becoming Mackintosh's wife and Frances marrying Herbert McNair. Also named the 'Spook School' for their eerily elongated style, their use of Celtic imagery bled into their paintings and decorative style, drawing from the natural world like botanists.

Within the wider association known as the Glasgow School, they were also part of a slightly larger circle called “The Immortals”:

Left: Charles Rennie Mackintosh surrounded by Frances Macdonald, Agnes Rayburn, 
Janet Aitken, Katherine Cameron, Jessie Keppie and Margaret Macdonald. 
Right: Herbert McNair and Mackintosh in front of the 'Immortals' c.1893 
(c) Glasgow School of Art archives

The swooning virginal petals of Mackintosh's cyclamens remind one of 'the Immortals' as they appear in early photographs, languorously nymph-like in Edwardian white dresses set against open Scottish fields. The petals of the two upper cyclamens touch as though in reluctant parting, like the hands of Janet Aitken and Katherine Cameron.

The year before 'Cyclamens' was painted Frances Macdonald, Margaret's sister had died. Her husband Herbert McNair was distraught, vowing never to paint again and burning most of his wife's work. Looking at the piece in this context, one wonders if Mackintosh might have been alluding to the loss of Frances from the Immortals - cyclamens are one of the few plants to flower during the cruelest months of winter, defying cold death with their white buds, and signalling new life. The Four's delight in Celtic imagery and symbolism allows room for such an interpretation, especially bearing in mind Victorian flower language, where cyclamen means resignation and 'goodbye’.

Detail of 'Cyclamens', 1922-23 overlaying 'the Immortals' (Glasgow School of Art archives) c. 1893

However, another farewell may be intended. 'Cyclamens' was painted two or three years after Mackintosh’s final unrealised designs for studios in Chelsea, his last completed commission having been six years earlier with the dark, jazz-age remodelling of 78 Derngate, Northampton. Perhaps it is not so much an allegory of the lost immortals, of Frances' death and McNair's dissolution, but instead the end of Mackintosh's prolific career and artistic vision. The parting touch may be a symbol of Mackintosh's defeat, closing the door with sadness on his past magnificent success before moving to the South of France, living there in poverty for the last of his days and never realising another large-scale project.

We can only guess at the enigma of Mackintosh's true meaning in this piece, knowing only that it's decorative allure is not as elusive as its symbolism. 'Cyclamens' brings Mackintosh's career to its crescendo as both artist and designer, with a creative output that could never die, like the dancing cyclamen blooms and the beaming eyes of 'the Immortals'.

Left to right; Textile designs, stylised daisies, purple on black, c1922; 78 Derngate, Northampton, 'Faded Roses' watercolour 1905
(c) The 78 Derngate Northampton Trust - see for more

Sackerson adds -

David Walsh, Assistant Manager at The Charles Rennie Mackintosh House, says:

"This is our Centenary Year and we have a special exhibition "Charles Rennie Mackintosh & The Great War" - ( , ) - the largest display of Mackintosh design in England, until 29th April. If you or readers are able to visit, a warm welcome awaits."

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sunday Music: Trumpet Voluntary, by Wiggia

The first of what would be considered modern jazz recordings featuring a lead trumpet would be during the period ‘49 to ‘51 and featured Kenny Dorham, Fats Navarro, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis. The Davis album Morpheus, Whispering Down was his first of many for the Prestige label and only his second as leader, the beginning of a long influential career.

The Trumpet or Cornet was always the front line instrument in early jazz and ditto here in the early days of modern jazz, not so much nowadays with the saxophone more prominent in most groups.

For a start we have the wonderful soft lyrical style of Fats Navarro, this is a ‘47 version of a tune he was always associated with:

Fats was a pioneer of the be bop style and after a touring start to his career where he learned the ropes he settled in NY. His career was short as was his life despite success with many big bands, becoming a life long friend with Mingus and playing with Charlie Parker amongst others. Given poor health, TB, a weight problem and the inevitable drug addiction of that period of time he died in 1950 at the age of 27.

Much longer lived and a flag waver for jazz of all kinds world wide was one of the other founders of be bop Dizzy Gillespie, his puff cheeks and 45 degree trumpet horn became a trade mark that was instantly recognised everywhere plus a personality that meant he was in much demand.

His style was not an easy one to emulate and few did but his influence was enormous both on the trumpet and be bop. Davis, Navarro, Lee Morgan, Clifford Brown right up to the modern day were all influenced by Dizzy who himself took much from Roy Eldridge and then over layered it with his own harmonic complexity. Born in 1917 he went on to have a sixty year playing career, he saw it all and played with all during his life; a true jazz great.

This recording of A Night in Tunisia is as good a showcase of his skills as any available on download sites. The tune, a Gillespie composition, was written by him whilst with the Earl Hines band in ‘42. Around that time he had this to say about the evolution of modern jazz….

Gillespie said of the Hines band, "People talk about the Hines band being 'the incubator of bop' and the leading exponents of that music ended up in the Hines band. But people also have the erroneous impression that the music was new. It was not. The music evolved from what went before. It was the same basic music. The difference was in how you got from here to here to here ... naturally each age has got its own shit".

Miles Davis along with Gillespie could occupy several pages on their own and I may come back to a better tribute to them later if demand requires. Davis epitomises “cool jazz” from his earliest work; that easily recognisable style was instantly recognised whether live or on record over a five decade period. He embarked on several changes of direction during those years including flirting with rock and funk fusion, African rhythms and electronic technology. Much of his later work had a rather dubious connection to jazz and many stalwarts of the genre deserted him, yet his fusion album Bitches Brew was a huge commercial success as was much of his rock tinged music and certainly brought him more universal appeal and income.

You can make your own mind up about those later years, but regardless he remains one of the pillars of be bop and a great innovator as well as a superb trumpeter.

His early years are somewhat fragmented so as this is not a Miles bio I will skip through his early fifties period when he played Europe and France in particular as many black musicians did, being relieved of the racism back home they often stayed, and his association with the actress Juliette Greco whom after he split from her he blamed for his subsequent depression and four years of heroin addiction .

Back in the states ‘56 saw the release of the album “Birth of the Cool” and cool jazz was launched, a style he would successfully be associated with for some years.

At the same time in those early to mid fifties several albums of importance were released on Prestige and later Blue Note that firmly put him in the vanguard of hard bop. Using slower tempos and a less radical approach it was his first step away from cool jazz as well as be bop.

Here is an early Miles playing a masterful version of So What. From the opening chorus it could only be one musician. This was tremendous trumpet playing and what all jazz lovers wanted to hear from Miles.

And this from ‘64 On Green Dolphin Street with John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Jimmy Cobb on drums and Bill Evans on piano, not a bad line up !

I will return to Miles at a later date.

Clifford Brown “Brownie” was another with a short life in music and on planet Earth: he died in ‘56 at the age of 25 after a car accident yet still left a legacy of four years of recording and a lot of influence to many who followed including Donald Byrd, Booker Little, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard and more lately Arturo Sandoval. His composition Daahoud became a jazz standard.

Daahoud is here performed in ‘54 by “Brownie” and the Max Roach quintet.

Lee Morgan achieved fame through his album “Sidewinder” a sort of cross over album, a theme he toyed with and indulged in for some time but he went back to Art Blakey where he is fondly remembered as one of the stars of the Jazz Messengers at that time. He is another who left this mortal coil far too young at the age of 33, not drugs this time, though he was an addict, he died of his injuries when his long term girlfriend shot him at Slugs Saloon where he was playing and he bled to death as the ambulance could not get there in time owing to adverse weather conditions!


Freddie Hubbard is another from that era that found fame and recognition after joining Blakey's Messengers in ‘61 replacing Lee Morgan. He left Blakey in ‘66 and started to form his own groups and developed his own sound, distancing himself from Morgan and Clifford Brown, and he was a sideman on several very important albums during the sixties.

His early seventies albums, Red Clay brought him commercial success and acclaim but his later seventies albums were slated for their commercialism. This is a 1970 recording from the album Straight Life, Mr Clean with a stellar line up shown in the credits.

Whatever one does when putting something like this together it is as said before inevitable that many just as worthy are left out, many will be featured in further episodes with groups bands etc so will not be totally forgotten, but the likes of Chet Baker, Art Farmer, Donald Byrd, Don Cherry etc etc should be here but space does not permit.

However one or two others I will include to bring the section more up to date. Tom Harrell is one of my personal favourites: born in ‘46 makes him positively adolescent in the general scheme of those on here yet has been around some time, he started playing trumpet at eight and joined Kenton after studying at Stanford University and receiving a degree in music composition. He toured with Kenton that year, ‘69 and joined Woody Herman for the following year and then Horace Silvers quintet from 73 – 77 during which time he made five albums with them. He joined or played with various bands until he joined Phil Woods in ‘83 through to ‘87. He made seven albums with Woods and many others with various groups and a few as leader in his own right but it was after leaving Woods that his own groups came to the fore.

His latter years have shown his skill as an arranger composer more and more and many ventures outside the strictly jazz only world have involved chamber music and ensembles with classical tones, and as an arranger Harrell works in many different genres including classical. Naturally I prefer the earlier jazz work and this more current number, Miles Davis's Milestones in 2011:

Many who know of modern jazz will wonder why I have not finished with Wynton Marsalis or Arturo Sandoval.

The latter is not in my HO truly a jazz trumpeter despite his incredible technique; I have been, and I may be wrong, but I never heard anything I could truly say fits in with my view of what jazz is. Probably my loss but there you go.

As for Marsalis, he is another who has run the full gamut of genres but much of his work does not again fit in with what you could really ascribe to being jazz. He certainly did in his earlier days but very little of that is available on video. However he can’t be really left out as he is one of today's leading lights in music - education, arranging and everything else, so I did find a video that in all honesty is only a bit part for Wynton but gives a wonderful excuse for showing the Jazz Messengers and Art Blakey at Antibes in 1980 with Wynton on trumpet in another reincarnation of the Messengers line up:

Say, Dr . "J" - Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers in Antibes (France) from Wynton Marsalis on Vimeo.

I show a personal bias with Marsalis, a wonderful technician who can play in almost any genre, and does, plus his teaching and arranging skills. He has it all, yet for me rarely holds my interest, why I cannot explain, it is just the way it is. Anyway, not to be hasty and upset his legions I include a final item by him, the piece and personnel are in the credits:

Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday Night Is Music Night: Denez Prigent, by JD

Denez Prigent is a Breton folk singer who gained a much wider audience after appearing at Transmusicales de Rennes in 1992: 

"France’s premier seen-them-here-first festival, Transmusical de Rennes sweeps through the genre spectrum from rock, pop and folk to RnB, hip-hop and electronic music, picking up cartloads of gems year after year."

[The song 'Copsa Mica' refers to a town in Romania which is said to be the most polluted town in Europe.]

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

ART: The use of paint in paintings, by JD

As a follow on from this recent post -, a few thoughts on paints and painting.

This first painting is a copy of Goya's "El Quitasol" which I did more than thirty years ago. I used Winsor & Newton oil paints and, as you can see, the colours are clear and vibrant. It is about A4 size on canvas-textured paper suitable for oil painting. It has been stuck to the wall with blu-tack for the last twenty years!

This is the original by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, in the Prado Museum in Madrid:

Prado weblink:

Wikipedia's copy:

Obviously I am nowhere near as good as Goya but I am pleased with my effort and it is surprising how much you can learn just by copying one of the masters.

As stated previously, real life tends to get in the way and I was drawing and painting intermittently and then, with a bit more spare time, I was able to paint on a regular basis with some expert tutelage to help me along the way.

This time I was using watercolour paints and eventually settled on Van Gogh watercolours in tubes because, once again, it gave me the vibrant colours. (W/colour in tubes can also be applied more thickly, which I like to do now and then) Here's a sample. It is 8" x 6" - most watercolour paintings are small scale, I think the largest pads I have are 15" x 11". If you want to know how I did the highlights on these oranges, it was done with a few dabs of gouache which is basically opaque watercolour paint.

Eventually I started to use acrylic paints as well as continuing with the watercolours. Acrylic is like oil paint but with the pigment bound in plastic (polymer) instead of oil. The advantage is that it is quick drying and the brushes can easily be cleaned in water without too much effort. Quick drying is a disadvantage also in that any paint left on the palette dries and, unlike oils, cannot be revived.

But the colours of acrylic paint are very bright and their introduction commercially in the 1950s brought a lot of new colours including iridescent and pearl and interference colours made by adding powdered mica to create unusual shimmering or reflective visual effects. (In earlier times gold leaf would be used in painting religious icons which, in flickering candlelight, would have produced similar effects.)

I have used mainly Liquitex or Winsor & Newton acrylic paints and here is a sample. It is on 8" x 8" canvas and thanks to Cherie for providing the photograph.

Eventually I came back recently to using oil paint once again. But there was something wrong this time. The colours didn't seem to be as bright as they used to be and mixing colour from the tubes they very quickly lost their sheen, becoming 'muddy' and unsatisfactory. Didn't know why until I was told that manufacturers were saving costs by reducing the amount of pigment and replacing it with some sort of filler, usually magnesium silicate. So I looked at other paints on the market and got hold of some Old Holland oils and these proved to be excellent, saturated colours I think is the right description. These little mini masterpieces are all on 2" x 2" canvases using Old Holland paint.

But Old Holland paints are not available locally and I have given up trying to buy things from the internet. It takes far too long to plough through page after page and getting a sore finger going clickety click. In reality, it is much quicker to use a catalogue and fill in the order form and post it off but the world is mesmerised by the novelty of technology and brains are now redundant. I knew that Michael Harding oil paints were available locally because I had seen them in the shop and, from what I have read and heard, they are reputed to be the best oils on the market endorsed by the likes of David Hockney and Howard Hodgkin.

On YouTube I found some demonstrations of the MH oils; this is the colour amethyst.

Very impressive so I have bought a few tubes of MH paints and have been trying them. They are indeed very good and vibrant colours. I will have to get used to their different characteristics but so far I like them and the first result is here which is also an 8" x 8" canvas -

Just a note on the colours: The background was originally indian yellow and the trees were done in pthalo blue. After a couple of days I decided it wasn't quite right, the yellow was too strong so I covered it with cadmium yellow mixed with titanium white and a wee bit of the indian yellow to give it some warmth. Then I muted the blue of the trees by going over it loosely with pthalo blue mixed with unbleached titanium. Much improved.

Not bad for a first attempt and it is currently being framed after which it will soon be hanging somewhere on my crowded walls.

I'm still learning, this is a never ending process. When I am 100, if I get that far, I might eventually know what I am doing!

Now you are probably wondering why I am so keen on bright, vibrant colours. That's easy, they remind me of heaven! That is not as daft as it sounds because throughout history most if not all religious and spiritual traditions make great use of colour in festivals and often in daily life for exactly the same reason, to remind them of heaven.

In Revelations 21 in the Bible, John describes the new Jerusalem* thus: "And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass.... And the twelve gates were twelve pearls: every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass."

The whole city is made entirely of precious stones, all glittering in 'the light'.

It is only the puritans of all creeds who want a monochrome world devoid of colour, of decoration, of ornament; all colour and life and joy removed.

*Sackerson notes: also described in the heartbreaking mediaeval poem "Pearl" - see translation here from l. 985 onwards:



Winsor & Newton

Van Gogh watercolour paints

Liquitex paints

Old Holland oil paints

Michael Harding oil paints