A Suitable Boy is a massive (approximately 1500 pages) monumental novel written by Vikram Seth way back in 1993 and is now about to be released as a six part TV mini-series. I can hardly wait. In a nutshell ….
“A Suitable Boy is set in the newly post-independence, post partition India of the 1950s. The novel follows the story of four families over a period of 18 months, and centers on Mrs. Rupa Mehra’s efforts to arrange the marriage of her younger daughter, Lata, to a “suitable boy”. Lata is a 19-year-old university student who refuses to be influenced by her domineering mother or opinionated brother, Arun. Her story revolves around the choice she is forced to make between her suitors Kabir, Haresh, and Amit.”
Way back then I read the closing of the dedication ….
“Buy me before good sense insists / you’ll strain your purse and sprain your wrists”
With a dedication like I had to take him at his word. I could not simply put the book aside without reading it. Sometimes a big novel can turn out to be chore. But not this one It turned out to be a magnificent read about complex family, racial, political and cultural issues set in the newly independent India. Added to that there were healthy doses of background material to feed my long standing interest in Indian music.
The book is still sitting on my bookshelf just begging me to take it down again and re-engage in that wonderful world created by the author Virkram Seth. I might just do that before the mini-series hits the airways.
“HOW CAN ONE SO CLEVER BE SO STUPID?” – The Dark Demon in Good Omens
I think it is a good question that should be right up there with “have good citizens taken leave of their senses?” Or is it just the mass hysteria of people trying to deal with incredible circumstances?. These questions were all prompted by the spectacle on the evening news of public demonstrations against the wearing of masks.
I don’t understand it. Over the years we have spent buckets of money, time and energy on accumulating knowledge and the attendant education and training of experts to evaluate and interpret the data we have accumulated. We ask the experts to step up to the plate and offer guidance on dealing with such an event as a pandemic and when they do we react by throwing a hissy fit and behaving like children. It’s like a roomful of children wanting to go out and play in a dangerous situation and when restrained screaming “I’m going outside to play and you can’t stop me.” On top of that, as adults, they are not only screaming their objections to reasonable advice and precautions but sprouting ridiculous conspiracy theories and equating reasonable public health measures to dictatorships and fascism. All because they can’t stop for a minute, take a breath, evaluate the reality of the situation and behave in a calm rational manner.
The wearing of masks is the case in point. The simple precaution of wearing masks in crowded situations is not an onerous request or task. It is not a hoax. It’s not a devious political plot. It is not even difficult. It is just a simple, wise precaution aimed at slowing the spread of the covid-19 virus.
So smarten up people and get with the program and wear a mask. The life you save may just be mine.
A photographer on vacation was inside a church taking photographs when he noticed a golden telephone mounted on the wall with a sign that read ‘$10,000 per call’.
The American, being intrigued, asked a priest who was strolling by what the telephone was used for.
The priest replied that it was a direct line to heaven and that for $10,000 you could talk to God.
The American thanked the priest and went along his way.
Next stop was in Atlanta . There, at a very large cathedral, he saw the same golden telephone with the same sign under it.
He wondered if this was the same kind of telephone he saw in Orlando and he asked a nearby nun what its purpose was.
She told him that it was a direct line to heaven and that for $10,000 he could talk to God.
‘O.K., thank you,’ said the American.
He then traveled to Indianapolis , Washington DC , Philadelphia , Boston and New York .
In every church he saw the same golden telephone
With the same ‘$10,000 per call’ sign under it.
The American, upon leaving Vermont decided to travel up to Canada to see if Canadians had the same phone.
He arrived in Canada , and again, in the first church he entered, there was the same golden telephone, but this time the sign under it read ’40 cents per call.’
The American was surprised so he asked the priest about the sign. ‘Father, I’ve traveled all over America and I’ve seen this same golden telephone in many churches. I’m told that it is a direct line to Heaven, but in the US the price was $10,000 per call.
Why is it so cheap here?’
The priest smiled and answered, ‘You’re in Canada now, son … it’s a local call.’
“The Emancipation Proclamation, or Proclamation 95, was a presidential proclamation and executive order issued by United States President Abraham Lincoln on September 22, 1862, during the American Civil War. It changed the legal status under federal law of more than 3.5 million enslaved African Americans in the secessionist Confederate states from slave to free. As soon as a slave escaped the control of the Confederate government, either by running away across Union lines or through the advance of federal troops, the slave was permanently free. Ultimately, the Union victory brought the proclamation into effect in all of the former Confederacy. The remaining slaves, those in the areas not in revolt, were freed by state action during the war, or by the Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, ratified in December 1865″………… Wikipedia
This was a bench mark step forward in the long struggle to abolish slavery and it is a very important date in American History. It needs to be remembered, honored and celebrated. Particularly in the USA. What impact did it have on black slaves in Canada? Now hang on a minute…….. September 1862. Correct me if I am wrong but it is my understanding that at that time there were no slaves, black or otherwise, in Canada. In fact there probably hadn’t been slaves in Canada for around 60 years. So The Emancipation Proclamation had little or no meaning in Canada. The date Canadians should be remembering and celebrating is the 1793 Act Against Slavery.
To once again quote Wikipedia…………
“By 1783, an anti-slavery movement to abolish the slave trade throughout the Empire had begun among the British public. Spurred by an incident involving Chloe Cooley, a slave brought to Canada by an American Loyalist, Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada John Graves Simcoe tabled the Act Against Slavery in 1793. Passed by the local Legislative Assembly, it was the first legislation to outlaw the slave trade in a part of the British Empire. Later the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 (3 & 4 Will. IV c. 73) abolished slavery in parts of the British Empire. This Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom expanded the jurisdiction of the Slave Trade Act 1807 and made the purchase or ownership of slaves illegal within the British Empire, with the exception of “the Territories in the Possession of the East India Company”, Ceylon, and Saint Helena.The Act was repealed in 1997 as a part of wider rationalization of English statute law; however, later anti-slavery legislation remains in force.”
So once again Canadians are confused and have assumed the mantle of American history. We have forgotten that slavery in the British Empire and Canada was long gone way before the American Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. The current demonstrations in Canadian cities are further examples of hysterical theater that distracts from real Canadian issues. In addition massive, inappropriate demonstrations do not help in controlling the current Covid-19 pandemic. So, as Canadians we should get the American Emancipation Proclamation into perspective and the date and event we should be celebrating is The Act Against Slavery tabled in 1793 by John Graves Simcoe.
On a related issue here is an interesting little side bar to the Abolition of Slavery story.
It’s hard to believe but it was only in 2015 that, according to the Treasury, British taxpayers finished ‘paying off’ the debt which the British government incurred in order to compensate British slave owners in 1835 because of the abolition of slavery. Abolition meant their profiteering from human misery would (gradually) come to an end. Not a penny was paid to those who were enslaved and brutalized. The British government borrowed £20 million to compensate slave owners, which amounted to a massive 40 percent of the Treasury’s annual income or about 5 percent of British GDP. The loan was one of the largest in history.
Jimmy Cobb (January 20,1929 – May 24, 2020) drummer on Miles Davis’s ‘Kind of Blue,’ Dies at 91.
New York Time Obituary, March 7, 2020 – McCoy Tyner, Jazz Piano Powerhouse, Is Dead at 81
Jimmy Cobb’s passing was a reminder of the classic Miles Davis album KIND OF BLUE recorded and released in late 1959. This album started jazz musicians down the modal path of musical improvisation and innovation.
Like wise McCoy Tyner’s passing was a reminder of that other jazz modal master piece – John Coltrane’s A LOVE SUPREME. This was a four part jazz suite recorded during December 1964 withJohn Coltrane on Tenor Sax, Elvin Jones on drums, Jimmy Garrison on bass and McCoy Tyner on piano.
As described in wikipedia: A Love Supreme is a suite with four parts: “Acknowledgement” (which includes the oral chant that gives the album its name), “Resolution”, “Pursuance”, and “Psalm”. Coltrane plays tenor saxophone on all parts. One critic has written that the album was intended to represent a struggle for purity, an expression of gratitude, and an acknowledgement that the musician’s talent comes from a higher power. Coltrane’s home Dix Hills, Long Island, may have inspired the album. Another influence may have been Ahmadiyya Islam.
The album begins with the bang of a gong (tam-tam) and cymbal washes. Jimmy Garrison enters on double bass with the four-note motif that lays the foundation of the movement. Coltrane begins a solo. He plays variations on the motif until he repeats the four notes thirty-six times. The motif then becomes the titular vocal chant “A Love Supreme”, sung by Coltrane accompanying himself through overdubs nineteen times. In the fourth and final movement, “Psalm”, Coltrane performs what he calls a “musical narration”. Lewis Porter calls it a “wordless recitation”. The devotional is included in the liner notes. Coltrane “plays” the words of the poem on saxophone but doesn’t speak them. Some scholars have suggested that this performance is an homage to the sermons of African-American preachers. The poem (and, in his own way, Coltrane’s solo) ends with the cry, “Elation. Elegance. Exaltation. All from God. Thank you God. Amen.”
To my knowledge there is no videos available of a complete Coltrane performance but there are fragments of performances scattered across YouTube. In place of that there is the excellent complete performance by the Bradford Marsalis Quartet recorded in Amsterdam in 2003.
Brandon Marsalis – Tenor Saxophone
Joey Calderazzo – Piano
Jeff Tain Watts – Drums
Eric Revis – Doublebass
This performance and the original Coltrane performance is not light weight music. It is a deeply spiritual composition and calling it intense is not and understatement. The music would not be to everyone taste. But having said that for anyone interested in jazz it is a classic recording and should be on every jazz fan’s shelf
For anyone interested in information about the music and the recording I suggest the publication A LOVE SUPREME – The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Recording by Ashley Kahn published in 2002.
While surfing the web the following item caught my eye….
Jimmy Cobb (January 20,1929 – May 24, 2020) drummer on Miles Davis’s ‘Kind of Blue,’ Dies at 91. He was the last surviving member of that landmark album’s sextet, he was a master of understatement, propelling his band mates with a quiet persistence.
It was this “blast from the past” that prompted me to revisit the album. Most Jazz fans “have the moment” imprinted on their memory of when they first heard KIND OF BLUE. For me it was during a lunch time break in a record store (remember those) in down town Sydney, Australia. In those days there were head phones or listening booths available to check out the latest releases. The radio in those days was awash with top Forty Tunes and Jazz wasn’t all that popular. Apart from late night smooth jazz radio to get one’s jazz fix you had to get it when ever and where ever you could. For me it was those lunch times listening sessions in a record store. The opening track on the album, SO WHAT, became my all time favorite Jazz composition and performance. Here is that opening track from the classic album followed by a live clip from a TV show.
While the tune in both instances is the same a discerning ear can detect distinct differences between the performances. The first clip from the recording is the classic Miles Davis Sextet of Miles Davis (trumpet), John Coltrane (Tenor Sax), Julian Adderley (Alto Sax), Paul Chambers (Bass), Jimmy Cobb (Drums) and Bill Evans (piano). The contours of the solos played by John Coltrane (tenor sax) and Miles Davis (trumpet) in both clips are similar but demonstrate the variety available within jazz performances of the same material.
The album KIND OF BLUE was recorded recorded on March 2 and April 22, 1959, at Columbia’s 30th Street Studio in New York City. It was released on August 17 of that year by Columbia Records and in the past 60 years has never been out of print. It is regarded as the best selling jazz album of all time and because of its unique approach to composition and performance it has been deemed as one of the most influential records of all times. On this album Davis followed up on his modal experimentation on his earlier Milestones album. By basing Kind of Blue entirely on modality he departed even further from his earlier work in the hard bop jazz style.
Why the recording is so important in the Jazz repertoire is that it was a radical departure from the way jazz musicians normally approached performances. Throughout the early history of Jazz up until the 50s and even later, the main stay of the Jazz repertoire was what was called THE GREAT AMERICAN SONG BOOK. It was a standard repertoire filled with the songs of Cole Porter, George Gershwin etc. Generally a performance of these songs included an instrumental statement of the tune, sometimes with variations followed by individual solos by various instrumentalists. The underlying chord structures and melody line were the basis for the improvisations that applied time honored musical devices to shape individual performances. The songs may have had mundane lyrics (moon, June, love, spoon, etc) but the melodies and the harmonic structures were (are) pretty sophisticated. Jazz musicians often ditched the standard melody and made up ones of their own. Sometimes they just used the chord progressions and came up with completely different compositions. KIND OF BLUE changed that. Instead of using chord progressions for the improvisations Miles Davis came up with a Modal approach. It was no longer necessary to play in a specific key, rather the composer could dictate a series of modes to act as basic scales for the improvisation.
“So What is one of the best examples of modal jazz music. Although improvisation takes up the majority of the piece, it does have a compelling riff that sets the piece in motion and sets up the stage harmonically for the improvisations. This riff is notable in that involves the interplay between the upright bass and the rest of the band. The antecedent phrase is played by the bass, which plays an ascending line of notes that begin with a fourth leap starting from the root note. This is followed by the “response” by the piano or rest of the band, which consists two chords that move in parallel motion downwards in answer to the bass. These chords are a whole step apart and are made up of a root, fourth, minor seventh, minor third, and fifth. The second chord-and final statement of the phrase-is an altered minor chord. This establishes the harmonic center of the piece.
Harmonically speaking, this piece is fairly simple. It is centered around the D Dorian mode, and there are no harmonic progressions other than the modulation from D Dorian to Eb Dorian, which occurs throughout the piece. The piece follows a 32 bar AABA structure, both during the melodic line and during the solos. This translates to 16 bars in D Dorian, 8 bars in Eb Dorian, and 8 bars again in D Dorian. The piece begins with a piano and bass opening with a slower tempo than the rest of piece. After this bass and piano alone play the melodic line with the drum as accompaniment. The drums serve to get the atmosphere going with a laid back, ‘cool’ atmosphere. The other instruments join in and after one chorus, each performer takes an extended solo in the following order: trumpet, tenor sax, alto sax, and piano. After the solos, the melody line is played for a chorus. The piece ends with the melody being just played with the bass and piano (with drums for accompaniment) before fading out.
The harmonic simplicity of So What gives the instrumentalists a certain freedom in their improvisations not found in other forms of jazz music. The differing creative approaches are evident in each of the different solos; for example, Miles Davis’ solo can be characterized as very melodic which is mainly focused on thoughtful phrasing whereas Coltrane uses a harder and often scalar approach, playing faster and leaving less space between his phrasings. Despite this, the atmosphere throughout So What remains mostly unchanged thanks to the vamping of the rhythm section and the careful upholding of the structure of the piece. The composition and the performance is a Jazz Masterpiece. Miles Davis was famous for approaching recording sessions with no set agenda. Just a sketch of some scales or chord progressions to be played with very loose instructions to the participants about tempo, structure and what he wanted to achieve. KIND OF BLUE and SO WHAT conform to Miles’ general approach to recording. In his later electronic explorations (BITCHES BREW, etc) he even took it further using the recording studio as a compositional tool. Literally editing, cutting and pasting and shaping the final product (I find it hard to call it a performance) to his compositional needs. Miles never dwelled on his musical past and in later years when asked about the recording he tended to be dismissive of the effort and basically had the attitude “been there done that and I have moved on”.
Modal Jazz, in some ways reaches back to earlier classical and folk music ways of playing music. It did not replace the time honored Great American Song Book, rather it opened the door to different ways of composing, playing and improvisation. FREE JAZZ, a later development in jazz performance , was another way of organizing (some would say disorganizing) the music …. no prepared structure, no set key, rhythm etc. Here in 2020 it has been around for 50 years and while is still has a significant following it remains controversial.
I have this uncalled, and I dare say sometimes unwelcome urge to educate my peer musicians in some of the finest recordings out there. I sent these clips out to friends and one response astounded me. The composition and performance was described as and interesting “song” and it kind of illustrates the difficulties modern audiences have with instrumental music. Calling SO WHAT a song is like calling Beethoven’s A minor STRING QUARTET #15 a song. We are all used to listening to “songs” but most of us have little or no educated experience with listening to instrumental compositions. As a result a large percentage of audiences have no sign posts to help them understand the music. Instrumental music is about the architecture of the piece; the use of melody, harmonic invention, rhythm and variations within all of those elements. Songs, as typified by the normal singer/song writer, and instrumental compositions in the Jazz and Classical traditions operate at two different levels and there is no way to really compare the two. Songs tend to be (not always of course) factual and concrete and generally touches our humanity with portrayals of every day circumstances and emotions. Instrumental music on the other hand tends to be more abstract and puts us in touch with music at a more mystical level.
Each musical style or school has a specific, and often unique, way of composition and performance. For instance, Arab and Middle Eastern music is based on completely different concepts of harmony, melody and rhythmic rules to western music. To understand and appreciate that music requires a re-education in the rules of the game. Similarly, Northern and Southern Indian Classical Indian that, to some extent , came from the Arabs is different again. In fact Northern and Southern Indian traditions are sufficiently different to require another re-think when moving from one tradition to the other.
Closer to home, Celtic Music is based on time honored airs and dance tunes with a large component of modal methods and a different feel to the music. Blue Grass had its origins in Celtic music but the feel is different. To my ears Blue Grass musicians do terrible things to Celtic tunes. At a Celtic music session in Dublin I once asked my daughter in law what she thought of the music. Her response was “it all sounds the same to me”. For most people that is the response to most, if not all, instrumental music …… “It all sounds the same to me”.
But with a little bit of effort it does not all have to “sound the same to me”
Post Script. Over the years there must be thousands and thousands of words examining, defining and analyzing the album KIND OF BLUE. One book of note that I can recommend is KIND OF BLUE – THE MAKING OF THE MILES DAVIS MASTERPIECE, by Ashley Kahn, Da Capo Press Books, 2000.
The cartoon above is from the Economist May 9th, 2020
J. Joseph Watson is a writer and former journalist, who has worked for daily newspapers in Ohio, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, California and Oregon. He is a graduate of the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. He wrote an article in THE DAILY GOOD titled “America’s sinking COVID-19 reality is hauntingly similar to our relationship with gun violence”
He opened the article with “Just when things seemed to be turning a corner into a slightly more optimistic future, The New York Times broke the news that “private forecasts provided by the Centers for Disease Control to the White House show a startling, distressing road ahead: 200,000 new COVID-19 infections a day in the U.S. by June 1, and 3,000 daily deaths.” He goes on to say “America’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic does have a disturbing precedent: gun violence. “Seems easy to prevent!” Times opinion columnist Charlie Warzel wrote in a series of Tweets, correctly noting that “others have!” But the strange evolution of our uniquely American notion of liberty insists that certain, select “freedoms” be allowed, unchecked and unencumbered even by common sense.The result? “I imagine that we’ll just … get used to a certain number of deaths happening as we do w/gun violence/school shootings,” Warzel wrote. Calls for stricter gun-control laws have been met with swift, vocal, often angry opposition……. Now comes COVID-19, and swift, vocal, often angry opposition that has led to shockingly large rallies to force the government to “reopen” the country despite the recommendations of doctors, scientists, public-health experts – even the White House’s own guidelines.”
(Based on current numbers and the 3,000 daily death predictions then the total death toll in the USA by June 1, 2020 could be over 150,000)
So, does this mean the USA is setting itself up for infection rates and deaths that will continue to grow virtually unchecked and what are some possible outcomes of that notion? For instance, will the Canada/US border remain closed indefinitely? On Global News today (2020/05/11) one commentator suggested that the border would remain closed for the rest of the year. The BC and Ontario Governments are on record apposing any relaxing of border controls. Will the US government pressure the Canadian government to relax the border controls and if the Canadians refuse to comply what will be the outcome? To follow that through at an international level, what if American citizens are refused entry to other countries while the pandemic rages on in the USA? After all, the USA has already set the precedent with entry refusals for non-US travelers coming from nations with covid-19 infections.
The closed border essentially kills international travel and that could last for up to two years. Some of the cruise industry companies are planning to start up in August this year. Is that realistic? Because they are committed to the life style I think “cruisers” will still book trips but will there be destination ports willing to accept ships potentially loaded with infected clients? When the pandemic hit back in March numerous ports and national administrations were unwilling to take on the burden and the risk of more corvid-19 infections landing in their ports. Even today there are still cruise ships out on the high seas with crews waiting for permission to dock.
The impact of the closed border could mean severe restrictions on the Canadian film industry. Many participants in the industry travel back and forth across the border and are they going to be quarantined every time they cross the border? Probably not. Will the Canadian government declare them essential workers and monitor them very closely? We will have to wait and see on that one.
How will the NHL deal with an indefinite closure of the border? At the moment the season has shut down and despite some hints that a solution may be in the works I can’t see how that can work. Maybe an interim plan to have a Canadian season and American season with no border crossing is a possibility. There is still a ban on mass gatherings so will they be playing in empty arenas? I can’t see that generating much fan enthusiasm. Maybe it’s time to bow to reality and cancel this season and try planning for the next season. Of course there is every possibility that the situation will not change over the next six months and there will be no 2020/21 season. The BC government is talking to the NHL about some sort of plan to get hockey in some form or other back on track but is that realistic or just wishful thinking.
So that is only one big “If” of the current status of the Covid-19 pandemic. There are many, many more to be considered. This may seem overly pessimistic but without a vaccine the reality is that the virus is going to be with us for years. The “new normal” is not going to look anything like the “old normal”. It will be different and if we can make the required adjustments it could also mean that when we hit the final “reset” the world may even be a better place.
“WE LEARNT A LOT OF LESSONS IN (the fight against) SMALLPOX. BUT ONE OF THEM IS THE ABSOLUTE NECESSITY OF COALITIONS” – William “Bill” Foege A leader of the 21 year campaign to eradicate the deadly scourge, accomplished 40 years ago today. Foege says the lengthy campaign holds lessons to the current international race for covid-19 vaccine.