Thursday, December 6, 2007

Cool Jazz Rooms

"Jazz Memories" by Various Artists, is a stellar introduction to the Ultimate Jazz Experience—Whether you're relatively new to jazz, like me, or a dyed in the wool blue note aficionado, this compilation is an extraordinary 20-year retrospective of jazz history with some of the best works from the golden age of jazz.

The double album collection features jazz divas including Billie Holiday crooning My Man, Sarah Vaughan's Embraceable You, and Ella Fitzgerald's sultry How Long Has This Been Going On—all national jazz treasures. A real surprise was Dinah Washington's Easy Living. I've only heard her warhorse renditions and it was refreshing to hear her sing a sweet ballad.

Then we have the jazz immortals "Satchmo" Louis Armstrong viscerally trumpeting us through Dixieland with Dear Old Southland, and Count Basie's bebop rendition of Shoe Shine Boy; while on the other side of the jazz continuum, we've got Stan Getz tickling the ivories, Thelonious Monk's classic Blue Monk as well as Duke Ellington's Lotus Blossom. And then there's the cerebral Miles Davis' groundbreaking Tune-Up (say, is that 'Trane on the sax?).

"Jazz Memories" is yet another Amie Street solid gold sleeper. I love the fact that we get to hear such a wide range of music on Amie Street Music—from new indie artist hot off the press, er, Garageband—to fabulous vinyl classics that I would never otherwise listen to. It made me curious and want to know more about these musicians. (Keep an eye out for a copy of Herman Leonard's companion book which has some great stories about the musicians.)

I was surprised to learn that the longest track on the album, Tune-up, which, at first I found difficult to connect to, was really two songs in one. About 4 minutes in, When the Lights are Low kicks in and it's sonorously beautiful with several solos.

From what I can glean, the track Tune-Up/When the Lights are Low is from Miles Davis' groundbreaking 1956 Prestige album, Cookin' With the Miles Davis Quintet.

There's a great backstory attached to the Prestige label—it seems that Miles had to fulfill his Prestige contract with new work and so he just kept jammin' with his newly formed quintet.

The music Miles' quintet produced during the 24-hour marathon mother of all jammin' sessions was so hot, it resulted in three groundbreaking albums including the last one Cookin'—which also debuted My Funny Valentine. Whether it's Rollins or Trane on the mellifluous sax is moot, it's still all pure Miles on the trumpet and it put both Davis and Coltrane on the map.

These are all clean tracks of major hits from the major jazz label vaults—not muddied side B recordings. Blue Monk is my personal fave and Art Tatum's Willow Weep For Me is a close second. No, make it Frenesi, no, make it St. Thomas...aww, just buy the whole album. I suspect we'll be seeing some more compilation albums from this label in the near future.

An aside, I noticed that some tracks seem to cut out early, most noticeably Jitterbug Waltz and My Man. But then I had trouble downloading the album and had to download it song by song. You can hear some faint hissing on Blue Monk but considering when it was recorded, it's pretty clean. I checked Tune-up against another
download music services and the Amie Street track is definitely cleaner, clearer, brighter.

As I sad earlier, jazz is not normally my forte, so I was delighted to find how accessible and personable the album was with its collage of songs with just the right juxtaposition of cerebral and visceral. "Jazz Memories" is one of those rare albums that opens up new rooms in your head.

                         —Maureen Hurley
© 2007 12/9/2007 for Amie Street Music

go to Amie Street News to read the review.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Tristano & Son (Amie Street)

NB: A double album called "Jazz Memories" came up on Amie Street Music. For pennies a song, I downloaded a veritable candy store of music: 31 tracks from the gods of jazz. And I'm not even a big jazz fan. Celtic music is more my thing. But "Jazz Memories" is an extraordinary compilation from the great jazz masters including jazz divas Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, with jazz legends "Satchmo" Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington, to name a few. These are all clean tracks of major hits from major labels—not muddied side B recordings. What's not to like?

go to Amie Street News to read the review in situ. (Alas, Amie Street is no more—bought up by Amazon.)

Seeing the name Lennie Tristano on the track, "Judy" (perhaps named for Lennie's vocalist Judy Niemack?) startled me. My grade school classmate Steve Tristano's mom was named Judy too so the name Tristano took me down memory lane and I found myself enthusiastically recommending it on Amie Street despite the fact that I know nothing about jazz—which landed me a guest blog spot on Amie Street! I'm pretty jazzed by the whole thing. (Pardon the pun on oh so many levels!)

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Back to the Tristano memory lane: since my grade school classmate Adair Daley (Lara) is off somewhere writing about her childhood days growing up in Lagunitas, and it looks like I'll have to wait for the next high school reunion in 2010 to see her as her SF Chronicle email bounces—by then, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt, that even more of our gray cells will be severely challenged—I thought I'd better contribute a few Lagunitas memories of my own to the great sphere of blogdada art now while I can still remember most of it.




In the late '50s, I went to Lagunitas School in the San Geronimo Valley out in the wilds of West Marin in Northern California with many interesting, if not downirght quirky characters—including Lennie Tristano's son, Steve.

During recess, after a jazz assembly performance by stride pianist Ralph Sutton (Pete's dad), we found ourselves alone in the classroom, and Steve went over to the piano to strut his stuff.

We weren't allowed to touch the old carved oak upright so this was pretty big deal. Steve opened the lid (we gasped at his audacity) and then he gave it an experimental trill. Soon Steve was honkeytonking tunes on that piano for us like "Tea for Two" and Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag," and he played the rockingist "Boogie Woogie" you ever heard.

What was amazing (in retrospect) was that Steve played all these songs by ear. We'd certainly never heard it before. I thought it was perfectly normal that some kid could pound out music like that. What did I know? I wasn't even eight years old yet. The ivories trilled. Steve pounded it down. The ebonies remembered their tropical homeland.

We could literally see the cenozoic dust motes rising up and in the sun from the top of that old blond upright piano that never played anything racier than "America the Beautiful," or "The Star Spangled Banner."

Eight-year-old Steve, the jazz piano prodigy, was standing on the piano bench hammering out a series of his famous father's locked "hand progression chords" by ear—this was long before the other piano man Elton John even knew there was an Elvis. We were all dancing and rocking out in that classroom like American Bandstand—not that we had TV reception in The Valley. When Steve arpeggioed the keys, I thought for sure the floor was gonna open up and swallow us whole for sinnin' like that.

Classmate Taydie (Helen) Bostwick was a dyed in the wool Elvis fan‚ she even had her hair cut and greased back like Elvis so she haughtily sniffed at our gyrations, shoving her glasses up the bridge of her nose with her bird finger because there could be only one King and Elvis was it. Amen.

To be fair, we used to listen to Elvis records at Taye's grannie's house above the Lagunitas store after school. Taye's grannie talked kinda funny but she was from the South, maybe Memphis. Even we could see there was no love lost between Taye's grandmother and her son-in-law, Charles, who was quite the acculturated New England antique snob—replete with a faux accent.

But this boogie woogie that Steve played was visceral, electrifying. We were mesmerized. Come to think of it, Taye might have finked on us. Last I heard she was in an all cowgirl band in Vegas or Reno—in search of the Flying Elvises, I suppose.

When the recess bell rang, our 2nd grade teacher, the matronly, rotund Miss Burge stormed into the classroom and had a fit of absolute and anacreontic apoplexy—replete with vibrato shriek (she was also the school music teacher).

I guess Miss Burge could hear us down the hall. Miss Burge surveyed the scene and turned red, then spidery purple, her fleshy jowls trembling with rage as she closed the piano lid and she checked for damage.

The air resonated with a harmonic flock of hidden notes and they landed in her stiff beehive coifed blonde hair—gone all awry. We were even more mesmerized by the extraordinary sight of Miss Burge coming undone like that. Truly a memorable day all around.

The piano survived Steve's musical onslaught but the damage was already done deep inside all of us. We were Boogie Woogied by the blind piano man's son. We experienced a religious bop-tism by fire.

That moment we could never go back to who we were, amorphic, unformed and unsophistocated kids shoehorned into the adult nostalgia of an invented childhood a la Robert Lewis Stevenson's "A Child's Garden of Verses."

Sadly, Miss Burge did NOT see Steve's obvious inherited talent. She did not reward his gift. Punishment was her forte. And so she played her heavy hand at that. Steve was undaunted. He had his own music locked deep inside a fortress no one could penetrate.

Steve lived in Lagunitas near his grandmother's house. I lived with my grandmother on the border between Lagunitas and Forest Knolls. I used to get Steve's mother Judy all mixed up with Scott Weaver's mother. They looked so alike with their curly raven hair and they were both kindly women. At least to me.

Scott's mom made doughnuts from scratch...the most heavenly concoctions on earth. How she found the time to make doughnuts with all those kids running loose was a major miracle. One winter afternoon I was riding my horse through the hills and found myself trespassing in their back yard on the lower slopes of Mount Barnabe.

Mrs. Weaver invited me into the kitchen and I ate fresh doughnuts dusted with granules of sugar. I forgot that I was miles from home destined to riding the lonely tree caverned fire trails in pitch darkness with an overactive imagination. Luckily my sensible horse could see the way home. But that's another story.

It was a long walk home from the school too and cars were rare in The Valley, so if there was an event at the school, we sometimes hitched rides home with the Suttons and Tristanos. Pete's mom, Chuck (Charlene) Sutton who could sit on her long blonde hair, drove an old two-tone gray-green VW bus and countless kids could pile into it. It was handy when she lived on our road.

I used to visit the Suttons when I was young as there weren't many kids to play with on Arroyo Road and I was madly in love with Pete by age six. He was tall and blond, like a viking. I guess Chuck was seeing Grover Sales the art critic in those days because Pete's dad Ralph Sutton was a jazz musician in New York. I only found that out decades later 'coz Grover Sales had written a dedication to Chuck on a poetry book of Lew Welch's but that REALLY is another story.

The Suttons moved to Lagunitas up the hill near the Tristanos which meant for me, a longer walk home. I only went to that house on the hill a few times. It was dark and gloomy under the dank redwoods. I didn't like it. Then I got too shy to visit but I often rode by their place on my horse.

But I do remember meeting the blind piano man Lennie Tristano at the Lagunitas Store. In those days, I had a curious notion: I thought you had to be blind to play the piano as Scott Weaver's older brother, Kent, the Valley piano tuner, was also blind.

When a well-meaning neighbor offered us her old piano, I said No! and hastily took up the guitar in order to preserve my eyesight because I was going to be an artist when I grew up. We were wise enough to know that the adult world was full of contradictions. However, Steve had two perfectly good eyes to see with. So that theory was shot down. Fine eyes they were, he had his father's strong dark eyebrows. And he could play the piano like he was born to it.

We all lived charmed lives. Then the 60s happened... Steve found oblivion in a needle. Last time I saw him was at the Forest Knolls bus stop, really the old train depot. He boarded the magic bus, maybe he saw something on the horizon and like so many of our generation, he never came back.

I heard Steve went to the great beyond, others say he resurfaced somewhere in Oregon. Hard to sort out the truths from the half-truths but any which way you think it, he was a casualty of the drug wars.

Steve's best friend, Pete Sutton was in our grade too. They were thick as thieves with Johnny Kaufman and Scott Huntsman. No room there for girls. Just like their fathers.

Alas, their fathers, Tristano & Sutton may have been great jazz legends, rightfully repatriated and posthumously inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame, but they were among the vast army of invisible fathers... I saw them maybe once or twice.

We children of the Beat Generation were all mostly fatherless living out so far from town. We grew strong like the women who raised us. We marched to our own drum. Some marched farther than others, and never came back.



© 2007 Maureen Hurley

Note Bene: after the Amie Street article appeared, I heard from musician Guy Tristano—Steve's half-brother—from Lennie's 2nd family back East, who filled me in on some of Steve's back story. Molto bene!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Landscapes, wet pastels (art) 2007

I'm posting all my 2007 wet pastel landscapes at the end of December, though they were done over the course of a year, most were done during the fall of 2007.

Wet chalk and wet construction paper pastels: these are mostly 6x9" in-class demos. Some are 9x12". Many are experiments, or are not finished. If I don't finish them in class, I can't go back and finish them when the paper's dry as they're generally far too fragile to re-wet and add details. I usually only have about 10-15 minutes to complete a pastel as I have to teach the kids too!

This lesson evolved when my after-school art kids asked if they could do chalk pastels. I wasn't wild about the idea as I like more painterly colors, etc. But I also love to draw. So we did some pastels and I was disappointed in our results. I noticed that one child developed a cough from inhaling the chalk dust. (It bothers me too). His mother insisted it was only a cold (I think she was afraid I wasn't going to let him participate as he totally loved art). But.... I wondered: how can I reduce the chalk dust? Water. When I worked at a horse training stables, we used to sprinkle the indoor arena sand to keep dust levels down.

I discovered a technique of wetting both paper and chalk and it's akin to painting with sticks of chalk. (I've used both oil sticks and Aquerelle watercolor crayon sticks so it was a natural progression. With the Aquarelles, I weted the stiff morilla board first, or sprayed it with water after the crayon was applied. But I didn't want to use white paper for chalk pastels—besides, morilla board is astronomically expensive to use in the classroom.

So I experimented with all kinds of paper and the ONLY paper that would work was my former school painting/drawing nemesis, construction paper. It has a tooth (texture the chalk needs to adhere to) and the glue that holds the woodpulp together softens and the chalk adheres directly to it. Riverside acid free construction paper works best. Most schools have the worst grade cheap construction paper, but it will work, though it's more fragile and will easily tear.

An added bonus of using chalk wet, the colors are more painterly and vibrant. Cheap kid chalk or hopscotch chalk generally won't work, it's often too hard and will tear the paper, but the heavy teacher white chalkboard chalk is a perfect blending tool with a buttery consistency when wet.

We add black details with the waterbase stabillo pencils at the end of the session. (I also remove black chalk from the pastel sets). Pieces are very fragile until the construction paper dries. I put them on paper towels and in a sunlit window to dry.

Adult pastel sets often have toxic chemicals in them—like vermillion, cadmium and cobalt. Don't use them with kids! make sure the chalks have non-toxic AP labels.


Chalk pastel on construction paper, 6x9" or 9 x 12".




Landscapes, wet pastels (art) 2013
Landscapes, wet pastels (art) 2012
Landscapes, wet pastels (art) 2011
Landscapes, wet pastels (art) 2008
Still life (art) 2007

When this piece dried it was much lighter.
After Monet


The color fades as they dry 




One of my first pieces





Still life (art) 2007

Drawn at Cleveland Elementary School, in-class demos. Wet pastel. Probably Fall, 2007.