and all that jazz

Summertime and the listenin’ is easy…

I’ve now entered a blissful period of creative improvization. The Birth House has gone to copy-edit and I’m feeding my soul and brain with all kinds of nifty this-and-that. (Time to go to the well and get some of that deep, clear, cold water)

To that end, I’ve been reading, researching, looking at art, taking long walks, digging around in the garden, watching movies, and listening to music.

One musical gem that has made me smile (and dance around the living room like a lounge singer from Vegas) is Paul Anka’s latest, Rock Swings. Now some of you might be saying…”Paul Anka, I thought he was dead.” Well, I’m here to tell you…he ain’t dead…not by a long shot. I’m not usually a fan of concept albums, but this one is hilarious. He’s singing covers of songs (and recreating them as he goes) that were originally performed by Spandau Ballet, REM, Nirvana, and Billy Idol (to name a few), and if I hadn’t heard them, I would have thought…YUK. The arrangements are incredible, his voice is smoooooth, and his big-band orchestra kicks it into high gear in same same fashion as the old Capitol records studio musicians that backed Sinatra. Sweet. Wailin’. Wheeeeeeee. *giggle*
My favourite tunes include: True, Wonderwall, and Smells like Teen Spirit.

I first heard of the album while listening to Sean Cullen’s summer show on CBC Radio, Simply Sean. (Don’t listen to this while in the car unless you can find a place to pull over when you laugh so hard you have to pee your pants)
A couple of Saturdays ago he played a cut from Madeleine Peyroux’s CD, Careless Love.
Oh my is she ever amazing. A tiny, beautiful white girl has swallowed up Billie and Ella…if you don’t believe me, go to her web site and listen to Dance me to the end of Love.

What’s jazz got to do with my writing?
a lot. (probably even more than my years of listening to symphonies)

In fact, my road to writing has moved along, like the circle of fifths, bringing words and music together in ways I am just now starting to understand.
Here’s a bit of the journey…

My grade 11 English teacher was Mrs. E. She was stern, with a saltine-cracker dry wit, but she had the amazing ability to read anything aloud (poetry, Shakespeare etc.) and make it sound like music. I don’t think she really liked me. Although I was one of the only students to get her references to the movie “Strange Brew” when we studied Hamlet, and despite my staying after class to tell her her pants had come unzipped and that’s why the class had broken out laughing when the bell rang, I was in the band…and she didn’t like kids in the band, especially the girls. (She’d once been married to a HS band director…)

When it came time to choose a major in University, I chose music over English.
I played my scales and sang my Vaccai’s and learned to be a proper musician.

Then one fateful night…
I discovered jazz.
I had been invited to go to Papa Joe’s Smokehouse to listen to the jazz group (Paul’s Pass the Hat Band) that played there every Thursday night. Wow. I was in love.
It was like finding faith – watching these guys play together, listening to their sense of freedom and trust.

One Thursday night I sat down with my friends and noticed there were a couple of new people sitting in with the band. A young tenor sax player named Kelly (who kind of danced with his feet while he played), an older guy on trumpet, and a woman who was standing at the side, about to take the mic to sing. Her voice was rich, with just a bit of bite to it, making everything she sang seem true and important. By the second song, I’d squinted across the hazy room and realized, it was Mrs. E!
Miles away from my little (tight-minded) hometown, she was flirting with the music (and with the trumpet player), and looking happier than I’d ever remembered her to be.

I spoke to her that night and told her how amazing I thought she was.(I’d had a few.) She just sort of shrugged it off and said it was the trumpet player’s fault…that she’d fallen for another musician, that this was her little musical fix, that at the end of the night she still had to go back home and get up the next day and teach Wordsworth to a bunch of bored-out-of-their-gourds high school students.

For a while, I flirted with singing jazz. I loved the freedom of it and eventually found the confidence to just be. (Whatever that was, wherever I was)
I guess that’s what brought me back to writing and to my love of language. It’s my fix. With a blank page and a good pen, I can sit down and let-er wail.


Remembering Jerome

Half Spent Was the Night

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