Happy Birthday

August 22, 2009

Today is the seventieth birthday of my father, Julian James Lynch George.  Happy Birthday, Dad.  I wish I could be with you today.  You don’t mind if I post these photos, do you…?

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Recent Listening

August 22, 2009

In an effort to keep myself honest, I am going to try and record for posterity (or whatever the bloggy equivalent of posterity is) every CD I purchase from now on.  I am sure that my wife must look at all the entries for “amazon.com” on our credit card statement and wonder what on earth I’ve been buying.  Well, mainly books, actually.  But some music, too.  It will be interesting to see whether my public confessions lessen the guilt I feel every time I tear open another one of those little brown parcels that the nice UPS man delivers.  Probably not.  Still, maybe this will at least get her to read my blog so she’ll know what I’ve been up to.

Movements in Colour

So, anyway, first up: Andy Sheppard, Movements in Colour (ECM).

I’ve always liked Andy Sheppard.  He rose to prominence at the end of the 80s as one of the young British lions of jazz.  His first album, an eclectic, intense and rather beautiful affair which featured Randy Brecker on some tracks to excellent effect, still gets plenty of play time on my CD player.  I was on my way to see him play in Marlborough with my then girlfriend (this would have been in 1990, I think) when she crashed her car, skidding off the road in the rain.  We missed the gig, which upset me.  But I digress.

Sheppard’s sound is still instantly recognizable – nimble and fat-toned on tenor, sweet and wispy on soprano.  He has been playing with Carla Bley for some years – I especially liked this recording.  This CD is his first release on the ECM label.  Unusually, he uses two guitarists on the recording (Eivind Aarset and John Parricelli), but perhaps the most noticeable presence other than the leader’s is that of Tablaist Kuljit Bhamra.  The percussionist, accomplished though he obviously is, seemed a little high in the mix for my taste, and all those eastern-tinged rhythms had the unfortunate effect of making many of the tracks sound rather similar.

There is much to admire here.  Themes are simple and spare and often beautiful; Sheppard is as snappy and propulsive as ever on the faster numbers, and his ballad playing is gorgeous and liquid.  The band is excellent, of course, Parricelli in particular.  And yet I couldn’t help wondering when things were going to take off.  Overall it left me rather unmoved.

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Oh dear.  I rue the day I discovered the Mosaic Records website.  I want everything they sell.  They (beautifully) repackage and reissue old and often neglected recordings of both superstars and lesser-known artists, all with the same love and attention to detail.  Liner notes are superb.  On the really sexy boxed sets (like the Lester Young and Count Basie treasure trove, above) they produce vast, wonderful books with history, track-by-track analysis, and glorious photos, to boot.  There is nothing better than curling up on the sofa to listen to this stuff for a few hours.

The Young/Basie boxed set is glorious.  Young is perhaps the quintessential jazz icon – a certified musical genius, certainly, but almost as well known for his vulnerabilities and strange idiosyncrasies.  He was a quite different player from, say, Coleman Hawkins – less muscular and altogether more elliptical in his approach to rhythms and harmonies.  His improvisations were supple and brilliantly unpredictable.    It was his unique melodic conception and a focus on the sound he made with his horn that made him such an influential figure.  His stint in the Basie band represented here, from 1936 to 1940, was in many ways the making of him, and the 84 tracks on these four CDs are an absolute joy.  In addition to Prez, there are also the unending delights offered by the drumming of Jo Jones, Basie’s laconic piano, and one of the swingingest bands there ever was.  Throw in knowledgeable and voluminous notes on every track by Loren Schoenberg, and it’s hard to know how this could have been bettered.  Priceless.


Inspiring Quote About Inspiration

August 21, 2009

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When asked if he wrote to a regular schedule, or just when he was struck by inspiration, Somerset Maugham answered, “I write only when inspiration strikes.  Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”

Clever man.

If you sit around waiting for inspiration to strike before you begin writing, guess what?  Inspiration will toddle off and do something else.  You’ll be too busy doing other things to notice when it comes tapping on your shoulder.

Of course, inspiration most probably didn’t strike every morning.  But Maugham knew that unless he showed up for his appointment, it never would.

Establish a routine for your writing – one that’s workable – and then stick to it.


Death Becomes Me

August 20, 2009

All of my previous books have taken place over a relatively short time period, and one of the things I wanted to do with my new novel was to try something altogether bigger in scope and subject matter.  But I hadn’t realized until I was well into the book is that there is a severe drawback to writing a story that takes place over an extended period of time (just over a century, in this case): people have to die.  And it is my job to kill ’em off.

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Despite the rampant megalomania inherent in the act of making up stories, I’ve found this to be a surprisingly tough gig.  As you live with characters and watch them grow, it’s hard not to become quite fond of them (even the bastards – perhaps especially the bastards.)  And it’s only with extreme reluctance that I’ve consigned them all to their various fates, sorry to see them go.

You can’t just have them expire from old age, either.  Most unprofessional, don’t you know.  So in this book there is death by: enemy sniper fire, arson, drowning (twice), hanging (suicide), lynching, massive stroke, cycling off the edge of a cliff, Parkinson’s disease, and myocardial infarction brought on by a malfunctioning pituitary gland (you’ll just have to trust me on that last one.)  The only person who does die of old age is 106.  If you’re going to do it, do it properly, I say.

It may be wearisome, this endless trudge of death, but I suspect (or hope) that all those morbid endings contribute hugely to the book’s vitality.  After all, a life lived without fear of death is not much of a life at all.

Flashy New Design Coming Soon

August 19, 2009

Watch this space.  With the help of a certified internet genius, I have been working to upgrade this site from humdrum-but-free wordpress.com to the swankier-and-not-free wordpress.org, which allows me more flexibility with lay-out, design, and so forth.  I hope you will find the site easier to navigate and enjoy.  With a bit of luck, it will also be easier to find.  I’m lookin’ to get me some Google-love.

Anyway, this all should be coming soon.  I predict a few more grey hairs in the process, but hey, we all have to suffer for our, uh, art.


Welcome Back, Jazz Times

August 18, 2009

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Nice surprise waiting for me at home yesterday afternoon – a copy of Jazz Times was delivered in the mail, with none other than my man Joe Lovano on the cover.  The magazine had ceased production earlier this year and at the time there was much mourning and chin-scratching in the jazz blogosphere about the financial viability of small-interest publications in these times.  Some were a little sniffy about the mag and the direction it was going in, but I have always loved it, not least for their trinity of regular columnists, Gary Giddens, Nate Chinen, and the incomparable Nat Hentoff.  Call me a Luddite, but much as I surf the net for jazz nuggets, there’s nothing quite like sitting down with a magazine and reading the thing cover to cover.  So, welcome back, we’re pleased to see you.  Do us all a favor, and hang around, would you?


Back to School

August 18, 2009

My friend Tim wondered yesterday whether the Facebook servers would be able to cope with the massive surge of back-to-school photographs that would be uploaded in the forthcoming days.  So I’m ignoring FB and posting mine here.  Goofiness, ahoy.

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And no, this post has nothing to do with writing, or reading, or publishing, or music, or any of the things that this blog is supposed to be about.  If you want a hint as to what it might be doing here, you could do worse than read this earlier post about How Blogging Works.