Friday, December 30, 2011

The Music Within Me – By Some Musicians Who Left Us in 2011

In my college dorm in 1962 one of my vinyl records was San Francisco Scene by George Shearing. The album is long gone, but one of my sons-in-law retrieved it from the ether last week. Because the album never made it to cd (except in a huge collection of all of Shearing’s recorded live performances), this electronica even has the pops and hisses of the original record. How odd it is to re-live feelings from 50 years ago. He died this year at 91.

I am amazed at how unsophisticated I was; how much I didn’t know and understand when I was young. I heard the Modern Jazz Quartet in ‘63 and “didn’t get it.” My granddaughter is approaching 4 years old and is absorbing all she can of this world which is still new to her, and yet she will not be able to keep up. I think she is doing better than I did. I lived too much in my head and not enough in the outer world. It’s a way of engaging with the world. I wanted to examine things within and not pursue them by seeking out other people or going other places. Ah, the senior years are time for reflection and a new kind of meaning making.

Moving ahead a few years, I am in a coffee shop on N. Dubuque St. In Iowa City. The Swingle Singers are jazzing up some Bach in the background. Why didn't I run off to Paris?? I have re-aquainted myself with them this year and learned that the soprano with the clear, vibrant voice, floating above the harmonies was Christiane LeGrand, sister of Michel LeGrand. She died in November at 81.

I researched her family and learned that their father was Raymond LeGrand, who had an orchestra in the ‘30's and ‘40's. I can't seem to embed the video but check out "Raymond Legrand et son Orchestre & Irène de Trébert filmés en 1942" for a film clip of Raymond from war time Paris. I especially like the feathers as snow clogging and then unclogging all the instruments.) What a surprise to learn that Raymond had been a student of Gabriel Faure. (Musical genealogy is tres interesante, such as Dave Brubeck attending Mills College in Oakland after the war, and having as a teacher, Darius Milaud.)

The songs of Lieber and Stoller ("Stand By Me," "Hound Dog," "Jailhouse Rock," "Young Blood," "On Broadway," "Yakety-Yak," etc.) accompanied my youth. Jerry Lieber died this year at 78.

I could write at great length about these folks who left us this year, but I will only name others who meant something special to me:
Phoebe Snow died at 60, her career shortened by her decision to care at home for her severely mentally impaired daughter.

You all know John Barry’s  movie themes (77).

And Clarence Clemmons (69) was more familiar to us, especially if we spent any time at the shore in Jersey.

If you ever heard Count Basie, you have heard Frank Foster (lead tenor sax player and a song writer for the band, which he later led, at 82).

Only in recent years have I been learning to appreciate Margaret Whiting's clear voice, who died at 87.

There are many I won’t mention because they weren’t on my playlist, such as Amy Whitehouse. And let’s think about all those artists who struggled and didn’t become famous, or like Tom Garvin, who worked in the background and aren’t well known. He accompanied many great singers like Peggy Lee and Diane Shurr, wrote music for the Doc Severinson’s Tonight Show band, struck out on his own and won aclaim in LA as a jazz pianist. He was 67.

I have noted the age of people when they died. This is because I am 67 and thinking about death more and more. It could happen at any time or not for another 20-30 years. I want to think it through in 2012 so that I can tell my family how not to think of my death. What I have so far isn’t much: We simply live the years of our lives, however long or short. We cannot say what might have been or should have been. An appropriate expression of our times is – “It is what it is.” It’s OK. It’s all tragic. We’re all special, but mostly important only to a few. When they are gone we really will be gone. So live for life - Michel LeGrand wrote that - “Yesterday’s a memory, gone for good, forever, while tomorrow is a guess.” Well, l’existentialisme aside, we should try to learn from the past and try to contribute to tomorrow, while we live for today.


Gary Davis said...

Death is important because like the day we were born the day of our death marks a boundary. First we were there and then we were not. Wittgenstein taught me that boundaries are important for they make it possible to reckon the significance of our lives. Tom and Huck discovered that; see:

Imagining my death is a healthy, not morbid, exercise. Some Puritans made their coffins in advance and practiced sleeping in them while they imagined the day when their lives on earth would be over.

Reverend Sax said...

Good reflections. Never quite understood Wittgenstein. Will not make my own coffin, but will write a living will.

I forgot Tom's funeral! But I often read the maudlin poem by Emmeline...

And did young Stephen sicken,
And did young Stephen die?
And did the sad hearts thicken,
And did the mourners cry?

No; such was not the fate of
Young Stephen Dowling Bots;
Though sad hearts round him thickened,
'Twas not from sickness' shots.

No whooping-cough did rack his frame,
Nor measles drear, with spots;
Not these impaired the sacred name
Of Stephen Dowling Bots.

Despised love struck not with woe
That head of curly knots,
Nor stomach troubles laid him low,
Young Stephen Dowling Bots.

O no. Then list with tearful eye,
Whilst I his fate do tell.
His soul did from this cold world fly,
By falling down a well.

They got him out and emptied him;
Alas it was too late;
His spirit was gone for to sport aloft
In the realms of the good and great.