Kendra Steiner Editions

March 31, 2019

Miles Davis, “First Miles” (Savoy Jazz LP/CD)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 2:40 pm

“FIRST MILES,” MILES DAVIS

SAVOY JAZZ LP, issued in 1988

later reissued on CD by Denon/Nippon Columbia as part of their Savoy Jazz reissue series (see my comments on the JAZZ REFLECTIONS COMPLETER DISC elsewhere on blog)–presently available digitally from Savoy’s current owner, Concord Music (part of the Universal Music conglomerate, Concord purchased Savoy in 2017, bringing one of the last great indie labels nor under the control of one of the mega-conglomerates now under their control). However, copies of the various CD’s and the original LP of this are available cheap, and you should own one of those as Phil Schaap’s exhuastive liner notes are superb, as always….and why not get a physical artifact if you are going to pay for this music.

The running order and indexing differs on the original LP and original Japanese CD issues. The LP puts the Rubberlegs Williams sessions on side one, and with the Parker/Davis material on side two, each false start and separate take is banded separately. On the CD (which is what I presently own–I sold off the LP maybe 15 years ago), the Parker/Davis material is presented first, and false starts and incomplete takes are presented together with a completed take as one track.

Credits on 1992 Denon/Savoy Jazz CD

Tracks 1–8, Miles Davis All-Stars, August 14, 1947, Harry Smith Studios, NYC

Miles Davis – trumpet

Charlie Parker – tenor sax

John Lewis – piano

Nelson Boyd – bass

Max Roach – drums

1              Milestones – First Take 1 / Master Take 2

2              Milestones – Take 3

3              Little Willie Leaps – First Take 1 / Alt. Take 2

4              Little Willie Leaps – Master Take 3

5              Half Nelson – Alt. Take 1

6              Half Nelson – Master Take 2

7              Sippin’ At Bells – First Take 1 / Master Take 2

8              Sippin’ At Bells – First Take 3 / Alt. Take 4


Tracks 9–16 Herbie Fields Band with Rubberlegs Williams, April 24, 1945, WOR Studios, NYC

Rubberlegs Williams – vocals

Miles Davis – trumpet

Herbie Fields – tenor sax, clarinet

Teddy Brannon – piano

Leonard Gaskin – bass

Ed Nicholson – drums

9              That’s The Stuff You Gotta Watch – Alt. Take 1

10           That’s The Stuff You Gotta Watch – Alt. Take 2

11           That’s The Stuff You Gotta Watch – Master Take

12           Pointless Mama Blues

13           Deep Sea Blues

14           Bring It On Home – First Take 1

15           Bring It On Home – Alt. Take 2

16           Bring It On Home – Master Take 3

 

first miles

I first heard of Rubberlegs Williams though the oft-reissued session where he was backed by Charlie Parker, a session that was infamous for someone spiking Williams’ coffee with Benzadrine, causing a wild performance on the vocalist’s part. I did not know until reading his Wikipedia entry while researching this post that RW was a well-known teetotaler and non-smoker, so doping his drink was doubly outrageous and unexpected. Williams might be best known to jazz and blues fans as a recording artist, now a footnote to the careers of Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, but he was best known in the 30’s and 40’s as a nightclub star and amazing dancer. He played major African-American venues of the day, including the Cotton Club and Small’s Paradise (the former, of course, associated with Duke Ellington, the latter with Charlie Johnson and then Fletcher Henderson), and he made a mind-blowing Vitaphone short (as one of SMALL’S PARADISE ENTERTAINER) in 1933 called SMASH YOUR LUGGAGE, which showcases his virtuoso dancing. Surely, no act dared follow the aptly-named Rubberlegs Williams onstage. You can watch (as of 3/2019) that short here:

Smash Your Baggage, 1933 Vitaphone Short

rubberlegs

These 1945 Rubberlegs Williams sides were Miles Davis’ first recordings, though he does not solo on them–saxophonist/leader Herbie Fields is the featured soloist. Williams is obviously a man whose recordings reflect his “act” but he is able to adapt that “act” to the recording studio well. His collected sessions (though not the outtakes from the Savoy sessions presented here, only the master takes), 16 songs, are available on a Spanish CD from the Blue Moon label, OBSCURE BLUES SHOUTERS VOLUME 2 (pictured below), which should not be hard to find in the $10-12 range on Discogs. Some will be reminded of a smoother-voiced Scatman Crothers, though I would certainly recognize Williams if I were presented with a session of his I’d not heard before.

obscure 2

R&B and blues sideman gigs were a good source of pocket money for jazz musicians, who seem to have been far less interested in divisive labels than music writers were. Also, many would argue that having one foot in the blues would give any musician’s playing more grit and gravitas. I can’t imagine later players such as Albert Ayler or Rev. Frank Wright sounding the way they did without their early years playing in R&B bands (let’s not forget Coltrane’s time in Eddie Cleanhead Vinson’s band either–I can ALWAYS hear a blues base in Coltrane’s sound). As this is a small group, Davis can be heard clearly paired with saxophonist Fields, though only Fields solos. Williams has the timing and phrasing of a seasoned vaudeville performer (he reminds me at times of Tim “Kingfish” Moore), though a supple approach and varied technique on the four songs here that shows he understands how to use a recording studio. His approach to the different takes is quite varied too, especially on the classic “That’s The Stuff You’ve Got To Watch,” which is taken as a mellow blues but also as a semi-rapped performance piece. It’s top shelf R&B all around, and I wonder if we’d have gotten these false starts and alternate takes released if Miles Davis was not on them…so we should be thankful that he was on them as any lover of 40’s R&B will treasure these sides, and Davis–though not actually “featured”–has a lovely muted tone, steeped in the blues, and is clearly audible.

 

parker and davis

Parker and Davis at the Royal Roost 1948

While the Rubberlegs Williams recordings were Davis’ first as a sideman, the 1947 session with Charlie Parker was, I’m told, his first as a leader. All four compositions are credited to Davis, and all feature his employer Charlie Parker on tenor, not on his usual alto saxophone. In Phil Schaap’s liner notes, producer Teddy Reig explains that this was done for two reasons: to get around a claim from Dial Records that Parker was under contract to Dial (though Savoy also had a contract that supposedly pre-dated Dial’s), probably with the thought that his distinctive sound would be slightly less distinctive on a tenor than on an alto); and that Reig enjoyed when Parker played tenor in the Earl Hines Orchestra, but that work was never documented in a studio recording, and Reig thought his tenor work should be. As for the music, for me, ANY pure bebop recordings made during the music’s golden age, circa 1945-1948, are precious, and these pieces, done at mid-tempo and not at the breakneck pace of some other bebop pieces (including a number of Parker’s), have a laid-back coolness to them, with the usual free-flowing, spiraling, off-kilter but perfectly balanced and resistant to gravity–as in a Picasso sculpture. Davis had charts for the pieces and also had John Lewis (later of Modern Jazz Quartet fame) on piano–whom Davis had encouraged Parker to hire for their working band, but the Bird would not. Because of Davis’ leadership and compositions, and because of Parker being on tenor, the four pieces are quite distinctive in the work of Parker for that era. And let’s not forget Max Roach’s playing–never calling attention to himself but like Kenny Clarke in this era working with subtle changes in flow, largely on the cymbals, to shade and color the music in a way that you can listen to the pieces and tune out the front line and just pay attention to Roach (as you can with Clarke, pretty much any time in his career). Each one exists in between two and four takes, not all complete, so there are twelve attempts at the four pieces. These Davis-Parker selections alone would be worth the price of the album.

half nelson

This is an album I have treasured for decades, both on LP and on CD. It features lesser-known prime material from two of the richest veins of 1940’s African-American music, bebop and R&B, and demonstrates the overlap of these genres. The fact that they also feature Miles Davis in his initial sessions as a sideman and a leader is just icing on the cake, a delicious cake!

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March 13, 2019

Charlie Parker Records–The Complete Collection (30-CD set, Membran, Germany)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 7:27 pm

CHARLIE PARKER RECORDS: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION

30-CD set reissuing 46 original LP’s on “Charlie Parker Records”

Membran Records box set, Germany, released circa 2012

original LP’s released circa 1961-1965

presently (3/2019), new copies can be found for as little as $40 on Discogs

CP 1This massive, budget-label collection came and went without too much fanfare back in 2012, although jazz discussion lists gave it some attention. On some level, it’s an outrageous collection–who out there was actually clamoring for a 30-CD box set devoted to a label that clogged the cut-out racks of the late 60’s and early 70’s, a label that was devoted to live airchecks of Charlie Parker and Lester Young, and reissues of obscure West Coast jazz sessions, and obscure then-new albums of shadowy provenance?

I was not clamoring for this–how could I have even imagined that any label would issue it!–but I’m certainly happy it’s out, and I wanted to alert you to its existence while it can still be gotten for less than $1.50 a CD.

The “Charlie Parker Records” label was not started by Parker himself, and it did not consist of just Parker music. Parker is featured on all or part of only 15 of the 30 CD’s here (one of which is under Miles Davis’ name). The other 15 are a diverse lot, some of which is not even remotely similar to the kind of music Parker recorded. However, every album IS interesting in one way or another, and for many people (myself included), the label has a special place in their hearts.

The label was started by Parker’s widow Doris and legendary music entrepreneur Aubrey Mayhew, perhaps best known today for the Little Darlin’ label and the incredible series of over-the-top REAL country records he made with Johnny Paycheck, which STILL shock listeners today. Doris Parker wanted to combat the live bootleg LP’s that were coming out of her late husband’s work and worked with music-biz pro Mayhew to make that happen. In that way, it resembles RCA’s starting the all-Elvis ‘Follow That Dream’ label to combat bootlegs….and also the Hendrix family’s “Experience Hendrix” imprint to protect Jimi Hendrix’s memory. Doris Parker passed away in 2000, and Aubrey Mayhew in 2009, so neither can tell the true story of the label at this point. What I can tell you is that in the period of 1970-1974, a dozen or two LP’s on the Charlie Parker label were floating around in the cut-out racks for 99 cents, and they seemed to be recently pressed. It was somewhat similar to the repressings of various Vee-Jay albums one saw in cut-out racks in that same period (in the latter case, a certain former Vee-Jay executive was believed to have had these unauthorized pressings made cheaply and dumped them on to the unregulated secondary market–I got at least 5-6 Jimmy Reed albums, 3 John Lee Hooker albums, and both Beatles albums (with essentially the same material) that way circa 1972). Of course, it’s possible that mint copies of the Parker albums sat in a warehouse for 6-8 years–I wasn’t there, so I don’t know definitively. In any event, as a youngster between the ages of 12-14, when I did not have a lot of money but had a deep hunger for quality jazz, I bought many of the Parker and Lester Young albums on the label, played them zillions of times, and internalized their contents. In fact, I owned the CP label’s Parker and Young albums before I ever owned any studio recordings by either man! And the excitement of these live performances, saved by people recording live broadcast off the air (so-called “airchecks”), got me heavily into both “Bird” and “Prez.” When ESP-Disk issued more live LP’s of Charlie Parker in the mid-70’s, I was totally ready for them because of the Charlie Parker Records discs I’d owned and played for years. I even played them for my parents. I can remember my mother popping her head into the basement, where I listened to records, with a smile on her face, and asking me, “is that The Bird?” Albums such as THE HAPPY BIRD, BIRD IS FREE, and PRES IS BLUE were staples of my junior-high and high-school years!

bird 2

bird 3

bird 4

bird 6

Disc: 1
1. Cecil Payne Performing Charlie Parker Music / Cecil Payne – the Connection

Disc: 2
1. Duke Jordan – Les Liaisons Dangereuses / Duke Jordan East and West of Jazz

Disc: 3
1. Mundell Lowe – Satan in High Heels / Yusef Lateef – Lost in Sound

Disc: 4
1. Art Pepper & Marty Paich Quartet / Art Pepper & Shelly Manne – Pepper Manne

Disc: 5
1. Cozy Cole – a Cozy Conception of Carmen / Slide Hampton – the Cloister Suite

Disc: 6
1. Barry Miles – Miles of Genius / Pete Jolly – Pete Jolly Gasses Everybody

Disc: 7
1. Jerri Winters – Winters Again / Alice Darr – I Only Know How to Cry

Disc: 8
1. Ray Barretto & Brock Peters – Mysterious Instinct / Ray Nance, Cat Anderson and the Ellington Alum

Disc: 9
1. Barney Kessel – El Tigre / Various Artists – Best Plucking in Town

Disc: 10
1. Red Norvo – Pretty Is the Only Way to Fly / Teddy Wilson – on Tour with Teddy Wilson and His Trio

Disc: 11
1. Joe Carroll – the Man with a Happy Sound / Ann Williams – First Time Out

Disc: 12
1. Oscar Moore – the Fabulous Oscar Moore Guitar / Various Artists – An Odyssey of Immortal Jazz Perfo

Disc: 13
1. Allen Keller – a New Look at the World / Kevin Gavin – Hey! This Is Kevin Gavin

Disc: 14
1. The Orioles — the Modern Sounds of the Orioles / Beatrice Kay – Having a Party

Disc: 15
1. Miles Davis – Many Miles of Davis / Lester Young – Pres

Disc: 16
1. Lester Young – Just You Just Me / Lester Young – Pres Is Blue

Disc: 17
1. Charlie Parker – Bird Is Free

Disc: 18
1. Charlie Parker – Happy Bird

Disc: 19
1. Charlie Parker – Bird Symbols

Disc: 20
1. Charlie Parker – Live at Rockland Palace

Disc: 21
1. Charlie Parker – Bird at the Apollo

Disc: 22
1. Charlie Parker – West Coast Time

Disc: 23
1. Charlie Parker – Birdology

Disc: 24
1. Charlie Parker – Fragments

Disc: 25
1. Charlie Parker – Parker Plus Strings

Disc: 26
1. The Charlie Parker All Stars

Disc: 27
1. Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker Performing Historical Masterpieces LP1

Disc: 28
1. Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker Performing Historical Materpieces LP2

Disc: 29
1. Charlie “Bird” Parker Performing Historical Masterpieces LP3

Disc: 30
1. Charlie Parker – Lester Young –A Historical Meeting at the Summit

And what an odd collection of material one finds on these 30 CD’s. Of course, the 16 CD’s of Charlie Parker/Lester Young live broadcasts (the album included in CD 15 under Miles Davis’ name is Davis in Parker’s band, so it’s essentially a Parker album) are well worth the price of admission even if you never listened to any of the other discs, but actually there’s a goldmine of fine jazz here…some above average lounge-jazz vocals…and some oddities that are at least enjoyable.

First, you get newly recorded NY sessions from heavy-weights such as pianist Duke Jordan, baritone saxophonist Cecil Payne, multi-instrumentalist Yusef Lateef, and trombonist Slide Hampton….along with an album by Ellington sidemen such as Cat Anderson and Ray Nance. Then you get first-rate west-coast sessions recorded in the 40’s for Atlas (with Oscar Moore, of the Nat Cole Trio) and the 50’s for Tampa (with Art Pepper), labels run by producer Robert Scherman, who must have made some kind of deal with Mayhew.

There are also newly recorded albums of various lounge-jazz vocalists (Beatrice Kay, Ann Williams, Kevin Gavin, Joe Carroll, Jerri Winters, and Alice Darr), an exotica album by percussionist Ray Barretto and actor-singer Brock Peters, new recordings by a version of the proto-doowop vocal group The Orioles, an album by a young drum prodigy (Barry Miles) who wants to play as busily as Buddy Rich, the soundtrack by Mundell Lowe for the legendary cult film SATAN IN HIGH HEELS (probably the best-known album on the label other than the Parker and Young ones), a live album of obscure provenance of the TEDDY WILSON TRIO (which, to put it tactfully, was not of the level of professionalism in recording as the albums Wilson did on Verve just prior this), and an adaptation of ‘Carmen’ by drummer COZY COLE (of TOPSY fame). There were also a few compilation albums containing material which could be found on other CP albums, along with tracks from the same sessions not on the albums.

I’m not sure what prompted this German budget label to put together a box-set of the complete albums on Charlie Parker Records (and for those who care about sound quality, of course these are needle-drops….would you expect otherwise!), but I’m certainly glad they did. I’ve never seen an actual physical copy of 10 or 12 of the albums, and I’ve never owned a good 60% of them in any form (I had the Art Pepper albums on other labels).

If you are at all intrigued by the description and album listing above, then you should probably find a cheap copy of this on Amazon or at Discogs (it used to be seen at Half-Price Books stores here in Texas, and maybe it’s on their website at a competitive price, maybe not) and you won’t be disappointed. You can play a new CD every day for a month for about $1.25 a day–and about 70% of it is first-rate by any standard (nothing on it is bad). I’ve certainly been loving my copy for the last seven years since it came out.

bird 5

March 9, 2019

My Years in Oklahoma with Gertrude and Washington

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 12:51 pm

During my six years in Oklahoma, while I was attending and working at Oklahoma State University (as well as juggling other part-time jobs the way a poor student does), I spent a lot of time in the massive OSU library. It was air-conditioned in the hot North Central Oklahoma summers, and it was heated in the frigid winters of the Oklahoma plains, which meant that it was very much preferable to the cheap inadequately cooled and heated apartments where I lived.

Also, there was an incredible variety of literary works available, particularly in American Literature. I considered this a period in my life when I was a sponge, soaking up as much original and diverse American literary writing as I could. I’d written and published some poems when I’d lived in Colorado prior to coming to Oklahoma, but I somehow knew that this time, in deep and intensive graduate-level literary classes, would be a time of drinking from the well and growing strong from what I’d consumed. I also knew that I would use this deeply felt immersion into original and creative and individual American writing later in my own writing, after a period to digest the material and to apply it to my life experience and my overall aesthetic.

gertrude 2

GERTRUDE STEIN, WRITING

During this period, there were two scholarly multi-volume editions that I spent many late afternoons and Sundays with over those years, and I tended to read them AT the library, not check them out. I tasted from these books while among acres of other books, with the smell of books, with the overall vibe of the library and of learning, in the company of graduate students and librarians, both groups who understand the multi-generational, multi-cultural, multi-disciplinary magic of books, in particular, literature.

These sets were the eight-volume YALE EDITION OF THE UNPUBLISHED WRITINGS OF GERTRUDE STEIN, published by Yale UP in the 1950’s,  and the thirty-volume THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WASHINGTON IRVING, published by first the University of Wisconsin Press and then by Twayne, from the late 1960’s through the mid-1980’s.

The beautiful and historic EDMON LOW LIBRARY at Oklahoma State University was one of those older, classically designed, high-ceilinged libraries (see pic) where one could lose oneself in a literary work for hours on end. I could find myself a comfortable armchair and get caught up in the supple, hypnotic, shifting rhythms of one of Stein’s long minimalistic pieces from the 1900’s or 1910’s (having an effect on me not unlike Terry Riley’s PERSIAN SURGERY DERVISHES, but on the page), and the next thing I know the sun has gone down outside but I’m fully illuminated inside by having an audience with Gertrude Stein.

If you’re not familiar with this series of Stein volumes, GS left money in her will to finance the publication of her unpublished writings through Vale University Press after her passing. Yes, a famous character such as Gertrude Stein had probably 1200+ pages of writings she could not get published during her lifetime (and let’s not forget that during her lifetime, she and Alice B. Toklas started their own press, Plain Editions, funded by the sale of some paintings that Stein owned, to publish other works that could not get published, seminal works such as LUCY CHURCH AMIABLY and HOW TO WRITE) and had to pay AFTER HER OWN DEATH to get them in print. The next time someone talks condescendingly to anyone who self-publishes some of their works (because you believe in the literary vision you have and you want to get that work out to others, when the gatekeepers stand in the way), tell those who condescend and whine to get lost. If Gertrude Stein or (with his later poems) Melville had to do it, you should have no apologies–actually, you should wear it as a badge of pride because your unique vision is being presented in its pure form. Thankfully, Stein had friends and supporters—-Carl Van Vechten, Donald C. Gallup, Donald Sutherland (the literary critic and author of GERTRUDE STEIN: A BIOGRAPHY OF HER WORK, not the actor), and Thornton Wilder—-who agreed to take on this task after her passing. There works included such now seminal pieces as the erotic classic LIFTING BELLY and the sublime long-poem STANZAS IN MEDIATION, which in recent years has been issued in a wonderful variorum edition. Yale later published a kind of “best of” the material from these eight volumes, THE YALE GERTRUDE STEIN  (which is available in paperback at a reasonable price and anyone reading this far should order ASAP–see pic below), but I first encountered these works in the eight-volume 1950’s series, and many original and striking and fascinating pieces of Stein’s have still never been published elsewhere. If you remember the old “head cleaners” from the age of VHS video tapes and audio cassettes, for me Stein was a literary head cleaner. She removed the crud from my brain and re-arranged and sharpened my literary magnetic field. Not to mention the beauty and freshness of her language constructs.

And yes, these volumes contained what would have been called her more “experimental” works. She WAS able to get the more accessible pieces such as EVERYBODY’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY or BREWSIE AND WILLIE published, though surprisingly, those ‘popular’ pieces of hers managed to still retain most of her best qualities. I’d argue that those works would be the equivalent of being served a fine Islay Scotch with ice and soda (and maybe a twist of lemon), as opposed to the less commercial works which served the Scotch up neat. The former makes it more palatable to a wider audience, but it’s the same Scotch. In Stein’s case, if you ever want to “open up” her work, the way you’d “open up” a good Scotch with a splash of rainwater, I’d suggest you listen to the Caedmon recording of her reading her own works. When you hear the rhythms of the author’s reading (especially on “If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait Of Picasso”), and listen to the album multiple times until the wall cracks and you are granted entrance into the works, you can pick up something like THE GEOGRAPHICAL HISTORY OF AMERICA, or many of the works in these eight volumes, and finally “hear” them as they were meant to be sounded out. Speaking of THE GEOGRAPHICAL HISTORY, I once bought a used copy of that for $2 at a Houston bookstore, maybe ten years ago, which I noticed had some markings in it, but I did not look at it too closely. I wanted an extra copy to give to a friend (I recently gave an extra copy of the Sun and Moon edition of STANZAS IN MEDITATION, which I found at a Half-Price Books in San Marcos, Texas, for $3, to my friend and KSE colleague, Austin percussionist and musical shaman Lisa Cameron, and I’m sure that that has found an appreciative home), and I was happy to find one so cheap. That copy had guide-punctuation penciled into it through the entire book! And it was correctly done. Clearly, whoever did this had heard the Stein recordings, truly “got” Stein’s unique sense of rhythm and her consistent syntax patterns and pauses, and annotated them into the text. The funny thing to me is that anyone who could do that, and do it properly, would not have needed such annotations. I don’t. Was this person doing it for a friend to read the book? I’ll never know, though on some level it makes the book difficult for me to read because I know how to maneuver around within Stein’s language, and I don’t need signposts to guide me on the path. Stepping around these signs is something of a hassle, and I need to get a fresh, non-annotated copy of that work, a favorite of my teenage years in Colorado from the Vintage Books paperback. However, I am very happy that someone actually took the time to go through such a chore. I’d assume GS would be touched by that.

Stein has functioned as a head-cleaner for me in the world of writing in a similar manner to what John Cage (whom I once had the privilege of speaking with for about 20 minutes, one-on-one) is to music/sound and what Andy Warhol is to visual art and the image. Those three blew my mind at an early age and caused me to re-build my aesthetic from the ground up….the way they built their aesthetic from the ground up, nothing taken for granted, nothing blindly accepted, working according to their own clock, their own barometer. Other people may have others who did that for them—-William S. Burroughs, Bill Dixon, Jean-Luc Godard, Andy Milligan, Cy Twombly, who knows—-but the work of these three are the legs that hold up my own chair, such as it is. And I am eternally grateful, but the last thing any of them would want is to turn them into museum pieces—-they would have wanted to hand off the baton to the upcoming generations to continue the search, to continue the exploration, to do the work, to create the pieces, and to allow the aesthetic to bleed through into one’s experience of every moment of every day. It’s no surprise that each remained incredibly prolific until their deaths and that each left a wealth of work which was unseen (in the case of Warhol) or un-performed (in the case of Cage) at the time of their deaths. The posthumously disseminated works of Stein, Warhol, and Cage are further gifts to the future, and  not just gifts, but keys, keys that open up new rooms and the doors into new realms of both the arts and consciousness.

yale stein

THE YALE GERTRUDE STEIN (which you can still find a used copy of for under $5), which was a kind of “best-of” from the eight Yale UP press volumes discussed above

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statue of WASHINGTON IRVING in Granada, Spain

The other multi-volume set I spent a lot of time with during my years at OSU was THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WASHINGTON IRVING, a 30-volume scholarly edition, presenting all of Irving’s published works (with exhaustive documentation of their differing published forms), along with individual works from periodicals of the day which were never collected in books, along with unpublished pieces he was never able to place, along with journals and notebooks, along with correspondence, and an exhaustive 800-page bibliography as the 30th and final volume in the set. Irving is not read that much today, alas. Oh, everyone knows about Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, but even there, some of the well-known pieces are wrenched from the narrative frames in which they were originally presented, hurting an appreciation of Irving’s masterful and pioneering work with narrative persona and point of view. I’m reminded of the “edited” version of Sergio Leone’s film ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, where the film was re-cut (without the director present, of course) into chronological order, in the studio’s hopes that it would then play “like a crime film” and sell more tickets–thankfully, that version was tossed into the dustbin after a brief run in the hinterlands (this was also done with the CONFIDENTAL REPORT-version of Orson Welles’s MR. ARKADIN, which you can see on the 3-DVD Criterion set devoted to that much-underrated and haunting film, a film with no definitive version).

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EDMON LOW LIBRARY, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma

I try to avoid the word FIRST unless I have definitive proof, since there is likely to be some lesser-known character who did something before a better-known person, so I’ll instead say that Irving was AMONG THE FIRST “professional authors” in North America—-the person who writes for a living, the person who looks for marketable concepts for books and offers them to publishers, the person with a recognizable style and a distinctive aesthetic and a “spin” on things that readers enjoy, someone who figures that if people enjoy their works, those same people will enjoy them taking on new subjects or getting the author’s unique spin on something of interest to the author. Say what you will about him, the late Norman Mailer was that kind of writer until the day he died, and he was proud of it. Why the books on Picasso and Marilyn Monroe? That’s why. Even something like THE EXECUTIONER’S SONG, for me one of the great American literary works of the second half of the 20th Century, was initially gotten into as a project by Mailer (with Lawrence Schiller) because of its marketability. Books like that paid for ANCIENT EVENINGS.

Irving also survived on magazine writing, getting agreements from various magazines to let him write about whatever he wanted, which would be of interest to readers because 1) they enjoyed Irving’s distinctive style and spin on things and 2) because they figured that if a subject was interesting to Irving, interesting enough for him to write about it, then he’d be enthusiastic enough about the subject to make it interesting for them, the way you are usually happy to hear a knowledgeable and entertaining person opine on a subject of interest to the speaker–you’d be entertained, you’d be enlightened, and your cultural references would be broadened.

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cover design of the multi-volume COMPLETE WORKS OF WASHINGTON IRVING

Irving (1783-1859, and yes, he was named after George Washington, and he paid back that debt by writing a long and entertaining popular biography of the first president) was heavily influenced by Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774), both in terms of tone and of the use of narrative persona. Irving’s narrator-characters Jonathan Oldstyle and Geoffrey Crayon are inspired by the narrator of Goldsmith’s CITIZEN OF THE WORLD (an old favorite of mine, which I would read in that same OSU Library). I learned a lot about the concept of speaking through a persona in one’s prose articles and columns from Irving and Goldsmith (I also saw how this worked from my reading of Lester Bangs in CREEM), and to this day I am using the Irving technique in, for instance, my columns at BTC, where I have a clear, fictionalized persona. Each venue where my writing appears gets a somewhat different persona (here at the KSE blog, for instance), suited to that readership. Thank you, Washington Irving (and Oliver Goldsmith).

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one of the eight volumes of THE YALE EDITION OF THE UNPUBLISHED WRITINGS OF GERTRUDE STEIN

Many modern readers in the post-Hemingway world tend to view Irving as having a somewhat verbose style, but they need to remember that back then reading books (and periodicals) was a daily activity that combined both leisure and education (and by extension, vicarious travel), and in the age before electricity, reading late by candlelight was something to do for hours at a time. Washington Irving was a friend, and his company was sought with each new publication.

Irving’s book-length non-fiction works (I’m actually reading his biography of Goldsmith presently) often relied on paraphrase of existing sources, and a good amount of his fiction was based on his own translations of European folklore, re-tooled with American details and characters and place names, but the works became his own through the Irving touch. I happened to pull out a book of Warhol’s “versions” of paintings by Munch this week, and I was reminded of Irving’s use of his “sources” for the Goldsmith bio. Irving did not hide that his was a “popular biography” and did not hide his sources. No one would question that the Munch adaptations were Warholian in every way except for the root source-image–I suppose the same can be said for Irving’s biographies. Irving’s style is instantly recognizable. Much like audiences of the 1950’s and 1960’s would feel comfortable every time they saw James Stewart on the movie screen–he was not going to be radically different from what he was in the previous film, but he could adapt to anything and still bring his unique and charming persona to the project at hand. Irving had that kind of appeal to readers.

He also did full-length works based on his own experiences, presented in a kind of documentary way. The TOUR ON THE PRAIRIES, some of which took place right down the road from where I lived in Oklahoma (there are even two Irving-named exits on the road to Tulsa from Stillwater), covered a western expedition that Irving was on, and he was commissioned by John Jacob Astor to compose a book about Astor’s ambitious Fort Astoria community in what is now Oregon. Irving took some flak about taking a commission to write such a book–imagine the outcry if a literary author took a commission from Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates to write about, say, an Amazon or Microsoft building project today–but Irving felt that it was a significant project (history has shown him to be correct on that) and that he would of course be his own man in what he wrote, which he was. Most Americans would never have travelled out to the real Astoria in the far Northwest, so Irving again provided a vicarious travel experience. There are many other great qualities to Washington Irving and his work, and I hope to write about additional specific works in future posts as I reread these volumes with a fresh eye.

What prompted this post is that I have recently been acquiring inexpensive used copies of some of the works I used to read in that period in Oklahoma. I’d already had the original 1950’s Yale editions of Stein’s STANZAS IN MEDITATION and AS FINE AS MELANCTHA, but I’ve recently acquired BEE TIME VINE and PAINTED LACE and been reading them closely on a daily basis. I had two of the Irving volumes since the 90’s, but recently I’ve acquired five more of them. I have a half-finished draft for this blog of my comments on the 1850’s collection of Irving miscellany WOLFERT’S ROOST, and as stated earlier, I’m also reading the Goldsmith biography.

It’s satisfying to come full circle and revisit these works after 30+ years. These lesser-known works by both writers are infinitely interesting and satisfying, and in reading them, I can see my own use of their techniques over the decades. One can find good quality copies of individual volumes of each set used for reasonable prices….for Irving, in the $5-$8 range….for Stein, in the $15-$20 range. All are well-manufactured hardcover editions made for libraries, and thus made to last. The writing in them, of course, will always last.

March 3, 2019

new solo saxophone album from MASSIMO MAGEE, “Quotidiano”

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 1:58 pm

Saxophonist Massimo Magee recorded many excellent albums for KSE over a seven or eight year period–his albums were always ones that generated a lot of positive buzz from listeners, and it has been a  joy to follow him on his artistic journey over the years, with his recordings and writings and related computer multi-media art.

Very happy to announce that he has a new solo saxophone album out now, QUOTIDIANO, available on Bandcamp. Here is the link:

http://massimomagee.bandcamp.com/album/quotidiano

massimo quotidiano

QUOTIDIANO means “daily,” and this album, consisting of one 34 minute performance, is a kind of “daily workout” for Magee, which he decided to document for our enjoyment and appreciation. It has the methodical rigor one associates with Magee’s solo saxophone performances, but also the plaintive searching and ecstatic surprise the man delivers so well. I was initially reminded of the old Roscoe Mitchell solo saxophone album on Sackville from 1974, which I listened to often back in the day. However, this QUOTIDIANO is 100% Massimo Magee, and fans of his KSE releases should grab this ASAP. It’s like he’s come to your house and is performing across the table from you….who would not want that!  Cost is whatever you want to pay. And you can also send a download of the album to a friend as a gift (as I did). We might not be releasing any more Magee albums at KSE, but he continues to do great work….treat yourself to this one.

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