Sunday, 15 April 2012

Sunday Night is... Duke Ellington 'It Don't Mean a Thing' 1943

From YouTube notes: Ivie Anderson sang the vocal and trombonist Joe Nanton and alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges played the instrumental solos. The title was based on the oft stated credo of Ellington's former trumpeter Bubber Miley, who was dying of tuberculosis. The song became famous, Ellington wrote, "as the expression of a sentiment which prevailed among jazz musicians at the time." Probably the first song to use the phrase "swing" in the title, it introduced the term into everyday language and presaged the Swing Era by three years. The Ellington band played the song continuously over the years and recorded it numerous times, most often with trumpeter Ray Nance as vocalist.

I love early Ellington for probably much the same reasons Larkin did: the joy of it. Which is not to say it is an untroubled joy, as the note above makes clear. I think that was always understood: that was what made the joy so good.

Art needn't spring from suffering. Consider Lartigue:

LARTIGUE: Cousin Bichonnade in flight, 1905,

Here is an old poem from a series based on Diane Arbus, who might seem to be the proof contrary. Characters such as The Mystic Barber, the Emperor of Byzantium and the rest were characters met by Arbus, who would ask people in the street 'Can I come home with you?' if they seemed interesting enough. Often they said, 'Yes'.

...that we may wonder all over again what is veritable and inevitable and possible and what it is to become whoever we may be - Diane Arbus

The Mystic Barber teleports himself to Mars. Another carries
a noose and a rose wherever he goes. A third collects string
for twenty years. A fourth is a disinherited king,
the Emperor of Byzantium. A fifth ferries
the soul of the dead across the Acheron. There's a certain abandon
in asking, Can I come home with you?

like a girl who is well brought up, as she was, in a fashion,
who seems to trust everyone and is just a little crazy,
just enough to be charming, who walks between fantasy
and betrayal and makes of this a kind of profession.
It takes courage to destroy the ledge you stand on,
to sit on the branch you saw through

or to fly down the stairs like Lartigue's Bichonnade
while the balustrade marches sturdily upward, and laughter
bubbles through the mouth like air through water,
and the light whistles by, unstoppable, hard
and joyful, though there is nothing to land on
but the flying itself, the flying perfect and new.

Cunning rhyme scheme on last two lines of each verse. Trying to fly down the stairs. Poem from Blind Field (1994)

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