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Posts Tagged ‘Thelonious Monk’

What We’re Loving: Archives, Architects, the Arctic Sky

April 25, 2014 | by

lebbeus woods

Lebbeus Woods, San Francisco Project: Inhabiting the Quake, Quake City, 1995. Image via the Drawing Center

Sadie Stein already recommended Arlette Farge’s little book-length essay The Allure of the Archives. A year later, I have to second the recommendation. On the surface, this is a personal memoir by a feminist historian whose research—into eighteenth-century police files—fundamentally changed our picture of pre-revolutionary Paris. But really this is a handbook about how to write, how to think about, history. Gripping, graceful, and beautifully translated by Thomas Scott-Railton, it captures the fun and the dangers of library work like nothing I’ve ever read. —Lorin Stein

A new anthology from Brick introduced me to Don DeLillo’s “Counterpoint: Three Movies, a Book, and an Old Photograph,” an essay from 2004. That title belies both the piece’s range and its force of concentration. It looks at Glenn Gould, Thelonious Monk, and Thomas Bernhard, three isolated, brilliant men who craved and feared the seclusion that came with their work. DeLillo is interested not just in their difficult lives but in the cultural consensus we reached upon their deaths—who did we decide these men were, and why? As its images begin to collect, all of them rendered in that laser-cut DeLillo prose, the essay becomes a haunting account of the distance between an artist and his audience, his art, and himself. DeLillo has a rare gift for writing about the sensory experience of art, for tracing the vectors of meaning in sight and sound. “In a busy diner,” he writes of a scene from Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, “there are voices in layers and zones, some folded over others, in counterpoint.” And he condenses The Fast Runner into a solitary image, an image of, well, overwhelming solitariness: “The man is running, eyes wild, into the arctic sky.” —Dan Piepenbring

Lebbeus Woods, who died in 2012, was an artist’s architect. He imagined the buildings that cities would need when calamity came calling. His work exists almost exclusively as experiment—only one of his ideas was actually constructed—and 175 of his graphite dreams are currently on display at the Drawing Center in SoHo. Some look like gashes in the side of a building, or what would happen to a street if it suddenly woke up. Some are like seedpods split open and engorged, a home for one suspended by a slender stalk, and some are simply floating, free of the city entirely. Or maybe these are cities, untethered, finally free to found themselves. —Zack Newick Read More »

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Freedom and Light

December 17, 2012 | by

I saw Ravi Shankar at Carnegie Hall in 1966 or 1967. Because of the Beatles, of course. And I learned so much about music from that one concert. Not that the lesson stayed with me; it wasn’t like that. But it set me up for hearing music in a different way than I was used to (that is, as pop songs on the radio, as 45s on my record player, as the songs we sang at camp about the cat coming back or your heart going where the wild goose goes, or, worse, much worse, as the moth-eaten songs from musicals on Broadway).

The first half of the concert was endless and dull, nothing but a couple of notes played over and over, like a foreign cuckoo clock gone mad. And then, an hour in, it all changed. And time stopped. The notes began to form a pattern, and the pattern grew more and more beautiful, like a house materializing from thin air, rising out of nothing into the most glorious vista, a home and a garden and hope and love and time, spread out before me. Read More »

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Staff Picks: ‘At Last,’ Ambivalence

February 10, 2012 | by

“I couldn’t make her amusing,” says David Melrose after asking his girlfriend to eat off the floor like a dog, “but I did at least keep her quiet. I was dreading having another talk about the agonies of being rich. I know so little about them, and she knows so little about anything else.” From the first pages of Edward St. Aubyn’s Never Mind, it’s clear that his cycle of Patrick Melrose novels will be delightfully packed with gross privilege, dysfunction, and savage humor. The first four novels have just been released as a single paperback alongside the fifth and final book, At Last. I look forward to devouring them all. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

If you’re a Thomas Mann fan—or, anyway, someone who’s fascinated by his work (fan doesn’t seem the right word)—it’s worth seeking out Gilbert Adair’s The Real Tadzio, the story of the ten-year-old Polish nobleman who inspired Mann’s Death in Venice. The object of the thirty-six-year-old author’s fixation was unaware of the connection for years. The book deals with his reaction to the odd sort of celebrity he acquired and, of course, with the summer in Venice that inspired the novella. It’s a slim volume, but it packs a punch and is ultimately as much about the end of an era in Europe as it is about the creative process or Mann’s disquieting obsession (about which his wife was oddly blasé). —Sadie Stein

Ambivalence may be the moral failing of the twenty-first century. Or perhaps not. It depends. I’m as guilty of it as anyone (maybe more), and I don’t feel good about my role in what Kenneth Weisbrode describes as a collective pathology. But in reading his engaging minihistory, I do feel encouraged to just make a decision already. —Nicole Rudick

The Library of Congress has made available, via Flickr, all sixteen hundred jazz photos by William P. Gottlieb. From 1938 to 1948, Gottlieb documented the New York and D.C. jazz scenes with the obsession of an avid collector. Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Django Reinhardt, and even Doris Day—all are represented. —Josh Anderson

Weighing in at ten pounds, A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I-XVIII, the nine-hundred-page volume of photographer Taryn Simon’s latest body of work, is not the easiest book to curl up with. Compiled over four years, Simon’s project records the bloodlines of eighteen different families across the world, charting the forgotten details of their family histories. It is an unforgettable exploration of survival, inheritance, and the forces of fate. —Elizabeth Nelson

“Anyone who takes pleasure in modesty will get on well here,” writes Robert Walser of a bar in his Berlin Stories. The same could be said of his work, as the excerpts now running at The New York Review blog prove. —D.F.M.

I really liked this piece on Jewish designers’ appropriation of WASP style—and how often is a title this perfectly suited to its subject? —S.S.

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Branford Marsalis

December 8, 2011 | by

It’s sixty-two degrees and raining in downtown Durham, North Carolina, on a Tuesday in mid-October. At noon members of the Branford Marsalis Quartet gather at the former St. Joseph’s African Methodist Episcopal church, built in 1891, now converted into the Hayti Heritage Center, an arts-and-community nonprofit. Their goal is to record a new album over the next few days.

When Marsalis moved his family to Durham from New York a decade ago, the local press assumed he was replacing the retiring director of Duke’s jazz department, saxophonist Paul Jeffrey. But Marsalis, who'd grown up in Louisiana, simply wanted to return to the South and picked Raleigh-Durham because the area had an airport large enough to get him anywhere he needed to go. Later, he began teaching part-time in the noted jazz program at the historically black North Carolina Central University, which is a mile down the road from Hayti.

The original St. Joseph’s sanctuary remains intact: a wood-plank stage, hardwood pews, a balcony, chandeliers, and lots of stained glass. Marsalis began recording albums here in 2006 when he noticed that the room had a unique quality: there is no reverb at low decibel levels; it grows gradually with the sound.

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Managed Mayhem

September 15, 2011 | by

W. Eugene Smith, Jazz Loft, ca. 1959, black-and-white photograph. Courtesy of the Heirs of W. Eugene Smith and the W. Eugene Smith Archive at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona.

It’s late August in Brooklyn, and two men are trying to figure out how to hoist a piano up to a third-floor window and then release it so that it smashes onto the sidewalk below. “I think the major issue is just balancing out its weight,” says one. They push open a door to the roof to explore their options. A security alarm goes off; they’re undeterred.

The two men, director Chris McElroen and “professional problem solver” Dan Baker, are part of the team behind Chaos Manor, a multimedia performance inspired by the unconventional life of W. Eugene Smith. In the 1950s, Smith, celebrated for his front-line World War II photography, found himself increasingly at odds with his Life magazine editors. He quit his job and, several years later, embarking on what some might call a midlife crisis and others a visionary project, left his wife and children and moved into a dilapidated Manhattan building frequented not only by “derelicts, hustlers, and thieves” (in the words of his biographer) but also by some of the “biggest names in jazz.” From his fourth-floor apartment, Smith spent the next eight years relentlessly documenting the sights and sounds around him. His forty thousand photographs and 4,500 hours of audio reels captured hundreds of musicians, including legends such as Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, and Roy Haynes. Read More »

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Sonny Clark, Part 2

January 26, 2011 | by

Sonny Clark, ca. 1961. Photograph by Francis Wolff. (c) Mosaic Images (www.mosaicrecords.com)

On October 26, 1961, Sonny Clark reported to Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, for a recording session led by alto saxophonist Jackie McLean. Clark brought with him a new composition he called “Five Will Get You Ten.” He was an effective composer, and his tunes were welcome at most sessions. However, this one he’d stolen from Thelonious Monk. He had probably seen the sheet music or heard Monk working out the tune on the piano at the Weehawken, New Jersey, home of the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, who routinely made her home a rest stop and clubhouse for jazz musicians.

Monk called the tune “Two Timer”; Clark gave it a new name so he could claim composer’s royalties. It was the move of a desperate, depleted junky. (W. Eugene Smith had cameras, lenses, and other equipment stolen from his loft by jazz junkies all the time, but, an addict himself, he wasn’t one to judge. The thefts would leave him both distraught and ambivalent.) According to Robin D. G. Kelley’s remarkable recent biography of Monk, the elder master treated Clark like a “troubled younger brother,” and he never did anything about the stolen tune. Chances are that by the time Monk heard McLean’s record and realized what had happened, Clark was dead, or in some other condition that made a reprimand irrelevant.

In the last eighteen months of Clark’s life, he would climb to daylight for brief periods, breath clean air, play some beautiful music, and then sink to lower and lower depths. In the August 1962 issue of the invaluable, idiosyncratic Canadian jazz magazine, Coda, there was this report from New York by Fred Norsworthy:

One of the saddest sights these days is the terrible condition of one of the nation’s foremost, and certainly original pianists. Having been around for many years he came into his own in 1959 and no one deserved it more than he. I feel that something should be done about drug addiction before we lose many more artists. I saw him several times in the past three months and was shocked to see one of our jazz greats in such pitiful shape. Unfortunately, the album dates that he keeps getting only help his addiction get worse instead of better. Whether or not he licks this problem at this stage of the game remains to be seen. In some cases people refuse help and the loss of a close friend was no help either. If anything he took a turn for the worse and disappeared for 3 weeks. However right now should he die it will at least be better than living a slow death with no relief in sight.

The pianist is almost certainly Sonny Clark. That same month, he cut two classic Blue Note albums under the leadership of saxophonist Dexter Gordon, Go and A Swinging Affair. When Clark died five months later, Gordon remembered these sessions in a letter to Blue Note impresarios Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff: Clark had “almost totally given up” on his life, Gordon wrote. Yet judging from the surviving albums, he still cooked on piano. Several of Clark’s solos are top notch, but in this rhythm section with Butch Warren on bass and Billy Higgins on drums, he conducts a clinic on how to play sensitive, sparkling piano accompaniment behind a soloing saxophonist, in this case the atmospheric Gordon. Clark didn’t appear to give up on anything musically. Many years later Gordon remembered Go as among his career favorites.

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