We live in the age of the Cake Wreck. Online, no confectionary disaster, no late-night slip of the icing tube, goes undetected or unmocked. It’s all in good fun, and at the end of the day, presumably most of the desserts still taste okay. Part of the issue is that there’s so much cake perfection in the world today. At any moment, Pinterest and Instagram are teeming with examples of whimsy and skill at which most of us can only marvel. Between the ludicrous and the ideal, what’s left? Read More
“I sent you a little cat filled with sweets a few days ago but perhaps you do not know the story about the cat of Beaugency,” begins James Joyce’s The Cat and the Devil, first published in 1965. If you were lucky enough to get your hands on this book as a child, you know that the illustrations, by Richard Erdoes, haunt your nightmares for years, and that it’s quite impossible ever to think of James Joyce without visualizing the Mephistophilean entity pictured therein.
The story is based on an old French folktale: the desperate mayor of Beaugency makes a deal with the devil in order to get a bridge across the Loire. In exchange for the supernatural structure, the devil may claim the soul of whoever crosses it first. In the event, the townspeople foil the plot by sending over a hapless cat instead, and in the grand tradition of diabolical law, the devil is forced to abide by their reading of the contract. Read More
This is the second installment of Samet’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.
I’ve been following the bassist Peter Washington around New York this week. I didn’t plan it that way: I didn’t know that Washington would be playing not only with Ann Hampton Callaway but also with the Terell Stafford Quintet at the Village Vanguard. A friend of mine who will be moving out of Manhattan in a few months told me he had never been to the Vanguard. This is unacceptable. Besides, it has been far too long since I’ve heard anyone there. The very first time I went to the Vanguard I was just out of college: I heard the late Illinois Jacquet play “Flying Home” that night. There are worse introductions.
Tonight there are two hecklers at the table behind us. Does this really happen? Do people pay a cover to heckle jazz musicians? I don’t get it. They are soon bounced, and the only other distraction proves to be the pair of unabashed lovebirds at the table in front of us. I guess the music of Billy Strayhorn—Stafford has just released This Side of Strayhorn—can have that effect on people. It took me in other directions, prompting a reflection on my relationship to the music of Strayhorn and Ellington, which was for several years just about the only music I listened to. I would prowl the excellent jazz department at the old Tower Records in Boston for more and more Ellington: first cassettes and then CDs, everything from the early Brunswick and Vocalion recordings to Money Jungle, the 1962 trio session with Max Roach and Charles Mingus.
Stafford closed the set with Strayhorn’s “Johnny Come Lately.” I’m listening now to the version on The Blanton-Webster Band. But if you really want to get a sense of the Strayhorn mystique, listen to Ellington calling “Strays” out on stage to join him for “Drawing Room Blues” and “Tonk” on Live at the Blue Note, a recording of a 1959 date in Chicago.
And Peter Washington? His playing was luminous—again. And a brief conversation with him in between sets suggests he’s as gracious as he is good.