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February 6, 2007

TT: Elsewhere

I’ve been too busy of late to keep more than half an eye on the blogosphere, but here are a few things I’ve noticed that might interest you:

• Mr. Anecdotal Evidence, one of my favorite blogging eggheads, was tempted to read a Richard Stark novel as a result of all the praise that pseudonymous master receives in this space, and found it good:

I don’t read mysteries, except for Raymond Chandler. Their prose usually is tone-deaf and awful, and I don’t care who done it. Stark, based on the one-half of a Parker novel I’ve read, is a pleasant exception.

His prose is without fat yet his economy of means doesn’t call attention to itself in an astsy-fartsy way. It’s without pretensions, yet intelligent, minus the reverse pride of a “literary” writer gone slumming. Stark, like his protagonist, is a professional who, above all, values competence. Parker is cool, aloof and malevolent only in a practical way, when he needs to be. He takes little pleasure in being bad and hurting people, but neither does he lose sleep over it. His code is pragmatism. Like another one-named character, Odysseus, Parker survives by his cunning. So does Stark….

What he said.

• Attention, jazz buffs: the only surviving performance film of Clifford Brown, the great trumpeter of Brown-Roach, Inc., has surfaced on YouTube. It’s a 1956 kinescope from an old Soupy Sales TV show, and you can view it by going here.

• Some of you may recall my posting from last year about the music of Cy Walter, the great cocktail pianist. Now Ethan Iverson of the Bad Plus, another Walter fan, has reviewed The Park Avenue Tatum, the CD that inspired my original tribute. The review is in Downbeat, but Iverson has also posted it here:

Walter is probably best understood not in the context of either jazz or Broadway, but in the tradition of classical composer/pianists like Leopold Godowsky and Ignaz Friedman, both virtuosos who loved to transfigure Viennese waltzes and other light fare into complicated piano music. Walter’s beautiful chorus of “All the Things You Are,” with the melody singing chastely in the middle-register, decorated on top and bottom with delicate slides and runs, sounds considerably like a Godowsky treatment of a Schubert song.

That is a very smart observation, and a typically Iversonian one as well.

Incidentally, there is now a fascinating Walter Web site started by his family. It contains, among gazillians of other good things, a page of downloadable Walter sound files. Check it out.

• Speaking of hotel pianists, an anonymous member of the breed has started a blog called, logically enough, The Hotel Pianist. It is simultaneously funny, wry, snarky, and self-deprecating:

Tonight, a 40-ish man, while playing chess with his son (and losing), sang every word to a song I was playing. Unfortunately, I was playing a song from the Top 2000-2005 Hits book, and he was singing a song from the 1970s.

I commend it to your attention.

Lileks has been collecting “psychedelic” records from the Sixties:

You can imagine the band members sitting down to hash out (sorry) the overarching themes of the album, how it should like start with Total Chaos man because those are the times in which we live with like war from the sky, okay, and then we’ll have flutes because flutes are peaceful like doves and my old lady can play that part because she like studied flute, man, in high school. The lyrics are all the same: AND THE KING OF QUEENS SAID TO THE EARTH THE HEIROPHANT SHALL NOW GIVE BIRTH / THE HOODED PRIESTS IN CHAMBERED LAIRS LEERED DOWN UPON THE LADIES FAIR / NEWWWW DAAAAY DAWNNNING!

I bought some of those, too, back in 1967….

• Ms. CultureGrrl, who (like me) is a Frank Lloyd Wright buff, has posted a link to an excellent news story about a smallish Wright house in the Puget Sound area that has just gone on the market:

Many ideas here could easily translate into contemporary homebuilding: the quality of the daylighting, the efficiency of the built-in furniture, the richness of interior textures in the concrete block and honest wood paneling. But the most important point is that a house's square footage is irrelevant to the quality of life that it engenders. Wright himself proclaimed that "a house is more a home by being a work of art." That can be taken as elitist, but it also can be an argument for small, unpretentious, quietly beautiful buildings just like this….

By the way, I’m pleased to report that I just booked myself an overnight stay in a Chicago-area Usonian house that is now run as a bed and breakfast, one of four Wright houses that are available for short-term stays. (I’ll be spending the night there when I go to the Windy City in May to visit OGIC and see a couple of shows.) This will be my third such stay—I wrote about the first two here—and I can’t wait.

• I blogged a couple of months ago about a visit to the White House during which I saw John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Theodore Roosevelt, which was hanging in the East Room. Now Catesby Leigh has written a fascinating Wall Street Journal essay about presidential portraits in which the Sargent/Roosevelt canvas receives prominent and penetrating mention:

Sargent's wonderfully effective use of middling tones in this portrait's otherwise blank background casts Roosevelt into bold relief. Left hand assertively perched on hip, he faces us squarely, full of authority and executive energy. And yet the portrait is very much an optical record, devoid of symbolic content. A quite noticeable penumbra that follows the outline of Roosevelt's head and left shoulder, combined with Sargent's fluid handling of the figure itself, conveys an almost eerily dynamic sense of the act of perception. It's as if T.R. were coming into focus before us. He squints out at us through his spectacles, and we find ourselves squinting back at him.

The rich color harmonies and attention to finish evident in this and other Sargent portraits may link him to the Old Masters, but he fully subscribed to the modern notion that reality lay in perception and that the artist's duty was to accurately transcribe natural appearances as they appeared to him or her. This concept may not have originated with photography, but it was vastly reinforced by it. And when we see the National Portrait Gallery's rather depressing trove of "traditional" portraits of our postwar presidents, from Greta Kempton's Truman (begun in 1947, completed 1970) to Nelson Shanks's Clinton (2005), it is obvious that photography has completely displaced classical sculpture as the conceptual model….

Read the whole thing, please.

• Now, some unintended comic relief: I had a vague memory of reading long ago about a novel in which the letter “e” is never used. Guess what? It turns out that the complete text of Gadsby has been posted on the Web. Here’s how it starts:

If youth, throughout all history, had had a champion to stand up for it; to show a doubting world that a child can think; and, possibly, do it practically; you wouldn’t constantly run across folks today who claim that “a child don’t know anything.”A child’s brain starts functioning at birth; and has, amongst its many infant convolutions, thousands of dormant atoms, into which God has put a mystic possibility for noticing an adult’s act, and figuring out its purport….

Preposterous, of course, but fascinatingly so.

• Finally, here’s the best list I’ve seen in ages...

• …and the best t-shirt.

Remind me to do this more often, O.K.?

Posted February 6, 2007 12:00 PM

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