Archive | Music Matters


I had so many plans for this weekend–I was coming off a few weeks of nonstop work and had heard temperatures were going to be mild (my favorite roving-around-the-city weather). Instead, I climbed into a caftan, pulled Gracie on my lap, and have been reading by an open window for two days straight with nonverbal jazz by cats like Dizzy and Monk pouring out of my speakers. I began Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, David Lipsky’s book of interviews with David Foster Wallace, an author I only find fascinating for his hold over well-educated white men (who, of course, mostly comprise the literary establishment) and Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo (“I had no systematic way of learning but proceeded like a quilt maker”), and finished The Arsonist, Sue Miller’s latest novel (too polite, too drifting), and The Light of the World, Elizabeth Alexander’s memoir about her deceased husband (so emotionally and artistically devastating that I’ll be living in it for years). I haven’t answered a text; I haven’t looked at a screen. The only times I’ve come up for air have been to eat or drink something, and I’ve mostly ordered in. I’d be remorseful about this lost weekend except for how terrifically human I feel again. Part of June’s charm is how little it asks of us.

Mercury Retrograde Gangster

Ever since I got my iPhone, I’ve set its alarm to Aretha’s “Hello Sunshine” because I like having my dream mommy gently shake me awake every morning. Today I set the alarm to wake me to James Brown’s “Papa Don’t Take No Mess.” I’m going to muscle through this Mercury retrograde one way or another; I spent too long flat on my back to gracefully surrender to any “stop in your tracks” madness this time around. (Yeah, we’ll see how that goes.)

Kind of Blue: Jazz Cinema’s Mixed Bag

Great films about jazz are unhappily rare, perhaps because exactly what makes the musical genre wonderful–its complexity, its lack of pandering, its gorgeous esoterica–are qualities that are anathema to Hollywood. In the absence of a great Duke Ellington or John Coltrane biopic, here are some selections that, in one way or another, do offer a love supreme.

A Great Day in Harlem (1994)
Jean Bach’s documentary about the story behind the legendary photograph of the same name is a study in “the little engine that could” artistry. A pastiche of home movies and interviews with everyone from Art Blakely to Sonny Rollins to Dizzy Gillespie, it recalls the Esquire magazine shoot in which many of jazz music’s greats rather improbably gathered in front of a Harlem brownstone on a 1958 Sunday morning. With a running time of 60 minutes, it delivers just enough nostalgia, though some might prefer a greater emphasis on the featured artists rather than the merits of the image itself.

Lady Sings the Blues (1972)
Diana Ross stars as Billie Holiday in this conventional yet affecting biopic about jazz’s most tragic female star. Focusing on Lady Day’s heroin habit as well as the backstory of her controversial “Strange Fruit,” this film spares no genre cliché. But as a vehicle for Ross, who channels Holiday’s sorrow with an uncharacteristic gravitas, it offers unparalleled pleasure. Plus: Richard Pryor in his first onscreen performance.

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"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy