Badarzewska-Baranowska in the News

I turn up in “5 Minutes That Will Make You Love the Piano” in the New York Times. My selection is “The Homeless Wanderer” by Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou. This choice has proven successful, at least in the sense that many people have written to me, “Wow, I didn’t know about her! She’s great.”

The previous DTM post about this Ethiopian nun is “The Story of the Wind.” In that post I namecheck Tekla Bądarzewska-Baranowska’s “The Maiden’s Prayer,” which has turned out to be Lang Lang’s choice for “5 Minutes That Will Make You Love the Piano.” H’mm!

“The Maiden’s Prayer” is indeed a proven “gateway drug” selection. It’s not a great piece of music but it offers compelling introductory level piano glamor. (Lang himself plays it very well, of course.)

“The Maiden’s Prayer” makes me think of the theme to “Hill Street Blues,” also in E-flat, written by Mike Post almost exactly one hundred years after Badarzewska-Baranowska’s hit. How many kids have fooled around with the big box thanks to being shown these charismatic collections of E-flat, A-flat, and B-flat triads?

Hiatus

I’m going on a 7-week tour with the Mark Morris Dance Group doing Pepperland and taking a break from social media (except cute photos with dancers on Instagram) until May. Do the Gig listings will continue. Don’t forget to subscribe to Transitional Technology if that’s your kind of thing. (I seem to be responding to emails from the associated Substack address, at least some of the time).

DTM in 2019 has included:

Lil Hardin

Lennie Tristano

Theory of Harmony

a guest post in memoriam Ira Gitler by Mark Stryker: The Bard of Bebop

and there was also a look at Don Shirley for the New Yorker Culture Desk.

Thanks for reading! Much more Iversonian text when I’m back, I have several things I’ll be working on while on tour.

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Rob Schwimmer put together the geography of the upcoming weeks as follows. Please say hi if you come to the show! P.S. I am playing trio with Jeff Williams and Conor Chaplin at the Vortex March 24, and duo with Martin Speake at the 606 Club on April 22.

LONDON
BIRMINGHAM  — WEST MIDLANDS
SALFORD — GREATER MACHESTER
BRADFORD — WEST YORKSHIRE
EDINBURGH — MIDLOTHIAN
CANTERBURY — KENT
CARDIFF — SOUTH GLAMORGAN
PLYMOUTH — DEVON
SOUTHAMPTON — HAMPSHIRE
NORWICH — EAST ANGLIA
NEWCASTLE — TYNE AND WEAR
DUBLIN

Photo with Dance Heginbotham yesterday in Philadelphia:

dance heginbotham

Brian Garfield, Charles McCarry, James Dapogny

[A few days ago I mentioned three passings, Michel Legrand, André Previn, and Ed Bickert. Today, three more.]

In the Crimes of the Century I include Brian Garfield and Charles McCarry.

While some fans argue that Charles McCarry was the greatest American spy novelist, I find the faint undercurrent of conservative politics — or at least a kind of sentimental elitism — a bit troubling. McCarry is the “thinking person’s spy novelist” only if that thinking person believes that the establishment naturally produces our best and brightest. However, that quibble hasn’t prevented me from reading every installment of the Paul Christopher series. The prose is masterful and the details are fresh. While most of the obits name-check his earliest books, in my view McCarry improved over time. If I had to pick one from McCarry’s heyday I might suggest Second Sight, which concludes a long family saga somewhat in the manner of bestselling mainstream authors of the era like Herman Wouk or James Clavell.

McCarry is frequently compared to John LeCarré. Both wrote enormous and sophisticated books full of betrayal and both careers peaked during the Cold War. For my money, LeCarré remains indisputably greater, although LeCarré also seemed to lose his way a bit after the fall of the Berlin Wall. McCarry’s delightfully direct thriller from 2004, Old Boys, showed a possible way to go forward, although that momentum was lost in the following Christopher’s Ghosts. A surprising attempt at dystopian science fiction, Ark, has an Elon Musk-type of hero bent on saving part of the world’s population. I need to look at that again; indeed, it is probably time to review all of McCarry. Whatever their flaws, the books go down easy.

Charles McCarry was a product of the establishment 1950s, while Brian Garfield was a child of the disgruntled 1960s. Garfield’s comic masterpiece Hopscotch trumps all of McCarry and might be the great American spy novel. I’ve read and re-read Hopscotch over a dozen times and it never fails to satisfy.

Nothing else I know by Garfield has the same power. Indeed, some of his books are quite bland and workmanlike, which is why I’ve never felt compelled to collect them all. There might be other masterpieces in the Garfield canon but I suspect most are in the middleweight class. When I was younger I enjoyed Kolchak’s Gold, an international thriller that includes a vivid first person account of the Russian Civil War. It’s better than something similarly situated by Ken Follett or Frederick Forsyth, but any given paragraph will probably lack the natural charisma of Garfield’s friends and peers Donald Westlake and Lawrence Block.

Garfield’s most famous book is Death Wish. Thanks to the Charles Bronson movie, “vigilante justice” became a rallying cry for the worst instincts of the reactionary establishment. Garfield’s follow-up, Death Sentence, attempted to tame and reframe the message of the original to no avail: The popular Bronson sequels kept the structure of the first installment.

Garfield’s output dwindled sharply after all that hullabaloo. It would be interesting to learn the whole story of Garfield’s relationship to his work and the outsized footprint left by Death Wish.

I regret that I never chased down and met James Dapogny. He was always on my list, and I once sent an email that didn’t elicit a response. Truthfully I know very little about Dapogny, never even heard him play piano, but the big book Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton: The Collected Piano Music is one of kind. The first time I looked at it I was bewildered: There was something this good about jazz in the world of the printed page? While much of DTM is partly in reaction against Gunther Schuller’s Early Jazz and other heavy-handed academic jazz texts, I am not reacting against Dapogny. Dapogny is more of a father figure for this website.

Mark Stryker has shared an old article about Dapogny’s work on an obscure James P. Johnson opera.

Michel Legrand, André Previn, Ed Bickert

20th Century musical legends are leaving us at an accelerated rate.

Michel Legrand wrote two of my favorite songs: “The Windmills of Your Mind” and “You Must Believe in Spring.” In both cases the lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman are integral to the finished work. Noel Harrison sings wonderfully in the credits to The Thomas Crown Affair. (The title sequence is by Pablo Ferro, also recently passed.)

André Previn was a splendid Gershwin pianist (Aaron Diehl turned me on to Previn’s Concerto in F) and a sympathetic conductor (I admire the Rachmaninoff concertos with Ashkenazy). I don’t know most of his other work so well, but an anecdote from his days writing music for Hollywood is immortal:

One day, the story goes, [Irving Thalberg] was in his projection room running a new MGM film when something on the sound track bothered him. “What is that?” he asked irritably into the darkness. “What is that in the music? It’s awful, I hate it!”

The edge in his voice required an answer, even if that answer was untainted by knowledge. One of his minions leapt forward. “That’s a minor chord, Mr. Thalberg,” he offered. The next day, an inter-office memo arrived in the music department with instructions to post it conspicuously. It read as follows: “From the above date onward, no music in an MGM film is to contain a ‘minor chord.’” Signed, “IRVING THALBERG.”

(From the memoir of the same name, No Minor Chords.)

Ed Bickert was one fourth of one of the greatest jazz LPs of all time, Paul Desmond’s Pure Desmond with Ron Carter and Connie Kay. Peter Hum has more about Bickert, including a link to Bickert dealing with “Have You Met Miss Jones” and an accompanying transcription. Just fabulous playing from all three musicians, including Don Thompson and Terry Clarke: kind of a “Canadian All-Star” band!