When I typed Oscar Peterson into the search bar over at YouTube, this is the first video that came up. Since I know virtually nothing about Peterson, I chose to use it for today’s clip. Glad I did, because this is a pretty cool tune.
In case you haven’t already guessed, Oscar Peterson is another one of my dad’s jazz favorites. I was going through some old vinyl the other day, deciding what to keep and what to let go. I decided to hang on to the Ahmad Jamal and Oscar Peterson LPs, along with a few others. Even in the 1950s, when Rock & Roll was being born and my father was a teenager, he gravitated toward jazz. This clip is from the mid-60s, around the same time he would’ve met my mother, but I’m sure he’d been listening to Peterson long before.
He was a quirky dude, my father, with eclectic taste. He loved jazz and poetry and archaeology. He studied ancient Egypt as a hobby; he read The Iliad and The Odyssey to my brother (I remember hearing the Winnie the Pooh books). He could recite pretty big chunks of “The Jabberwocky,” and would frequently read Robert Service poems out loud. He liked to drink and talk and argue. My grandmother used to say he never met a stranger. My mother said once that he could build you a ladder to the moon, and come in on time and under budget. He would always drop money in the Salvation Army’s red kettles at Christmas. He stayed late at work when they ordered him to lay people off, trying to find ways to move the work and money around so that every member of his team could keep their jobs, calling in favors from other departments when he couldn’t keep someone in his. He knew what it was like to be out of work, with a mortgage and family. He used to tell tall tales about going on a cattle drive when he was a teenager (as if my grandmother would’ve allowed that). He took us to the zoo to meet his elephant, Peach. (I don’t remember how he acquired Peach, but he donated her to the San Diego Zoo when he found out how much elephants ate. She lived there, then the Wild Animal Park–which goes by a different name now. They shipped her off to Chicago a few years ago, where she died.) He was a die-hard Yankees fan, and he loved the horse races. He liked rooting for the underdog (I guess that’s where I get it), and he’d do anything for someone he called a friend.
That’s about all the memories I have the strength for right now.
Dedicated to everyone who fought. And everyone who dissented. Because in the United States of America, the dissenter is just as much of a patriot as the soldier.
I’ve been at my mom’s for a few days, and will be here for a few more. She’s home from the hospital, and recovering okay. She’ll be moving in with me soon enough. From one parent to the next. Primarily what this means for the blog is that I might continue to be a little spotty about posting for a while yet. Sorry.
This is not one of Dad’s favorites, but it is a song that always makes me think about him. (Daddy was also the first person I ever heard compare this song to something by Paul Simon. He understood rhythm and stuff from his days of playing clarinet as a kid.) My relationship with my father wasn’t nearly as fractious as Sting’s was with his, but we had our differences. In the last couple years, I got tired of the way he would bait me into arguing about trivial things. We are a family of arguers, but it seemed he was just trying to pick fights out of spite sometimes. My father liked to disagree with people. He liked playing Devil’s advocate. Some of it was him wanting to show off how much he knew; some of it was him wanting attention. Mostly, it was just who he was.
I can hear my father in these lyrics. He would be the guy saying “What good is a used up world, and how could it be worth having?” This song, the whole album really, was kind of a preview for me, a flickering light of the tangle of emotions I knew I’d be feeling when Daddy decided to shuffle off this mortal coil.
Sting wrote The Soul Cages, the album “All This Time” was taken from, in the wake of the deaths of both his parents in a relatively short time. The album is a song cycle, meant to be listened to as a whole. Listening to the songs individually doesn’t hurt, but they’re more meaningful in context. He had a difficult, highly conflicted relationship with his father, and it shows in these songs. If you’ve never listened to the whole album, I recommend it. It is as emotionally and spiritually moving as it is musically pleasurable.
I’m feeling a lot of weird things right now. Relief, anger, overwhelming sadness. Worry for my mother, for my father’s brothers and sister. Pressure to get things done. Annoyance with people expecting me not to be able to figure things out. Tired. I know it’s all part of the process, but I kind of just want everything to be over so I can go back to my life. Even though my life isn’t ever going to be the same again.
So I totally dropped the ball this week on an important classic rock passing, but in my defense, I’ve had a few other things on my mind. And there’s a reason I don’t ever post about the Doors: I don’t like them.
There’s a few Doors songs I kind of enjoy, which means I won’t turn off the radio immediately if they come on. But I generally make it a point not to listen to the Doors. I think Jim Morrison was a pretentious twit. (I also happen to think he faked his death in 1971, and went on to live a quiet life of anonymity on a ranch somewhere in Wyoming. Or something like that.) I think Ray Manzarek was an even more pretentious twit. But he was loyal to his band, and the memory of his friend. He was a father, a grandfather, a husband, and a musician. And he helped create a sound that defines some important years for a lot of listeners.
Fact is, Manzarek could play really well. Yeah, his organ solo on the album version of “Light My Fire” goes on just a snick too long (I’ve always had fantasies of sneaking up and unplugging that damn thing). But he knew his stuff. He was a tireless promoter not just of himself, but of music in general and the memory of Jim Morrison in particular. “Break on Through” is one of the few Doors songs I can listen to without screaming, and it features some awesome organ work by Manzarek. I might not like the Doors or Ray Manzarek very much, but I will not downplay his talent or his importance. Their importance as part of the rock scene in SoCal is huge; they were the house band at the Whiskey a Go Go in the 60s. The Doors’ music had a peculiarly Californian type of existential dread to it, and Manzarek’s organ added a wonderful depth to it. This is the sound of suburban malaise gone toxic. It also rocks pretty hard.
So on behalf of his fans and loved ones, I join the chorus of voices wishing Ray Manzarek farewell. It’s not my thing, but his music mattered.
Ahmad Jamal was always one of Daddy’s faves. His taste in jazz ran kind of funny. He tended toward the piano players and combos. Most of what he liked was kind of weird and eclectic, but there was a streak of smooth jazz in him (The Modern Jazz Quartet and Tom Scott being the smoothest). I tried to get him to go out and see Jamal play on the occasions the man toured in our area, but Daddy generally preferred to stay home with his puzzle books and Law & Order reruns. It’s too bad; he could’ve seen something like this.
A commenter on YouTube said this track was called “One,” so that’s what I’m going with. In spite of my father’s love for Jamal’s music, he never caught on with me the same way Monk did. I like the music, but I’m not enthralled by it. I’ve always tended toward horn players, like Charlie Parker or Wynton Marsalis. I don’t know what preferences in jazz instrumentation mean; probably nothing. I also abhor smooth jazz, favoring instead anything smokey and greasy—I like my jazz kinda dirty. Maybe Ahmad Jamal is a little too refined for my taste. He’s got some spice to his playing, with just the right amount of Afro-beat, but it all seems kind of clean.
Speaking of clean, I’ve begun going through the clothes and stuff. I’m going to wash a bunch of things and donate them, but there’s a lot of stuff that ought to be taken out and burned. Daddy liked to wear his clothes until they were literally falling off his body. (You have no idea how many times we’d go somewhere, and I’d glance at him only to notice the shoulder of his shirt had torn open. Or the elbow. Or the back pocket of his pants.) I know there’s a lot of people in the midwest right now that wouldn’t mind some of my father’s old shirts.
I’m trying to get back into the swing of the blog, but I might be a little irregular sometimes. I’m still kind of a wreck emotionally. And since my mom is sick again, I’ve got her to worry about, too. I haven’t been able to lean on her for support the way I want to because she’s ill, so that’s been adding to my stress levels. The only thing that seems to be going right is that Dad’s piles of papers are mostly useless, and I can toss the stuff. Right now, it’s a lot of waiting for forms to fill out and other stuff. *sigh* It’s a good thing there’s music.
One of the things I will always be grateful to my father for is introducing me to the music of Thelonious Monk. The jagged, dissonant notes blend seamlessly. No one played piano link Monk. Jazz helps fill something inside of me that I had no idea was empty, and it helps to listen to it now.
I’m sorry, everyone, but I have to take a little time off. My father passed away this afternoon, and I just don’t have any music in me right now. Since I love this space and all of you very much, I’ll probably be back soon. I might not be posting happy stuff, but I’ll be back.