Playlists: Part One

I recently subscribed to the YouTube Music streaming app, and have been making playlists. There are now many music apps to choose from. I was using Tidal and before that Spotify. To the neophyte, they’re all pretty much the same, click and listen. But for messing around, collecting music, forming playlists, using the app as a reference and research tool, YouTube Music seems to be working well, with one major caveat: lack of performer credits and original recording info easily obtainable while listening – but in that regard, neither Spotify nor Tidal were much better (Prime Music has some info, but lacks detail amid glitzy formatting, while YouTube Music has imported some Wiki discussion). The YouTube Music library is huge, and the search engine responds intuitively, bringing up at least as often as not what I’m looking for, and when not, the discoveries are a pleasure.

I created a YouTube channel to post my playlists. The playlists I’m making are referenced to songs pulled from my music book collection: songs and pieces from readings from books on music, with a special emphasis on guitar.

The first two playlists I made contain pieces adapted from Jerry Silverman instruction manuals, books I’ve managed to keep around me over the years: The Folksinger’s Guitar Guide: An Instruction Manual by Jerry Silverman, Based on the Folkways Record by Pete Seeger (an Oak Publication, New York, 1962), and The Art of the Folk-Blues Guitar: An Instruction Manual by Jerry Silverman (Oak Publications, New York, 1964, Library of Congress # 64-18168). These two books are similar in format, the old black and white pictures alone worth the price of admission, and include notes, tablature, chord diagrams, lyrics, musical analysis, and historical discussion.

In his introduction to his Folk-Blues guitar book, Silverman outlines his predicament at the time: “… there is more information on blues in general in the New York Public Library, for example, in German and French than there is in English!” (11). And Silverman goes on to describe the problem, how, for example, working on his 1955 New York University Master’s Thesis on blues guitar, and his book “Folk Blues” that followed, discussion was limited to piano arrangements, since it was thought that “bona fide guitar arrangements would limit the book’s general usefullness.” This should come as no surprise – Julian Bream, the classical guitarist, when studying music at the Royal College of Music, in the early 1950’s, was told to leave his guitar at home, literally. The school had no guitar classes, no guitar program; the guitar was not considered a viable, virtuous instrument. There was no academically established canon of guitar music available for study or performance. This prejudice against the instrument, in spite of its obvious public popularity, was no doubt also pervasive and included in the States in attitudes opposed to black music, initially of rock and roll music, and of folk music in general, though what is now called the American folk music revival, lasting from the 30’s to the 60’s, did much to mainstream the popularity of the guitar and of blues and folk music.

Silverman also describes his purpose as follows: “Naturally, some basis of what to listen and watch for and whom to imitate must be laid. Throwing the fledgling bluesnik into the turbulent waters of Bluesville without the necessary basic information and technique would render a distinct disservice to the general cause – not to mention the specific aspirant” (11). Of course whole rivers of water have passed under cities of bridges since Silverman’s early 1960’s comments. But the following statement explains something that has not changed: “To get to know how things really are done you must actually observe the player in action. Since there are so many individual styles one never stops learning if one can get to see as well as hear as many guitarists as possible” (Folksinger’s Guitar Guide, p. 5).

The academic bias against the folk guitar may have been somewhat justified considering Woody Guthrie’s description of his method (quoted by Silverman in Folksinger’s Guitar Guide, p. 6): “Leadbelly learnt to play the guitar the same way I did, by ‘ear’, by ‘touch’ by ‘feel’, by ‘bluff’, by ‘guessin”, by ‘fakin’ and by a great crave and drive to keep on playing.”

Well, these were real folks, with real blues. Hearing the lyrics, the stories, of these old tunes one may be surprised to learn or be reminded of how real and how blue. In creating my playlists, I want to stay true to original material but also to benefit from new styles and covers of these old songs.

Give them a listen:

Songlist adapted from Jerry Silverman’s The Art of the Folk-Blues Guitar, 1964
Songlist adapted from Jerry Silverman’s The Folksinger’s Guitar Guide, 1962

Down by the Bay

Summer so dry
waiting for rain
under a tree
radio plays.

Sign by the road
cafe ice cold beer
and the night
falls so slow
down by the bay.

White caps like snow
valley so low
river unfolds
down by the sea.

Walking alone
at night red tide beach
and the sun
takes a bath
down by the bay.

Waiting for you
out in the waves
sand dunes so blue
down by the bay.

Give Me Oranges

No more blues no more
longing for you
I’ve had it up to here
with salt in my beer
waiting for you
to come back home
your breadcrumb gifts
lead up to my door
no no more blues
I’m sitting at home
not hitting the road
and going it alone
not painting the town
in red white and blue
no no more poems
and no more roams
no no no no more tomes
and no longing tones
no no more blues
I’m going away
but then yet again
today I just may stay
one more day
and then I’ll go on
no more blues for you
in my own bed at home
across the dusty floor
I’ll push a lonely broom
no no more blues
I’ve paid all my dues
besides I’ve not a clue
what I’d do without you
I’d be up a tree
I don’t know how to flee
I’ll never be free
but I’ve paid all my fees
I’ve thrown away the keys
to my orange heart
I’m sitting all alone
at the top of the world
no no more blues
no more longing for you
Chega de Saudade
goodbye sadness
I want peace and beauty
to go away too
anyway peace is far from here
and beauty gone to seed
a kiss is silence
the flicker is still
under the green fern
I’m going to pick it up
and put it in the compost
no no more blues
give me orange and gold
apricots and marigolds
sapphron and yellow
the sober sun of morning.

Note: The lyrics to the song “No More Blues” is an adaptation, or a rewrite, by Jessie Cavanaugh and Jon Hendricks, of the 1957 Bossa song Chega de Saudade, music written by Antônio Carlos Jobim and lyrics by Vinícius de Moraes (O Poetinha, “The little poet” of Brazil). Hundreds of versions have been recorded. Literally translated, chega de saudade would read in English enough of longing. A comparison of Moraes’s original lyrics with those of “No More Blues” shows how interpretive the Cavanaugh Hendricks rewrite of “Chega de Saudade” is, and the two songs seem to be a conversation between the one who went away but hears the call of the one who stayed home. It was while working on “No More Blues” for the jazz band Tunes Tardes that I wound up writing my own “version,” even further from the original, this one a poem, namely, as seen above, “Give Me Oranges.”

I Talk to Myself

I talk to myself,
but I’ve not much to say.
I talk to myself,
just like to say hey.
I talk to myself,
and oh by the way,
I put in a good word for you.

When I’m on the road behind the wheel,
I talk to myself and away I peel.
When I’m standing in line at the DMV
I talk to myself like you wouldn’t believe.

I talk to myself,
but I’ve not much to say.
I talk to myself,
just like to say hey.
I talk to myself,
and oh by the way,
I put in a good word for you.

All around town as I walk down the street
I talk to myself while I meet and greet.
After midnight and I’m awake in bed
I talk to myself in the back of my head.

I talk to myself,
but I’ve not much to say.
I talk to myself,
just like to say hey.
I talk to myself,
and oh by the way,
I put in a good word for you.

Autumn Us

In the evening the sun is placed
over 60th and Belmont walking
down the middle of the street
into the powdery scene I snap
a few pics with my phone cam:

Autumn Equinox 2022 from SE Belmont and 68th

Earlier in yard I cut feather grass
as dry as a lint trap and the spent summer
daisies cringed crinkled into dust as
I yanked on the stiff stems like the barber
at my gone to seed hair a mess she said.

Looking west over downtown to West Hills from SE 68th and Stark

End summer evenings still too hot
to walk but coming of Fall equinox
portable air conditioner quiet fan
spins cooler nights tiny blue eyes
charge to pay to keep cool to sleep.

A day later, a bit cooler, orange to blue, Morrison and 68th

So it goes Vonnegut said so it goes
around and around on old vinyl the needle
finishes its drive toward the center the turntable
still spinning the needle clicking back
and forth wanting to stop but caught in the groove.

Caught in the groove walking around and around

No one understands Universe least of all physicists
who must talk a taught tongue while the rest of us
find rhymes and rhythms as we dance around and around
until the moon goes down as Chuck Berry said around and
around until the sun goes down and the moon comes up.

Moonglow

It must have been moonglow
drop these words down to me
must have been moonglow
I’m up in the old oak tree.

Your supermassive hug
your stellar eyes of blue
I can’t get out and away
I’m disappearing into you.

It must have been moonglow
high up in the old oak tree
that night you said those words
and held me so close to you.

All Good Music

I was reading through the Wiki entry for Frank Zappa, can’t remember why, and came across this quote from his autobiography, “The Real Frank Zappa Book”:

Since I didn’t have any kind of formal training, it didn’t make any difference to me if I was listening to Lightnin’ Slim, or a vocal group called the Jewels …, or Webern, or Varèse, or Stravinsky. To me it was all good music.

— Frank Zappa, 1989[1]: 34 

Zappa, Frank; Occhiogrosso, Peter (1989). Real Frank Zappa Book. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-70572-5.

The title of the Zappa book might contain a reference to the musical fake and real books, collections of a kind of shorthand lead sheets used by players as sketch or blueprints to cover pieces. These music books usually fit any song on one page, and show melody notes and chord symbols. The original fake/real books differed from songbooks in that they did not include lyrics and were mostly used by jazz players who only needed guidelines, not strict written scores that might have gone on for pages and still only approximated what one had heard or wanted to hear.

The many versions of fake and real books published over the years complicates a description; suffice to say they provide a recipe for the song, but the musician still needs to do the mixing and cooking. They don’t work like player pianos. That reading above of the title is layered below the obvious one, that so much had been said and written about Frank that he decided to sort the wheat from the chaff and clarify what the real Frank Zappa was all about. I’ve not read it, but I’ve put a copy on hold.

Meantime, what about the part of that quote that says, “all good music.” What is good? What is music?

Fake and Real Books

Starbucks (sung to the tune of “Skylark”)

Starbucks, have you any coffee for me,
can’t you see I am very sleepy,
won’t you tell me where a barista might be,
is there a cappuccino and a table,
an umbrella, and a seat?

Starbucks, can I sit outside your door,
on the sidewalk with a napkin and pen,
writing my poem that no one will read,
doodling my time away
to an ambiguous ending.

And when the barista comes out,
asking me if I’d like some frothy whipped cream,
wonderful cream like the fall of moonlight,
the garden lanterns are lit,
while a gypsy jazz trio plays
dans les nuages.

Starbucks, I don’t know if you have what I need,
a lonely table under a carob tree,
where I’ll sit and sip a cold coffee,
my heart squeezed through a napkin ring,
wishing for skylark wings to fly away and sing.

(“Skylark” is a 1942 jazz standard song, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, music by Hoagy Carmichael.)

Jazz on a Summer’s Day

Jazz on a summer’s day
sleepy jazz on a rainy evening
jazz on the night of a full blue moon.
Jazz on a transistor radio in the next room.

Jazz in a whiteout blizzard
jazz on a foggy morning in the surf
jazz on a summer’s day
jazz when the falling leaves fall.

Jazz in a coffee house with wifi
jazz in a clean well-lighted place
jazz high up in the trees
jazz on a yacht in the tranquil bay.

Jazz trio at the wine bar
jazz aboard a tugboat
on the Mississippi jazz live at five
jazz out a picture window.

Jazz on a crosstown bus
jazz at a sock hop
jazz in the cold grotto
jazz in an empty church.

Jazz from a food cart
jazz in a classroom
jazz in Healdsburg
jazz in Drytown.

Jazz in a confessional
jazz working on the railroad
jazz in a sweatshirt
jazz in jail.

Jazz it kind of got away from you
jazz on steamboats fixing everything
jazz at The Coming of the Toads
jazz in and jazz out of a blue collar.

Jazz on a jukebox
jazz at Terre Rouge
jazz in a red convertible
jazz on a Martian moon.

Jazz in the slow lane
jazzy walk around the block
jazz down on Stark Street
jazz at low tide.

Jazz rumbles across the trestle
jazz if you go out in the woods today
jazz between Scylla and Charybdis
jazz on the air.

Jazz in Seattle in a coal car
jazz at a concert in the park caldera
jazz in the near light like a candle
jazz in the faraway dark quiet.

Jazz alone and jazz together
jazz out there and jazz in here
just jazz at a rent party cleaning
up after they’ve all gone home.

Jazz about this and jazz about that
jazz when flat and jazz while sharp
streaming jazz in a steamy heat
jazz on a fine summer’s day.

No Direction Home

Continuing the theme of home and homelessness, that borrowed title comes from Dylan’s song “Like a Rolling Stone.” The tone conveys not quite, but almost, an atmosphere of schadenfreude, as the speaker inventories in a kind of letter or rant to a former friend a causal argument of falling, in this case, apparently, falling from a position of false security or privilege, of having a good time home to being alone, friendless, homeless. “I told you so,” is in a sense the message. “How does it feel,” the speaker asks, who knows perfectly well how it feels. The theme is Gatsbyesque, peels away the thin skin covering the old reveling times, exposing the hollowness and emptiness of a gilded life, the phony friends, the gold leaf too thin to sustain any doubt, the common metallic iron at the core showing through, glitter gone down the drain. Dylan’s clown dressed in rags becomes the anti-hero living on the streets, rock and roll bottom, gutter run, where everybody’s stuff gets swept away. The title’s source is cliche proverb: A rolling stone gathers no moss. What is moss? A day in the moss, collecting stuff for winter needs. In Dylan’s song, we assume the moss includes all those hangers-on who did not and could not know the real Gatsby, not the Great Gatsby, but the rolling stone Gatsby, the Gatsby whose funeral almost no one attends. The party’s over, things change, everybody’s moved on. One middle class reading of course might not see it this way, still wanting to rise, move up, get a bigger home, nicer car, fancier clothes, borrow a real necklace to wear to the party, the better to feel fitted in to the in-class. And in that same reading, that the rolling stone individual is not a fallen character, for that would suggest it’s possible for any one of us to fall, at any time, for any reason. No, that middle class reading must place blame on the individual, calling their predicament a choice, wanting to recognize that they didn’t fall, couldn’t fall, because they never actually belonged to begin with, even if their fall was, paradoxically, their choice. Either way, they couldn’t win, born to lose. And the beat response? We all need someone to look down on, and if you want to, you can look down on me.