Sunday, December 6, 2009

I’m known to friends and family as a music freak. They call on the phone and don’t know what they’ll hear in the background – anything from Schumann’s Papillons to Tom Waits growling out his dark, often pissed- off visions. Music has such power over me – it ameliorates, annoys, uplifts, dazzles, inspires, energizes and sometimes comes close to bringing me to my knees with some sort of inchoate yearning.
Five in the afternoon, toys strewn around the house, four little boys a year apart, the youngest eighteen months, dinner to prepare and no adult conversation throughout the long day. I put on Ray Charles singing “Busted”, pick up the baby and dance around the room, Ray’s got me going, it’ll be okay.
Bread to bake, but I’m dragging a bit. What cds to stack. I select Ahmad Jamal whose jaunty renditions of Surrey With The Fringe On The Top and Poinciana put me in a good place, then Delbert McClinton shouting out some Texas blues will get the yeast rising. Dr. John’s cynical ramblings and pounding piano next followed by some in your face sexuality courtesy of Ruth Brown and lastly Willie Nelson’s terrific duets on Milk Cow Blues. I’m ready to rock and roll – and knead.
New Orleans Jazz and Blues Fest. It’s over one hundred degrees at the fairgrounds, the only respite to be found is in the gospel tent with a giant cup of iced hibiscus tea,; the tropical blend well-suited to the sultry weather. Fontella Bass belts out “This Little Light Of Mine”, the audience singing and swaying, praise the Lord and hallelujah. On to hear The Neville Brothers, Aaron stone-faced as usual, great performance, the crowd goes wild.
February, the cold grayness of the day a metaphor for my mood. The somber beauty of Brahms Double Concerto, rich and dark as the espresso I’m sipping, and profoundly moving. I wonder, as always, at the genius that creates such magic. Next, I put on a collection of adagios and Albinoni brings my head down on the kitchen table crying tears of release.
Errands to run. I stack the car disc player with “happy music” – uppers. Jerry Jeff Walkers’ infectious good humor, Bobby Enriquez’s pounding piano, Solomon Burkes’ mahogany voice, bluesy and romantic, and Big Joe Turners’ Texaz-style blues. I drive to Home Depot and, parking, see a fellow doing a two-step toward my car. I roll down the window to hear him say “Mama, I ain’t heard Jerry Jeff in a looong time;” I smile and tell him it’s just what I needed today,then he gives me a thumbs- up and dances his way into the store. God, I feel fine. When shopping’s accomplished I head home accompanied by Big Joe’s joyous shouts.
Early on an autumn morning Haydn’s triumphant horn concerto is my caffeine of choice, next will come Berlioz’s Harold In Italy, always nourishment for my soul, and, before starting the work day, the singular pleasure of Murray Perahia’s exquisite interpretation of Chopin sonatas.
I’ve gone through so many musical stages – my teenage infatuation with folk music, an obsession with rock and roll. But today the joys and comforts and exhilarations, the thunderclaps and soul-shattering moments spring from so many sources. Madama Butterfly doubly affecting, triggering memories of my husband, who so loved it. The Five Blind Boys of Alabama sing out with joy and conviction and I’m reminded of a son’s wedding, their songs his chosen recessional. George Jones’s confessionals, the elegance of Tommy Flanagan’s piano, the romance of Johnny Hartman singing with Coltrane, the cerebral performances of Glenn Gould playing Bach’s piano concertos. Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, first heard in a car, returning from New York, and so amazing and thrilling me that I ran out to purchase it the next day and have loved it ever since.
Often I wish I could shout out and be heard – thank you Aretha, Louis, Trane, Bird, Art Tatum, Dave Brubeck, Tony Bennett, Sara Vaughn, Ben Webster, Clark Terry,Dinah Washington. Blessings upon all the great composers of the classics. So many, so gifted and inspiring. The list goes on and I am humbled.
At a lovely country cemetery, surrounded by woods, the dedication of the gravestone. A bagpiper stands at the edge of the tree line playing a mournful “Amazing Grace” and I am brought to my knees with sorrow and longing. It will be a long while before I can hear the joy and redemption in this hymn once again. Memories of my husband, love of my life, wash over me, gorgeous and near-unbearable.
Provence, the Musee’ Vassarelly, a feast for the senses, the artists’ work exhibited in a soaring, glass-walled space with the lagniappe of a soft, jazzy flute in the background. Perfection, never to be forgotten
Chicago, a smoky, raucous club – the drummer recognizes me, swings into “Caravan”, and I’m a nineteen year-old bigshot, part of the in crowd.
In my sunny kitchen, the aroma of bread baking, a wood bowl of Gravenstein apples sitting on the counter, Beethoven’s violin concerto filling the house with glorious sound..
The wonder of music,its unending largesse, variety,sheer magical volume. A song in my heart, a tune in my ear, a yearning in my soul..

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