The Kenton Experience

There is a genre of classical music in which pop music is turned into ‘serious’ music. There are lps of the Beatles done as Bach. The Vitamin Quartet has made a career of interpreting the likes of Coldplay, Lady Gaga, even Led Zeppelin as string quartets. All of which I have tucked away in my collection. Of these cross-covers one of my favourites is The Kennedy Experience. 

Led by violin virtuoso Nigel Kennedy this Experience tackles – you guessed it – The Jimi Hendrix Experience. But instead of turning Hendrix into classical music it stretches into an exploration of wider musical horizons. Some meditative, Third Stone From The Sun; some rock out, Fire. All are fantastic & resonant. Music to treasure.

Near by on the shelf is Stan Kenton: 100+ Classic Greats: includes West Side Story. This high quality easy listening jazz. Instrumental music falls into so many categories – some of Kenton’s work falls under exotica, some nightclub, some late night cafe stuff, all good stuff though. This is a jumbled assemblage of a dozen or so lps dumped into a collection. I’ve arranged some of the tracks back into their original release lps, some I left randomized. The Latin tracks were easy to sort, a set of blues, one of show tunes, one of jazz standards.

Kenton is not a challenging band leader but is never boring either. You want challenging try Coltrane 🙂 You want boring try Kenny G. My partner had Kenton’s West Side Story as lp & I enjoyed it enough to replace it with mp3 version & when I checked it out on iTunes up popped this massive collection of 100+ Kenton, for under $10.00. So I bought it. Well worth it.

Another similar massive collection was ‘Songs You Know & Love.’ Songs I knew from movies, some my parents favourites & some from the radio. Performed mostly by original artists. Things like McGuire Sisters: Cuddle Up A Little Closer; Dean Martin: When Your Smiling; Eddie Cantor: Ma, She’s Making Eyes at Me. Another great public-domain jumble from iTunes for under $10.00. 

As I listen to these I wonder how long it’ll be before there are similar mp3 jumbles of today’s stars?

Anticipation 3

Another day Martin would never forget was the day he finally believed the prophecy. As a child he didn’t question the truth of what his parents had told him. At about fourteen he began to doubt, within himself, this weird reality that his parents had forced on him.

The doubt crystallized during a school seminar on ‘The Future.’ Because it had been set out for him ‘to heal the world’ he had never given his future much thought. He had no concept of what he wanted to be when he grew up. The Book made no career references, no hints as to whether he should become a doctor or a garbage man. What profession would suit the healer of the world the most?

His listened to other kids talk about how they had discussed their futures with their parents. Futures that included colleges, marriages; futures that had real plans. All he discussed with his folks was how was school today. He realized how abnormal his parents were. Maybe even a little crazy. The Book, The healing of the world! What a crock! They didn’t even go to church.

He carried those doubts for the next few years. Those years of believing his parents were insane were the worst. He spent days plotting to have them legally committed. He never spoke to his parents about his fears of their sanity. After all, there was food on the table. Rarely any shouting or fighting. A very normal family in all ways but this one little wrinkle – The Book. He pulled away from them & their crazy notions.

His best days were those on which he forgot the prophecy. Sometimes he even had weeks of that blissful forgetting, in which he was just a man plodding through his life as best as anyone else.

The worse days were the ones when he felt painfully trapped by a fate he couldn’t alter. A fate he didn’t particularly care for & which he had tried to escape any way he could.

“What if I die in an accident?” He once asked his mother. “Then what happens to the world? Huh?”

“You won’t Martin. You won’t die.” She admonished him gently.

So he became a daredevil. Drinking hard, playing even harder, fast cars, high mountains. Seeking to escape but always being faced with what couldn’t be changed.

Though his twenties he couldn’t make decisions. He turned his will & his life over to any escape he could find. Alcohol, heroin, women, men. It didn’t matter. His life was charmed & cursed both at the same time.

One fateful night he had a car accident. A little stoned he hit an icy patch, swerved into another car, & rolled his own. He lived. He needed steel pins to put his leg together. Three people died in the other car. He was unconscious for two days.

His mother was there beside his bed. The Book on her lap. As he opened his eyes, she read, with a calm flatness, “Even as a vegetable Martin will fulfill the prophecy. The decision is his.”

“Hell. Hell. Hell.” he muttered painfully. “Why doesn’t it tell me more. I want to know what to do till then.”

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Village Stripper

Instrumental music runs from smooth jazz, to movie background, elevator music, exotica lounge jazz & music for shopping. The key to it is that it is unobtrusive. At once time it would surface on the hit parade: i.e. Stranger on the Shore by Aker Bilk or Percy Faith’s Theme from A Summer Place. Think Lawrence Welk smooth, James Last banal, Kenny G inoffensive. 

I came a cross a boxed 3 lp set of Bert Kaempfert – Strangers in the Night. He is neither the best or the worst of this genre. His orchestrions are safe, at times there are various ‘shadings’ with wordless chorus or hammond organ for variety. Originals & covers of popular songs. Good in small doses 🙂 But small doses aren’t for me as I also have an mp3 of 100+ Classic Greats. (clearly public domain)

The lp to cd transfers also include David Rose: The Stripper – known for TV show themes & as orchestra leader on the Red Skeleton Show, he was at one time married to Martha Raye, later to Judy Garland. The Stripper is that classic sleazy sax shimmy & the rest of the lp keeps that brassy mood. Sort of Dixieland with a dash of banjo are The Village Men – I reclaimed this lp on one of my visits to the east coast. It had been a Xmas present from my folks. An odd mix of styles with things like ‘007 Stomp.’ The cover found on line brings back memories. The lp is available via amazon.uk but I don’t think I really need clean copies – the sound of the needle on vinyl is integral to this music now.

Bill Butler at the Pump Room (https://archive.macleans.ca/article/1962/10/20/chronicle-about-a-revue-maigret-burnford-reed-and-a-possible-liberace) – classic cocktail lounge recorded live in a now defunct Toronto club. I picked it up at the long-departed used record/books store that was walking distance from my house. The Kaempfert mp3 includes Songs You Know & Love; plus a bit of Stan Kenton. 

In fact next to this cd is an mp3 collection of Stan Kenton’s 100+ Original Recordings! This is solid, easy jazz. A step above Kaempfert & moving in the Ellington direction. These 100+ collections are randomized song dumps of lps. Which in Kenton’s case meant that themed lps have been broken up. ‘Themed’ is a popular structure – an lp of show tunes, of bossa nova, etc. 

I did reassemble some of Kenton’s as I did have his West Side Story lp at one time. Also I reassembled his lp of songs from Hair. Both are sublime. There are some collected around latino, film music, even TV themes. If you want easy jazz, that is real jazz, Stan Kenton is a great musician to start with.

Finally to round out & break up the mood I added Songs You Know & Love – more public domain original recording of classic instrumentals & songs by the likes of Judy Garland, Eddie Cantor, The McGuire Sisters, The Mills Brothers. Songs that my mother loved & that I recalled from movies, radio shows. I guess this is now deep nostalgia because today golden oldies means songs by Depeche Mode or Ultravox 🙂

This story goes back, way, way back, to when I was living in Cape Breton. I have done minimal editing for things like spelling, punctuation & name consistency. As you may gather I was not out at the time but clearly wrestling with the process. 

No Fanfare

1

The piano was in tune. I was amused. It had been such a long time since I sat down to play that hearing such perfect F# was almost shocking. I’d expected the upright to sound like the room; cluttered, yet nearly ordered, a confusion of opposites. 

In one corner, between the window & the stereo, was an untidy pile of books, all of which dealt with Surrealist painters; armchairs from at least four different decades of Eaton’s, each upholstered in a different floral print but all the prints were in warm blues & orange. All nearly in tune, a minor chord connecting them, a subtle Debussy harmony.

“First time, eh, David?”

I stopped exploring the piano to listen to his question intermingle with the fading F, underscored by the sound of Scotch being poured over ice at a small bar in other corner of the room. 

The question caught me unprepared, not sure whether to answer with bravado or innocence. I played a few random chords, deciding on innocence because I had accepted this invitation to find some way of progressing beyond bravado.

“Yes.” I admitted. “Does it show?” I laughed to cover my nervousness. Carefully closing the piano I turned on the bench to survey the calculated unbalance of the room once more.

In the brief silence between drinks-mixed & drinks-brought I felt a terrifying, dizzying, self-pity, thinking that I must be pretty screwed up to actually let myself go this far. Lonely wasn’t an easy word for me to use about myself, it smacked of self-pity, rather than the self-realization one expected an admission of loneliness to bring. My need to get behind that admission to its cause brought me here to actualize, or at least confront the cause.

“You play well.”

“Not really, but, thanks.” I mumbled taking my drink & sipping it. “I may fumble with some taste, but play? I’ve never had the discipline or the inclination. Like I said before I am a compulsive listener, a professional admirer.”

“Not too stiff?’

“My fingers?”

“No, the Scotch. I’m not good at judging. I pour some add ice then pour a dash more.”

“This is fine.” I sipped again. The drink didn’t blur my vision or attack my liver. I swivelled on the bench & flipped the piano open. “This amazes me.” I played the F# again, blindly running through a Rachmaninoff prelude. 

“Your piano is so in tune.” I explained, apologetically dropping my hands to my knees.

“Don’t be so nervous.” He sat beside me, briefly putting his hand on my leg. “First times don’t have to be worst times.”

“Sorry, Steve.” I looked him in the eyes, greener than I’d expected in the bright light over the upright, then looked away. “Am I making an ass of myself?”

I was playing lame-duck, not sure of what else to do. Physical, sexual contact with another man had been on my mind for some time, elaborate fantasies of the perfect motions & emotions but those fantasies didn’t prepare or equip me for taking this opportunity. All the clever openings seemed trite. I couldn’t treat this as blithely as I’d just treated Rachmaninoff.

“Not at all. But you are right about one thing.” He reached up & flicked off the piano lamp.

“Which is?”

“You do fumble tastefully.” He laughed putting his arm round me.

“You’re being kind.” I got up & walked over to the window. The touch of his arm was unsettling. I knew touching was inevitable but I wasn’t prepared for it.

“I’ve seen you in the park before.” Steve said. “What ever became of the little red-head?”

“Jean?” I knew the name wouldn’t mean anything to him but it felt good to say it to someone. “We drifted apart. She felt something missing from our life together, something I couldn’t seem to understand.” Something I did understand but never accepted it as being enough to keep us apart but at the same time a something I was afraid would tear us even more than it had, if I’d been able to … Hell, blame falls where it wants, it can’t be altered.

“So when she left, you started having doubts about your manliness?” There was a slight mocking tone to his voice that I liked, one that I used sometimes myself & that familiarity made me more trusting. Maybe I was just anxious to trust, because I never fully trusted Jean. How could I trust her when I couldn’t be honest with myself.

“Partially. I noticed you in the park. Sometimes alone, often with other men.” 

When he approached me I knew the life he led. Not that he swished, wore makeup or the like, but he didn’t hide. 

“Though doubts is a bit too negative. Puzzled would be more like it. Puzzled my manliness.” I used the same mocking tone for manliness as he had.

part 2 next week

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees. Thanks paypal.me/TOpoet