When jazz cats cover classical

I got to wondering the other day, what’s the best-ever jazz cover of a tune from classical music? Seems strange that jazzinfluenced classical stuff seems so much better known than the reverse. Is there a jazz-community stigma from drawing on the old white stuff? A classical tendency to canonize? More marginalized musicians? A comparatively higher level of general quality in in-house jazz than in-house classical? Maybe I’m just more ignorant?
In any case, the question came up when I was listening for the millionth time to what is my nominee for #1, Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane & Co.’s cover of Abide with Me. Take a great tune by William Henry Monk (no relation?) and add some breathy woodwinds. What a beautiful piece of music.

"Abide with Me" sheet music

You’d have to try pretty hard to mess that one up. Another bulletproof melody comes from Joaquín Rodrigo‘s Concierto de Aranjuez, which I think is probably better known in Miles Davis form:

Another strong contender for 2nd place is Duke Ellington’s twist on Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite:

Also, the man has charisma coming out of his ears:

Beyond those, I didn’t know any really outstanding ones. Bill Evans’ version of Fauré’s Pavane seems a little safe and boring until you get to the improv. At least he avoids the heavy, trodding, sappiness that a lot of classical recordings seem to embrace. Wayne Shorter’s take on Sibelius’ Valse Triste is lively. Glenn Miller’s riff on Verdi’s Anvil Chorus ranks above the Woody Herman recording of Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance, but both are a little too… swing-y? Big band-y? for my tastes. I don’t expect anything different from those guys, but I’ve always struggled with the big band stuff. Although maybe that’s because I’m not dancing. I wonder what else I’m missing.

In Nicaragua

View from Iglesia La Merced
I kept a regular journal on this recent vacation, as I did so diligently on previous long hikes and last year’s trip to Iceland. This was a lazier trip than I’d ever done, so I wrote more than ever before. I may have have more to say about travel in general and and some Nicaraguan sites I saw in later posts, but here are some things that struck me…

  • Irish pubs seem to act as a sort of international safehouse for gringos/foreigners in general.
  • A lot of unions give away labeled promotional goods: caps, shirts, etc. One of my taxi drivers was a member of the local taxi union in León. His union gave its members long sleeves, but without the shirt part. The purpose? Well, it’s usually hot, and a/c can be either non-existent or a waste, so you drive with the window open. You put the sleeve on your left arm so you don’t get sunburn when you have it propped on the window. Brilliant.
  • I like how the environment, architecture, and community interrelate. Warm temperature year-round means that many homes feature some sort of open-air courtyard in the middle. And doors and windows often have some sort of iron fencework, so you can open your door for breezes but still keep folks from wandering in. In the afternoons, folks would throw the doors wide and pull out chairs and sit with neighbors. It reminded me of Southern front porch culture. On a similar note, lots of sunlight meant that interior lights were almost never on during the daytime. There was plenty of light coming in through the doors and reflected off tile floors, and you probably want something a bit dimmer after walking in the sun anyway.
  • Food service was slow almost everywhere. I got to be okay with this.
  • I’ve become less interested in trying to take “good” pictures of things. At home I take much more with my crappy cameraphone. A quick snap and move on. Whatever happens to be in the frame, no problem. For most travel landmarks I can usually google a better photo if I really need the aesthetic jolt. For “memories,” I’m better served by taking some time to draw it, or just grabbing what’s there in a snapshot. There’s something to be said for good framing, lighting, and so on, but I think it can over-sanitize the moment in a way that doesn’t really do justice to the experience. Amiright?

And a few other amusing events:

  • One of those quintessential juxtapositions of old and new: a woman who hawks flowers from a basket balanced on her head takes a break to chat on her cellphone. Cliché, yes. But sense of surprise and delight in seeing it probably says something about the assumptions I’d made.
  • Similar juxtaposition seen on a daily basis: carts being pulled by donkeys down 4-lane highways, narrow alleys, and everything in between.
  • Seeing lizards scaling the walls and ceiling of a restaurant. To be expected when you’re seated next to an open courtyard.
  • Over dinner, hearing a Spanish version of Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” playing on the radio, followed by Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind”.
  • And a Nicaraguan cover band tearing it up on a Friday night: Pink Floyd, CCR, The Beatles, etc. One of those moments you’re really glad for mass culture.

I’ll tumble for ya

I set up a separate tumbly thing on this domain. Here’s the feed for the tumbly thing. This whole operation was no doubt inspired by the blog/tumblr separation that Austin Kleon and Ryan Coleman have been doing for a while. Not too long ago Ryan also shared some thoughts on rolling up your content that helped decide the matter.
The tumblr will be a nice place to gather bits of influence and inspiration—hopefully both more frequent for you and less time-consuming for me; I’ll reserve the home page here for personal stuff and bigger projects TBD. I might clean up the tumblr styling later, and will probably break things in the process, but it’s up and running and good enough for now. Enjoy.

A couple years ago, Stanford hosted an evening with Leonard Cohen and Philip Glass. Over an hour of conversation (pdf transcript), AND they made the audience submit questions via notecards! A good bit from Glass:

Someone recently was showing me a book that this person was writing and she said, do you have any advice? I said, Yes, my advice is: Don’t stop working before the book is finished. And I quickly added: Because it’s in the last moments of the work that the quality appears. It doesn’t happen at the beginning; it happens at the end.

This nice appreciation of Susan Boyle reminded me of the hip vs earnest bit from Randy Pausch’s book:

No matter how much we mock those we consider beneath us, it’s much more satisfying to be reminded that everyone has dignity…

Eventually, we’ll all feel like outcasts, and none of us wants to be laughed at. The Susan Boyle Story suggests we won’t be…

Whether or not that moral is true in the real world, it’s alluringly true in the Susan Boyle Story. By participating in the narrative that television has constructed for her, by cheering her on and watching her video over and over, we can not only feel good about graciously welcoming an outsider, but also feel relief for helping create a world that will someday welcome us.

[via marginal revolution]