Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Ladies Of Jazz, by Wiggia

I always for non-too-obvious reasons thought that the singing of the ladies in the jazz era outshone the equivalent male; maybe it was simply that there were more of them, certainly the big band era had a whole bevy of great singers fronting these bands and many were launched into their solo careers after many years of “learning the ropes” in front of some great musicians and bandleaders.

Ella was of course the stand out performer and it is easy to forget she started recording in 1935 first with Chick Webb Orchestra and in the same year Billie Holiday with Teddy Wilson's Orchestra , so both had been around a long time when I first heard them in the sixties.

For me Ella became such a big star her music became somewhat “as expected” in later years. Her early work is not easy to find but this example is exquisite. I vowed to only put up items with videos but with the older material it is not always possible and the later Ella works don’t have this purity.

Of course with Ella the output was enormous and several articles on her alone would not be enough to cover her work.

Billie Holiday falls into a completely different category: an appalling life of prostitution as a youngster and drugs finished her in the end but not before such from-the-heart numbers as this - the words in this number were indeed so much her.

Sarah Vaughan was always my favourite female artist. The Divine Sarah was indeed just that in her youth and the voice matched, she later had a pop interlude and a big success with Billie Eckstein and “Passing Strangers” before returning to her roots later, a lot bigger in person but having lost none of ability. This again is an earlier number with video, not the best of her catalogue but the best I could find with video; not only is she sublime in this but the diction is nigh perfect.

A lady who is often overlooked but was a huge star of the time is June Christy or “cool” Christy as she was known. She sang with one the great bands of the time, Stan Kenton and had this clean cut style she made her own. Again videos with Kenton are few and quality poor but this whilst not my favourite Christy number shows her where she was at her best fronting Kenton's Orchestra.

I have tried and will keep this short intro to the ladies of the time and will put together another item with some later additions, many of course who cross over.

But I will include this slightly off topic June Christy number for one reason that having Nat King Cole on the piano which is where he started out and Mel Torme, my favorite male singer on drums is something of a coup and shows that at the time she was a huge star, indulge me on this one.

Helen Humes was an early singer with Basie and here she is with the man and a small group, she came from a blues gospel background and much of her later work was in that context, but here she is enjoying herself.

Smooth is how I would describe Julie London and in this ‘64 rendering of Cry Me a River she certainly is. There are several versions available of this but I wanted to keep it as of the time.

I always felt that Dinah Washington was a lot better than a lot of the schmaltz and strings numbers she punched out in later life; this number she made her own though not the first to record it. I finish with another videoless offering, despite several versions of this none are ‘live’, so you will have to just suffer the glorious tones of Dinah's voice on its own.

And another non video to finish, Helen Merrill, a lady much respected at the time but not so well known now. Here she is singing with the trumpeter Clifford Brown whose own career sadly ended at the age of 25 in a car crash.

There were of course many others from this “Golden Age “ of jazz but these ladies were a big part of a wonderful era.


Many thanks for the above piece by guest contributor Wiggia, who also posts on Nourishing Obscurity and AKHaart (e.g.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Friday Night Is Music Night: Skye's The Limit (JD's Runrig selection)

Runrig are more or less completely unknown in England but they have been performing for more than 40 years. They are from Skye and are hugely popular in northern European countries and in the US and Canada as well as at home of course.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Can the poor be helped?

Last week, Jeremy Clarke recounted how he met a City trader friend who tried to help the poor:

"Ivan told me a story about a Brazilian girlfriend who took him home to a shack in the favela to meet the family... The mother, father, brother and sister were sunk in inertia, booze and daytime television. Ivan bought the brother an 18-wheel truck to start a haulage business; he paid for the sister to go to college; and he bought the father a Chevrolet. 

"One year later the haulage business was bankrupt and the truck confiscated, the sister had dropped out of college, and the Chevy was written off. All three were back boozing in front of the TV... 

"He drew no firm conclusion from his Brazilian experience and told other stories illustrating how a small piece of timely luck or support had transformed people’s lives, including his own."

Online discussions are often not very pleasant - wearing a persona tempts us to let our ignoble side off the leash - and so I suppose there will be those who laugh at the story, saying it was inevitable and let the poor stew in their own juices. But as Clarke says, even the trader drew no firm conclusion from this.

My feeling is it was just too much all at once. Windfalls - gambling wins, handouts - come and go, have no connection to our essential selves.You have to get people to grow by stretching just a bit beyond their comfort zone - what they envision as currently, realistically possible for them. It's the self-sabotaging gremlins you have to fight.

We all have that challenge, and it's very real - if JK Rowling hadn't faced down her personal "dementors" she could not have gone from sitting in an Edinburgh cafe to billionairess. [Her fiction is successful because it contains solid psychic fact - "imaginary gardens with real toads in them", as Marianne Moore said. Who can fail to recognise the wrenching longing when Harry looks in the Mirror of Erised?]

Most of us do not have to go from rags to riches. We can't all be rich anyhow - who would wash our cars?

A job would do - reasonably paid, secure, with defined hours (half the country does little or nothing now, the other half loses its life in overwork) and a sense that one is doing something useful. Comradeship at work, respect at home for your contribution.

Can it be done?


Jeremy Clarke:
Marianne Moore:
The Mirror of Erised:
Adult literacy advert:

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Quantum Cubism", by JD

This recent post ended with an image of Georges Braque's painting 'Bottles and Fishes' and the conclusion - "Rather than individual historians arguing from differing standpoints, maybe modern history should be Cubist, offering many-faceted perspectives in the same composition."

That is a very astute observation and it is a viewpoint which could be applied to many other things.

A few months ago I was reading about quantum fragmentation as well as something else on consciousness and the fragmentation of memory and the quantum nature of our neural network. Can't remember exactly where I read it but it also mentioned how the visual cortex 'constructs' images from photons striking the rods and cones in the eyes etc etc (complicated thing to explain) and I had a 'light bulb' moment. I thought - that's a description of cubism! So I went searching in the almighty Google and, sure enough, others had been struck by the same idea. One of the things I found was this about the painter Jean Metzinger-

"For Metzinger, the classical vision had been an incomplete representation of real things, based on an incomplete set of laws, postulates and theorems. He believed the world was dynamic and changing in time, that it appeared different depending on the point of view of the observer. Each of these viewpoints were equally valid according to underlying symmetries inherent in nature. For inspiration, Niels Bohr, the Danish physicist and one of the principle founders of quantum mechanics, hung in his office a large painting by Metzinger, La Femme au Cheval,[7] a conspicuous early example of 'mobile perspective' implementation (also called simultaneity).[8]"

And this is the painting-

Clearly Niels Bohr had seen the connection between his own thinking on the nature of reality as described by his work in the field quantum mechanics and Metzinger's thinking on how to represent reality using the medium of paint, how to represent time and movement as well as different viewpoints all within a single painting.

It is popularly assumed cubist and abstract painting was a response to photography and how the camera could portray the world just as well as or better than painters could. But that is not true. David Hockney has suggested that the invention of photography was a logical consequence of the invention of perspective in art. "The photograph is the ultimate Renaissance picture. It is the mechanical formulation of the theories of perspective of the Renaissance."

As I have explained previously in these pages, perspective is an aberration in the history of art. Look to Chinese scroll painting or Japanese art or even the Bayeux Tapestry and at no other time in history was verisimilitude considered important for the representation of the world.

Just as scientists at the end of the 19th century were dissatisfied with the orthodox view of physics so artists at the same time were also dissatisfied with the constraints of the rigidities of perspective. In both cases, scientists and artists 'knew' the world did not conform to previously held theories.

Before cubism appeared Claude Monet was increasingly preoccupied with the depiction of light. He would paint the same subject again and again trying to catch the subtleties of light at different times of day or different times of year. Think of his many depictions of haystacks. There is a series of paintings of Rouen Cathedral hanging side by side in the Musée d'Orsay (they may have been moved since I saw them there) and the effect is impressive.

"The cathedral paintings allowed him to highlight the paradox between a seemingly permanent, solid structure and the ever-changing light which constantly plays with our perception of it."

What Monet was doing was exploring the effects of what science calls quantum electrodynamics -

"QED mathematically describes all phenomena involving electrically charged particles interacting by means of exchange of photons and represents the quantum counterpart of classical electromagnetism giving a complete account of matter and light interaction."

The study of QED has its roots, believe it or not, in the scientific investigations of two Arab philosophers - Al Kindi (801 - 873 AD) and Ibn Al Haytham (965 - 1040 AD). Their theories were examined and expanded upon by Roger Bacon (c.1219/20 – c.1292) and by Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln (c.1175 – 1253) But with the arrival of the Renaissance (and the reconquista in Spain) interest in Arabian philosophers and scientists faded and such studies were forgotten until the 20th century.

The painter who really fused science with art was Salvador Dali.

"A symposium titled ‘Culture and Science: Determinism and Freedom’, held at the Dalí Teatre- Museu in 1985 was a fitting realisation of Dalí’s contemporary Renaissance belief ‘that artists should have some notions of science in order to tread a different terrain, which is that of unity’ (quotation in response to a journalist from Le Figaro newspaper, Salvador Dalí and Science, Carme Ruiz, Dalí Study Centre, Newspaper El Punt, 18 October 2000).

Attended by scientists, including some Nobel prize winners, philosophers, artists, writers and musicians, the conference sought to explore the role of chance in nature. Dalí, too weak to attend, but fascinated by the ideas and arguments expressed, watched from a television monitor in his bedroom, He later invited some of the key speakers, including René Thom and the Nobel Laureate chemist Ilya Prigogine, to meet him personally in order to engage in further discussion.

Dalí’s level of understanding of modern science is debated, but it is clear that his deep intuition allowed him to feel totally at ease in the company of scientists whose language was a constant source of inspiration to him. When Dalí died in 1989, books by Matila Ghyka, Erwin Schrödinger and Stephen Hawking were found by his bed."

A study of his paintings reveals a subtle incorporation of scientific ideas; "The persistence of memory" with its melting watches, "Leda Atomica" and especially "Corpus Hypercubus" which he described as a four dimensional representation of the Crucifixion. Even his elaborate signature was inspired by the liquid crown visible in a stroboscopic image of a milk-drop splash photographed by engineer Harold Edgerton in 1926.

Here is one of Dali's more interesting cubist pictures which plays games with our perception -Lincoln in Dalivision: This is a lithograph based on a painting by Dali. There are two versions of the original painting, one is in the Dalí Theatre and Museum in Figueres, Spain and the other is in the permanent collection of The Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Recently David Hackney has been exploring similar ideas and this painting is a wonderful portrayal of spatial illusion as well as time, because of the time involved in looking at each part in relation to the whole and to other parts.

Hockney: A Walk Around the Hotel Courtyard, Acatlan, 1985 oil on 2 canvases, 72x240 in.
I have come to the reluctant conclusion that after the Renaissance, the scientific revolution begun by Robert Boyle and others, the Enlightenment, 'the age of reason', the industrial revolution, political revolutions in France the Americas and Russia and all culminating in the modern dream of artificial intelligence, it seems as though western 'civilisation' has lost its soul, has denied the existence of anything other than the material world.

Scientists delved deeper and deeper into matter looking to find the 'building blocks' of our existence and eventually found........ nothing. There are no building blocks, there is only energy. Einstein concluded that matter was nothing more than 'congealed electricity' and the Indian philosopher, Sri Aurobindo Ghose, describes the material world as being composed of 'frozen light'.

Over the past 500 years or so, all of western philosophical and scientific thought has been driven by logic and the error of that can be summed up by one of Niels Bohr's more famous quotes - "You're not thinking; you're merely being logical."

If one is only using logic, then no real thinking is taking place. Thinking requires logic along with critical analysis to form an evaluation. Or in other words, love of logic has superseded love of humanity. And AI, in particular, is an expression of the negation of humanity and a denial of the spirit within man.

It comes as no surprise then that the leading figures in sub-atomic enquiry were confounded by what they had discovered and, in order to make sense of it all they turned to to the east. Robert Oppenheimer went back to studying the Bhagavad Gita. David Bohm's book 'Wholeness and the Implicate Order' begins by looking at the differences between western and eastern ways of thinking.

This is all getting very complicated! But it is good to have our imagination teased and stretched, to continue to try to make sense of the world. And the only way to do that is to close your books (burn them as Michael Maier suggested?) and switch off all of your electronic distractions and go out and look at the world as if you had never seen it before. Look at it as being 'cubist' in appearance. See it in the way Dali 'saw' both Lincoln and his wife Gala within the same space. The fragments of reality you see depend on how you see them, whether they are close up or at a distance, in light or shade, static or moving etc. The mind must assemble and re-assemble these constantly changing fragments to come close to understanding what it is that we perceive.

To rephrase the quote at the beginning of this short essay, "Rather than individuals arguing from differing standpoints, maybe the world is Cubist, offering many-faceted perspectives in the same composition."


David Hockney-

Monet; Rouen Cathedral

quantum electrodynamics

Al Kindi and Ibn Al Haytham

Roger Bacon

Robert Grosseteste

the observer effect-

Dali and science

Dali and science

The dream of reason

Sri Aurobindo Ghose

Robert Oppenheimer and the Bhagavad-Gita

David Bohm, 'Wholeness and the Implicate Order'

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


It's odd, but just as Western society is becoming very laid-back on sexuality, we are seeing the rise of a class of linguistic law-makers battling prejudices that are ceasing to exist.

I'd have thought that this modern nonsense started with "Ms", but Wikipedia tells us that the first proposal for this marital-status-neutral honorific goes back to 1901:

"The earliest known proposal for the modern revival of "Ms." as a title appeared in The Republican of Springfield, Massachusetts on November 10, 1901:

There is a void in the English language which, with some diffidence, we undertake to fill. Every one has been put in an embarrassing position by ignorance of the status of some woman. To call a maiden Mrs is only a shade worse than to insult a matron with the inferior title Miss. Yet it is not always easy to know the facts... 

Now, clearly, what is needed is a more comprehensive term which does homage to the sex without expressing any views as to their domestic situation, and what could be simpler or more logical than the retention of what the two doubtful terms have in common. The abbreviation "Ms" is simple, it is easy to write, and the person concerned can translate it properly according to circumstances. For oral use it might be rendered as "Mizz," which would be a close parallel to the practice long universal in many bucolic regions, where a slurred Mis' does duty for Miss and Mrs alike." 

Before then, as Shakespeare readers will know, "Mistress" ("Ms" for short) merely indicated an adult female. In an age when gays can marry and nearly half of British children are born out of wedlock, the issue is dead anyhow.

Although the Académie Française-like attempt to regulate our language is associated with the Left, this week the Archdruid says that prejudice against gays sometimes came from that side, not from the Right:

"The crusade against the “lavender menace” (I’m not making that phrase up, by the way) was one of the pet causes of the same Progressive movement responsible for winning women the right to vote and breaking up the fabulously corrupt machine politics of late nineteenth century America. Unpalatable as that fact is in today’s political terms, gay men and lesbians weren’t forced into the closet in the 1930s by the right. They were driven there by the left."

There are serious dangers in skewing the coding of our thought-processes. Words are so fundamental to the way we perceive and communicate; we don't need yahoos pissing in our mental swimming-pool. But on they will go - here is one try at gender-neutral pronouns:

The above - somehow reminiscent of the dialect-poetry of William Barnes - is reproduced from the University of Wisconsin's website. I'm glad I'm not at college now. When did universities turn from the free exchange of ideas to the suppression of them? This isn't about liberation; it's about power.

Still, after the ant-lion comes the ant-lion wasp, and I follow Milo Yiannopoulos with interest as he explodes the intolerance of those who claim to represent tolerance; it's mischievously delicious. UC Davis in California is the latest example (and to be consistent, now I have to reconsider my intense dislike of pharmaceutical profiteer Martin Shkreli, who was also scheduled to speak).

Come to England, dear children. We have been a conquered nation for almost a thousand years, and despite many changes of axe-handle and blade the structure of exploitation and oppression remains the same - how else could we explain the deep, systematic treachery of our elite? Little wonder that we pretty much taught the world principled civil war and revolution, and those experiences taught us a lesson, too. One positive consequence for us grunts is that we have a don't-give-a-damn attitude to most attempts at whipping us into some fresh Puritan frenzy. "We don't need no re-education," to misquote the [college-educated] boys of Pink Floyd.

Thirty-some years ago, a teaching colleague met one of her ex-pupils, a burly lad who had decided to "come out" and made, she said, a most peculiar-looking woman (though of course he was not attempting impersonation). She wished him well, calling him by his name, Bill, to which he replied, "Billette, if you don't mind." Very sweet; so polite.

And no problems with assertion there.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Lower 45: How The USA Could Have Lost 3 States To Mexico In WWI

The Zimmerman deal

100 years ago this month, Germany was losing World War I and was looking for help. Its Foreign Secretary sent a telegram to Mexico, promising the return of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico in return for military support if the USA should enter the War.

Thanks to a cable-cutting competition between the Allies and Germany, the only way for the latter to transmit the message was from London via the first submarine link laid to America, which ran into the sea near the tiny, remote village of Porthcurno, Cornwall.

The line was tapped, and the code was cracked by a Classical scholar genius called De Grey - the Alan Turing of his time, but unassisted by computers. When the telegram was made public and Zimmerman admitted its authenticity, that tipped the balance and America joined the Allies.

The three States promised to Mexico currently have a combined population of 34 million - more than 10% of the USA's total - and a combined GDP of c. $1.75 trillion dollars, which is around 9.6% of the US national turnover. Oil resources include the East Texas Oil Field (originally holding c. 7 billion barrels of oil) and (recently discovered) up to another 20 billion barrels in West Texas.

The proposed Wall between the two nations could have been longer - and who knows which way the people would be trying to cross?

And if you're planning to visit Cornwall: [the Telegraph Museum]

Sunday, January 15, 2017

From Chautauqua to chatroom: Trump in the world of modern communications

I think the dislike among many Americans for Mr Trump is as much visceral as political. It is his style - bluff, swaggering, arrogant, coarse, seemingly half-educated (actually he's an Ivy Leaguer) - that irritates them.

Peter Hitchens in the MoS today calls him "an oaf" [a term I have frequently applied to Trump] "and a yahoo" - but in fairness, also notes that Jimmy Carter was a "disaster" and JFK's personal life would have disgraced him in office had it been common knowledge at the time.

The people prefer skilful talkers, but they will settle for ambitious bullsh*tters. How else could one explain the success of the egregious Tony Blair (George Macdonald Fraser called him "Andy Pandy")? He may have saved the Monarchy with his stagy tribute to the late Princess Diana, but look at those lookatme hesitations, cocks of the head (in a fey, almost camp way merely a beta version of President Obama's stately turns of the countenance and elegant pauses). I half suspect that the check before uttering the phrase "people's princess" (Diana was the daughter of an Earl) was not so much rhetorical as a desperate attempt by Blair's throat not to let this shark-jumping, finger-at-the uvula description leave his mouth. And yet it worked, for enough of us. What a performer; sort of.

PT Barnum said "The people like to be humbugged." Perhaps it's that they like the alert-making challenge of having their intelligence tickled and misled ("This way to the Egress"); maybe it's that oratory can be a kind of word-music, effecting our temporary escape to another, more wonderful land. Or do we delight in witnessing the construction of a complex verbal edifice, on the way learning new words, unexpected twists of meaning, fresh associations of ideas? In admiring the superior man's ineffable cerebration, ratiocination? Might it be a sort of pack-animal relief at being shown one's proper place in the social order? One thinks of Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles"):

Hedley Lamarr: My mind is aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention.
Taggart: Ditto.
Hedley Lamarr: "Ditto?" "Ditto," you provincial putz?

Max Beerbohm was another to note the colonials' love of talk (in his Oxford novel "Zuleika Dobson"):

"Americans, individually, are of all people the most anxious to please. That they talk overmuch is often taken as a sign of self-satisfaction. It is merely a mannerism. Rhetoric is a thing inbred in them. They are quite unconscious of it. It is as natural to them as breathing. And, while they talk on, they really do believe that they are a quick, businesslike people, by whom things are 'put through' with an almost brutal abruptness. This notion of theirs is rather confusing to the patient English auditor."

But of course that is a nationalist tease: in reality, everybody falls for oratory. William Hague's biography of Pitt the Younger tells of an all-night speech that Prime Minister made, which ended just as dawn broke with a Latin quotation that was as perfectly appropriate to the sunrise as it was fitting to the conclusion of his peroration. MPs walked through the morning dew to their lodgings in awe at his linguistic feat.

And then there's Trump.

No vilification is sufficiently vile, no fabrication base and lewd enough to satisfy his fevered opponents among the populace maddened by vicious Chinese whispers in the social media. One begins to understand how the excesses of the French Revolution were made possible by the hot words of professional speakers building the cyclones of passion among the common folk. (What more could Julius Streicher have done had he had Twitter and Facebook as his tools? Indeed, his demonic successors are promulgating Jew-hatred by electronic means even now.) How far we have declined from the attempts to educate the public a hundred years ago - the WEA in Britain, the Chautauqua in the USA. Now, it is about appeals to our worst, unthinking instincts, anything to get the cross in the right box, the right placard held up for the TV cameras; and what marvellous ways we now have, to spread toxic messages among groups of the like-minded! Facebook in particular is full of eager amateur propagandists. Lately, tragically, the Fourth Estate seems to have forgotten its role and is limping as fast as it can behind social media, willing to parrot the latest rumour so as to seem in the loop; whereas it should find and tell the truth not only to power, but to the people.

I have been told in all seriousness that he is worse even than George W Bush (whom I regard as a genuine psychopath). Yet to date, Mr Trump has ordered nobody's death, started no war.

Is his behaviour towards women reprehensible? What of President Harding, pleasuring his interns in a cupboard while a Secret Service man stood by ready to knock if Mrs Harding should approach? Or Juanita Broaddrick's bruised lip?

Venal sins, or mortal? Think of Macduff's interview with Malcolm in the Scottish play, where the latter, testing the former's real intentions, pretends to be not only lustful but ruthlessly avaricious: "We have willing dames enough...  Scotland hath foisons to fill up your will", answers Macduff; it takes far more to make the pretender "not fit to live".

The system will adjust to Trump. A friend noted yesterday that the President-elect's Twittering has changed recently, as though another hand has been interposed between Trump's stubby fingers and the keyboard. No doubt it has; and less doubt, that the Chinese and Russians are studying his style, so that they too can read beneath the surface and ascertain his true position. It is will and direction that count; the rest is detail and diplomacy. Let us see how well Mr Trump steers and delegates.

In a mass democracy, politics tends to be personalised, but it is not one man's personality only that matters. More worrying for Americans must be the capture of the State by one party in Congress and the Senate; the partisanship of such organs of government as the intelligence services; the destabilising greed and influence of big business and its servants in Washington, and the private banks that own and rent out America's currency. And then there are the complexities of world trade and lightning-fast international finance, which may resist Canute-like attempts at control.

Perhaps the question for Trump is not so much the damaging things he may choose to do, but the good things he will not be able to do for his country.