Showing posts with label big band music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label big band music. Show all posts

05 December 2019

The Nutcracker


by Eve Fisher

Thanksgiving week was a humdinger up here in South Dakota.  It snowed every day.  Along with the occasional freezing rain and ice.  Plus there were the usual hazards associated with Thanksgiving.  I, for one, stay away from all Black Friday events, because I hate crowds, malls, and crazed people in search of something that's so much of a super-bargain that they are willing to risk trampling and maiming to get it.  And the idea that now stores are open Thursday afternoon, so that people go out immediately after Thanksgiving Dinner, belching turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie, to find their bliss only makes me lock all the doors and pray that the Monsters don't come down Maple Street.

Instead, on Black Friday I went to The Nutcracker.  Now, I know the music by heart, because I took ballet lessons as a child, where I was told, mercifully early, that I would never have the "line" for ballet.  ("Line" is code for "thin.")

I also worked as an administrator for a couple of ballet companies on the East Coast, and, as everyone knows, The Nutcracker is THE fundraiser, so the rehearsals, with music, start in September.  The administrative office is never far from the rehearsal studio(s).  By first night, the opening bars of "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" were enough to make us all break out in hives.  But enough time has passed so that I have recovered, and can now go see my godchild's children - one of them was a purple butterfly - without having to take Benadryl.  I had a lovely time, and really enjoyed the music for the first time in years.

Now some SleuthSayers have been talking a lot about music lately, so I thought I'd add to the theme.  All children grow up on their parents' music, and my parents' music was big band, country (specifically, my mother loved Hank Williams, Sr., and original bluegrass, which she passed on to me), and crooners of the 1940s and 50s.  I liked it all.  But by the 1960s, there was a lot of other interesting music out there that my parents couldn't stand - specifically rock n' roll.  Being a snotty teenager, that's all I wanted to hear.  Except...

There were two truly great moments in music when I was a child, and they were totally out of the blue.  One was when my mother and I were making a bed, with the radio on, and what came on was (I later found out) Dave Brubeck's Take Five.  I stopped tucking sheets, stood up, listened, and breathlessly asked, "What's that?"  "That's jazz," she replied.  "We don't like it."  Well, I did.  But I stored it away future years, when I could buy and play anything I wanted, because I'd just heard something like a whole new way of life.  And I loved it.



But even more overpowering was what I heard in ballet class, and I never spoke of it to either of my parents.  There I was, in my little black leotard and ballet shoes, while the teacher lined up the needle on the record player.  And what followed was a tremendous wall of sound, that came from behind and above and literally took my breath away with its absolute power.  I had never been so moved by any piece of music in my life, and I couldn't figure out if I was afraid, ready to cry, or overjoyed.  It was Tchaikovsky's Swan Theme from Swan Lake.


BTW, Tchaikovsky is to the romantic period what Puccini is to opera.  Masters of emotional manipulation through music, who will make you cry whether you want to or not.  (If you don't believe me, listen to Maria Callas singing Un bel di vedremo from Madame Butterfly)
NOTE:  I've been racking my brains to think of similar master manipulators of emotion in writing, other than poetry, and so far what I've come up with is Beth's death scene in Little Women and Old Yeller.  
Meanwhile, I love watching good ballet.
The women dancing as if putting all your weight on your big toe and then whirling, leaping, and landing on it is the easiest thing in the world.  No, it's not.  It hurts.  And it requires considerable strapping sometimes.  I've known dancers who broke a bone in their foot, or sprained an ankle, strapped it up tight, and danced anyway.  Ballet dancers are more like football players, stripped down to minimum weight.  Same grit, determination, and apparent obliviousness to pain.  At the moment.

And the men who do grand jetes across the stage and look like it's the most normal thing in the world to hang in space.  Watch Sergei Polunin:


Looks easy-peasy doesn't it?  Well, I've helped backstage with costumes, etc., and I can tell you that to dance like that means that, as soon as they're backstage, they are on their knees trying to breathe.  But moments later, they're back on their feet, pretending like they don't need oxygen.

Meanwhile, I'm still trying to figure out how The Nutcracker became a holiday tradition.  Fine, it's set at a Christmas party, but there's no Santa, just a fairly creepy magician (Drosselmeyer) roaming the house at will.  And what young girl would choose a nutcracker as her favorite toy / present?  Especially one old enough to also dream of a charming prince?  BTW, where does Drosselmeyer get his literal living dolls from?  And what's with all the mice?  Is this where C. S. Lewis got the idea for Reepicheep?  But of course it makes no more sense than, say, The Magic Flute.  Opera, ballet, if you're looking for plots that make sense, stick with mysteries.

But The Nutcracker is and will be a perennial, because it allows every dance troupe / school the chance to include everyone, from the littlest 3 year old to the season subscribers.  (Yes, a lot of those older party guests are season subscribers, who get - as a perk - the chance to stand around in the background, sometimes with real champagne, and attend the cast party later.)  Anyway, this means big money in the till, because every relative is coming to watch Betsy as a chocolate cupcake and Ralphie as a mouse.  And more power to them.  In these United States, the arts need every penny they can get.

Meanwhile, here's The Nutcracker Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux.  Enjoy.











26 November 2019

P.I. Nocturne


by Paul D. Marks

Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa
In a couple of recent SleuthSayers posts O’Neil and Leigh talked about pre-rock music. I’d like to take my cue from them and offer my nine cents’ worth (inflation) on the topic. Music infuses my life and because of that it also infuses much of my writing.

As I mentioned in my comment on O’Neil’s post, I think there’s a lot of good music before rock. I love baroque music and well, that’s a hell of a long time before rock. But mostly I’m talking here about the swing/big band music of the 1930s and 40s. I love a lot of that music.

I’m a rock n roller, love to sing it, play it, not saying I’m any good, just like to do it. I grew up on it. And when I was a kid and teen it was all I wanted to listen to. My dad liked classical music and swing and if we were in the car and he put those on I would gag. But somehow, as I got older I began to appreciate other genres of music besides rock. I think partially because I was exposed to it as a kid—very much against my will—and also because I like/d old movies from the 1930s and 40s and was exposed to that music in them as well.

Duke Ellington - Take the A Train

When I was a kid, I got to see Benny Goodman play. And I hated it. I didn’t appreciate it. I feel like an idiot saying that today, but it is what it is. That said, I can still say I saw him. These days, I love his music, especially Sing Sing Sing, and wish I could have seen him again as an adult.

Benny Goodman - Sing Sing Sing

A very long time ago, my friend Linda (who’s also into old movies, old music and old L.A., like me), and I would cruise around L.A. and see various swing bands and singers. It was long enough ago that we actually got to see some of the performers from the 30s and 40s, who were still around. We saw Tex Beneke leading the Glenn Miller Orchestra. We saw Bob Eberly and Helen O’Connell, who, when they were with the Jimmy Dorsey band (one of my favorite big bands), sing their hits Brazil and Tangerine. You might recall an instrumental version of the latter wafting in from down the street in Double Indemnity.

Bob Eberly and Helen O'Connell - Tangerine

So, even though I loved—and still love—rock ‘n’ roll, my musical horizons expanded quite a bit as I got older. I found there was a lot of great and sinuous music pre-rock. Just listen to Sing Sing Sing, or Duke Ellington’s Take the A Train or Artie Shaw’s Frenesi and so much more.

There’s also been some great musical moments in film noirs:

Elisha Cook in Phantom Lady


Louis Armstrong in The Strip, and Mickey Rooney drumming his heart out in that.

And the jazz scene in the original D.O.A.

But the point I’m leading up to is that, as a writer, my story/novel titles are often inspired by music and songs. Mostly rock, because they’re mostly set in the rock era, but sometimes swing. The title of my upcoming novel, The Blues Don’t Care, is inspired by a Nat King Cole song. And a story I did many years ago, Sleepy Lagoon Nocturne, takes its title both from the infamous Sleepy Lagoon incident in L.A. during World War II and the song of that name, which inspired the name of the lagoon in that incident. My story title Born Under a Bad Sign is inspired by the blues song of the same name that was originally recorded by Albert King and covered by Cream, so it hits two genres of music.

Nat King Cole - The Blues Don't Care

Some of my story titles inspired by music are: Endless Vacation (Ramones), Poison Heart (Ramones), Deserted Cities of the Heart (Cream), and more. In fact, I just finished a story called Can’t Find My Way Home (Blind Faith) and another, Nowhere Man (the Beatles). Music is everywhere in my writing.

I sometimes write things set in the past. The Blues Don’t Care (coming out in 2020) is also set on the L.A. homefront during World War II. It’s largely set on Central Avenue, L.A.’s swing and big band center. And the music of that era wafts sensuously around and through the plot. Doing the research for that was so much fun that getting any writing done was difficult. (I’ll be talking more about this book closer to its release. But right now I’m just talking about the music.)


Many of my characters also listen to music, and sometimes play it, like Ray Hood, the lead character in Dead Man’s Curve, named after the Jan and Dean song. P.I. Duke Rogers (from my novel White Heat and its sequel Broken Windows, both set in the 1990’s), listens to a variety of new wave and alternative music, everything from k.d. lang to Portishead and even some Eric Clapton. His less open and less tolerant partner, Jack, only listens to classical and cowboy (not country) music, which he thinks are the only pure/legitimate forms of music (and I like those genres too). He calls Duke’s music “space case” music in Broken Windows. But the music isn’t there only to help define their characters. I use their musical tastes to highlight the difference between the two characters and their contrasting personalities.

Music is a big part of my writing, helping express character and mood, though sometimes music can be difficult to express in a “two-dimensional” medium. It’s a bummer we can’t have a soundtrack to our stories/novels, but I’m sure that’s coming with e-books, if it isn’t already here.

I often listen to music while I write and most often it’s the kind of music that can get me in the mood for what I’m writing. So if I’m writing something set during WWII I listen to big band, if I’m writing something more contemporary, I listen to one kind of rock or another. You get the idea.

Today I’m listening to Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington and who knows what stories they might inspire or how it will affect what I’m working on right now. That’s one of the great things about music, it can inspire you in so many ways and bring out emotions, thoughts and feelings that we sometimes stifle in our everyday lives—and it can do the same for our characters. And remember, it don’t mean a thing if ain’t got that swing.

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:


Don't forget to check out Broken Windows, the sequel to my Shamus award-winning novel, White Heat. Betty Webb at Mystery Scene magazine says: "Broken Windows is extraordinary."



Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website  www.PaulDMarks.com