Archive for the Music Category

At the Castle Gate

Posted in Covid-19, Music on May 2, 2021 by telescoper

When (if?) this Covid business ends I hope we’ll remember the things that kept us going through it. Here is one of the socially distanced concerts broadcast by RTÉ Lyric FM*. I hope that in a few years’ time people will look back on recordings of events like this and understand what a weird time it has been. People come and go, but the music continues.

I found the performance of the incidental music by Jean Sibelius for Pelléas et Mélisande  starting at about 24.40 very moving, the isolation of the orchestra and the emptiness of the hall, enhancing the extraordinarily beautiful music. I think fans of The Sky At Night will enjoy it too…


P.S. It was the 22nd birthday of RTE Lyric FM on May 1st 2021..

International Jazz Day – A Tribute to Humph

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , on April 30, 2021 by telescoper

Today is International Jazz Day which gives me an excuse to post this documentary about the late great Humphrey Lyttelton the anniversary of whose death was last weekend; he passed away on 25th April 2008.

I particularly like this programme because, as well as talking about his own career as a musician and bandleader and as brilliant chairman of the panel show I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, it mentions his radio show The Best of Jazz which I listened to avidly every Monday night and from which I learned a huge amount about the music that I love so much. I taped many of these broadcasts actually, but have long since lost the cassettes. Although his own music was in the mainstream he always played a wide selection of Jazz tracks both ancient and modern on his programme and introduced me to many artists I would otherwise never have heard of.

I wish I knew how it would feel to be free – Nina Simone

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , on April 6, 2021 by telescoper

First performed in 1963, this classic anthem of the civil rights movement in the USA the words to this song (written by Billy Taylor) seem to me to have a few relevance in this time of enforced isolation.

R.I.P. Chris Barber (1930-2021)

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , on March 3, 2021 by telescoper

I just saw the news that British trombonist and bandleader Chris Barber passed away yesterday at the age of 90. Chris Barber was one of the leading lights of the traditional jazz boom of the 1950s and 60s, during which he led a very fine band including trumpeter Pat Halcox and clarinetist Monty Sunshine among others.

I was fortunate to meet Chris Barber on a couple of occasions at Jazz festivals and he struck me as a really nice man as well as an excellent musician: very friendly and cooperative even with a young student wanting to do an interview for a college magazine. An interesting factoid about him is that he was a very fluent speaker of German and his band toured Germany frequently, even performing in East Berlin in 1965; you can see a recording of that concert here.

I was trying to think of a track to put up as tribute and decided on this one because it allows me to answer a question I asked on this blog a couple of years ago. When I was at school I used to listen to Sounds of Jazz a BBC2 Radio 2 programme presented on Sunday evenings by Peter Clayton. I always used to switch over from John Peel when Sounds of Jazz started and would always listen all the way through. It always ended with this track, a lovely version of an old blues tune called Snag It which I think was written by King Oliver.

R.I.P. Chris Barber (1930-2021).

My Funny Valentine – Miles Davis

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on February 14, 2021 by telescoper

From the album Cookin’ by the Miles Davis Quintet* of 1957 here is a classic.

*John Coltrane was in the Quintet but doesn’t play on this track: the musicians are Miles Davis (tp), Red Gardland (p), Paul Chambers (b) and Philly Joe Jones (d).

R.I.P. Chick Corea (1941-2021)

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on February 11, 2021 by telescoper

I was just about to have an early night when I saw the news of the death at the age of 79 of legendary jazz pianist Chick Corea. Yet another of the Greats is no more.

In the circumstances I’ll just put up one example that demonstrates his talents both as a pianist and a composer. Chick Corea was in at the start of jazz fusion in the late Sixties when he joined Miles Davis’s band. At that time and through the 1970s he frequently performed on electric piano superb records such as In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew. He played on a huge range of records sometimes as leader, sometimes as a sideman and sometimes in a duet. One of the first jazz albums I bought was a live recording of a concert in Zurich in 1979 together with vibraphonist Gary Burton. I’ll certainly be playing that this weekend.

This track was recorded at a live performance in 2013 and released on the album Trilogy. It is a great example of him stretching out on a version of his own tune Armando’s Rhumba, of which he has recorded many very different versions, and which is now a jazz standard. The drummer is Brian Blade and the bassist Christian McBride.

Rest in peace, Chick Corea (1941-2021)

Goin’ Down Slow – Archie Shepp & Horace Parlan

Posted in Covid-19, Jazz with tags , , , , , on February 7, 2021 by telescoper

I just updated my Coronavirus page with the days statistics for Ireland (1024 new cases, 12 deaths). We’re obviously well past the Christmas peak but cases are falling very slowly. At this rate we’ll still have several hundred a day by the end of February (which, incidentally will be a year since the first Covid-19 case was recorded in Ireland).

Unlocking with case levels in the hundreds before Christmas was a disaster and I sincerely hope there’s no repeat of that foolishness.

Anyway, the current state of play remind me of this track from a great album called Trouble in Mind which I bought as a vinyl LP about 40 years ago. It’s by Archie Shepp (tenor sax) and Horace Parlan (Piano). Both made their reputations as avant garde jazz musicians but in this album they went back to the roots and explored the classic blues repertoire. Goin’ Down Slow dates back to 1941 and it’s a standard 12-bar blues (usually performed in B♭). Horace Parlan passed away in 2017, but Archie Shepp is still going strong.


Old and New Dreams

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on February 3, 2021 by telescoper

I was just relaxing by listening to the superb album Old and New Dreams (vintage 1977) and thought I’d share a track here given the ongoing prevalence of lockdown dreams. This album was actually the debut album by the Quartet of the same name that featured Dewey Redman on tenor sax, Don Cherry on trumpet, Charlie Harden on bass and Ed Blackwell on drums. I love the balance they achieved between free improvisation and swing and the interplay between the different instruments. Just listen to Charlie Haden’s playing on this, holding everything together rhythmically but also leading it in so many different directions! This is called Augmented

It’s A Sin – Pet Shop Boys

Posted in Biographical, Music with tags , , , on January 31, 2021 by telescoper

I couldn’t resist posting this, given the impact of the TV series of the same name. If you’re following It’s A Sin you will find this track featured in Episode 4 which is set in 1987, when this track was released. Quite a lot of 80s synth-pop sounds rather dated to me nowadays but this doesn’t at all.

Rather than being directly about the AIDS crisis it’s really Neil Tennant‘s general reaction to his Catholic upbringing, hence the section of the Confiteor that you can hear from time to time:

Confiteor Deo omnipotenti vobis fratres quia peccavi nimis cogitatione, verbo, opere et omissione. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Although I wasn’t brought up a Catholic – and have therefore never been very good at guilt – the lyrics still have an impact:

When I look back upon my life
it’s always with a sense of shame
I’ve always been the one to blame
For everything I long to do
no matter when or where or who
has one thing in common too

It’s a, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a sin
It’s a sin
Everything I’ve ever done
Everything I ever do
Every place I’ve ever been
Everywhere I’m going to
It’s a sin

In fact, Neil Tennant went to St Cuthbert’s Roman Catholic Grammar School, literally just yards from where I grew up in Benwell in Newcastle upon Tyne.  Given his age – he was born in 1954 – he would have been there while I was living in Benwell Village, though obviously we never met.

The video was directed by Derek Jarman who died from AIDS in 1994.



Posted in Biographical, Music with tags , , on January 27, 2021 by telescoper

Not a lot of people know that I acquired a second-hand piano when I bought my house in Maynooth. I’ve been having a go on it from time since then. Fortunately it’s a detached house so that doesn’t cause the neighbours to suffer too much. I wish I’d got it tuned before the lockdown though. It’s a little bit flat in the middle range and gets worse as the notes get lower. Still, I’m such a terrible player that doesn’t make too much difference!

I can read music but am used to single note instruments and find piano parts difficult to read especially if there are complicated chords – or even simple ones, for that matter. I find having the notes squashed together like in the bass part here makes it difficult to disentangle them.

Fortunately I have a basic knowledge of harmony and can cope with chord symbols so I generally don’t try to read the bass parts but instead fill in chords according to the symbols. If the chords aren’t written on the music like the above example I add them myself.

Even for an oldie like me it’s quite easy to get used to playing basic chordal accompaninents. Most standard progressions involve only three or four chords. You can start playing block triads like in the example above just to get the idea. Adding, for example, the odd 7th here and there helps to explore the sound produced by different harmonic ingredients. After that you can play left-hand figures based on the chords to make it more interesting.

I know you’re all thinking that I’m way too old to be trying to teach myself how to play the piano. One of these days I think I’ll put up a YouTube video to prove that you are right.