Last Friday I went as usual with a bunch of Cardiff astronomers to the local pub, The Poet’s Corner, for a traditional end-of-the-week drink or two. This is by no means the most upmarket hostelry in the vicinity of the School of Physics & Astronomy, but it’s quite friendly and serves pretty good beer. The older generation have been finding their way there after work each Friday for some time now, but more recently we’ve found quite a few of our postgrads ending up there too, usually playing pool while the oldies indulge in a chinwag.
Last week, I was a bit surprised to bump into a fellow astro-blogger and Cardiff PhD student , Rob Simpson (orbitingfrog), in the pub. I’m one of the regulars, but he’s not usually there. It turned out it was a special occasion and he was celebrating, as he’d just been offered a postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of Oxford starting in March. I mention this partly to offer my congratulations on here – well done Rob! – and partly to demonstrate that despite all the doom and gloom about STFC there are still opportunities for talented people to carve out a career in UK astronomy. As long as they finish writing up their thesis, that is…
It was interesting to chat with Rob about his blog, something I rarely get the chance to do. I don’t know many bloggers personally. His site has been around much longer than mine, he gets way more readers than me, and I also think our audiences are quite different.
The number of people reading my blog has been growing steadily since I started and I now average about 1000 unique hits a day, few compared with many sites, but many more than I would have anticipated when I started. However, on top of this trend there are large fluctuations depending on what I’m posting about. All the recent doom and gloom about STFC generated a lot of readers, no doubt in the same way that bad news sells newspapers, as did the ongoing story of Mark Brake of which more, perhaps, soon. Moreover, some of my referrals come from very peculiar places. A couple of my jazz and poetry pieces are now linked from wikipedia articles, although who put them there I don’t know. I’m flattered, of course, but just hope that nobody actually thinks I’m some kind of expert. Generally speaking I’m very surprised that people read this sort of post at all, but I guess it’s not the same people that read the more obviously science-based posts.
However, there is at least one astronomer that reads the jazz and poetry posts too, and that’s another blogger called Sarah Kendrew (her blog is here; she’s a postdoc in the Netherlands). We had a little electronic chat a few days ago, during which I discovered that she plays the oboe and was interested to know if there’s any jazz on that instrument. Jazz owes at least part of its origin to the marching bands of New Orleans which typically used army surplus musical instruments – trumpet, trombone, clarinet, etc. When jazz moved off the streets and into the bordellos of Storeyville, pianos were added, the portable brass bass or tuba replaced by a double string bass, and individual bass and snare drums were incorporated in a drum kit. Later on, saxophones became increasingly popular in jazz groups of various sizes, and so on. As the music developed and diversified I think pretty much every instrument there is has been used to play some form of Jazz. For some reason, though, the oboe never caught on as a jazz instrument. I don’t know why. Answers on a postcard.
This got my curiosity going, so I hunted around and found this video on Youtube of Yusef Lateef playing oboe in 1963 with the Adderley Brothers (Julian, also known as “Cannonball”, and Nat). I’d never seen it before, and although I don’t think Lateef sounds all that fluent, it’s a really interesting sound and I’m very grateful to Sarah for prodding me in it’s direction. The tune is called Brother John.
P.S. If anyone wants to challenge me to find a bit of jazz involving an instrument of their choice, please feel free!