Monday, 1 October 2012

Hobsbawm on Ellington

The death was announced today of historian Eric Hobsbawm. He wrote extensively on the subject of jazz under the nom de plume Francis Newton. A heady and evocative account of those years is here.

Bliss must it have been in that very dawn...

Reading the obituaries and the scatterings of virtual press 'cuttings' on line, I also happened upon this brief piece on Ellington which I thought more than quoting here:
"The sort of teenagers who were most likely to to be captured by jazz in 1933 were rarely in a position to buy more than a few records, let alone build a collection. Still, enough was already being issued in Britain for the local market: Armstrong, Ellington, Fletcher Henderson and John Hammond's last recording of Bessie Smith. What is more, shortly before the trade dispute stopped American jazz-players from coming to Britain for some 20 years, the greatest of all the bands – I can still recite its then line-up from memory – came to London: Duke Ellington's. It was the season when Ivy Anderson sang Stormy Weather. Denis [Preston, a cousin] and I, presumably financed by the family, went to the all-night session ("breakfast dance") they played at a Palais de Danse in the wilds of Streatham, nursing single beers in the gallery as we despised the slowly heaving mass of south London dancers below, who were concentrating on their partners and not on the wonderful noises. Our last coins spent, we walked home in dark and daybreak, mentally floating above the hard pavement, captured for ever.
"Like the Czech writer Josef Skvorecky, who has written better about it than most, I experienced this musical revelation at the age of first love, 16 or 17. But in my case it virtually replaced first love, for, ashamed of my looks and therefore convinced of being physically unattractive, I deliberately repressed my physical sensuality and sexual impulses. Jazz brought the dimension of wordless, unquestioning physical emotion into a life otherwise almost monopolised by words and the exercises of the intellect."