Tag Archives: David Hajdu

Blue Monday

David Hajdu’s profile of jazz eminence Wynton Marsalis — collected in Hajdu’s  new book, Heroes and Villains: Essays on Music, Movies, Comics, and Culture — has this wonderful description of a you-had-to-be-there moment when Marsalis was playing with saxophonist Charles McPherson at the Village Vanguard:

The fourth song was a solo showcase for the trumpeter . . . a ballad, “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You,” unaccompanied. Written by Victor Young, a film-score composer, for a 1930s romance, the piece can bring out the sadness in any scene, and Marsalis appeared deeply attuned to its melancholy. He performed the song in murmurs and sighs, at points nearly talking the words in notes. It was a wrenching act of creative expression. When he reached the climax, Marsalis played the final phrase, the title statement, in declarative tones, allowing each successive note to linger in the air a bit longer: “I don’t stand . . . a ghost . . . of . . . a . . . chance . . .” The room was silent until, at the most dramatic point, someone’s cell phone went off, blaring a rapid sing-song melody in electronic bleeps. People started giggling and picking up their drinks. The moment — the whole performance — unraveled.

Marsalis paused for a beat, motionless, and his eyebrows arched. I scrawled on a sheet of notepaper, MAGIC, RUINED. The cell-phone offender scooted into the hallway as the chatter in the room grew louder. Still frozen at the microphone, Marsalis replayed the silly cell-phone melody note-for-note. Then he repeated it, and began improvising variations on the tune. The audience slowly came back to him. In a few minutes he resolved the improvisation, which had changed keys once or twice and throttled down to a ballad tempo, and ended up exactly where he had left off: “. . . with . . . you . . .” The ovation was tremendous.

I’ll bet it was. “I Don”t Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You” was written in 1932, and it’s been irresistible to instrumentalists and vocalists alike. The clip above is from trumpeter Clifford Brown, and here’s Frank Sinatra wringing a few tears from the words:

And now here’s Illinois Jacquet:


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From Flannery to jihadi

Thanks to this David Hajdu piece, I now know about the charming link between writer Flannery O’Connor and songwriter Lucinda Williams:

If you’re going to run around with peacocks, which is what people generally do in the pop-music business, you could have no better training than Lucinda Williams had at the age of five. Her father, the poet Miller Williams, taught college in Macon, Georgia during the late 1950s, and every two or three weeks he would take his daughter on a short drive to visit Flannery O’Connor, who loved peacocks — she had a small flock of them in her backyard and another flock in her writing. O’Connor let the girl chase the magnificent, noisy birds, and Lucinda Williams would for the rest of her life carry a child’s memory of the writer lady and her bizarre pets. After all, to have played with the peacocks in O’Connor’s yard is kind of like having swatted butterflies at Nabokov’s house. 

Continuing our theme of connections: Flannery O’Connor was hostess to the young Lucinda Williams. The older Lucinda Williams recorded a duet with Steve Earle. Steve Earle recorded a song about John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban.” The Taliban are allies and co-religionists of Osama bin Laden. So there’s your path linking Flannery O’Connor, author of Wise Blood and “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” with the author of 9/11.

Come to think of it, Hazel Motes from Wise Blood has more than a bit of Taliban in him, even if he is a Christianist obsessive instead of an Islamist.

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