Curt’s Jazz Cafe blog has a wonderful Unsung Women of Jazz series, and on Curt’s recommendation I checked out Dorothy Ashby, and have been listening to Hip Harp and In a Minor Groove in the studio. Every time I listen, I catch a few bars where I’m not sure what instrument she’s playing, and then I remember it’s the harp. Dorothy Ashby and her husband had a theatre company in Detroit, and her creativity manifested in composing, playing, and in finding ways to make the harp hip to other jazz musicians. Frank Wess plays flute on In a Minor Groove, and I am glad to be introduced to him via Dorothy Ashby. I could only imagine playing with his tone when I was taking flute lessons.
I often wake up to a jazz standard in my head, and today it’s Teach Me Tonight, particularly, Dinah Washington’s version, with the lyric:
Starting with the ABC of it
Right down to the XYZ of it
Help me solve the mystery of it
Go on, teach me tonight
The alphabet is a mysterious thing, with its evocation of detail, range and completion. I loved the alphabet song on Sesame Street, and choosing words for each letter as a first grade assignment. In college I was pleased to discover the word abecedary, which is a delicious way to describe the inscription of the entire alphabet.
I particpated in the A to Z Challenge in 2011, and met a blogger who is one my most faithful commenters, and I love her thoughtful reflections on being a playwriter, piano teacher, and creative person dealing with inner critics and taking courage, Play off the Page‘s Mary Aalgaard. For 2012, Mary did a fabulous A to Z, where she took a picture of each letter from her surroundings to begin the post.
For 2012, I chose a loose theme of my art, and this simple modification made the challenge, though still a challenge, much more inviting. Going through the alphabet is like practicing scales, exploring the whole range of notes and how they connect together. At first it seems artificial, but then you recognize those connections, those runs of notes, in the beautiful music you wish to play.
What were your favorite posts of the 2012 A to Z Challenge?
Note: It’s “almost the A,B, and C of it” because I started with C!
Jazz musicians who play the Vibraphone are rightly sensitive about their instrument being called a Xylophone, since many people have never even heard of the Vibes, and even though I do know they are different, I didn’t realize that Lionel Hampton and Red Norvo each started on a Xylophone in the 1920’s. The Xylophone’s shorter wooden bars made it difficult to sustain notes, and the Vibraphone solved this problem by including resonating tubes under aluminum bars, and a small electrical motor which amplified the resonance.
Check out George Hamilton Green doing Ragtime Robin on Xylophone in the early 20th Century:
A little known fact about my biography is that I was a soda jerk for the 1986/87 school year at community college, at Kostas Drugstore in Bethlehem, PA, across the street from Liberty High School. I came across the book Sundae Best: A History of Soda Fountains by Anne Cooper Funderburg, which brought back memories of my tenure as preparer of sundaes, ice cream sodas, milkshakes and cherry, lemon, vanilla or chocolate cokes.
Two unique sundaes, of which I had never heard(and I’d never been to a soda fountain either) were the “CMP”(chocolate, marshmallow sauce and ground peanuts) and the “Dusty Road” which involved vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup and a dusting of malted milk powder(my first one was just ice cream and malted milk, because I didn’t realize chocolate was included. My customer was amused). I had a long list of prep duties, including mixing fluff and simple syrup to make marshmallow sauce, chopping the peanuts in a meat grinder, refilling the syrups, cones, straws, and napkins. The best perk was being allowed to eat as much ice cream as I wanted.
Kostas was already archaic when I worked there, since soda fountains peaked in the 1950’s, and were done in by suburbia, but the location across from the high school insured we had a steady stream of students after school and football games descending upon the counter. Kostas lasted 10 more years after I left to transfer to a 4-year college. Stratoz suggested we find an authentic soda fountain for our anniversary in 2011, and a friend who knows about such things told us about the Franklin Fountain in Philadelphia. I had a fabulous “Cherry Bombe” soda, with cherry syrup, soda water and chocolate ice cream. I dived in before Stratoz could get a proper picture of it.
I was fascinated to discover in Sundae Best, that there was a genre of soda fountains at the turn of the 19th century which featured art tile, from companies like the Low Art Tile company. The fountain above is at Eagle’s in Yellowstone, and has delightful “pillow tiles” with rounded corners.
In a synchronicity of my love of soda fountains and quilts, I found a photo of the Needle Basket in Sutton, WV, which was formerly a soda fountain and is now a quilt store, and the owner keeps all sorts of notions in the old stainless steel drawers and dispensers. And even more cool was discovering the article Confessions of a Soda Jerk which lists some famous soda jerks, including one of my favorite jazz musicians, composer and pianist, Duke Ellington. The story goes that he wrote his first song, Soda Fountain Rag, while working as as soda jerk, at age 14 or 15.
J is for jazz and for the joy it brings! I started listening to jazz about 2005, and one of my favorite things is watching musicians play live, and the exuberance of their enjoyment. I often listen to jazz while working in my studio, and I love how jazz inspired another mosaic artist, John Yancey, to create the Rhapsody mosaic mural in Austin, TX.