Coming Across Criss

A few weeks ago, as her Question 31B, amylee asked for an instrumental song we love. I was thrilled at the clutch of warm responses to my choice of Sonny Criss playing I’ll Catch The Sun. The idea fermented to follow this up with a post celebrating the alto saxophonist, principally to give you a few more examples of his playing. This is what I’m doing here but it occurred to me that I’ve been trying off and on for 23 years to tell the world about Sonny Criss and thus the influence his voice has had on mine is also something I want to consider. As a result, I’m supersizing my blogging by twinning this post with one on my own blog, contemplating the literary issues that unspool from my Sonny Criss fandom.

This is a brief and not at all comprehensive primer, courtesy of YouTube, of my favourite instrumental voice in jazz. That’s an accolade that requires some clarification and contextualisation. There are, if we are to give these terms any meaning, ‘greater’ jazz musicians than Sonny Criss. Quite apart from anything else, Criss was one of the legion alto saxophonists who were turned onto a style of playing by Charlie Parker. There’s a reason we call the likes of Criss, Sonny Stitt, Cannonball Adderley, Jackie McLean, Sahib Shibab and more post-Bird saxophonists – it’s not to their detriment that they stood in the conceptual shadow of someone who, to all intents and purposes, made the music new again. You don’t look to Sonny Criss for game-changing innovation. He wasn’t pulling the blues inside-out: he was playing them straight, sultry, smoky and spine-tingling, as here in Black Coffee:

I bow before Mingus, Monk, Ellington, Carla Bley, Sun Ra and plenty more jazz composers before I think of Sonny Criss. But just as I can hear most songs better when they’re sung by Ella, Sinatra or Sarah Vaughan, Sonny could play a song lyric to the same level of perfection of those vocalists. Here he is on Charlie Chaplin’s Smile and Jimmy Webb’s Up Up And Away (links via text to save screen space).

Nor did he move with the times in the manner of Miles Davis or, more recently, David Murray. Things funked up a little in the seventies but the sound that soared over the top of the groove was still that wondrously fluid, human heart-tugging voice, as here in Cool Struttin’ .

Sonny Criss works for me as instantly as the voices of those I love most in the world. I’ll rave about and dance to and revere and be inspired by countless others but Sonny’s notes trigger a thousand awakenings in my brain and across my body. I feel encapsulated by the sense of mortality and intoxicated by the desire for joy that I hear throughout the dozens of his recordings I own. I want to line up loads more for you to enjoy but I’ll leave you with just this, and embed it so it doesn’t get overlooked and by way of a birthday gift to steenbeck, a captivating God Bless The Child:

The All-New ‘Spill Weekly Song Challenge

After the emotional hothouse that was the 30-Day Musical Challenge, we now step into the pasture of mutually supportive self-immolation that will become the Weekly Song Challenge (or something with a better name, once the focus group – that’s you guys – kicks it around for a bit).

The format is the same as for the Facebook 30Qs: you choose one song in response to each theme and post it with an appropriate justification and ideally a link. Based on discussions so far, here are the guidelines for how we can make this work as a weekly thing – they are of course open to tweaks and adaptations as we go along:

- A new challenge will appear every Tuesday - 10pm became the traditional time for the 30Qs but I’m sure this will be more flexible as stewardship changes hands each week

- We take it in turns to set the challenge – whoever wants to set next week’s challenge, make yourself known over the course of the thread. If no-one has volunteered by, say, Friday, the job defaults to whoever posted first.

EDIT: We now have takers for the next two weeks. The challenge on Tuesday 9th will be set by treefrogdemon. On Tuesday 16th mein host will be Abahachi.

- No artist can be duplicated in one week - whoever posts firsts gets to keep their choice. No gratuitous selections of Tom Petty or The Grateful Dead just to piss tfd or Chris off as that would be mean.

- However, unlike in the 30Qs, song choices can be repeated in subsequent weeks (though we might want to impose a one-week prohibition follwoing selection, like with artists making the RR Top 10) – because it’s doubtful anyone’s going to want to keep track of everyone’s choices indefinitely.

- Challenge questions don’t have to be as pithily worded as the 30Qs – I’m just saying this to cover myself, as you’ll see below, but with so many of the big things in life covered last month, we’re inevitably going to be peeping into the cracks so we can probably afford to be more precise and/or convoluted in our questioning than would have been appropriate for the Facebook masses.

- I’ve not set it up so don’t look at me but we can get together a Dropbox folder of choice cuts each week.

Feel free to add to and alter those rules. Now here’s my decidely unpithily-worded challenge:

A song by an artist/band you’d never heard of a year ago (or you knew about but had never knowingly listened to)…

The EOTWQ Wears Its Disappointment Like A Badge Of Honour

1] The actor Nigel Havers is pictured here showing off the tattoo he had inscribed on his arm for the BBC4 ‘twixt-comedy-and-chat show, I’ve Never Seen Star Wars, in which Marcus Brigstocke invites out-of-touch celebrities to sample staples of prole, youth or cognoscenti culture they’d hitherto avoided or about which they’d dwelt in blissful ignorance. In a memorable display of damn good sportness, Havers got a tat, found that he adored The Simpsons, was pleasantly surprised by a Big Mac, and HERE found a route into The Smiths. Naturally, such a high-concept show had me considering what might be the gaps in my own popular culture experience, although I get little further than the title because I actually have never seen Star Wars.
So Question 1: Dislocation – which apparently essential cultural experience, one that simply everyone else has done/read/watched/tasted/etc, has managed to pass you by?

2] Still with BBC4-related quizzery: last year, back in the days when I (shudder) contributed to Guardian blogs other than RR, there was a film blog asking for suggestions of “TV shows you’d like to see re-made for the big screen.” The idea I posted was “Flight Of The Conchords: The Musical – directed by Michel Gondry.” Many months later, I sat down to watch an episode of the second FOTC series, and the director was of course Michel Gondry. Now, it’s not likely anyone got this idea from my one post on that Guardian blog but I did wonder about what the process and resulting kudos might have been if I’d been more active in turning my idea into this actual (if relatively small) cultural product.
Thus Question 2: Voice In The Wilderness Which of your achievements should have guaranteed you riches, glory or fame were it not for the conspiracy of a mocking Universe?

3] This question rips off a question ejaydee posed on the mothership earlier, asking what is the thing people are least proud of having done. Since a particularly lurid confession might place the ‘Spillers in exactly the same moral quandary as Montgomery Clift in I Confess, I’ll adapt the question:
Question 3: Shame. (a)If you could erase one thing you have done in your past, what would it be? and (b) Which one thing could you have done that you most regret not having done?

4] It’s not all about the politics of despair even in cruelty week, though. Question 4 sheds a little nightlight on the quiz.
Question 4. Fleeting Innocence You can answer this in your guise as a parent, grandparent or former child, or a combination – which is/was your favourite children’s book?

5] In honour of the RR social and reflecting on the ale-laced memoirs of those who attended, as a follow-up to the discussions on dinner party politicking and etiquette in last week’s EOTWQ, and because I bizarrely found myself at the Queen’s garden party last Tuesday (the explanation of why I was there makes it less bizarre but it’s too boring to go into right now), we close this oddly emo-flavoured quiz with a multiple choice.
Question 5: The Despairing Quest For Acceptance. You have the choice to be dropped into one of these social situations – in which one would you feel most comfortable?
(a) Drink down the pub
(b) Foody dinner party
(c) Queen’s garden party
(d) Just you, a tumbler of something free-poured, and your tunes
(e) An after-hours shebeen/lock-in/drinking den/speakeasy
(f) A big family do

Avanti Popolo!


If the Revolution thread has shown us anything, it’s that any revolution is interpreted by its participants in as many different ways as we’ve found musical interpretations of the theme. I don’t expect this selection to have us all rising up together to throw off the fascist yoke of the, um, community moderators but (watch Novecento - six hours long, no time to explain here…) if that Donald Sutherland wanders past my house after I’ve listened to this lot, he might just get a pitchfork up his jacksy:

Bandiera Rossa
Swamp Dogg
Delta Man (Where I’m Coming From)
Arrested Development
Steel Pulse
Curtis Mayfield
Can you hear the drums?
The Three Degrees
Albert Ayler
Jimmy James and the Vagabonds
Bone Thugs-n-Harmony

Chips With Everything


Nice picture of Clive Owen with a white shirt and dicky bow in ‘Croupier’ rather than of Christopher Walken with a white shirt accessorised with his brains in ‘The Deer Hunter’ because in this lucky seven selection, there’s a general acceptance that your luck may be bad or good, but there’s always another spin of the wheel to come.
First of all, we have Willie Dixon, fortunate with his songwriting gifts but as one of the most ripped-off musicians in history, not so lucky in business. Comp him a cocktail but don’t ask him to choose where to place your chips. The Sylvers aren’t old enough to go to a casino and, some would say, not old enough to know so much about love but Bebo’s helping them with the latter and fake online IDs are getting them a fix of the former. Swamp Dogg’s perpetually on his way out the door to find out where someone put the sunshine, but that loose slot machine near the exit just keeps convincing him that it’s worth another shot. Frank Sinatra would tell him it isn’t, but he part-owns the casino so he just pats him on the back and goes off to see a show…
In the showtune section, we have Liza Minelli, charmingly oblivious to the advance of Nazism, pinning all her hopes on a noncommittal English bisexual; Marlon Brando is hoping to roll a seven but in this list he only makes six; the coveted No.7 goes to Stanley Holloway and his mates.

I Ain’t Superstitious
Roulette Wheel Of Love
Buzzard Luck
Cycles
Sally Bowles
Skye Masterson
Alfred Doolittle Esq.

Soul Music


Ten minutes or so of floorboards creaking with submerged childhood memories; the tormented wails of abandoned lovers blending into the frequency at which the banshees broadcast their nightly howls; spirits up from the graves and marching towards the freedom denied them in life; and people walking over their own grave.