Friday, February 17, 2023

Count Basie, The Atomic Mr. Basie (1958)

It doesn't happen often, but a thought occurred to me. You know how people mourn when an artist dies a non-natural death? I get it, you get it: we all start wondering what would have happened had liver failure not gotten them, drugs, death by suicide, and so on. "Think of what they could have done," people say. But let's not forget what they did do that earned them recognition. And yet there are plenty of people on this planet who never produce any art and who also die. It is their lives that seem to me to be more worthy of mourning than artists.

Is this an unnecessary prejudice? I don't mean, "Blast it all. Those people didn't get to be creative." I mean, rather, that the artists who have already passed have received their reward, recognition. Better we recognize those who content to be fathers, mothers, friends, embalmers, dental technicians.

Now I realize there's a danger here. I risk valorizing ordinary folks to a romantic level, when as a matter of fact many people do not find nearly as much contentment in their ordinary roles as might seem to be the case to those looking in at them from the outside. (The grass is always greener, and so forth.) Nevertheless, with age, I have more respect for these people than artists, since recognition of an artist's art is its own reward.

I confess is all be self-serving. Fascinating that a man nearing middle-age thinks ordinary folk are worth all the praise... So let us praise great art.

I knew nothing about jazz pianist Count Basie until I had begun to read How to Listen to Jazz by Ted Gioia. I haven't bothered to even so much as read Basie's Wikipedia entry, though I'm sure it would help me appreciate him more as an artist. For now, though, his music speaks for itself.

I listen to jazz often, more than any other genre of music. Coffee-shop jazz, I mean, streamed on YouTube. It's an aural digestif and a nice aid to the act of reading. But Lord help me if I were to try to listen to The Atomic Mr. Basie while reading. I wouldn't be able to concentrate. His music fills me with a whole range of emotions. He can go high and he can go low. He can make me sleepy and he can make me want to dance. I'd like to listen to this album off and on all year and see what else I notice, besides his band's good timing.

On another note, I watched a documentary about another artist, big in the late 70s and early 80s, the painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. The doc is called Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (2010) and is very good. I learned from the doc that Basquiat died at age 28. And yet he left behind 1,000s of paintings and his name ranks among the greatest of American artists.

What of my grandmother who had to put up with my father or my father who had to put up with me? The public isn't under any obligation to keep their memory alive, of course, but I am.

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