Sunday, March 27, 2005


One of my favorite idle pursuits, apart from tracking lost civilizations and presumably extinct species to their final redoubts in remote and inaccessible corners of the world, is exploring websites on topics that interest me, but on which I am hardly expert, and therefore hope that someone has somewhere assembled the facts I am too lazy to compile for myself. Here are a few results from late this morning.
Those like me who were raised on the deliriously evocative book illustrations of N.C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle should go here. Not only is the site gorgeous, but there is a fine discussion on the difference between fine art and mass-produced art, a distinction that might seem too obvious to bother much with, but which has some rather interesting implications. Related ideas concerning technique and art as illustration are also discussed.
That site had a link to another site, of profound interest to those who graduated from, or to, classic book illustrations to, or from, the wonderful comic strips of Alex Raymond and Hal Foster, among others. I'd forgotten all about Rip Kirby.
I'm still padding about websites dedicated to early jazz, dance and society orchestras, and swing bands. Although I faithfully read about Ellington, Goodman, Basie, and the whole merry crew, I do like to keep on the lookout for material devoted to superior but oft-neglected bands and musicians. Today I was looking into one of the finest groups of the 1930s, the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra, and I found this. It's surprising that the Lunceford band, often acknowledged in books on the period as both pre-eminent and superb, has elicited so little comment on the web. That I've found, anyway. CD reissues have been sporadic, but probably have generated impressive sales in the double digits. There's very little Lunceford chatter even on Amazon, where you can usually count on a few enthusiasts (also known as obsessives, weirdos, and independent scholars) to talk up the most obscure artists. But, although there are a few reviews, including some that are informative, for the most part the silence is deafening. The best readily-available Lunceford anthology is right here.
For the estimable John Kirby I've had little luck. Part of the problem may be that he's recalled if at all as a footnote to the career of singer Maxine Sullivan (who is, equally unjustly, well on the way to becoming a footnote herself.) A second difficulty might be in categorization: the John Kirby Sextet was obviously not a "big band," yet, because of the tight arranging, it doesn't really fall into the "small group" category comfortably. (Nor, in fact, was it a sextet, but we'll leave that lie.) Also, the Kirby group had the one quality that is truly unforgivable to jazz scholars: they had a sense of humor. This blurs the line between jazz and novelty music (the latter being bad), and we can't have that; jazz is serious. To further compound his sins, Kirby had a number of swing arrangements of classical themes -- sharp, witty, and great fun. But jazz/classical crossover has always been looked at with arched brows by cultural police on both sides of that divide. Neither side wants its purity diluted, although the idea of musical purity, when even superficially examined, is risible. Anyway, the best Kirby anthology is here. I can't find much on the Net, although it does seem that, for all Kirby's neglect, lots of jazz repertory ensembles have been programming his stuff.
(NOTE for the incurably silly. When I entered John Kirby Sextet into my search-and-seizure engine, one of the things I turned up was this:
("... Live @ BAI Taj Mahal ("Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya...") Keepin' Out Of Mischief Now DMZ/Columbia John Kirby Sextet Undecided Giants of Jazz Frank Sinatra Learning The Blues Capitol Dave's True Story Another Hit ..."
(I very much like the idea of there being a group called "Undecided Giants of Jazz." Unfortunately, this ends up being some sort of radio playlist, with Giants of Jazz entered as the record label, and Undecided being the entry under song title. Okay, I'd settle for a real song called "Undecided," but I think this was not what was intended, either.)
Finally, for those who love the visceral thrill of shuffling footsteps and low gutteral sounds behind you, as you hurry, hopelessly lost, through some fog-bound alleyway, there's this. I've been spending lots of early morning hours here, but I recommend it only to the fearless and the foolhardy.