Miss Ella Says

Among her treasured recordings of Harold Arlen gems, Ella Fitzgerald gave her distinctive verve to the admonition to Get Happy, and even a retrograde curmudgeon would be hard-pressed, hearing her clarion call, to resist the call. I think this is a great time of year to succumb to the great Miss Ella’s invocation. Listening to her sparkling voice, her incredible vocal agility, and her superlative interpretive artistry is Spring tonic to me, no matter when.

Let me just keep this snappy for today and add my voice, unimpressive as it may be, to hers to call everyone within earshot with a wide-open invitation to rejoice in whatever is available on the day. Live in the moment, yes. Sing at the top of your lungs, yes! Be glad and generous and gleeful with and through whatever you can possible find in the day, make of the day, and grow out of the day, oh yes indeed. You can ignore me, but if you listen to her, I think I can promise that you’ll find it mighty hard to ignore that glorious and welcome summons.Digital illo: Miss Ella Calls

The Very Music of the Air

My husband’s parents are longtime travelers and music lovers. In addition to being their son’s chief cheerleaders and supporters in his musical career from the beginning, they have always enjoyed listening to all sorts of other music, particularly jazz, and in that, particularly big band and swing music. They love live music and have gone many times on road trips to various jazz festivals over the years, and Mom called this afternoon with an enthusiastic review of their just-completed trip down to the Newport Jazz Festival. They don’t do any of this by halves: it’s a serious pack up the car and leave home expedition for these two, in this case a drive from east of Seattle where they live on south down the Washington corridor to Astoria (just over the Oregon border) to meet a couple of good friends at a restaurant before they trek their last couple of hours down the coast to Newport, Oregon where they stay for the festival. They attend a number of concerts and events every time, and this time opted for the additional festival closing candlelight dinner with its own live music. And of course, being Mom and Dad, they also took a couple of side trips to see an old friend (possibly younger than they are) who doesn’t get around as much, and to go a bit farther down the coast for an extra stay in a seashore place they love. And the centerpiece of the trip is, on these expeditions, certainly still the music–they take such contagious joy in the variety of performers and styles and pieces and concerts they hear each time and, I think, are fueled by them with a bit of a new lease on life each time too. Music does do that to us, as I might have mentioned once or twice in these posts . . .

digital drawing imageI think of all the lives that have been changed by music–and the music-makers who have changed the lives of us listeners who get to experience it–and am astounded yet again by the potency of this communal experience. What would it be like to [shudder!] have a world with no composers, no violinists, no Dave Grusin, no African drummers, no klezmer bands, no Ray Charles, no Elly Ameling, no Chinese opera, no Eric Clapton, no mariachi, no Baroque oboists, no ZZ Top, no reggae, ska or zydeco music, no Ella Fitzgerald, no oud or sitar, no Jussi Björling? An unimaginably dark place, that world, if you ask me!digital drawing imageI’m always immensely pleased to hear Mom and Dad have had another marvelous time out exploring and savoring the countryside. Of course there’s the simple delight in knowing they’re happy. But besides that, through these adventures of theirs they keep up with an enormous cadre of family and friends all over the country, take interest in a mind-boggling range of cultural and historical sites and sights along the way, admire the breathtaking breadth of the American landscape and its ever-changing character, meet and adopt fascinating people everywhere they go, dine at whatever local favorite watering-hole captures their imaginations, and come home to tell the tale and renew our interests in such things–either over the phone or, if we’re lucky enough to all be in the same part of the country at the same time, over dinner.

So much of this started in part as a response to their love of music and the pull it has to bring them across this sprawling land. I think of the composers, music theoreticians, and other artists and philosophers worldwide and over the years who have posited a cosmic musical scale, heard music in the ambient overtones of the atmosphere in which we exist, and built art and ideas around that in ways the speak to the inherent musicality of our existence. It’s entirely possible to conceive of the existence of something that very literally attunes us to one another and to the universe in which we exist, that urges us irresistibly to live in harmony somehow.

digital drawing imageWhether there is some quantifiable and empirical way of knowing and understanding this, I as a non-musician and madly un-scientific person can’t tell you fully. What I do know is that there is something so inherently compelling in music that almost all of us are drawn to its power in one form or another. And that there is plenty of good reason for us to attempt harmonious living of whatever kind we can, and if there is no other way to achieve such things I think that in music might very well lie the key to doing so.