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Press Release: New Album Frances Livings’ Ipanema Lounge

 

 : : FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE : : MOONTRAXX, LOS ANGELES, SEP. 2016 : :

Capturing a rich atmosphere of cultural diversity, this sensual, multi-lingual world jazz album, with songs in French, English, Spanish and Portuguese, guarantees to carry you along on an emotional journey.

Moontraxx Records & Music Productions proudly presents the release of Frances Livings’ new album, Ipanema Lounge. The official release party and live show will take place on Thursday, September 15, 2016 at 7pm at Genghis Cohen, Los Angeles. If you are a member of the press please contact us here to receive a free copy and a VIP spot on the guest list.

                      Whenever I meet a new song, I fall madly in love with it. I think, why haven’t I met you before?

                                                                                                ~ Frances Livings

The multi-lingual world-jazz album Ipanema Lounge, produced by the artist Frances Livings in collaboration with the composer, arranger and guitarist Greg Porée for Moontraxx Records Los Angeles, captures a rich atmosphere of cultural diversity.

As a vocalist and a songwriter, Frances Livings has always been drawn to the unique crafting of a song, to its rhythm, melody, texture, linguistics and story. Frances discovered early in her career that you don’t have to be a native of any country to become attached to its culture. Another source of inspiration were her travels, like extensive stays in Southern Europe, and from having lived and worked in the multi-ethnic melting pot Los Angeles for the last decade. Bringing to this album even more than her deep love of these cultures, she choose a foreign language repertoire. She selected songs written by artists native to countries such as France, Mexico and Peru, whose tunes with their unique phonetical sounds evoke a very classy and lush atmosphere.

The cello is considered to be one of the most expressive and satisfying instruments to listen to. Its ability to speak beautifully whether in a low or high register makes it a joy for composers to write for. Frances’ alto voice resonates in the same manner. With her richness of overtones, she brings a wide range of emotion and passion to each song, truly a gift for the listeners.

COVER_Ipanema Lounge Frances 600x600The album’s thirteen songs, in French, English, Spanish and Portuguese, guarantee to carry you along on this emotional journey. With each new melody, you are immersed into a new locale, yet never fully leave the last one. They will transport you to the contemporary bars and lounges of urban metropolises, where French art house chansons, soulful American standards and groovy Brazilian music have had their undeniable impact on today’s global music and art culture.

The musical ensemble succeeds in bringing out the colours of these tunes, which range from contemporary to classical – the oldest song being from 1946. The jazz standard One Note Samba is a perfect example of the musical imagination and refreshing engagement that was brought to the production.

On Corcovado, Waters of March, Aganjú and One Note Samba, Greg Porée re-harmonized and restructured their arrangements, giving a brand new perspective to these familiar songs. Joey Heredia created an enticing drum pattern that possesses the dramatic nuances of a New Orleans march and that compliments Trey Henry’s moody bass in the intro and his syncopated patterns in the verse and bridge. These killer grooves Greg contrasted with steel string acoustics that were used to create dissonant pads for Frances’ playful vocal.

Rhythmically, Sandro Feliciano (percussion) and Isaias Elpes (electric bass), originally from Brazil, contributed very fresh cultural perspectives in developing their parts: On Jardin d’Hiver they were playful and danceable, on Aganjú and Come Closer the percussion and bass underpinnings were in a contemporary, sultry and passionate Nu Jazz style, and on Hoy they captured the flavours of Peru and Mexico. The exotic flairs of Argentina and Paris were brought to Hoy and Jardin d’Hiver by Mariano Dugatkin with his bandoneon.

On the ballads Dansez Maintenant, La Puerta and Pour te Plaire, the accompaniment for Frances’ intuitive vocal delivery required the highest level of experience, technical skill and sensitivity. The jazz veterans Jeff Colella on piano and Trey Henry again on double bass, along with Frances’ vocals, took these ballads way past the generic renditions one normally hears. Joe Ayoub played with similar musical insight on double bass on Sway and Waters of March. Darrell Diaz, a Los Angeles veteran, went way beyond the norm with his creative solos in Tell Me All About It and Waters of March, including his tasteful keyboard support on Jardin d’Hiver, Come Closer, Hoy and Sway.

For Dindi, Waters of March, Hoy and Corcovado Greg Porée created signature parts on the classical guitar that are elegantly cohesive in nature and especially impactful on Waters of March. Instrumentally, this set the stage for Frances’ and the band’s superb performance. On Dindi her beautifully crafted vocal was complimented by the linear sounds of an almost whimsical archtop guitar. For Dansez Maintenant and Pour the Plaire the atmosphere was the intimate, late night jazz club that also suited the sound of that guitar.

One of the four guest soloists was Paul Cartwright on violin who added an imaginative and atmospheric solo to the already haunting track Come Closer. John Nau did the same on electric piano for Corcovado. The studio veteran Nolan Shaheed’s trumpet ad libs on Sway take you right back to Cuba of the 1950’s, and when faced with the challenge of playing a solo over completely new chord changes for One Note Samba, Nolan rose to the occasion and took the song to new heights. On Aganjú, the interplay between Robert Kyle’s multi-layered flute and saxophone tracks and Frances Livings’ vocals brought a unique sensuality and Nu Jazz feel not previously heard on this Latin hit song.

The song sequence reflects the cycle and harmony of a day. Its moods flow through us as we awake, engage, dance, mourn and love. Some songs convey a playful attitude, like the staccato romance of possibility of Jardin d’Hiver that opens the morning. As the hours count noon, the poetic Waters of March followed by Dansez Maintenant meander us into the afternoon. Aganjú transports us into evening with its sultry tone. Come Closer, penned by Frances and the German bassist and songwriter Volker Schwanke, captures the intensity of longing and never attaining. The Portuguese ballad La Puerta exhibits a sensual flare for the dramatic and Corcovado evokes the serenity of dusk.

Sway, originally written by a Mexican composer and made famous by Dean Martin, is a flirtatious invitation for more. We transcend twilight with Pour te Plaire, an adaption of Glenn Miller’s famous jazz standard Moonlight Serenade. This French version is a perfect example of Frances Livings’ vision – how shifting language alters atmosphere, meaning and scenery. Passion flares our senses as we lay exposed, open to the magic of the night.

Each language is like a beautiful musical composition, made up of its own unique melody, rhythm and form.

                                                                                                ~ Frances Livings

PRESS CONTACT: by email Moontraxx@icloud.com by mobile phone (1) 323 719-0747

COMPANY WEBSITE: http://www.moontraxx.com

ARTIST’S WEBSITE: https://franceslivings.com

 

Staying in Touch…

27_Band_Frances-Livings_Ipanema-Lounge_Molly-Malones_2016-02-22-cropped

 

We had a marvelous time playing last month at Molly Malone’s and the audience was full of praises too which is always very satisfying! Like the following tweet expresses:

So to make sure you know what is going on, there are multiple options: The safest way to stay up to date is to sign up to my mailing list here:

 

And to be notified when I will be playing in your area – track me!

Of course you can always just check the “Shows” tab on this website here. Also, don’t forget, there’s Facebook and Twitter. The best way on Facebook is to subscribe to my “events” here:
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Saxophonist Zane Musa Songs of the Soul Frances Livings Poet

Songs of the Soul ~ In Memory of Zane Musa (1979 – 2015)

 

Zane Musa – the first time I saw him play was at a small, hole in the wall jazz joint. It was the summer of 2005. I was on one of my first visits to Los Angeles from Germany, where the guitarist Greg Porée and I had met. We had been working together at a small theatre in Hamburg. Drink in hand, we sat down, shortly before the show was to begin. So here we were on a date at this – dump.  Secretly, I was thinking very dismissively,

“What is all of this? This is not a proper city! This is not a proper jazz club! L.A. is so ugly. It’s like a barren, flat and never ending suburb, punctuated every now and then by strip malls, like this thing here…”

But Greg swore, these were really good players.

Whenever I had attended jazz concerts in Germany, the venues in which they were held were mostly historical theatres, lovely outdoor venues, like parks or on the waterfront. They always mirrored the anticipated beauty and specialness of the music. I therefore simply didn’t expect much walking in to that dumpy little bar.

The small stage was only dimly lit. My eyes fell on this lanky, dark haired, good-looking guy. I watched him as he just stood there, swaying almost unnoticeably to the venue’s background music – or to his own? His horn hung around his neck and cupping its bow, he lightly cradled his instrument. He seemed oddly detached and lost, clutching his saxophone.

The Saxophone in Jazz

The saxophone is obviously a staple in jazz music. I personally however, associated the sound of this instrument with the sickly sweet and whiney notes of players like Kenny G. dwindling annoyingly from supermarket and car radios. Having gained most of my listening experiences in the eighties and the nineties, a saxophone was the epitome of elevator jazz. But then the band started and this disinterested seeming guy started hitting his first notes; delving deeper and deeper into the music, spiralling into almost delirious solos – my jaw hit the floor. Zane Musa was the most brilliant, moving saxophonist I had ever heard live.

BANNER_Songs-of-the-Soul-Zane-Musa-without words

After the performance, on the way out, I grabbed some of these square, flimsy paper napkins from the bar and in the car I just dotted down every thought, rushing through my head. In the following weeks the poem Songs of the Soul evolved. I only told my husband that Zane inspired the piece. Nobody else. I was somewhat embarrassed by the impact he had made on me –

I had a musical crush on him.

Once the poem was completed, I felt as if I needed to deepen its intensity. I had only just started a new project recording some of my poetry. Nervously I contemplated asking Zane to play on “his” poem. I wouldn’t tell him of course that it was about him. My goal was to recite the piece and ask him to respond in a duet, as if he was at a live jazz gig, improvising on the spot. I wanted to capture a complete performance –also of my reading– rather than the usual studio procedure of assembling tracks for overdubbing and editing.

The Recording Session of Songs of the Soul

A few weeks later, I arranged a session with Nolan Shaheed at his studio in Pasadena, an environment that has now, over the years, grown into a very “safe” place to record. There I stood, in the vocal booth, Zane opposite to me in another one. We were connected by sight, large earphones and the piece and separated by the thick studio glass of the individual chambers. I didn’t read the poem out to him before we were ready to record. I wanted his reaction to be spontaneous.

So in dialogue with my recital of the poem, Zane played his musical interpretation of Songs of the Soul. The atmosphere was electric and invariably I achieved my concept in only two magical takes. The first recording was wonderful, very soft, sensitive and flowing but the second take had a lot of passion. That was the one we then mixed and mastered. Even in the somewhat disconnected and sterile environment of a recording studio, I experienced Zane as inventive and daring. He would blend Middle Eastern quarter notes with American jazz. I was impressed by his ability of delving into the music like into the depths of an indigo coloured lake that lied within him.

In the Recording Studio again…

A few years later in 2013, I was recording my first solo album, The World I Am Livings In, with eleven of my original songs. I couldn’t resist asking him to play a solo on my song Only Time Will Tell. It’s a very sad piece about fearing your loved-one will one day emotionally leave your once passionate relationship. So I needed some melancholic magic. I booked a session at Nolan’s studio and Zane played a short but very moving solo on soprano saxophone. While he was still in the recording booth, Nolan whispered to me that his older brother, the tap dancer Chance Taylor had only just committed suicide – the day before. Songs-of-the-Soul-Cover-tree-with-lightening-Frances-Livings-Musical-Poetry

My feelings shifted like waves. I went from being very moved by Zane’s playing over incredible empathy for such a loss to total disbelief that he had even showed up for the session. It seemed like too much! How was that possible, despite the pain, the shock and the anguish? At the same time I knew that sometimes that’s the very thing you have to do.

You show up and play, you sing, you write your heart out in order to not collapse. You keep going.

It was such an emotional situation because at the same time, I was also grateful for the fact that sometimes, when playing music, it’s like being handed a piece of that other person’s soul. It’s a very delicate and precious moment and I wanted to thank Zane and give him a piece in return. Greg and Nolan knew it but I had never made it public that Zane had inspired me to write Songs of the Soul.

So ever so slightly bashful, I told him that morning. His head was bent down, his eyes cast to the ground. Slowly, he lifted his gaze and through those tinted glasses he often wore, he looked at me almost with the eyes of a child, his heavy eyelids framed by dark eyelashes, batting slowly two, three times. Everyone who knows Zane will know the look. I will never know to date whether he had sensed this anyway that the poem was basically about him. I didn’t know what he thought at all – he wasn’t exactly an open book when it came to words.

What I do know is that Zane didn’t care about compliments; you couldn’t charm, bribe or seduce him into niceties. He poured himself into his music because he wanted to, rather, had to. So I didn’t judge or ask. But I had wanted to give him something back after he had given me these two heart-wrenching improvisations on his instrument and after the devastating loss of his brother. I wanted to simply say – I care.

That Night When Others Played Their Hearts Out…

And ironically, sadly and magically, that’s exactly what his fellow musicians did for him almost exactly two years later: They played their hearts out, hoping to give Zane back a piece of their souls:

On Monday, February 2nd, 2015 the jazz community received the incomprehensible and devastating news that Zane Musa had passed away. He had been on tour in Florida with the trumpeter Arturo Sandoval who himself had been a protégée of no one less than Dizzy Gilesby. At first the whole incident was perceived as a freak accident. But later we learned that tragically, Zane had taken his own life by jumping from the top of a park deck. He was only 36.

Two weeks later, on Monday, February 16, 2015, we celebrated Zane’s life: Organized by his family and three of his closest friends, the keyboarder Dennis Hamm, the bassist Ryan Cross and the drummer Tony Austin. I was asked if the recording of “Songs of the Soul” could be played and whether I could say a few words about how it developed. Of course I was more than honoured that I could contribute something.

For years, the Sofitel Hotel on Beverly Boulevard has been a slightly more glamorous venue for Monday night jazz sessions that Zane had often attended. Generously, the management once again supplied their venue, this time for Zane’s memorial service.

The large conference room was packed. Some of the guests had to stand in the back. I can only guess that there were at least five hundred people attending. Zane’s sister, his mentors and close friends shared very personal stories. Pictures of him growing up, tap dancing and playing his instrument were shown, and Zane’s peers and close friends played live music. Zane’s brother Chance, an award winning tap dancer was also commemorated. A slide show that Dennis had compiled, with pictures of Zane playing, illustrated Songs of the Soul. It marked the end of the well over three hour memorial. Finally, a brass band led the attendees downstairs to the piano bar. A lively jam session started to take place until closing out at 2 am in the morning.

I don’t want to speculate at this point why Zane ultimately made the decision to end his own life. It seems so much like such a contradiction of his brilliance and success. Moreover, he wasn’t some unpopular nerd, shunned and bullied. His family, friends and peers loved, respected and revered him. Couldn’t he get professional help, one may be temped to ask. But we know of others, whose idea of suicide has risen to loom over them like a black sun. We know of others, whose yearning to cease corporal existence will more often than not, lead them to their final definite act.

Your Elusive Creative Genius

I would rather more like to end this excursion on honouring Zane with someone else’s words. This is an excerpt from a talk in February 2009 by the writer Elizabeth Gilbert on “Your elusive creative genius”:

Centuries ago in the deserts of North Africa, people used to gather for these moonlight dances of sacred dance and music that would go on for hours and hours, until dawn. They were always magnificent, because the dancers were professionals and they were terrific […] But every once in a while, very rarely, something would happen, and one of these performers would actually become transcendent. […] time would stop, and the dancer would sort of step through some kind of portal and he wasn’t doing anything different than he had ever done, 1,000 nights before, but everything would align. And all of a sudden, he would no longer appear to be merely human. He would be lit from within, and lit from below and all lit up on fire with divinity.

[…] And when this happened, back then, people knew it for what it was, you know, they called it by its name. They would put their hands together and they would start to chant, “Allah, Allah, Allah, God, God, God.” That’s God, you know. […] Incomprehensible, there it is — a glimpse of God. Which is great, because we need that.

But, the tricky bit comes the next morning, for the dancer himself, when he wakes up and discovers that it’s Tuesday at 11 a.m., and he’s no longer a glimpse of God. He’s just an aging mortal with really bad knees, and maybe he’s never going to ascend to that height again. And maybe nobody will ever chant God’s name again as he spins, and what is he then to do with the rest of his life? This is hard. This is one of the most painful reconciliations to make in a creative life.

When I first came to Los Angeles –which is now almost ten years ago– the experience of such incredible talent and level of musicianship moved me profoundly. I knew, there was likely no return. To that date, I had only heard on recordings by the very best, the amount of brilliance as I then did and continue to hear live. I felt in awe, and as an artist myself inspired, challenged and frightened. In some way, Zane epitomized a lot of these feelings and conflicts. I have always highly respected his talent, passion and hard work. When he played, he invested everything – including his torment, which was what I saw that very first evening with such intuition I suppose, because it mirrored in a way some of my own. But did I have that courage?

Rest peacefully, Zane.

L. A. Jazz Scene Reels from Untimely Death of Zane Musa, by Tom Meek in LA Weekly, Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Zane Musa Memorial and Celebration of Life, event page with many comments and eulogies on Facebook

An interesting, older article praising the talent of a young Zane Musa appeared in 1996 in The Los Angeles Times: “They’re Young, Gifted and Gigging: Zane Musa, a Name to Remember, Opens New Jazz Talent Series” by Don Heckman in The L.A. Times, April 4, 1996.

 

DOWNLOAD Songs of the Soul here:

 

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Elliot-Erwill-Paris-Rain-French-Chansons

Frances Livings’ Ipanema Lounge Repertoire. French Chansons

Elliot-Erwill-Paris-Rain-French-Chansons man leaping couple hugging umbrellas eifel tower tour eifel
© Elliot Erwill, Paris 1989 (100-year jubilee of the Eiffel Tower)

 

I have always loved French chansons which definitely derives from my strong affinity with the French culture – and I am not only referring to the delicious food. I was thrilled to start learning French at middle school and very excited about being able to count to ten, say bonjour, merci, oui and non after a couple of lessons. My emotional bond with French music however, developed later in junior art college, where I had a very Francophile teacher. He spent (probably) all of his holidays in France and often came to class wearing the typical black beret. So often, instead of bending our heads over books, like the children’s (and adult’s) classic Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry we were supposed to be reading at the time, he would bring his acoustic guitar and we pour our hearts into singing French chansons.

Apart from loving to sing I always felt that these songs were very special, very pensive and always very poetic. One of my favourite lines was from the song Ma Solitude by Georges Moustaki. I thought it was just so beautifully melancholic and at the same time a clever play with words: “Non, je ne suis jamais seul / Avec ma solitude” (No, I am never alone / with my loneliness). I have, in the meantime recorded the song. You can read about my thoughts and inspiration here and listen to it embedded in a beautiful Spotify playlist while you read this blog post…

Years later, my mother’s second husband bought and renovated an old French farmhouse in Perigord, the southwest of France. I was very lucky to be able to spend so much time there before he sadly passed away unexpectedly. The property stood slightly elevated on a small mound and was surrounded by a beautiful soft and green, hilly landscape. It was a whitewashed house with a huge, heavy oak barn door and Bordeaux-red window shutters. A low, irregular, old mossy stone wall, next to which luscious bushes of red roses and lavender grew, semi-enclosed it. There was no telephone, internet or TV. It was perfect for either relaxing or being creative. I wrote and sang a lot and sometimes listened to the radio, which was always very inspiring because of the large amount of French songs they played.

While searching for material and writing my own songs to continuously expand my repertoire, these songs have always been in the back of my mind. It wasn’t until compiling the music for my multi-lingual Ipanema Lounge project, and playing some regular gigs at some of L.A.’s best French restaurants, The Little Door, and Le Petit Paris, that they resurfaced and I started learning some of them, gradually adding more and more. So after a friend of mine asked me for the lyrics of the ones I had been singing live, I thought I would just upload them here for anyone who is interested. I have uploaded the following medley and added our recording of the songs with some background information.

Jardin d’Hiver

Years ago, a friend of mine compiled these lovely mixed tapes for me. One of them included a very cute and amusing song Jardin d’Hiver, written by the French-Israeli songwriter Keren Ann. Later I learnt that the most well-known recording, the one I listened to over and over again from that tape, is by Henri Salvador. He was French but originally born in Guyana, and virtually an institution in France from the 1930s until his death in 2008. This song is from his 2000 comeback album, Chambre Avec Vue that he recorded at the ripe age of 83!

My recording of this song borrows from the Beguine and the Cha Cha Cha. The tempo is 126 bpm and the backing track consists of various percussion instruments (Sandro Feliciano), nylon guitar (Greg Porée), double bass, bandonéon, synthesizer string pads and piano.

Listen to and download the song here:

Jardin d’Hiver

Je voudrais du soleil vert
Des dentelles et des théières
Des photos de bord de mer
Dans mon jardin d’hiver

Je voudrais de la lumière
Comme en Nouvelle-Angleterre
Je veux changer d’atmosphère
Dans mon jardin d’hiver

Ma robe à fleurs sous la pluie de novembre
Tes mains qui courent, je n’en peux plus de t’attendre
Les années passent, qu’il est loin l’âge tendre
Nul ne peut nous entendre

Je voudrais du Fred Astaire
Revoir un Latécoère
Je voudrais toujours te plaire
Dans mon jardin d’hiver

Je veux déjeuner par terre
Comme au long des golfes clairs
T’embrasser les yeux ouverts
Dans mon jardin d’hiver

Ma robe à fleurs sous la pluie de novembre
Tes mains qui courent, je n’en peux plus de t’attendre
Les années passent, qu’il est loin l’âge tendre
Nul ne peut nous entendre

 

Pour te Plaire

The song Pour Te Plaire was written in French by Maxime Le Forestier and was first released by the chanson singer Julien Clerc in 2003. It was adapted from the famous American jazz standard That’s All (Bob Haymes, Alan Brandt) that was written in 1952 and made popular by Nat King Cole. To be completely honest, I like the lyrics better in French than in English. I absolutely adore the line, “Que toujours et plus encore” which means basically for longer than forever – isn’t that romantic?

My recording of the song features three of Los Angeles most wonderful studio musicians: Greg Porée on guitar, Trey Henry on upright bass and Jeff Colella on piano – just wait until you hear the short and sensitive, most romantic solo. Remember, this is a serious love song… Also, when we did the premix I wanted the song to have a special guitar sound. I was inspired by Jeff Buckley’s recording of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and Paul Simon’s use of very atmospherical, spherical sounding electric guitars. The sound credit here goes out to Greg Porée and the sound engineer Nolan Shaheed.

Stream the song here:

Pour Te Plaire

Je te donne seulement l’amour pour la vie entière,
La promesse de me trouver à tes genoux,
Aussitôt que tu m’appelles,
Rester toujours fidèle,
C’est tout. C’est tout.

Je te donne tous mes printemps, mes étés de mer,
mes automnes quand les feuilles tombent partout.
Si ce n’est pas une bonne affaire,
Je te donne tous mes hivers,
C’est tout, C’est tout.

De ces choses qu’on t’a dites pour te plaire
Ces promesses avancent pour séduire
Il y en a-t-il de meilleur que l’on puisse faire,
un amour que rien ne peut détruire.

Si tu veux savoir quoi me donner pour ma peine
Rassures-toi je ne veux presque rien du tout
Que toujours et plus encore,
Je soit la seule que tu adores,
C’est tout, c’est tout.

De ces choses qu’on t’a dites pour te plaire,
ces promesses avancent pour séduire
il y en a-t-il de meilleur que l’on puisse faire
un amour que rien ne peut détruire

Si tu veux savoir quoi me donner pour ma peine,
Rassures-toi je ne veux presque rien du tout
Que toujours et plus encore,
Je sois la seule que tu adores,
C’est tout, c’est tout.

Que toujours et plus encore,
Je sois la seule que tu adores,
C’est tout, c’est tout.

 

Ne Me Quitte Pas

“Ne Me Quitte Pas” (English: “Don’t Leave Me”) is a song I frequently sing live, ideally with the full band but I haven’t recorded it yet. It was written and recorded in 1959 by the Belgian chansonnier Jacques Brel. Considered by some as Brel’s ultimate classic, it has since then been translated into over 20 different languages! Brel wrote the song after his mistress “Zizou” (Suzanne Gabriello) ended their affair. Zizou was pregnant with Brel’s child but Brel refused to acknowledge it as his own which resulted in her having an abortion.

The lyrics “Moi, je t’offrirai des perles de pluie venues de pays où il ne pleut pas” (“I’m offering you rain pearls from countries where it does not rain”) are sung to a theme that Brel borrowed from the second part, Lassan (Andante), of the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 by the composer Franz Liszt.

For me as a woman it has an overly dramatic component in which the man is persuasive and almost intrusive. Sting’s hit song Every Breath You Take speaks similarly of an obsession to the extent of stalking someone (“I’ll be watching you…”). Sting’s lyrics however, are void of any romantic or poetic, high-flying promises. Unlike Brel who makes offerings or maybe bribes like rain made of pearls or light and gold to cover her body; he will be king, she will be queen in a world ruled with love… The French film “Le Chambre Bleue” (2014) deals with the topic of love in a similar way. Its female protagonist reminded me very much of the obsessive character (Brel) of this song.

To lift the slightly triste and melodramatic atmosphere of the song, I like playing it live as a teasing Tango –

Ne Me Quitte Pas

Ne me quitte pas
Il faut oublier
Tout peut s’oublier
Qui s’enfuit déjà
Oublier le temps
Des malentendus –
et le temps perdu
A savoir comment
Oublier ces heures
Qui tuaient parfois
A coups de pourquoi
Le cœur du bonheur

Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas

Moi je t’offrirai
Des perles de pluie
Venues de pays
Où – il ne pleut pas
Je creuserai la terre
Jusqu’après ma mort
Pour couvrir ton corps
D’or et de (la) lumière
Je ferai un domaine
Où l’amour sera roi
Où l’amour sera loi
Où tu seras reine

Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas !

Ne me quitte pas
Je t’inventerai
Des mots insensés
Que tu comprendras
Je te parlerai
De ces amants là
Qui ont vu deux fois
Leurs coeurs s’embraser
Je te racont’rai
L’histoire de ce roi
Mort de n’avoir pas
Pu te rencontrer

Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas

On a vu souvent
Rejaillir le feu
De l’ancien volcan
Qu’on croyait trop vieux
Il est paraît-il
Des terres brûlées
Donnant plus de blé
Qu’un meilleur Avril
Et quand vient le soir
Pour qu’un ciel flamboie
Le rouge et le noir
Ne s’épousent-ils pas?

Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas

Ne me quitte pas
Je ne vais plus pleurer
Je ne vais plus parler
Je me cacherai là
A te regarder
Danser, danser!
Et à t’écouter
Chanter et puis rire
Laisse-moi devenir
L’ombre de ton ombre
L’ombre de ta main
L’ombre de ton chien

Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas
Ne me quitte pas

Ne me quitte pas !

 

Dansez Maintenant

This song was originally composed by Glen Miller as the theme for his orchestra and is usually known with English lyrics as Moonlight Serenade. I recorded it as a swung-ballad with French lyrics. The track is very true to how it would have been performed in the 1940’s. It’s such a cheerful tune about the summer holidays. The tempo is 90 BPM and is backed by electric piano, double bass, electric guitar and a brush snare. It is frequently one of my most popular tunes on Spotify.

Listen to and download the song here:

Dansez Maintenant

Dansez maintenant,
tout l’été les pieds nus dans le sable
Dansez maintenant
Et jetez vos ennuis dans les vagues
Qui dansent, balancent, au gré du vent sale

Dansez maintenant
Tout l’été aimez-vous sur le sable
Dansez maintenant
Tout l’été vous serez des cigales
Qui dansent, balancent, au gré du vent léger

Quand l’hiver sera venu vous
prendre au dépourvu
Vous danserez main dans la main
En attendant l’été prochain

Dansez maintenant
Tout l’été aimez-vous sur le sable
Dansez maintenant
Tout l’été vous serez des cigales
Qui dansent, balancent, au gré du vent léger

Quand l’hiver sera venu vous
prendre au dépourvu
Vous danserez main dans la main
En attendant l’été prochain

Dansez maintenant
Tout l’été les pieds nus dans le sable
Dansez maintenant
Et jetez vos ennuis dans les vagues
Qui dansent, balancent, au gré du vent salé

 

Caravane

Caravan (Caravane) is a jazz standard composed by Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington, and was first performed by Ellington in 1936. Irving Mills wrote lyrics that were however, seldomly performed. It is more known as an instrumental. Its exotic sound interested musicians; Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, and Gordon Jenkins all covered it.

The French lyrics were written by the chansonier Philippe Elan and first recorded in 2007 by the Dutch jazz artist Laura Fygi. I haven’t made a recording yet but am burning to…! It’s a great song to play even in a trio.

Woody Allen used the song in two of his films, Alice and Sweet and Lowdown. The song is also heavily featured in the 2014 film Whiplash as an important plot element. The Mills Brothers recorded an a cappella version, making the instruments’ sounds with their voices, and Johnny Mathis recorded the song in 1956. There are more than 350 recordings of this song by Duke Ellington’s orchestra, the great majority of them now in the public domain.

Caravane

Nuit – s’aimer d’étoiles
Qui pris si fort
Le mystère de reflet d’or
Aimer de notre caravane

D’or – sur mon épaule
Tout en rampon
Dans le vent le sable mouvant
Souvenir de notre caravane

Tout semble possible
Tu es irrésistible
Blotti dans mes bras
Je subi
Ton mystérieux charme

Oh, toi,
Si près de moi,
Sous le ciel roi
Mon rêve se réalisera
Au cœur de notre caravane

 

The Ultimate French Chanson: Ma Solitude

The writer of this poetic piece is Georges Moustaki, an Egyptian-born French singer-songwriter who became famed for his repertoire of simple romantic ballads. In his obituary in 2013, The Irish Times called him a “troubadour of love, tenderness and anti-racism [who] gave France some of its best-loved music.” Ma Solitude was first recorded in 1967 by the Italian-born French singer and actor Serge Reggiani. Two years later, in 1969, Moustaki released it himself. His version has been so far the most popular one. Read about what inspired me to record this beautiful ballad here.

Listen to and download the song here:


Ma solitude

Pour avoir si souvent dormi
Avec ma solitude
Je m’en suis faite presque une amie
Une douce habitude

Elle ne me quitte pas d’un pas
Fidèle comme une ombre
Elle m’a suivi çà et là
Aux quatre coins du monde

Non, je ne suis jamais seul
Avec ma solitude

Quand elle est au creux de mon lit
Elle prend toute la place
Et nous passons de longues nuits
Tous les deux face à face

Je ne sais vraiment pas jusqu’où
Ira cette complice
Faudra-t-il que j’y prenne goût
Ou, que je réagisse ?

Non, je ne suis jamais seul
Avec ma solitude

Par elle, j’ai autant appris
Que j’ai versé de larmes
Si parfois je la répudie
Jamais elle ne désarme

Et, si je préférais l’amour
D’une autre courtisane
Elle sera à mon dernier jour
Ma dernière compagne

Non, je ne suis jamais seul
Avec ma solitude
Non, je ne suis jamais seul
Avec ma solitude

English translation:

My Solitude

After having slept so often
with my loneliness
I have almost made it to my friend
like a sweet habit

She doesn’t leave my side
Faithful like a shadow
She has followed me here and there
to all four corners of the world

No I’m never alone
With my loneliness

When she’s in the crater of my bed
She takes up all the space
And we spend long nights together
Both of us, face to face

I really don’t know how far it will go
with this accomplice
Will I have to take a fancy
Or will I react?

No I’m never alone
With my loneliness

Through her, I have learned so much
that I have cried tears
If sometimes I reject that
She never disarms me

And If I preferred the love
of another courtesan
She will be on my last day,
My last companion

No I’m never alone
With my loneliness
No I’m never alone
With my loneliness

Did you enjoy this post? If so, why not…

 

For some more French chansons sung by female artists, follow me on Spotify and subscribe to my playlist!

…merci et à bientôt!kiss_small

Still Lifes ~ The Art of Tranquillity

 

It was just one of these mornings. Lying there in bed, I felt as if my life was washing over me like a big grey wave. The murky waters were draining off, revealing bit of useless debris. My music and my writing, appeared like mere fragments. Projects scattered everywhere; unfinished poems, unsold CDs, unwritten essays. And ideas were just flying around in my head like annoying flies. There were no neat stacks of achievements piled up like thick, leather bound books with gilded letters spelling out that phrase, “a successful career”. There was no linear path steadily leading up to a golden throne – let alone camping stool – on which I could rest and observe my “kingdom”: a well sorted archive full of publications and releases, of awards and chronologically ordered press clippings.

I felt messy, insecure, depressed, a bit lonely but most of all irrelevant.

I was spending a few days in solitude at my mother’s house in the countryside. The peacefulness was very soothing but my mind can be overactive and therefore stressful at times. It was still early, so I went for a run, which always makes me feel better. Taking in the soft, luscious countryside bursting with green buds and concentrating on my repetitive breathing soothed me. Back home I had more espresso with hot milk, some toast with honey and promised myself to write for an hour before going on a little Sunday outing to the local art museum.

I drove into the village and parked the car just far enough away to enjoy a brief walk up the cobble-stoned street. The weather was beautiful; there was a light breeze, an abundance of fresh air and the sun was warming some wind-shaded spots. Cheerful little puffy white clouds hurried along a light blue sky that created a nice backdrop to the red brick of the expressionistic buildings and the dark green of the fir trees.

Out of my Head: Into the Museum

I entered the museum and my first cursory glance caught some paintings I automatically expected to be 17th century Dutch church interiors. Upon entering the exhibition however, I was astounded to see that these pictures, a few more interiors but mostly still lifes, dated from around 1968 to 2009. They were by a contemporary Dutch painter Henk Helmantel and the exhibition was to commemorate his 70th birthday.

Helmantel-Roman-glass-still-ilfe

 

What struck me wandering around, was how tranquil, focussed and simple most of the pictures were. They were mostly fairly large in format. As a viewer I had the feeling that the artist was consciously showing these objects to me, rather than permitting an intimate view of something otherwise quite private. These works were therefore less intimate than their much earlier Dutch predecessors. But the choice of objects depicted were very similar. They were all simple household items, bits of fruit and vegetables, mostly locally grown like asparagus or chestnuts. There were simple boxes, bowls and glass vases, some antique, but displayed in a consciously chosen space, in a balanced and symmetrical way and whose clear and clean lines reminded me of Danish art that emerged around the beginning of the 19th century.

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Many items depicted stemmed from the artist’s collection. But there was no highly precious or prestigious aura surrounding them. There were no exotic features or valuable items. Their value was based upon, so it seemed, on shape and colour, or their proportions. A bowl on a narrow rim, with an even cream glaze, which Helmantel had painted holding nine eggs (see above) was displayed in a glass show case what accentuated its simplicity and serenity.

IMG_7187

The Artist Henk Helmantel

Born in 1945 in Westeremden in Holland, which lies North of Groningen, Helmantel was raised as one of five children. His parents owned a nursery and the children helped selling their plants and flowers at the traditional local markets, like in Groningen. The story goes that on one of these trips Helmantel made his very first visits to a museum and was overly impressed by Rembrandt. From then on he collected any snippets and pictures from newspapers and magazines he could find. He was determined to become a painter, later attending the art academy in Groningen.

It became obvious to me that he was a diligent and meticulous worker, dedicated to depicting these serene objects in the most naturalistic way possible. He was obviously interested in the unique surfaces of the objects, like in the irregular iridescent glass of his collection of Roman vessels (see picture above). But at the same time, he wasn’t taking any liberties by letting a single brush stroke stand out or have an expressionistic or impressionistic character, let alone by being textural. Each stroke serves the depiction of the object in the most naturalistic and realistic way possible.

Personally, I love texture and abstraction in painting. I only recently saw a quite impressive exhibition of William Turner‘s work at the Getty museum in Los Angeles. But that afternoon, it was the clarity and focus in Helmantel’s paintings that inspired me. Even his more involved paintings are evenly and thoughtfully grouped objects. There are no coincidences. Everything is consciously arranged, which also means that each object is taken seriously within its own unique value. I told myself:

Take every piece, each poem you write, every song you sing seriously, take it for what it is!

I could feel the jumble in my head and the doubtfulness that tortures every artist more or less frequently being soothed. I kept thinking,

Stick to what you do, and do it with dedication, clarity and consciousness!

 

Simplify and focus!

 

Henk Helmantel

IMG_7188 IMG_7191 IMG_7198

(c) Frances Livings, 2015

 

Here’s a playlist for a more uplifting mood:

Did you like this post? If so, why not…

Frances Livings’ Ipanema Lounge ~ New Album Out Soon!

Ipanema-Lounge-Project_550px

Frances Livings’ Ipanema Lounge

I am very excited to announce that we have almost finished recording a new 12-song world jazz album called “Ipanema Lounge”. The songs range from dramatic and emotional, melancholic, to up-tempo, fun and groovy. Atmospherically, the recordings create a blend of Southern European sounding music and Latin jazz – I have not only sung in English but also in French, Spanish and Portuguese.

Co-produced with the guitarist, arranger, composer and producer Greg Porée, I feel very fortunate that we have been able to attract not only the best musicians in Los Angeles but also a great diversity. Please look at a list of the credits down below. We are hoping to have the album mixed and completed as a physical CD by the end of May 2015. I will be presenting the demo album at the internationally attended Jazzahead conference in Bremen, Germany this April 2015 to gain some support with booking, management and promotion.

Ipanema Lounge has grown as a project in an interesting way over the last few months. The project evolved from being a tribute to Antônio Carlos Jobim to becoming a repertoire of very unique and interesting, international songs. Originally, Greg Porée and I were seeking for some music that would allow us to perform together. Greg’s music is instrumental and guitar-oriented and mine is more piano based and rarely features the guitar. So I started searching for songs that would not only feature both the voice and the classical guitar but also represent some kind of special theme.

Suddenly I found myself emerged in a lot of music in foreign languages. For reasons I cannot explain, I felt very connected to songs in these romance languages, to their different sounds and colourings. This suddenly – being the word and language lover I am – became another new and exciting avenue to explore. One of the best compliments I recently received after one of our shows was someone saying that she had felt transported to all these different countries, as if she had just been on holiday.

Some of these songs were new discoveries but others I have been cherishing now for quite a long time. Like “La Puerta”, one of my all time favourite ballads. It was originally written by the Mexican songwriter Luis Demetrio (1931-2007) and made popular in Europe by the Dutch singer Laura Fygi. I later discovered that Demetrio co-wrote another favourite song of mine, “Sway” with the bandleader Pablo Beltran Ruiz (1915-2008) which is also on the album, half in English and half in Spanish. The English lyrics are by Norman Gimbel who became famous through his English lyrics of “The Girl From Ipanema”, an Antônio Carlos Jobim song I also sometimes sing live.

Greg Porée, who has worked for countless international artists, was also the lead guitarist in the orchestra of the BBC hit show Dancing with the Stars for eight years. The repertoire ranged from rap to classical. Greg’s spectrum of musicality therefore stems from so many areas. Live and on these recordings he delivers not only the harmonious tones of the classical guitar but also the inventive arrangements and creative grooves that make the recordings so unique. Our recording of the famous Jobim song, Waters of March stands in a way for Greg’s inventiveness. By creating a harp-like arpeggiated guitar figure, the notion of a flowing river was created.

I am a jazz vocalist with a background in pop, electronica and nujazz. It was therefore natural for both Greg and me to applied a creative fusion-approach with soul and pop influences to the songs. The infectious grooves on the fun and up-tempo songs, like Sway and Aganjú, are typical for Latin jazz and is very much coined by our drummer and percussionist. This world-jazz approach has already garnered us in Los Angeles a loyal audience of both jazz enthusiasts and those who have never considered themselves jazz fans.

Credits:

Frances Livings – vocals

Greg Porée – guitar

Jeff Colella – piano & keyboards

Darrell Diaz – keyboards

Trey Henry – upright bass

Isaias Elpes – electric bass

Joe Ayoub – upright bass

Joey Heredia – drums & percussion

Sandro Feliciano – percussion

Nolan Shaheed – trumpet

Mariano Dugatkin – bandoneon

Recorded at Nolan Shaheed’s in Pasadena, produced by Frances Livings & Greg Porée 2015

The Ipanema Lounge project gives you the sweet sounds of Brazilian music that are sure to please. ~ Paul Anderson, KJAZZ 91.5 

Creative Influences ~ Sneezles by A. A. Milne on Record-A-Poem

When a couple of weeks ago, I was asked to pick a children’s piece to record as a segment for a voice-over demo, a cute little poem came to mind – something with sneezing. Via Dr. Google it was quickly retrieved on the internet. Here are the first lines:

Christopher Robinsneezles_1
Had wheezles
And sneezles,
They bundled him
Into
His bed.
They gave him what goes
With a cold in the nose,
And some more for a cold
In the head…

Sneezles is from The Complete Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh. It is such a quirky, melodically rhyming get-well-soon poem by the English author and poet A. A. Milne. The poem captures some of the advantages of being a sick child, which is (for some) being the center of attention. Especially the last line is in that sense very amusing. You can listen to my reading of the poem down below.

Milne was best known for his books about the teddy bear Winnie-the-Pooh and for various other children’s poems. He wrote Sneezles as a children’s poem for and about his son, Christopher Robin Milne, whose name – abbreviated to Christopher Robin – was the basis for the character in all of the Pooh books and poems. The character Winnie-the-Pooh was named after a teddy bear owned by Christopher, whose toys actually lent their names to most of the other characters in the Pooh books, except for Owl and Rabbit.

Above is an illustration for Sneezles by E. H. Shepard, the English artist and book illustrator who coined the appearances of all of Milne’s characters and which were equally popular to Milne’s writings.

EH Shepard's ink drawing of Winnie the Pooh playing Poohsticks with Piglet and Christopher Robin.
E. H. Shepard, ink drawing of Winnie the Pooh playing Poohsticks with Piglet and Christopher Robin. Photo: AFP / SOTHEBY’S LONDON

One of E. H. Shephard’s most famous images of Winnie the Pooh actually just sold for £314,500 at auction, at three times its estimate. It formed part of Sotheby’s sale of children’s books: An ink drawing of the bear playing Poohsticks with Piglet and Christopher Robin, published in 1928. The illustration was featured in A. A. Milne’s second book, The House At Pooh Corner, and had been in a private collection since the 1970s.

All of Shephard’s illustrations are very quiet and intimate. They depict scenes of introverted characters, ones that are thoughtful and philosophical. They reflect the subtlety of Milne’s writings, which are amongst adults as quotes still hugely popular. One of my personal favourites is:

People who don’t think probably don’t have brains; rather, they have grey fluff that’s blown into their heads by mistake. ― Winnie the Pooh

Sadly, Disney adapted the Pooh stories into a series of features that became one of its most successful franchises. I personally, like these ink drawings so much better than the popularized Disney animations which have turned the airy, vulnerable and whimsically sketched characters into teletub-like, plump and one-dimentional, in-your-face characters. It actually pains me to think that some children will never get to see the original drawings.

Not that these works per se lack popularity; there’s even a annual National Awareness (or bearness?) Day for Winnie the Pooh, which was two days ago, on January 18.

So far, I haven’t gotten any work out of the demo so instead of letting it dwindle into forgottenness, I sent the recording to Record-A-Poem a poetry group initiated by the Poetry Foundation. Their poetry blog Harriet has been inviting people to post audio recordings of their favourite poems on their Soundcloud stream. The Poetry Foundation, the publisher of Poetry magazine, defines itself as “an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. It exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience.”

Happily, my reading of Sneezles was added to their collection and can now be heard in their Soundcloud stream and through the widget posted below.

 

Creative Influences ~ Poetry. Sun at Midnight

BLOOD Moon

I had first come across the sonnet Midnight Sun a few years ago. It was around the time of the first studio recording of my song Mr. Moon, a jazz tune, which is centred around the various characteristics of the moon with its magical and comforting but also seductive elements. I had been singing it a lot live but on one tranquil Sunday afternoon, I started doing some research; curious to see what poets had written about the moon. That’s when I came across Joseph Mary Plunkett’s Sun at Midnight, which is known as a deep meditation on the love of God.

Sun at Midnight                             

by Joseph Mary Plunkett and Frances Livings

I saw the sun at midnight, rising red,
Deep-hued yet glowing, heavy with the stain
Of blood-compassion, and I saw it gain
Swiftly in size and growing till It spread
Over the stars; the heavens bowed their head
As from its heart slow dripped a crimson rain,
Then a great tremor shook it, as of pain—
The night fell, moaning, as It hung there dead. [1]

Before the day could claim me
I had awoken from this dream
limbs heavy from humidity, languid from this scene
as pearls of sweat, trickled like raindrops from my brow
the earth creaked and ached, again the heavens bowed
and from my heart slow dripped a crimson rain
A great tremor shook me – in agony, in pain—
from my sun at midnight bled the last drop of you.

(The night fell, moaning, and life claimed me back again)

© Frances Livings

[1] by Joseph Mary Plunkett circa 1900

I felt inspired by what I perceived as a very beautiful and mystical poem and had freely swapped out his last verse[2] with mine, changing the whole direction from God to a loved one. I was going through a very difficult separation at the time so I took the blood red moon as a metaphor for deep but very intense, painful and sometimes inexplicable feelings. Besides, love to me, whether towards a mortal being or a heavenly figure, like a God, will always stay a quite mystical phenomenon.

The mysterious allure of the moon goes back to the beginning of human history. And despite man having now even set foot on it, it still has that effect on us. Like many, I am always fascinated by the moon. Most of all I find its transitions wondrous. It can change so vastly in size and shape, growing from the slightest sliver of a crescent moon – with as little as 1% of its surface illuminated – to a full round globe.

Depending on the light, its colour and texture can also dramatically vary: A low hanging, fat harvest moon will look welcoming and generous when in October, it takes on a golden, orangey-yellow glow. In the winter, a small bluish-silvery moon can seem like a distant reminder of magical, outer worldly spheres, unknown and intangible, so far away in the sky.

So this past Monday, on April 14 2014, just two days after my birthday, I was sitting out in the garden, letting the pictures of a wonderful weekend glide by, sipping some wine and simply enjoying the mild night. I was mindlessly gazing into the sky when I spotted the full moon. I suddenly remembered that we were approaching a total lunar eclipse which made it even more special.

Later I learnt, that it was the first in more than three years to be visible and uninterrupted by sunrise. I also didn’t know that when a total lunar eclipse occurs, dispersed light from all the Earth’s sunrises and sunsets falls on the face of the moon at mid-eclipse which gives it a reddish hue and has coined the name “blood moon”. So a few nights ago, the moon had yet again undergone a transformation when after midnight it turned into an amazing, coppery red blood moon.

The moon will glow red three more times in the next 18 months, scientists say. It’s part of a lunar eclipse “tetrad”; a series of four consecutive total lunar eclipses that happen at about six-month intervals. The moon passes into the Earth’s shadow, and will begin to appear bright orange or red because of the way sunlight bends through the Earth’s atmosphere. The sunset hue can last up to an hour. According to the NASA, the next one is due October 8, 2014, followed by blood moons April 4, 2015 and September 28, 2015.

I hadn’t though about Plunkett’s poem in a long time but the next morning I searched in my files and retrieved it again and posted it here in my blog. I am now sure that if I found a moon calendar of the late 19th or early 20th century, Plunkett’s night of inspiration, his sighting of a blood moon could be pin pointed. I find that quite amazing and symbolic: The cosmos – all elements of nature – will autonomously and relentlessly pursue their cycles. Which shows yet again in a very beautiful and haunting way that on earth we are all just visitors. On the other hand, for thousands of years, man- and womenfolk have made these very same experiences, have been in awe or threatened by nature’s moods and spectacles, gazed at the same moon, sun and stars. This means we are all connected which makes the poem and that night indeed a very spiritual one.

_________________________________________________

[1] Comprising 390 poems by 162 authors, this unique anthology strings together “such poems as contain intimations of a consciousness wider and deeper than the normal.” Spanning five centuries, every era of the great spiritualists is represented: from the Metaphysical Poets, like Donne and Traherne, to the Romantics, including Tennyson and Browning, to the Moderns, such as Yeats and Noyes. The Irish poet, journalist and author of Sun At Midnight, Joseph Mary Plunkett (1879-1916) was born in Dublin and educated at Catholic University School, Belvedere College and Stonyhurst College. His study of the mystics, John of the Cross, Theresa of Avila and Francis de Sales was discernible in his poetry. However, as one of the signers of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, he was imprisoned by the English army and executed in 1916 at the age of only 28.

[2] Plunkett’s last verse is: O Sun, O Christ, O bleeding Heart of flame! / Thou givest Thine agony as our life’s worth, / And makest it infinite, lest we have dearth / Of rights wherewith to call upon Thy Name; / Thou pawnest Heaven as a pledge for Earth / And for our glory sufferest all shame. His sonnet, I Saw the Sun at Midnight, Rising Red, which is the original title, was published in Plunkett’s first poetry volume “The Circle and the Sword” in 1911. Another volume of his poetry, “Occulta” was published posthumously. A year after his death Sun at Midnight was also included in “The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse”[1], by D. H. S. Nicholson and A. H. E. Lee, The Clarendon Press, Oxford 1917. An online edition was published November 2000 by Bartleby.com.

 

Midnight Sun by Sarah Vaughan (Pablo Records 1978)

National Poetry Month, April 2014

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Rapid technological development has led to a constant flood of visual and acoustic bits and bites – emails, text messages and Facebook updates. For most of us it has become a habit to react, one that often leaves us frazzled and detached. Single-tasking has become a luxury in the 21st century. To sit down and simply read a poem, so to only focus on one individual piece of work, can feel as if we’re not doing enough, or even wasting time. Besides, especially poetry can seem very inaccessible. It is not easily consumed; it does not offer clear-cut outlines, neat bullet points or answers to your most urgent questions in life. Poetry demands from both the writer and reader attentiveness and reflection, moreover, intellectual and emotional engagement.

I am writing this on April the 2nd, two days into National Poetry Month 2014. First launched in 1996 with the support of the Academy of American Poets, the month of April was declared National Poetry Month.[1] Some literati like to argue that the celebration of poetry should be a daily and not an annual event confined to a month. But this is not the discussion I want to engage in at this point. I am taking this event as an opportunity to reflect upon the role poetry can play in our lives.

Anyone who engages in poetry – or in any kind of art form – is most likely both curious and highly sensitive. Our attention is usually not drawn towards the general or the spectacular but towards the singular, with its nuances and notions, shadows and shades. Those of us who write poetry must often follow the invisible; we hunt after illusions, traces, and wisps of things. With the patience of field archaeologists we excavate vague impressions we are sometimes barely able to grasp, often agonizing over every word and phrase. Our reward is when this „tantalizing vagueness“, like Robert Frost called it, takes on forms and meanings that lie beyond our expectations, like hidden little gems waiting to be uncovered.[2] Aristotle wrote of poetry as, „a kind of thing that might be“, in contrast to history as something that was.[3]

Both reading and writing poetry demands of us opposing virtues; we have to be both intuitive and logical, heart and head strong, playful and disciplined. Poetry teaches us an awareness of the wonders of the world, of mankind and of language. Through poetry we take in others, their universe, their views, anxieties, beliefs and emotions – snapshots which can even mirror our own.

Poetry „cannot reduce life, with all its pain, horror, suffering and ecstasy, to a unified tonality of boredom or complaint“[4]. Poetry facilitates reflection and compassion. It connects us not only with others but also to ourselves. My maternal grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. It was painful so see how every day she seemed to be vanishing a little bit more into this inescapable thick fog, like a ship with once billowing sails, now deflated and torn, lost at sea. But even when she couldn’t recognize most family members anymore, she could still recite poems from her youth. The poetry she loved and had mostly learned by heart still enabled contact with her own identity, with herself.

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Twitter-page-Poets-Academy-of-American-Poets.org

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[1] The Russian poet Joseph Brodsky, who with the help of W. H. Auden was living in American exile, had declaimed that poetry should be available everywhere. In 1993 together with the student Andrew Carroll he founded the non-profit organization American Poetry and Literacy (APL). Three years later the movement was flourishing and over 125,000 books of poetry had been distributed for free.

[2] See my blog post “The Pomegranate – On Finding Poetry“.

[3] “The distinction between historian and poet is not in the one writing prose and the other verse… the one describes the thing that has been, and the other a kind of thing that might be. Hence poetry is something more philosophic and of graver import than history, since its statements are of the nature rather of universals, whereas those of history are singulars.”  ~ Aristotle, On Poetics.

[4] Czeslaw Milosz, A Book Of Luminous Things. An International Anthology of Poetry, San Diego, New York, London 1996, p. XVI.

Livings in Los Angeles. Closet Stories – The Hollywood Uniform

Clifford Coffin, American Vogue, June 1949 – © Condé Nast
Clifford Coffin, American Vogue, June 1949 – © Condé Nast

 

It’s true. Most transplants here in Los Angeles are quite obsessed with detecting and pointing out how different things are. I belong to them. One of the things that struck me immediately on my first visit to L.A. in 2006 was fashion – rather, the lack thereof. Despite fashion apparel being L.A.’s third biggest industry, quantity seems to dominate over quality. There are small pockets in this vast place where individuals may purchase and flaunt unique styles and internationally televised events like the Academy Awards showcase an array of always quite spectacular designer evening gowns, but unlike any other metropolis I know of, this is generally speaking a fashion desert.

In most parts of the world clothes were originally and primarily needed as a form of protection against shame, danger, cold or heat. But humans have also always had the desire to decorate themselves and to dress in a variety of ways according to their sex, age, socioeconomic status, culture, geographic area and historical era. Clothes are frequently an expression of a person’s personality. But in Los Angeles it seems as though most people do not have that desire and default to one outfit.

 

Valley “Girls” & Valley Moms

Especially the people who live in the so-called Valley – a topographical basin in which the desert heat is captured like in a casserole – wear, what I would like to call the “Hollywood uniform” almost all year round. This area, once the home of vast orange groves, has been since the 1950’s mostly populated by so called WASPs (white Anglo-Saxon protestant) in cheap housing made of wood and stucco.

The “young” women, whose biological age can sometimes be difficult to determine, casually dress in flip flops or flat sandals, designer sunglasses, colourful maxi sundresses or skirts and frequently streaked, bleached and ironed hair. About two or three years ago super short shorts had a revival – cut off jeans with the frayed, white, cotton insides of the front pockets hanging out like two handkerchiefs. Another L.A. fashion phenomenon is wearing hippy-ish scarves with tassels and boots all year round.

Another thing that soon struck me was that the monotony of this “style” is even mirrored in a speech pattern called “Valleyspeak” [1]. One common characteristic of Valleyspeak is the frequent and very annoying use of high rising intonation, causing statements and normal declarative language to sound interrogative. The actual term was coined after the release of Frank Zappa’s 1982 hit single entitled “Valley Girl”, on which his then fourteen-year-old daughter Moon Unit (yes, that’s her real name) delivered intermittent random monologues behind the music, littered with the quotative word “like”. “Like” is applied to preface statements or used as a word substitute as in “Last night we went like, like – you know?” Eavesdropping, you automatically say in your head, “No, I don’t know. But whateverrrrr…” The word “whatever” with a long drawled R at the end being another favoured term of the American Generation Y.

There is another typical outfit for the so-called Mom, especially when “running errands” – which means driving half a mile from their cardboard home to the drive-through post office, to the drive-through dry cleaners and then to the gym to then pick up a triple soy latte at drive-through Starbucks only to be stuck in traffic for most of the time. Moms will have wriggled into a pair of vanity sized skinny NYDJ’s (these are not your daughter’s jeans), pulled on an overpriced Banana Republic or J Crew T-shirt, perhaps some flats and a pair of designer shades. On that note, skinny is a very popular word here, the skinny latte, the skinny jeans. Unlike in Europe, if someone in L.A. says to you, “Wow, you’re looking skinny”, that’s a compliment.

Sadly, the males’ fashion statements are hardly worth mentioning – which is probably why frequently tall French men occupy the Valley-Mom’s dreams of desire. The “dudes” mostly slop around in stained, over-sized t-shirts, sporting some banal bumper sticker slogan or the name of a college, crumpled Bermuda shorts, trainers and faded baseball caps. Alas, after seven years of residency in L.A., I still dearly miss the imagination and inventiveness in clothing and dress-style New Yorkers or Parisians, Londoners or Romans of both genders have to offer and are readily to flaunt. I miss sitting in a café and admiring the passers by.

So, if everyone defaults to sundresses and shorts, it must be down to the lack of seasons. Because there are basically only two seasons that range in temperature from mild to hot, instead of four ranging from below zero to hot. Interesting fashion accessories like leather gloves, fur collars, hats and cashmere coats are therefore superfluous. So partly, the weather is to blame. However, generally occasional and seasonal clothing does not seem to ring a bell with most people here. I don’t even think that people rotate their wardrobe. It is firstly not really necessary and secondly, most houses and apartments have large walk in closets – perhaps not like Carrie’s in Sex and the City but larger than a normal European wardrobe.

I personally have the need to mark things, not only in my calendar but visually and tactically by wearing certain pieces of clothing at specific events (take the grand British example of the Ascot hat). Especially here, the sense of ritual and rotation gives me a sense of security in an otherwise seemingly same place in which even the vegetation barely changes all year round. Besides, putting on a flowery, strapless sundress in January – even if the weather permits it – makes me feel as if I’m on permanent holiday with no hope of escape and getting anything productive done. I’m stranded on an island, ahead of me lie lazy Technicolor skies and an ever glaring sun.

This French short film on Los Angeles from 1969 is very mesmerizing and picks up some of these subjects, Los Angeles’ weirdness quite poetically and poignantly with a touch of Jacques Brel…

I do miss the feeling of urgency, a bustling city life you only partially find in Downtown L.A. Is really everyone on Xanax, like a friend of mine suggested? But why am I surprised, in a country in which even children are simply medicated if their behaviour isn’t within the norm. Most doctors seem shocked at my answer to the routine question, “What medications do you take?” which is “None.”  I have already been to two doctors who have wordlessly handed me prescriptions for Xanax. And yes, I did toy with them. Also wondering if perhaps I could “make a buck” (as one says here) only to discard them in the end. I’m sticking to red wine. Try rushing up an escalator in Los Angeles where left and right the face-down generation stands like statues, pre-, re- and post-confirming appointments on their mobile phones to their stylist/agent/manager/mother/shrink/real-estate agent/yogi.

Especially the Beverly Center, a five story shopping centre is spiked with zoned out space cadets, oblivious of what is going on around them. I miss the click-clack-click of a business woman’s Prada heels while she purposefully strides to her next meeting. I miss people who actually look as if they have got a goal. This is not a theatrical city like Rome or Paris but one that seems to perfectly mirror and accommodate exactly what it was created for – for the film industry. For dreams and illusions that are pieced together from different segments. It’s the big wait – for the make-up artists to be done, for the actress to get her lines right, the lighting to be fixed. So everyone just slops and slips and slurs around in the meantime in whatever-land; spray tanned and hairless-lasered stick legs in pink Ugg boots treating even fancy restaurants like craft’s services on set.

That said, there are, especially along Melrose, arrays of shops which carry quite a spectacular choice of clothing items – but these cater mainly to Chinese tourists and to the pop music industry. It is surprising to me that fashion is so neglected because Los Angeles is such a materialistic city. It finds its expression however, in other objects of desire and prestige: the facelift de luxe, the million dollar hair transplant, and – the Los Angelino’s most prized possession – the automobile.

And that’s exactly where the problem lies: Most metropolises’ have a boulevard, an agora – some kind of an urban catwalk for pedestrians. Here in Los Angeles, the public eye can only bear witness to fashion if it’s a visually publicized image via mass media. Even if you’re clad in Channel from head to toe, no one will see you sitting in your car. People don’t walk and mostly can’t walk in Los Angeles unless they are walking to or from their car, walking their dog or, clad in sportswear, walking for exercise. Two friends of mine were exploring in Beverly Hills by strolling around in a residential area and a police car started following them, then stopped and questioned them. Forget the term public transportation.

This is why a mobile prestige object like a car, helicopter or private jet (if they’re bullet proof, even better) is the perfect showcase. They cover more territory than a pedestrian in a much shorter amount of time. There are just barely spaces to flaunt your latest designer piece in public. Downtown L.A. is now being resurrected from the dead – like hopefully soon the L.A. River that lies there mostly water-less in a concrete corset – so I will be curious to see whether a more urban environment will encourage more conscious and expressive street and high fashion.

That said, Los Angeles has recently received a new agora – a place where you see people strolling, talking, drinking wine, enjoying art and talking and flaunting fashionable attire! LACMA (the Los Angeles County Museum) is situated between 6th street and Wilshire Boulevard, flanked to the east/west by the open spaces of the La Brea Tar Pits. Because LAMCA consists of five(?) individual buildings it has many open spaces, some paved, other areas are covered with gravel or grass. There are plenty of seating areas and -possibilities like low walls and steps; which always seem like an open invitation to the public to utilize the space, even for small picnics. Special events at the weekends have become hugely popular so it has also attracted a larger diversity of people in terms of age, gender and race.

Unlike the Grove, a shopping and entertainment centre which lies only half a mile away but whose sole purpose it is to lure consumers into purchasing more items they don’t really need with elevator jazz and animated water fountains. This open roofed shopping plaza, with a multiplex movie theatre, over-priced cooperate restaurants and chain stores is completely enclosed by Disneyfied pseudo-historical façade architecture and an artistically completely irrelevant bronze centre statue. “The Spirit of Los Angeles” depicts a male and a female angel soaring skyward, “an enduring symbol of the limitless opportunities Los Angeles offers”, like the tourist information at the Grove states on their homepage.[2] Like a corny reminder of bygone transportation, a trolley drives a six minute route of not even a mile to and fro.

During the Christmas shopping season, fake snow is produced periodically during the night. In mid-November, the Grove Christmas Tree goes up. At a competitive 110 feet, it is the tallest Christmas tree in the city of Los Angeles. I got a “parking ticket” once because I had chained my bicycle to a lamp post. It was obvious that bicycles don’t fit into the Grove’s very controlled “aesthetical” concept which merely imitates a public space. I have to park my bike at the neighbouring Farmer’s Market which allows for a more bohemian atmosphere. The Grove is an extremely controlled and cooperate environment that does not attract customers who possess unique tastes or any sense of style but mainly sun-burned and dehydrated tourists (whose uniform is a whole other story) and WASPs in their Hollywood uniforms.

This uniform in its nothingness does therefore somewhat possess a deeper meaning. It signalizes membership to an extremely entertainment hungry, materialistically motivated group. Because let’s face it, Los Angeles is a very cooperate town. It is not highly creative or avant-garde. It has small hidden pockets of artists’ communities but mainly it is ruled, moreover controlled by the movie and pop music industry, like Disney. Some call it Mouseschwitz. Fashion here looks laissez-faire but it isn’t a true expression of a person’s unique sense of fun or casualness. It copies what is portrayed as fun and casual in the American media, especially TV – or like the narrator says in the film clip, they’re “people who try out their existence and then pass on to another one, like actors that pass from one role to the next”.

 


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valspeak