Academic journal article Chicago Review

Image of Song Unsounded

Academic journal article Chicago Review

Image of Song Unsounded

Article excerpt

The changeableness of Picasso + The simplicity/complexity of Matisse = Lester Young.

In America, jazz is the art by which all others must be measured.

Believe me, there are different intensities of black: night is only

one phase of darkness.

We came to the lake by a trail that I had remembered from years before. It was still there though practically hidden, brush overgrown, and we had difficulty with the canoe. But, that I had found it at all amazed us. I guided us through it more by intuition than by memory. There were two of us but as we traveled we would swear there was a third. Shackleton described a similar experience. When we arrived at the lake it was as if I had never seen it before; I imagined myself its discoverer; absolutely nothing about it had changed.

Eddie Condon said that the difference between beboppers and dixielanders was that beboppers flatted their fifths and dixielanders drank theirs. Condon was either naive or sardonic, but his remark was never intended to be sinister. Fish jumped and I heard them splash.

Our faces were bitten by black flies and so spotted with blood that we resembled smallpox sufferers. It was not yet dark; the lake was Prussian blue phasing into blackness.

Lester Young achieved a tenuity of sound, similar to blown glass.

My hands trembled as I assembled my fishing rod. I held in my hand a leader as tenuous as gossamer. An osprey watched me. We dropped the canoe, like a leaf, onto the lake and entered it.

No one saw us. The pine trees reminded me of turpentine woods. Our paddles pushed us out. Few have seen the difference and relationship between black and white as Franz Kline. It was dark and we had to look up at the stars to see where we were going.

The numinousness of Mark Rothko + The incisiveness of Larry Rivers = Miles Davis.

The sky always looked different from the roof, although you were not much closer to it, only six flights up. Someone had made his home on the sixth flight stair landing, and we passed him huddled there, on the floor, like something covered over with dead leaves. I pushed open the door to the roof. There were pigeons there when we went out, most inert, some in an aimless walk; I had never known them to fly at night. The sky was black. I looked over the parapet at the street, and it seemed far away, something that I had left and should remember. He told me to look up at the sky, that if I was ever alone and lost in the woods it would be the only map I would have. Think of it as hiding a reflection, a mirror image of the ground you're standing on, and if you can read it properly and follow it, you will find your way out, he told me. It was summer and the windows were open. We heard music from several apartments. One was a flamenco guitar that sounded like drops of rain falling into a pond. That one is my wife's, he said, and he laughed as if he was embarrassed or proud.

Jackson Pollock let his brushes harden and adhere to the bottom of coffee and paint cans. There were times he doubted that what he had produced was a painting. His lines are actually drawings; Lester Young's are sinuous ribbons of aluminum paint.

Let's have coffee and rum, he said, and he took me down to his apartment were he showed me pictures of himself on a beach edged by a rain forest. My wife took them, he told me. The guitar was played by Segovia.

We stayed by the shore of the lake; the stars were reflected in the water, and I could see them anywhere I looked. I cast and saw my lure break into Orion. It sank until I started to reel it back, giving it the motion of a crippled minnow.

Lester Young died in 1959, but critics have been willing only to allow that he was great until 1939; that would be equivalent to allowing that Picasso was great until the end of the rose and blue periods.

I noticed that he had copies of Outdoor Life that were years old. …

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