Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Bass Ale Blues, connecting the Original Memphis Five with Malcom Lowry without a single mention of Bass Ale.

Don't ask me how I manage to pick "next" when it comes to books, just know that it will be a book -- bound, tactile and absurdly old-fashioned.

Appropriately, at the present time I'm reading Dick Sudhalter's Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contribution to Jazz, 1915-1945, a mildly controversial volume published in 1999, in which the author charts the influence of white musicians on the development of jazz.

Given that I've usually advanced the argument that black musicians have been the prime movers of jazz, Sudhalter's book is a scholarly and well-reasoned supplement to ancient history. I'm less interested in a final verdict than with his stories of players and aggregations long forgotten, among them the Original Memphis Five.

Somewhat incredibly for jazz, a genre long specializing in archival LP and CD collections spanning the gamut of styles and performers, only a small number of this group's 300-plus sides have been reissued. Many are feared lost.

Of course, some tracks by the Original Memphis Five (including various pseudonyms) are readily available, including "Bass Ale Blues." It's the first I've heard of this song, which was written by Frank Signorelli (apparently there are no lyrics), and it strikes me as beyond strange that a jazz musician would refer to an imported English beer during the peak of Prohibition.

It gets even weirder. Stuck in the middle of an unfruitful bout of Googling, I was guided here:

Malcolm Lowry @ the 19th Hole

It's a blog started in 2009 to celebrate the centenary of Malcolm Lowry's birth.

And who was he?

Lowry wrote the classic novel Under the Volcano, perhaps a "modernist masterpiece," and a work I adored during my dissipated mid-1980s years. Lowry tells the story of the doomed alcoholic Englishman Geoffrey Firmin's downward spiral in Mexico, set against the spectacle of the annual Day of the Dead.

Finally, who would have known that the Original Memphis Five was one of Malcolm Lowry's favorite jazz combos?

As a later singer (and cultural commentator) observed:

Strange days have found us
Strange days have tracked us down
They're going to destroy
Our casual joys
We shall go on playing
Or find a new town

Blues de la Cerveza?


1 comment:

Joseph Scott said...

"black musicians have been the prime movers of jazz" Sudhalter's position also (for anyone who might read this and not know that).