Friday, 31 October 2014

Jazz, cats and puns

One of the reasons I like jazz is because it sounds unpredictable and ungovernable. In the 1940s – the early days of bebop - jazz players often called themselves “cats”. Cats – like jazz players – are individuals who choose to keep company while retaining their freedom. No wonder when we say that a task is “like herding cats” we mean it is virtually impossible.
jazz player

The pleasure of hearing live jazz is that each performance is going to be different – each musician in turn improvising part of the performance. There is excitement in improvisation – it’s unforeseen by the player and the audience.

But it is not random.

In 1997 Ornette Coleman in conversation with Jacques Derrida described the difference between composing for an orchestra and composing for a jazz band.
Image of Ornette Coleman by Geert Vandepoele
Ornette Coleman by Geert Vandepoele

For the Philharmonic I had to write out parts for each instrument, photocopy them, then go see the person in charge of scores.

But with jazz groups, I compose and I give the parts to the musicians in rehearsal. What's really shocking in improvised music is that despite its name, most musicians use a "framework" as a basis for improvising.
The framework is the composition – the expected melody or tune – so that what is provided gives the improvisation its springboard. Listening to the improvisation gradually return to its melodic foundation is the other pleasure of listening to jazz.

Jazz at Oberlin

In 1953 the Dave Brubeck quartet recorded live at Oberlin College.
Listen to it here Youtube Jazz at Oberlin

Cover of Jazz at Oberlin
Cover of Jazz at Oberlin
In Perdido Paul Desmond on alto-sax and Dave Brubeck on piano improvise in a thrilling and remarkable way – bringing other tunes into the track, improvising within those tunes – returning to the original melody and improvising on that.

Improvising with words.
Paul Desmond was an anarchic wordsmith as well as an inspired musician.

Cover Meet me at Jim and Andy's
Meet me at Jim and Andy's
In Gene Lees book Meet Me at Jim & Andy's (1988), we learn about his pranks with words and his literary allusions.

Like musical improvisation puns and plays on words rely on a basic structure to provide the fun of departure. A pun sounds like the original with enough changed to be recognisable and give a comic meaning - hopefully.

However pun artists often change things for the sheer hell of it.

Paul Desmond, Gerry Mulligan and Judy Holliday were well known for their delight in wordplay.

Dave Brubeck was often driven to gigs by Paul Desmond who liked to drive fast to beat the traffic lights. Although he was the passenger Brubeck would keep his eyes on the road while Desmond would read every single road sign backwards – just for entertainment.

Desmond and Mulligan invented an album Jazz goes to Ireland
containing such songs as Fitzhugh or No-one, Mahoney a Girl in a Gilded cage and Lovely Hoolihan.

Paul Desmond was never short of female company – he was attracted to and attracted beautiful fashion models. These relationships did not last long – embarked upon casually and often ending even more casually. Several of Desmond’s girlfriends went on to marry richer and more respectable men. Paul was out with Brubeck one day and saw one of his ex-girlfriends with her new husband. "There she goes, not with a whim but a banker" (a reference to T.S. Eliot's "This is the way the world ends - Not with a bang but a whimper").

Judy Holiday was smart and loved to play with words. She lived in the Dakota Building where she preferred to fill her living room with ferns rather than flowers. Judy liked to say to visitors
“With fronds like these who needs anemones?”

But Desmond’s most extended and convoluted pun was based on the words for Ragtime Cowboy Joe. It involved this story.
A boy of Italian parentage called Carbaggio was born in Germany. He felt a misfit amongst all those Teutonic blondes, so he tries to be even more German than the Germans. In late adolescence he flees to Paris where he steals a brass miniature of the Eiffel Tower. Arrested by the police he is given the choice of going to jail or leaving the country. He boards the first outbound ship and arrives in New York. Looking for a career in communications he goes to the RCA Building in Rockefeller Plaza. He walks in to the office of General Sarnoff who tells him the only job available is strikebreaking – so he takes it. At the end of the strike he goes to work for a sonar equipment company owned by a man called Harris. Later he gets a job on a radio station as a disk jockey. His show is called Rock-Time.

He’s fulfilled his destiny as a -
routine Teuton Effeil-lootin’ Sarnoff goon from Harris Sonar, Rock-Time Carbaggio.

As Gene Lees says “I used to wonder what kind of mind would expend the effort of working out something like that. – Paul’s kind.”

But no-one has ever really worked out the origin of Paul’s affectionate name for Gerry Mulligan.
G. Emily Guncloset

Maybe an improvisation of an acrostic anagram?


Gene Lees: Meet Me at Jim & Andy's (1988) 
Jim and Andy’s was a bar in New York where the jazz fraternity hung out. Lees gives an account of some of the goings on and an insight into the lives and thoughts of some of the top jazz musicians of the 50s and 60s – including Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw and Woody Herman.

Gene Lees also wrote about racism in jazz music in Cats of Any Color: Jazz Black and White (1994)

Judy Holliday
 (June 21, 1921 – June 7, 1965) was an American actress, comedian and singer.
Judy Holliday wikipedia

Jazz at Oberlin - Dave Brubeck Quartet
Oberlin College Ohio, a liberal arts college noteworthy for having been the first American institution of higher learning to regularly admit female and black students in addition to white males.

The words of Ragtime Cowboy Joe
He's a high-falutin', rootin', shootin',
Son of a gun from Arizona,
Ragtime Cowboy Joe.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Why Dorothy is such a fantastic bore

Dorothy is named after the wife of one of the directors of Murphy’s - the construction company.

"It’s just like naming a ship.” said my guide showing me round the Thames Water construction site. 

Apparently all boring machines have women’s names. The first two Crossrail machines were called Phyllis - after Phyllis Pearsall who created the London A-Z - and Ada after Ada Lovelace who was one of the first computer scientists. 

So…if you overhear a man in building worker’s gear saying to his mate on the bus ‘I’ve spent all day underground with Dorothy’ you’ll know there’s no hanky panky involved. 

Crane at Westbourne Green
135 ton crane at Westbourne Green
What is happening?
Murphy is one of the partners in the Optimise group working on a massive sewerage and drainage project in Queens Park, Kilburn and Maida Vale.

This will renew and update the water and drainage system designed and built 150 years ago.
My guide told me that one of the crane drivers is 67 years old and still going strong. "He's one of the best in the UK".

135 ton Crane
The crane's driving cab. 

The old Victorian system

Bazalgette Inspects construction
Bazalgette inspects construction
This was started in 1864 and designed by Joseph Bazalgette. It was made to cope with a London population of only 2 million. Fortunately for us Bazalgette had foresight and planned for the future. In his planning for the network, he took the highest population and came up with a diameter of pipe needed. He then said 'Well, we're only going to do this once and there's always the unforeseen' and doubled the diameter to be used.
If he had been made to use the smaller pipe diameter - as many cost-conscious critics wanted him to - the sewer would have overflowed in the 1960s, rather than coping until the present day as it has. Today the water network has to deal with a London population 4 times greater - the 8 million people who now live in London.

What are Thames Water up to?
"They cant be serious!"  said my neighbour the other day as we tried to cross the road dodging all the buses which now came round our corner. All traffic was redirected to avoid the road works.

Two campaigns

Tamplin Mews Gardens
Although I live in Maida Vale the first I heard about any of this was when I was handed a leaflet in my local pub. The leaflet encouraged me to join other “outraged” local residents protesting about Thames Water’s plans to dig up Tamplin Mews Gardens.

The leaflet said that the park would be taken away and children would no longer be able to play there. Later - in my local leisure centre someone told me that the gardens were going to be made into a huge cesspit and children would have to play next to it. How could they? I thought.

Maida Vale Flood Action
No one said anything about the flooded houses or why Thames Water would waste money on this kind of thing.
It’s a serious business especially if you live in one of the 350 households in the Maida Vale area which have had water contaminated by sewage flooding into their homes after heavy rain. 
Flooded house
Flooded house
It was only later that I found out that the works had been the result of another campaign started as early as 2009 by Maida Vale Flood action. Through thick and thin the leaders of the campaign had done their own research, lobbied councillors and MPs and had finally won the support of Thames Water. After lengthy debates and what seemed like endless consultations Thames Water’s £17.5 million project had been given the go ahead.
Chippenham Road works
Chippenham Road works
New sewers, tanks and pumping stations would be built – one of the tanks being able to hold the equivalent of more than two Olympic-sized swimming pools.  

Tank in Westbourne Gardens
Tank in Westbourne Gardens

The project was launched in June 2013 and should complete early in 2015. Following Bazalgette’s example these will be sewers and drainage systems for the future and this means householders will not have to dread a weather forecast of heavy rain.

So don’t be bored by campaigns that ask you to swing in with your support but haven’t asked any questions or done any proper research.

They might well represent the worst kind of campaign “Not in my back yard – only in someone else’s”.
You might be glad that Dorothy, Ada or Phyllis have come to bore in your town.

Related blog:
What lies beneath 17th July 2013

Joseph Bazalgette - Wikipedia
Bazalgette's capacity for hard work was remarkable; every connection to the sewerage system by the various Vestry Councils had to be checked and Bazalgette did this himself and the records contain thousands of linen tracings with handwritten comments in Indian ink on them "Approved JWB" "I do not like 6" used here and 9" should be used. JWB" and so on. It is perhaps not surprising that his health suffered as a result. The records are held by Thames Water in large blue binders gold-blocked reading "Metropolitan Board of Works" and then dated, usually two per year.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Marks but no Sparks

While browsing the business pages - as you do in July - I was staggered to read in the Guardian that Marks and Spencers had spent a whopping £150 million on their new website. How could this much be spent? What had it been spent on? How much of that money, time and energy had focussed on making the website fit for purpose?
It had clearly been a disaster for online sales which had dropped by 8% in only three months.  Had the store lost its old customers – but failed to gain new ones?  There were no clues in the business pages so looking back to the launch in February this year the Daily Mail had its say and so did its readers - Shoppers' fury as new M&S websitecrashes.

Website users told the Mail they -

·         had error messages
·         couldn’t find what they were looking for
·         couldn’t get  basic product information and most important
·         couldn’t  buy anything.
According to one M&S Executive this was just teething problems and it would soon be sorted out.  
Maybe by now - I thought – the site would be OK. I wanted to get replacement jeans as the others had simply worn out.
The thing about M&S is that their stuff is reasonably fashion neutral, so you don’t end up looking daft after a couple of months with the latest skinny bright - puce jeans you bought in that boutique because it seemed like a good idea at the time. 
The old  jeans had holes where it was not fashionable or chic so I looked at the label and the size and thought I would do my favourite Click and Collect. The good thing is that you can still go and try them on in a store I thought.
So I looked at the website on my laptop.
First problem – I had to scroll down to see the full screen. The first thing I noticed on the navigation was FREE DELIVERY TO AUSTRALIA, NZ, USA AND CANADA. Oh ….. so that’s new – can we get free delivery in the UK?
It took a while to find out that……er - Yes we can but only if you spend over £30. Ho hum. OK back to Click and Collect.
Now to find the jeans er…Womens… No…. got Offers.
Then I got BRANDS ….. um… Per Una, Apostrophe?? Dunno –never looked for brands in M&S. Maybe they asked all the buyers to say what they wanted on the website – not the customers. Result every department wanted to be represented.
Got distracted as I couldn’t find jeans and jeans and jeggings didn’t seem to have what I was after.
So….went for Style Adviser – now that is fun.

My M&S Style Adviser

You can dither and swap and  then it comes up with some “Must Haves”. You can get emails at the end. Can’t cope with the number I get now so….”No thanks”.  Maybe the revamp was worth it but what about my workaday jeans? I had been on the site for at least 20 minutes and enjoyed it but all I knew now was what my body shape is and that I liked some things and not others.
Retail Therapy
Several days later I had some free time in a country town on a Monday morning and had a look in Marks and Spencers.
Found my jeans, tried them on, job done.

Looking further into the website revamp

This is Money (February 2014) reports that it all started when M&S parted company with Amazon and wanted to go their own way. That might have been a good move in many ways particularly if it meant a close fit with the company’s other operations. As part of the revamp they took on 50 software developers in-house. I begin to understand where some of their money went.  Plus their delivery systems did not match the Click and Collect concept. It turns out that the old stock checking system could not say whether and item was already in store. Whether it was or not - the stock had to be delivered from a central warehouse.
Oh dear – the same old story – web site developed as a stand-alone – not tied in with other systems. Online department cool and whizzy but not connected with the rest of it.
Let’s see – I will still keep going into M&S stores because they are generally pleasant and have helpful staff. Plus I gather that I fit the profile of a typical M&S shopper – I also like their food section and will not be ordering that online any time soon. I like to browse the shelves!


Saturday, 15 February 2014

Doing what comes ‘naturally’

Reticulated giraffe - picture Steve Garvie
I was saddened to read about the killing of a healthy young giraffe in Copenhagen’s Zoo. The zoo’s scientific director tried to explain that the subsequent feeding of the animal’s meat to the lions was educational for the adults and children watching and showed something which was ‘natural’.

There was nothing ‘natural’ about this event.

In the wild the young giraffe would have had a chance to speed away, he might have had some protection from his herd. In the wild the lions would have had to use their hunting skills – maybe successfully maybe not – but they would not be bored creatures whose lives have to be enriched by toys and challenges.

There was perhaps some educational value in the explanation that the young male animal could - if not prevented – breed with another giraffe too close in its gene pool to produce healthy offspring. It has emerged that the culling of animals in zoos is widespread, the environment of zoos inevitably creates a restricted number of animals in too close a relationship for successful breeding.

But why allow breeding of animals in captivity?

Is the answer that Denmark is a member of the European zoo programme to breed endangered species?  Was this the reason why breeding of healthy young giraffes was so important in Copenhagen?  Unfortunately for Marius – and that was the name the zoo had given the young giraffe – was not a member of an endangered species. His particular species - the reticulated giraffe is not under threat in the wild.

Baby animal - from Free Wallpapers
Why do zoos therefore go to great lengths to breed young animals if this is not for conservation? 

 Is it because animals in zoos grow old and die and need replacing? 

That is part of the answer but a less comfortable truth is that we – the zoo’s visitors - like to see young animals.

They are often fluffy and cute and zoos can expect an influx of visitors to see a young creature soon after it is born. 

Zoos need income – and plenty of it - to care and provide for the animals they house.

They also need income to care and provide for the animals, fish, birds and insects which do not attract attention. In some cases the public may even find these creatures repellent or distasteful.

How many of us know that London Zoo ZFL is managing the breeding and conservation of a fish - the Corfu Toothcarp and a tiny frog – the Dominican mountain chicken? 

ZSL Vulture recovery programme

The dedicated staff are also working with the Vulture Recovery Programme, in partnership with the Bombay Natural History Society and the RSPB, in India. 

Three species are listed as critically endangered or rare as a result of the use of the drug diclofenac by vets on cows. 

Vultures do an important job in the wild, cleaning up rotting carrion and other waste.  

Who has heard of the highly-endangered Partulid tree snails of French Polynesia? 

These are all part of London Zoo’s endangered species programme. Many of these creatures have been driven towards extinction by the actions of other animals – a dominant mammal - our own species.  

There is nothing ‘natural’ about conservation – it is a great example of one species using its ingenuity and foresight to conserve and extend the life of other species.   

But if - as seems likely - Marius was once bred to attract visitors – the Copenhagen Zoo’s decision to make his death an unnecessary spectacle adds another dimension to the debate.

This pantomime does all zoos a disservice. 

Also read Virginia Morrell National Geographic