Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Muskrat Ramble and Beethoven

Surely the greatest pleasure in working with Louis Armstrong for a year is listening to his music all day long. Since I walk most every day an hour or so, my iPod, not much used till now, brightens up the landscape. Walking time has always been listening to the sounds around me (even if it means the blasted feeder county road in front of my house that I must take for a ½ mile to get to more peaceful roads) and thinking, waiting for whatever stray thoughts converge. I realized I needed to double up, use this time to familiarize myself with the huge inventory Louis left. And listening definitely quickens the pace. My iPod is loaded with Armstrong so Shuffle results in 75% being Louis. It’s fun to wonder when Césaria Évora, Tom Waits or Willie Nelson will show up in the middle of Fleischmann’s Yeast broadcasts or West End Blues or The Great Summit and so forth.
My friend of many years, Penelope Crawford, a brilliant pianist, recently recorded Beethoven’s Last Piano Sonatas, Op. 109, 110, 111 on musica omnnia. She played on her Graf piano, one very similar to the one Beethoven likely composed the Sonatas on. Often I play the CD on in the house only to realize I’m off to the basement for laundry or wander into the little library for a book and suddenly I don’t know where I am—109? 111? which movement? I stop figure it out and forgetfully wander away again. Walking yesterday the second movement of 111 followed “Muskrat Ramble” out along Claire Lane where I walk in an incredibly silent subdivision of townhouses studded along a golf course. I became present in the Arietta—Adagio molto semplice e cantabile.
Earlier I was reading around in Gary Giddins Visions of Jazz, realized I needed to read his introduction for his definition of jazz and its lineage. Jazz is all new to me, classical music is what I’ve always listened to. So when he mentioned Beethoven I paid close attention, especially since he referred to this Sonata, this movement. Here’s what he says about the eternal presence of jazz:

Borges famously argued that Hawthorne is a changed and perhaps deepened writer in Kafka’s world—that, in effect, Kafka seems to have influenced Hawthorn because he has so thoroughly influenced our reading of him. In that spirit, can anyone in a world remade by jazz fail to hear a harbinger of swing in the uncanny rhythmic figure Beethoven introduced in the arietta of his thirty-second piano sonata (op.111)? In a remarkable two-minute episode, he switches to a twelve-beat rhythm, implying an unmistakable backbeat in alternating thirty-second and sixty-fourth notes, an augury made all the more explicit by a melodic and harmonic content that suggests (for example, the major to diminished harmonic change at III 14) the first phrase of “Muskrat Ramble.” Beethoven was also an impassioned improviser who knew heavy blues. But, of course, he had nothing to do with jazz. (9)

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