Old Music

art journalThis fine Southern California morning I am in my office.   I have just finished the wash for a watercolor painting.  OK, it’s not so much a painting as a visual journal entry, paint going where it will until something hopefully emerges.  So far it hasn’t.   That is one of the points of art journaling, to teach creative patience.  I have been listening to music and came across an old favorite I haven’t heard in a long time, Desafinado by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd.   I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much music slips into obscurity over time, sometimes because tastes change (I don’t listen to much Neil Young any more) but just as often because there is so much music in our personal soundtracks (you do have one of those, don’t you?) that we can’t possibly listen to them all.   That seems a shame.

In 1962, I was navigating my way toward graduation from East Haven High School. I’d been accepted at the University of Connecticut, Clarkson College of Technology and Stevens Institute of Technology. I’d choose Stevens for the simple reason that they offered me a scholarship … ignoring the fact that Stevens was primarily a mechanical engineering school while I was interested in electrical engineering. A year later, when my scholarship was reduced … in part because my discovery of fraternities had caused my grades to slip … I ended up at Connecticut anyway. There I met my wife. Who says good things never come of poor grades?

The year was well-matched to my eclectic tastes in music. If you look at the Billboard Top 40 for 1962, you’ll see traditional rock and roll performers like Elvis Presley, the Shirelles and Neil Sedaka. The Four Seasons had just had their first big hits, Sherry and Big Girls Don’t Cry. Inexplicably, a romantic instrumental, Stranger on the Shore by little-known English clarinetist, Acker Bilk, topped the list. Surf music was becoming popular outside of California, too, bringing Dick Dale and the Del-Tones and the Beach Boys to the top forty. Ray Charles ignored the advice of his handlers and recorded Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, which included number 30 on the list, I Can’t Stop Loving You, and became one of the best selling country albums of all time. In England, Ringo Star was joining the Beatles who’d soon release Love Me Do in the UK. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were meeting Brian Jones. Bob Dylan released his first album to favorable reviews. Change was on the way.

There in the middle of the Billboard Top 40 at number 23 was a beautiful anomaly … jazz samba coverthe sensuous recording of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Desafinado by an ensemble headed by saxophonist Stan Getz and acoustic jazz guitarist extraordinaire , Charlie Byrd. The bossa nova movement in American jazz came and went in a brief six years, but Desafinado has remained one of my favorites for 55 years now. Love is like a never-ending melody, the lyrics say. Poets have compared it to a symphony. A symphony conducted by the lighting of the moon, But our song of love is slightly out of tune. If this doesn’t move you, maybe you’re immovable.

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