As many of you know, I am as passionate about architecture as I am about music. Back in the mid-'70s, when I was in college, I took quite a few architecture history courses. In a class on the post-war residence, my professor put up a slide of Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House. My jaw dropped. As my professor talked about the glass structure completed in 1951 and its importance, I said to myself, "Wow, I can only imagine what it must be like to sleep there." [Photo of Farnsworth House in Plano, Ill., by Mel Theobald]
Well, that fantasy was realized last week when I was given the privilege by Whitney French, the museum's director, of a solo sleepover at the Farnsworth House for the Wall Street Journal. I'm one of only a handful of people who have been granted that honor since the National Trust acquired the transparent residence in 2003. [Pictured: Whitney French and me]
To read my Wall Street Journal article in yesterday's paper on my experience at the Farnsworth House, go here.
More from Mrs. Thumbs Carllile. Last week I posted about a reader's fascination with country guitarist Thumbs Carllile and the email that his widow sent to the reader. During the week, Virginia Carllile reached out to me. Here's what she said:
"I went to JazzWax and was so grateful that you chose to feature Thumbs. He was a musicians' musician. The players all knew him—jazz, country, blues players. Yet most of the public didn't realize he was different. Most listeners thought he was just playing a lap steel guitar. [Pictured above: Thumbs and Virginia Carllile]
"When Thumbs was five or six years old, his sister had a Hawaiian guitar. She didn't want him messing with it, so she hid the bar used on the strings. He remembered kicking her door until he broke the lock and getting the guitar and taking it out behind the shed. Since he didn't have a bar, he used his thumb to mash the strings. The first tune he learned was 'Nearer My God To Thee. [Picture: Thumbs and Virginia Carllile in the '70s]
"He just never learned to play it the right way, thank goodness. Les Paul always said whoever invented the guitar meant it to be tuned and played Thumbs's way. Les was a great raconteur and could make any story funny.
"Actually, Thumbs was on The Tonight Show five times. Skitch Henderson and later Doc Severinsen just loved him. The first time Thumbs was on, Skitch came over and sat down on the couch and explained to Johnny how different and special Thumbs was.
"Thumbs would tune his guitar to an E flat major chord and that was how he got all those really gorgeous chords. He had no idea what he was doing. He didn't read music, and when somebody like Mundell Lowe or Herb Ellis asked him what chord he had played, he wouldn't have any idea.
"Howard Roberts once wanted to do an instruction book on his method, but Thumbs declined. He said Howard knew so much and would ask so many questions that Thumbs wouldn't be able to remember what it was he did.
"You asked me about my experience in the Air Force. I was trained to be a secretary but shortly after my training was completed, I performed in a show in Frankfurt, where I met Thumbs. I soon was transferred to special services in Stuttgart. They were putting together a musical comedy called Xanadu using both Air Force and Army personnel.
"We traveled all over Germany. It was a one act play with seven set changes, written by two very talented GI's. The choreographer was Bob Sheerer, who later produced the Danny Kaye Show.
"I'm sorry I have gone on so long, but thought some of what I said might be of interest to you.
Easter Sunday radio. David Brent Johnson, host of Night Lights at WFIU, offers an hour-long podcast devoted to sacred jazz of the '60s. There are Ellington and Mary Lou Williams entries, as well as tracks by Paul Horn, Lalo Schifrin, Ed Summerlin, Vince Guaraldi, Herbie Hancock, Joe Masters and Al Jazzbo Collins. The podcast is free and can be accessed on your computer from anywhere in the world by going here.
Duke Ellington radio. Photographer Paul Slaughter, author of Jazz Photographs: 1969-2010,will be a guest tomorrow morning (Monday) on KSFR's Jazz Experience show with Arlen Asher from 10 to 11 a.m. (MDT). KSFR-FM is the radio station of the Santa Fe Community College. Paul and Arlen will be talking about Duke Ellington and his recordings. To listen on your computer from anywhere in the world, go here.
Harry James radio. On-air personality Don Voltmer will have a special guest on his Jazztime with Don show next Thursday (April 28)—Viola Monte, who was Harry James' secretary for 40 years. The 86-year-old assistant will be sharing memories as the James platters spin. The show will air on Thursday from 8 to 11 p.m. (MDT) on Aspen Public Radio. You can catch the show from anywhere in the world on your computer by going here and clicking "listen now."
Alec Wilder radio. Back in 1976, South Carolina public radio taped a long series of shows on different composers and singers with songwriter Alec Wilder along for the ride in the booth. Reader Duff Bruce tells me that this award-winning series is being replayed weekly through the end of the year. For the schedule and to listen live, go here.
Eddie Condon radio. When Riverwalk Jazz approached Maggie Condon recently and asked her to work on a special radio program about guitarist Eddie Condon, her dad, Maggie called Hank O'Neal. Hank authored a book on Condon.
Hank tells me they recorded the show at the legendary Nola studios on 57th Street a few weeks ago. "Maggie told family stories, I told stories about working with Eddie on book and recording projects. We also found time to talk about new projects involving Eddie, including the documentary film that is in the works. Maggie has found a great deal of long lost documentary footage that is very exciting."
The producers of the show put it up on the NPR satellite on April 21st. It will run at different times through the week of April 25th. Consult your local listings to find the exact airtime. Also have a look at the Riverwalk link here.
Ross Porter. JazzTimes just published an interview with Ross Porter, the CEO of Canada's premier jazz radio station, Jazz.FM91. Ross is a great guy and a tireless fighter for jazz. What's more, Jazz.FM91 is a long-time supporter of JazzWax. You'll find the interview here.
Greenwich Village on film. Director and Movies 'Til Dawn blogger Raymond De Felitta sent along a fabulous video clip featuring Greenwich Village in the early '60. As Raymond notes, the flute music is grating, and the guy with the guitar and the gal who looks like an early vision of Cindy Sherman mysteriously pop up repeatedly. All of that notwithstanding, this is how the scene looked before hair grew long and faces were painted...
New York subways. When I worked at The New York Times in the early '80s, I had to take the subway home to the Upper West Site at 2 a.m., when my shift ended. These films certainly brought back some dark memories. To this day, whenever I get on a subway, I'm still wary and on guard. Whether you live in New York, have lived in New York or love films of New York, you'll dig this clip...
CD discoveries of the week. For the second week running, a vocalist is taking the top slot in this space. This time around, it's Carmen Cuesta's Mi Bossa Nova. I'm nuts for bossa nova, especially when a vocalist seduces me with one passionate love song after the next. Cuesta now lives in New York but is originally from Spain, where the language is Spanish, not Portuguese. Yet Cuesta delivers one sublime track after the next with tender strokes. And the arrangements are gorgeous, particularly the use of Matt King's piano wandering around on all tracks. All the goodies are here—Jobim's Triste, Fotografia and Meditacao as well as Ronaldo Boscoli and Roberto Batalha Menescal's O Barquinho. Cuesta will take you far, far away. Creed Taylor and Phil Ramone will be gratified to know Cuesta was hugely influenced by Getz/Gilberto. You'll find this one from TweetyRecords at iTunes or here.
A while back, West Coaster Johnny Mandel made the late Stanley Kay a promise. He told his former 1940s Buddy Rich bandmate and friend that he would conduct the Diva Jazz Orchestra, an all-female band led by drummer Sherrie Maricle that Kay managed. By the time the band was ready to record with Johnny conducting, Stanley was quite ill. But he made it to Jazz at Lincoln Center's Allen Room for the band's live recording before he passed away. The result is now out on CD: Johnny Mandel: The Man and His Music. Full disclosure—I wrote the liner notes. The disc covers a wide range of Johnny's arrangements and compositions, including Low Life, Not Really the Blues, Emily, Where Do You Start, The Shadow of Your Smile, Cinnamon and Clove, MASH, I Want to Live! and Tiny Kahn's TNT. You'll find this one from Arbors at iTunes or here.
Walt Weiskopf Quartet: Live was recorded in Roger Hall at the University of South Carolina in 2008, and the result sounds as if it were made in the confines of a plush studio. Joining saxophonist Weiskopf are pianist Renee Rosnes, bassist Paul Gill and drummer Tony Reedus. There's a refreshing intelligence to Weiskopf's playing and sparkling agility, and his songwriting captures jazz's lyricism in the modern style without laying it on thick. Of course, Rosnes swinging on the breaks helps make this a splendid push and pull between brawn and cunning. Dig Rosnes on Dizzy Spells/Jay-Walking. Or the standard ballad Blame It On My Youth. Glorious work. You'll find this one from Capri at iTunes or here.
Oddball album cover of the week. This happy-go-lucky percussionist certainly lives up to the album's subtitle—uninhibited. And in the days before Photoshop, a concept like this must have been executed the old fashioned way—two people in white shirts behind our drum majorette. Clever one, this is.