“He really was an enchanting person. In some way he was like the spiritual father of everybody…. It is hard to imagine Central Park without Charles Kennedy.” Marie Winn, author of Red-tails in Love, and close friend of Charles, remembering him after his death in October 2004

Sunday, January 24, 2010

All that jazz

Last week I picked up some new jazz CDs.  The most prized among the finds is "Monk Alone: The Complete Columbia Solo Studio Recordings 1962-1968."  Most prized on two counts: 1. I love Monk's music and this is a two-CD set of fascinating material. 2. It was Charles who turned me on to Monk. I still have the Monk's Greatest Hits LP Charles sent me when I was beginning to swing toward a preference for jazz. Charles had been a jazz fan since his teen years as well. Then he heard the great players at clubs in NYC, when Bop was sharing the bandstand with Cool. Charles was our long-distance chief fan and cheerleader as my brother and I began to play small jazz gigs around Cedar Rapids.  Charles, Deb and I made pilgrimage-style strolls down Manhattan's Thelonious Sphere Monk Circle. When Charles began to write in earnest, jazz and other musical references permeated his pieces.

So, here is Charles Kennedy's  "Spider Songs."  This piece appears in The Fish Jumps Out of the Moon and is part of an (as yet) unpublished photo-essay book Charles compiled about the butterfly vivarium at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC.  It has a "haibun" form, more or less, wherein a story is told by way of prose which is wrapped around integrated haiku.Charles is at his magical, musical best when he weaves many of his passions together, as he does here; bugs, dogs and cats, photography, haiku, music, and whimsy. Enjoy!

Spider Songs

     I was sitting in a bookstore one afternoon thinking about whether I believed or not that snowflakes make such a cacophony on the Hudson River that it is deafening to the eels; well, I suspect that it may at least be uncomfortable for them.  At that thought I slapped my forehead, realizing that I had answered a poetic conundrum that I had been struggling with for more than a year.

I can’t hear them
damn— I’ll never hear them
spider songs

     Here are some of the people that sing spider songs to me.  First, the spider mic would be handed to Anita O’Day, who would sing “A Nightingale Sang In Barkley Square,” and then “Georgia.”  (I know a great story about what happened to her uvula.)  Also Ella, Billie, even a punk kid named Norah Jones.  ( Do you believe--Ravi Shankar is her father?)  Chet Baker would come back and sing and blow that magic spider trumpet, but the group best prepared to sing spider songs would probably be Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross.  Pure glorious jazz.  But so many would sing great spider tunes if they were properly asked.

     Fool.  Spiders don’t sing.  I mean, maybe they do, but I have just now quit the game of listening for spider vocals, although clearly they are the jazziest of all the invertebrates.  Of the avians in North America, well , Central Park, anyway, Catbirds are the Jazz Birds, even though the evening song of the Robin is hauntingly inventive.  Of our satellite mammals, what is more musically celebratory than a good howling dog? (I did have  a cat, Rainbow, who sang riffs to “Summertime.”  She was a natural coloratura.) Anyway, sometimes Lord God Dog and I howl together.  Not as much as we used to, though.  He is a harsh judge, it seems, of my talent.  He’s terrific, though.

     Now to what it really is.  I thought it was about Duke and Thelonious and those guys, but it’s not.  It’s Chopin!  I insist that you go out in the evening and listen for yourself. They all play Chopin, at least the orb web weavers do.  Really!  (Some it’s said, hum along.  I’ve never heard that, but I have heard Lionel Hampton do heavy humming and Glenn Gould was famous for humming, but that was Bach.)
     I’ve never played Chopin for a spider, not yet.  It would be easy to carry in a small recorder to where Araneus Diadematus was building her deadly auditorium for the night. 

the spider
sips its moth
night continues

     The cute idea would be to play Chopin’s “Nocturnes,” but I’d want to play his Etudes for her.  I’ve implied that this orb weaver already knows Chopin but I don’t know for sure.  Anyway, you must sit here and watch her weave that web and you’ll see why I believe that spiders know Chopin.  It’s so, well, musical sitting here watching Diadematus sing and dance.
     And that tunnel weaver over there--Wagner!

watching the dance
a spider song

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