Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sitting on the Dock of the Bay

I do a bit of "busking" when the summer sun begins to draw tourist to our fair town. Not anything special. I usually bring a couple of instruments and a tip jar (in case someone would like to contribute to my beer habit and gas guzzling car - or is it the other way around?) Anyway, it is fun to sit in the sun next to the water and gives me a chance to view folks from a different angle and, in some cases, provide fodder for my blogs.

Sunday my family and I took a ride to Portsmouth to pick up one of my sons after a weekend of fun with his college friends at a beach in Kittery Maine. While waiting we walked about Prescott Park in the older part of Portsmouth, near Strawberry Banke, a restored 17th century village that duplicates life as it might have been lived back then on the New Hampshire coastline.

Shepp Shepard at Prescott Park
Portsmouth NH
Just a few minutes into our stroll, I spotted a gentleman, tucked into the side of a bench and hard upon a seawall overlooking a small clutch of lobster boats. He was playing a "Dell Arte" guitar - a"Selmer-MacCafferie" look-alike and an instrument I have been trying to save up enough money to buy for the last 20 years or so. His is a "petite Bouche" model and he was playing it with consummate skill and intensity.

I love "Gypsy Jazz", a kind of acoustic swing music popularized by Django Reinheardt and the Hot Club Quintet of Paris in the 1930's and 40's. When an accident to his left hand left him the use of only three fingers, Django developed a totally new style of jazz, using speed and triadic chords. He helped bring the guitar to the front of the band and made it a lead instrument.

I sat down and listened to this man play, and I felt happy. Gypsy Jazz does that to me. How could I not tap my feet or snap my fingers as these notes shimmered off the fingers and strings and spilled over me like a musical shower; washing away my troubles and cares?

The man playing the soulful guitar was Richard (Shepp) Shepard and is one third of a jazz trio, "Ameranouch"; the name developed from "American" which they are and "Manouche" the tribal name of the aforementioned  Django Reinhardt.

The other members of this "tribe" include Michael Harrist on upright bass and Jack Soref guitar.

"Shepp" was kind enough to talk with me for a half hour or so and even played a request. "Nuages" or "Clouds" in French was performed with loving care for its creator, Django and then Shepp paused and demonstrated how he has approached this iconic of all Gypsy Jazz anthems.

His take was pure American with a kick-ass hard bop approach. I was overjoyed. Silently I gave thanks knowing this style of music will never fade away. In fact, it has been reborn with a cleaner edge and a blazing rhythmic pattern.

"Ameranouch's" latest cd is titled "Hot".

 And it is! Thoroughly!

There are six songs all composed by Ameranouche and they provide many minutes of pure delight. Each one contains crisp lines and golden chords of pure joy.

"Canto" begins with a flamenco riff and dives headfirst into this Spanish gypsy influenced toe tapper that spins around like a bright red skirt to flow out from a perfect body and topped with eyes of flame and warm arms with fingers making love to castanets. (Whew! What a vision!" These guys are good!)

"Mambo 13" begins with assorted clicks and taps, perhaps made on half filled wine glasses and goes to the body of the guitar and rolls accross the floor with perfect rythym. (And occasional grunts from the boys.)

My favorite from this CD is "Johnny's Swing" written for Shepp and his wife Marias son John Russel' It truly roars out of the speaker and takes you along for a ride. It has a crisp pace and a bop style that appeals to my feet.

""Sweet Solitude" and "Hot" (protect your cd player from spontaneous combustion) are all smooth capable tracks that feature "Ameranouchs" gypsy flavored jazz with bop rifts and blues tones. These are men who are in a groove and they pave the way for the last piece on the album.

"Suite Maine" is a three part piece ("Drive", "Silloutte" and "Sunset Jericho") that allows the group to stretch out. It starts with a smooth flow of notes, a morning perhaps in Maine. It then allows a vision of pine trees, lakes and the outdoors and then the sun sets. But wait! What's this? Crickets. Gypsy jazz and a nighttime chorus are woven into a beautiful picture of sound.

 (L to r) Richard (Shepp) Shepard, Michael Harist and Jack Soref
I had a hard time determining between Shepp and Jack when they take the lead and, though it would be unfair to make comparisons (for they have a style all their own), their playing reflects the daring of Berrelli Legrin and the speed of Joe Pass, with a tightness and quality you would expect from a top notch group.  Michael provides the stability necessary from the lower end of the string family and he is more then adequate when it comes to bowing a riff.

"Ameranouche" is pure pleasure and you can catch them next at The Riverwalk Cafe and Coffee House in Nashua NH August 1st and The Greenroom in Somerville Mass. August 2nd.

This cd is worth getting. Add it to your collection of small group jazz for a smooth ride home. Or, if you need a little background to your next porch party. Perhaps a quiet evening in the pad with your favorite one? Whatever, I wouldn't steer you wrong would I? I haven't so far.

(C) 2014 by George Locke

Ameranoush Web Site

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Sins of the Fathers

I live in a town which triples in population during the summer. Meredith NH is located on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee and has been the gathering place for well over a century for middle and upper class folks from Boston and other urban areas in New England (we call them "flatlanders") who wish to escape the city when the weather grows unbearable. 
There is money to be had in these here hills.l to r -
Some of the money is spent attending summer theaters which sprout like mushrooms in New Hampshire from June to September,and Meredith has two of them - not mushrooms - summer theaters.  As a 31 year wedding anniversary present from our kids, several of whom have a bit of that theater blood in them, they  gave us two tickets to attend a show, and last night we did just that. It was "Miss Saigon".
"Miss Saigon" is a musical with lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. and Alain Boublil, and music by Claude Michel Schonberg. They come armed with heavy credibility as they gave us"Les Miserables".
"Miss Saigon" is the 12th longest running broadway musical of all times which is remarkable considering the company they keep such as "The Sound of Music", "Oklahoma","My Fair Lady", "Cats", "Guys and Dolls" and so many more whose titles have become part of the broadway patois for the last seventy-five years.
I wish I had the space to list all the cast and crew from this show which left my wife and I stunned and left me with a 50 year old memory.
"Miss Saigon" is a modern retelling of the Puccini opera "Madam Butterfly" in which a young geisha and a young American Naval officer fall in love. He leaves "Butterfly" with a promise to return someday, which he does but with his American bride. "Butterfly" has had his child in the meantime, and this news which destroys her hopes and dreams causes her to take her own life at the end.  
As Bugs Bunny says at the end of the WB cartoon "What's Opera Doc?", "What did you expect from an opera? A happy ending?"
Now the setting is South Vietnam towards the end of the American presence and a few days before the helicopter lands on the roof of the embassy in Saigon and gave us that iconic picture of frightened Vietnamese clambering over each other to try and escape before the North Vietnamese pour into the city. They would be hunted down and shot as traitors by the new government. (By the way that scene was electrifying and left me numb! Hats off to the director Brian Feehan and tech director, Bryant Cyr!)
It was that iconic photo of the children left behind, and lifted up in despair to the chopper by hysterical mothers which caught the attention of Boublin, Schonberg and Maltby. What we had done to the country, we had done to the women of that country and left thousands of "Bui-doi", children of mixed blood, or "dust" as some carelessly put it.
"Madam Butterfly" is now "Kim" (played to perfection by Quynh My Luu) a bar girl who had lost her parents in an apparent napalming of her village. We see her first night in the bar, operated by a spot on sleaze named" Engineer" (Antonio Rodriguez III) She meets the American marine, Sgt. Christopher Scott (Justin Luciano...what a voice!)
Events progress to the bitter end and Kim takes her own life after giving up Chris and her son "Tam", played by tiny toddler Benjamin Tedcastle with mind blowing innocence and acting chops far beyond what his four year old face and body belies.
But what I really want to talk about is not this play (superb) the actors, directors, crew, technicians and ensemble (professional and up to any standard on Broadway right now!) but about a memory I had.
It was one of the first scenes when Kim agrees to become a hooker at the bar. I suddenly remember seeing this before. For real.
Many years ago when I was embedded as a military correspondent and photographer with the 1st Cavalry in South Korea, I spent time in one of the local villages.
Paju Ri was a typical town in a third world country in the middle of the last century. Dusty and poor with an agrarian culture that was dependent on rice as an economic backbone.
I could travel anywhere and at anytime with my journalist credentials and, as an 18 year old healthy boy, I visited many towns, including Paju Ri.
                                                                                              There was a bar called the Black Cat Club I frequented where I would sample Korean beer (vile), Philippine suds (even viler) and Koreas answer to saki - mokoli! (if you had a death wish!)
And there were girls. Lots of Korean young women spouting American names, Sandra, Jane and Diana. (Diana was a woman I had strong feelings for and decided to rent a "hooch" with her. Hilarity did not ensue and that is a story for another day.)
One Friday night, a new girl was introduced to the GI's gathered. I don't remember her name. But I do remember she did​ not look comfortable even a little embarrassed, perhaps. And she was dressed in her finest clothes, I'm sure. Those on this site who have visited the "Land of the Morning Calm" probably remember the long dresses and high waistline up to the chest or "folk costumes" worn by Korean women.. She was a little on the heavy side and was trumpeted by a local pimp as a "cherry girl". A virgin. I wasn't exactly on speaking terms with that name anymore....but I still remember feeling somewhat awkward at that moment. She was easily my age, and probably younger. I don't recall.
I left the club later that night wondering about her for she had disappeared as the evening progressed.
The next weekend I dropped into the place where everyone knows your name and saw her again. I had to look twice. The change was ugly.
Before there was a fresh face, a timid smile and pretty eyes. Now there was harsh makeup, thick mascara, rouge, crimson lipstick and clothes that were too tight, too provocative and a face in which the smile had run away, perhaps never to return. I grew in unasked for wisdom that night. It was as though a flower had been stepped on and then propped up with sticks, coated in lacquer and sprinkled with confetti. A gentle bird crushed and then stapled to a board. It just wasn't right.
I wondered at the change and what had driven her to seek this way of life.  Did she have parents? Was she a farm girl? 
The show I saw brought me back to those clubs and to a woman whose story was older then time and marched in step with conquering armies of brutish men since we first picked up clubs and learned to kill one another. I have never forgotten this persons face or the sadness that washed over me back then.
The show is remarkable, the acting and singing is excellent. The memories are sad.
Pictures above:  
1. Interlakes Summer Theater cast-"Miss Saigon"(left to right) "Kim", Quynh My Lu, "Engineer", Antonio Rodriguez III, "Chris", Justin Luciano.
2. "Miss Saigon" logo
3. Your truly South Korea, 1960

(C) 2014 George Locke