Undercurrent On A Desert Island

Nicole Scriabin — Photograph Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

My friend John Lekich and I met at noon today at a new restaurant on Granville and 14th. We had a joint date with Nicole Scriabin, a dark-haired, dark-eyed Russian beauty, whose only plausible defect is a rash of freckles on her otherwise flawless pale face. Which makes her even more ravishing to me. But I will not digress into the idea of sharing the shade of a palm tree on an desert island with Nicole Scriabin and being able to have all the time in the world to count every one of those freckles on her face and wherever else they may be.
The incessant restaurant music playing in the background (including that, alas, never silenced rusted oldie, Proud Mary, which should die right now of a quick merciless execution with those damned initials, CCR thrown in) made me reflect as I drove home what my music for a desert island might be. I am sure others play this game and that the candidates change as quickly as the women one would want to spend with while listening to that music on a desert island.
My mother often told me that her choice would automatically be all 6 of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. I would almost agree except to point out that my mother had a smaller choice of music to choose from. There were fewer chances to listen to music then and there were fewer albums issued and radio stations, before cable, etc were pretty poor with selections. I would have surprised my mother, had she been alive just a couple of years ago, had I told her that I heard all 6 of her desert island choices right here, in Vancouver, live in one concert! Perhaps, with the renaissance and discovery of all those Handel operas, my mother might have included one of them.

Photograph by Toni Frisell, 1947

My writer friend Les Wiseman told me years ago that his choice would be Captain Beefheart’s 1969 record album Trout Mask Replica. Its complexity would make it an album that would take many a necessary listening, but would keep boredom from setting in.
I am not sure that I would agree. A few hours of Trout Mask Replica or twelve-tone serial music would have me either climbing to the top of the coconut palm or braving sharks to escape the din.
My granddaughter Rebecca (14) would certainly not choose an album or CD as she would opt for her iTouch mélange of 23,136 desert island songs.

When I asked Rosemary about her desert island music she told me she would want silence. If I felt like that, I might well suggest she take a copy of John Cage’s 4’33”. Of this work I know a few salient facts. For one I once heard it on CBC Radio and it took lots of guts to play such a work on radio.
I heard it, by a lucky accident sometime in the late 80s in New York City on the Avenue of the Americas. There was an upright piano on the sidewalk. A crowd gathered. A man in a tuxedo sat down and did stuff with his knuckles and stretched his pants and adjusted his tails. He then opened the piano lid.
A friend of mine Marc Destrubé, our very own Vancouver virtuoso violinist/director (The Axelrod Quartet, etc) has a keyboard artist frriend, Byron Schenkman who has managed to transpose John Cage’s complex 3-part 4'33" to the harpsichord. Early on in this complex transposition, Schenkman, not always an inveterate purist, decided to omit the bird and cricket sounds when he played this work live some years ago. I am sure that after listening to this work, exactly 4 minutes and 33 seconds long (no live performances have ever varied), Rosemary would want to refresh her desert island experience with something else.

As for me ask me what my favourite rose of the summer is and the answer will depend on the summer, the time of day, or even the day of the week. The same applies to that island music. But I have recently thought that one should not be all that specific and limiting in the choice of music. For complexity, and with a smattering of the right wrong notes, I might select the 17 century baroque composer Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli. For sure I might want to listen Handel’s Rodalinda or the first few minutes of Vivaldi’s Gloria (the one with the trumpet). I would want at least one album of boleros by Pedro Vargas. And for sure some jazz. But this jazz wouldhave to depend on my moods. I might want to listen to sophisticated jazz so I would pick anything by Duke Ellington. On a more upbeat not there would be Jazz Impressions of Eurasia or a melancholy Gerry Mulligan’s What is There to Say? featuring that lovely My Funny Valentine.
But today, as I write this I would say, unequivocally, that my desert island music would be the 1962 album Undercurrent — Bill Evans & Jim Hall.
There are several reasons and one of them somehow coincides and connects to my outing with John Lekich and our lunch with the Russian woman whose picture (taken in my bathtub) you see here. The connection is that it is a wonderful water photograph (wonderful in my mind, at least) that is almost as wonderful as the one on the cover of Undercurrent . The cover was a photograph of a model floating in the water at Weeki Wachee Spring, Florida. The image is by fashion photographer Toni Frissell and it was published in Harper’s Bazaar in December 1947. The version seen on the Undercurrent album is one reason why this album is one of the most famous jazz albums of all time. The other reason must be the quiet collaboration done in sparse, but in very good taste by guitarist Jim Hall and pianist Bill Evans. This is an album that I had since 1963 but somehow got lost in one of my movings. The record was replaced by a more recent CD with extra tracks. Something most important is missing from the CD.
I had not known this until today. What is missing is what may have made the original Undercurrent a sort of early cult in jazz circles. It had a poem, Wait Quickly, by one Barry J. Titus. That poem is not in the notes to my CD. In fact the notes (by one David Rosenthal) in my CD are mostly unreadable as water from a house plant leaked into the CD and ruined it.

Today, after dropping off Lekich at his home I was looking through my first ever photo file. It is one that has pictures I took up until 1964. One b+w strip, sandwiched between a sketch of car by by my friend Robert Hijar, who now lives in Memphis and an unknown baby I have no memory of taking a picture of,, features two almost identical exposures of:

I cannot recall what led me to copy, using Kodak’s then slowest and sharpest film Panatomic-X, the back of my Undercurrent album in 1963. What is interesting is that a Google search of Barry J. Titus, Wait Quickly, lists many web sites citing the poem as being a rant, etc. But none except a Russian blog actually has the words! Any other search of Barry J. Titus only lists a 1962 novel Masks and there is no further information at all.

For me all this adds up to a neat package. Russian girl in bathtub. Russian website/blog with words to Bary J. Titus’s poem. A beautiful photograph of a woman in a Florida lake that made it to the cover of a jazz cover and an album that today, until further notice is my desert island album.
And the desert island tune in that desert island album is not the two-versioned My Funny Valentine but John Lewis’s composition Skating in Central Park. And would you know there is link here to that lovely song.
As for Barry J. Titus’s poem here is the link and here are the words courtesy of that Russian (or you can click on my scanned negative) and read it there! You might note that the Russian was very good at copying the poem as both my photograph and his transposition feature this line: diamond egg frog oan wrkwrkwrxwrx.
Wait Quickly by Barry J. Titus after Jim Hall and Bill Evans
Rimmed iron wheels chew candy between tracks window smithers Xmas tree window silver money fleeing present unone given coca cola smiling blank wall perspires omens heads nodding close gaped lips seen stick stuck taxi sign disrobes May 15th, 1959, hanging about her knees mail bundle wheeled cripple clutches Read Wall Street clock white sun monocle IIV or VII long blink see eyes time? Apparitional liquid hesitates a foot, a universe below the white paint-trussed varicose ceiling. Liquid slips, drops, unoutlineable shape, presenting absence, glides unreal, an excuse for splattering focus, a school of Dolphins or dark Grecian head. Virtuoso: practice makes perfect. Two sharps. Ice crystal diamond egg frog oan wrkwrkwrxwrx. Donned rubber belts nose mouth. Nub knuckled fingers bounce overfilled heat tear salt balling. Again. Two sharps. Ice crystal, diamonkey, egg, nail rubonk, snill. Huhhh. Snill. rubru, nail, frog, diamond many windows flash ice. Air out. Curtain fingers, ceiling lines, French door bars gripped unstill sun broiling play, fat ended keys with black spines. “How could the Augsburg festival have been in Vienna, hah! Loewy?” Paint corner her jagged lip fingertips petrified red cream smile flicked starving grotto. “I mean is she a satirist or,” her tendon muscle stomach dieted twist the flat skirt front. “I think she needs a milk man, Loewy.” The shambled, bent, stripped fingers forked each others angles. His imagination chained in Veronica’s orange ochre wallpaper, blankets. A quicksilver limb paints the swamptoon. “Yes, I do!” shook she shivere, remembering, room loose daggers broke ice bergs about them. Peanut butter note, Fang, Fang. Ice Fang back wriggled sorcerer hand hung dead skin frog fangs back Mama into Eassie leap shrunk from the door hid sharpened tusk hallway awwwrice fang bump jump. “Six fifteen,” growled grate hunched on the sofa. “You’re presence is expiring, I mean inspiring.” Blue, yellow tinged, Mars capillaried, eye, blue crystal white slash, “I know what I want! Why is such a struggle for you? I feel revolutions.” Lie quicksilver idealization limb delusion chrome rationalization dance dragged curtained bog cracked ice amazon child’s burning nerves. Always left whiskers, uneven fingernails, premature orgasms hairy legs, long nose pranthula. Go play. Eat chocolate cake, peanut butter, pickles, but clean your room and wash your elbows. Ceiling lines, piano leg shadows, French door bars, eleven to four thirty. “Ma!” shook the still fingers. Rectangle silence coagulated, scraped waiting, dangling. Daddyeeee drove him smack clamored up back fallen stairs into the quilt where a silk wrapped, dark quaked moon bled tears. Run vanity open smear black commaed cheek. “Coups d’etat!” forehead burst powder, lipstick ribboned run eye shadow sink spit spigot greyened clear washed black rubbed lather pushed red pressed tan smeared blue smudged grey circled one eye deathlaughcue hiccupping criggle vermouth spread on the table top gash crystal core neck glass cupped fingers polished green. A silver ghost hear. Life illuminates a paper screen. Eyes dance truth’s instrument. Sieve, sickle and sloat, red grimes grey molds parted skins furrowed tissue lives skeletal screams. Long brown stone blunt nose raised. “Naked day?” puffed sound slices blush. Tongue stuck inside closed teeth.Torso immobile inflame face clacks ticket counter leaned hat veiled hat pulled hat swivel, “I don’t know what to say.” Jagged leaning brown limbed face. His eyes crumbled smiles smoke dust wound warm bricks.

Link to: Undercurrent On A Desert Island

Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.

Into Bunny Watson. I am a Vancouver-based magazine photographer/writer. I have a popular daily blog which can be found at:http://t.co/yf6BbOIQ alexwh@telus.net

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