Friday, July 27, 2007

Jazz Books from Cool Blue to Acid Orange

I recently read two books about the jazz musician's life, but each was as different a portrait as ragtime piano is to Ornette Coleman's free jazz. The first book was Wynton Marsalis' and Carl Vigeland's "Jazz in the Bittersweet Blues of Life" (Da Capo Press, 2002). An elegant look at the classy, overachieving trumpeter and band leader, with great vignettes about life on the road with the Wynton Marsalis Septet during various tours from 1989 to 2000. Here we are immersed in the challenges of fitting in practice time, family visits, travel, important community work and the ritual ironing of the suits before show time. We see how Marsalis evolves as a composer and how his classically-trained, traditional jazz style changes subtly over time.

The writing style in this book is interesting. There are constant riffs between Vigeland's reporting and Marsalis' contemplative takes on the same events (Marsalis' words are in italics), which required me to slow down my normal "read it in one or two chunks" reading style, so I could absorb the images and Marsalis' philosophies on making music and art. An inspiring read, and one which greatly increased my respect for Marsalis as an artist. I immediately went out and bought several of his CDs, which I would recommend to all. "Blue Interlude", by the Wynton Marsalis Septet and "The Midnight Blues, Standard Time, Volume 5" by Wynton Marsalis are two of my current favorites.

Going from the elegance of midnight blue to an acid shade of orange is A.J. Albany's portrait of her pianist father Joe Albany in "Low Down: Junk, Jazz, and Other Fairy Tales from Childhood" (Bloomsbury, 2003). I can't say that this was an enjoyable book, but it was a horrifying, fascinating train wreck in its candid portrayal of A.J.'s loving, but terribly flawed dad. When he was in his prime he played with Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker and Lester Young while barflies dandled baby A.J., but this was but a short interlude before he descended into a drug-fueled daze, interspersed with schizophrenic episodes, that left A.J. to fend for herself throughout much of her childhood. She maintains an affection for her dad throughout the book (as opposed to her bohemian singer turned junkie mom who abandoned her in toddlerhood) even though he would leave her often and with inadequate babysitters that exposed her to domestic violence, bestiality, sex offender circus clowns, drugs, alcohol, prostitution and social deviance of seemingly endless stripes. Quite a different scene than hanging with Wynton, but an interesting look at the life of a minor jazz musician during the 1960s.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Hooray for Harry!

The Book Trout is besotted by Potter! My eleven-year-old daughter Amy and I went to a
Harry Potter party last night and had a blast. The local independent bookstore in Glens Falls, New York, Red Fox Books, partnered with the local library to deck out their parking lot and several "Diagon" alleys around them with all kinds of activities: face painting, origami, free cake, a trivia contest, a costume contest, displays of turkey vultures and owls, sales of sticky sweet Butter Beer specially brewed by the local microbrewery and a short theater production.

I mostly spent time holding our place in various lines, so my dogs are killing me this morning and my eyelids are propped up with toothpicks, but Amy flitted around with a pack of other tweens wearing her Harry Potter glasses and was so excited about getting her copy of Harry
Potter and the Deathly Hallows and staying up until MIDNIGHT! It was hard not to gush along with her, but I was mostly using my extendable ears to listen to other kids' conversations about what they thought would unfold in the final book.

Red Fox Books owners Naftali Rottenstreich (dressed in professorial robes) and Susan Fox (in witch accessories), had presold 200 copies of the book and there was a huge line of people who had not done so who were hoping for the remaining 100 other copies. Lots of gothic types strolling about of all ages, but the strongest hyper-vibrations emanated from the various elementary and junior high school kids at this Woodstock for fantasy lovers.

It really was astounding. We weren't in line to get the latest X-Box, Gameboy, I-POD, Star Wars movie premiere ticket, sale-priced plasma TV, etc. We were in line to get a book, by gum, and as a bookseller, mom, book lover, reader, that was brilliant, to use a British-ism favored by Rowling's characters.

I chugged my coffee this morning and dashed out of the house in time to open the shop, but not before peeking into the living room, where Amy was up to page 50 or so in the book, wearing her Potter specs. I said goodbye to her, and she waved me off impatiently, "Mom, Dumbledore's secrets are being revealed!".

Long live J.K. Rowling.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Book Trout Predicts Harry Potter VII

The Book Trout and her two fingerlings eagerly await the arrival of the seventh and concluding book in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series which will arrive at the stroke of midnight this Friday. We will be going to a Potter Party at Red Fox Books in Glens Falls, New York to eagerly await its distribution and can't wait to dive in. After rereading Books 6 and 7 in the series and watching the new film based on "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix", Book 5, I, like Hogwarts Divination Professor Sibyl Trelawney (seen above played loopily by the divine Emma Thompson) have some predictions about what might happen in the final installment.

1) Aberforth Dumbledore, Headmaster Albus Dumbledore's brother, who is only briefly referred to in the books, will have a major role in the final chapters. He is the bartender at The Hog's Head, the seedier of the two taverns in the nearby village of Hogsmeade and is mentioned by Albus as having had some shady dealings in the past with a goat (?!?). In the Order of the Phoenix movie, in the scene where Harry has his first meeting with other students to see if there is interest in having him teach them some of the defense against the dark arts tactics, they meet at the Hog's Head and there is a brief shot of a rotund bartender with a long beard chasing a goat out of the bar. A minor detail in the book, but significantly included in a film that cut a lot of other more important subplots and details. I believe Dumbledore is truly dead, despite his having a special affiliation with his pet phoenix, but that Aberforth may have promised Albus to look after Harry in the event of his death.

2) I think that Neville will be killed in this book, although he will not go out without having defended Harry or jumped in the way of a fatal curse or something equally deadly from Voldemort. He will be shown to be another kind of hero, one with bravery and loyalty, but without the natural coordination and flash that Harry has. I think his mastery of Herbology will serve him well in Book Seven, and he may cure one of his buddies with some kind of herbal potion.

3) Rowling has also stated that a second major character will meet his/her demise in this "bloodbath" novel, and I think it may be Lucius Malfoy. There is a lot of sympathetic treatment of his son, Draco in Book Six, when he procrastinates and agonizes over the task which Voldemort has given him, the assassination of Albus Dumbledore. Equally, Lucius' wife, Narcissa, is also seen sympathetically in the opening scenes of Book Six, with her grave concern for Draco and his dangerous assignment. I think there could be a dramatic scene with Draco gaining redemption for himself and his mother, with some intervention in a battle between Harry and Lucius.

4) I think ultimately, Harry will end up killing Voldemort or diminishing him back to his wormlike state by destroying all or six out of the seven horcruxes, and that he will not become an Auror, but the Defense against Dark Arts instructor at Hogwarts.

5) Snape will ultimately be proven to be a hero in this book as well. I think Rowling sets up the reasons for his initial attraction to dark magic very sympathetically, i.e. parental abuse, bullying at school, and though I haven't reasoned out why Albus Dumbledore believes him to be completely trustworthy, I think he is truly a double agent for the Order of the Phoenix. Perhaps my faith in Snape lies in my crush on actor Alan Rickman, who purrs as he delivers his cutting Snape lines in the Potter films, but that simply can't be helped.

I can't wait for the delicious pleasure on Friday night. Maybe one of my predictions will be accurate, or maybe I'm like Trelawney and just off the mark entirely. In either event, I can't wait for Rowling's magic to unfold.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Art Gallery Happenings

Last Saturday, our village had two art exhibition openings at our local galleries. The new Gallery on the Hudson, managed by local artist Sue Reynolds, opened at 92A Broad Street, just upstairs from our bookshop, with an exhibition of paintings by Reynolds and New York City painter Tom Vincent. The gallery will be open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 11 -5.

Next door at 96 Broad Street, Riverfront Studios had a party to celebrate the opening of their new exhibit "Uncorrupted Horses", curated by Skidmore Professor James K. Kettlewell. Kettlewell will be leading a discussion of how he curated this show at the gallery on July 25th starting at 6 p.m. This exhibit features sculpture, paintings, multi-media and other work with equine themes by Chloe Kettlewell, Pernille Dake, Dahl Taylor, Jean Haines, Aggie Zed, Paul Kant, Rita Dee, Al Goldfarb and Lloyd Kelly. Gallery hours are: Wednesday through Saturday 11-5 and Sunday noon to 5.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Win a Book at Bookgasm

The rabid readers over at the Bookgasm blog have a contest underway to win a copy of "Graphic Classics: Gothic Classics", a graphic novel treatment of five horror classics. You can enter the contest by submitting your favorite joke, salsa recipe or other noteworthy entry at their site. In between, you can browse their witty book reviews and other pop culture tidbits. Entries are due July 15th.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Wrecking Ball of a Day

After three hot and hazy summer days, it's climbed to over one hundred degrees here today with accompanying fug and nasty tempers all around. The bookstore is closed today (we're closed Mondays and Tuesdays and February) and there's only one measly book order from the Internet, so I've got hot cross buns too. The fact that my teenage daughter is pestering me to allow her to pierce her septum
and the tween daughter just hosted two of her giggliest buddies for a sleepover which had nothing to do with sleep only adds to my grump index. The gigglers secreted in two cans of "Rock Star", a diabolical energy drink which to my relief does not contain heroin and rock cocaine, but merely unspeakable amounts of sugar, caffeine and gingseng extract. While they did not trash guitars around the house all night, they did repeatedly wake everyone else up.

I am trying to keep things in perspective. The shot above of a wrecking ball on the loose at Allegheny College today diminishes my inner gremlin. I see glimpses of hope for my currently insane offspring. There's boxes of wonderful recently-acquired history books to price and shelve tomorrow, which will require me to nip into the 65 degree bookstore basement on a constant basis. And the peas are ready for picking in the garden, so until tomorrow....

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Jeeves and Wooster

All through the damp Spring and early Summer we have enjoyed watching episodes of the BBC's four seasons of "Jeeves and Wooster", based on the humorous novels by P.G. Wodehouse. I managed to lure my kids into watching them after explaining that the hapless, bumbling Bertie Wooster was played by the same actor as now stars in the mordant medical series "House" (Hugh Laurie). Also impeccable is Stephen Frey as the omnipotent butler Jeeves. Keeping this all book-related, I can vouch for Stephen Frey's talents as an author (his boarding-school memoir "Moab is my Washpot" is very interesting and astonishingly honest) and Laurie is no slouch at the writing desk either with cult favorite "The Gunseller".

Laurie's own description of how Wodehouse changed his life when he read him as a gormless teen is very amusing and can be viewed here.

For the uninitiated, Bertie Wooster is a young gentlemen of means but no discernible occupation who travels about country estates, golfs, hangs out at his club with Gussie Fink-Nottle, Barmy Figgy-Phipps and Stilton Cheesewright, among other improbably-named mooks, and fends off innumerable marital engagements and other kinds of entanglements from various formidable aunties. Jeeves is his lifesaver and friend, who always rescues Bertie from these fixes and keeps him from even more dangerous fashion faux-pas. The Wodehouse novels themselves are a treat, but the four seasons of this television series bring the characters and scenery to life vividly, especially when Laurie tickles the ivories and belts out ridiculous 1920s pop song lyrics. The fashions are a hoot, the toe-tapping jazz intro swings, the convoluted upper-crust lingo is hilarious and the toothsome automobiles are a visual feast.

It takes a long while to digest this madcap series, but it is highly recommended for dreary days when a bit of escapism is required. Put on a nice pot of tea, rustle up some scones and enjoy this delightful retreat.