Rare and alternative Christmas songs: “It’s Beginning to Snow,” Thisbe Vos

December 13, 2017

Cover to

Cover to “A Jazzy Christmas,” by Thisbe Vos. Image from ThisbeVos.com

This week’s episode of “Bull” on CBS ended with this one, “It’s Beginning to Snow,” performed by Thisbe Vos.

I think I have four other albums, collections, called “A Jazzy Christmas.” Thisbe Vos’s album dropped in 2015, I think. She wrote “It’s Beginning to Snow,” and (ironically) recorded it in Pasadena.

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Thisbe Vos, publicity photo from AllAboutJazz.com

Thisbe Vos, publicity photo from AllAboutJazz.com

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Rare, new and alternative Christmas songs: Joni Mitchell’s “River”

December 9, 2017

Joni Mitchell skating away on a river. Photo by Joel Bernstein.

Joni Mitchell skating away on a river. Photo by Joel Bernstein.

Washington Post picked up on it: A lot of musicians make great performances of non-standard Christmas tunes.

Joni Mitchell’s “River” has picked up covers by quite a few artists as a Christmas tune.

Does it just mention Christmas, or is it really a song of the season?

For example, Sam Smith:

In a discussion of Joni Mitchell back in April, here on Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub (with Paul Sunstone), I noted how people appreciate Joni Mitchell as a songwriter more as time goes on, including the use of “River” in Christmas collections:

Joni Mitchell’s fans are superappreciative, including such people as Judy Collins, who covers Mitchell on several songs.

But generally, yes, I think she’s not considered a great composer by those who compile lists of great composers, and she’s not considered a great singer by those who compile lists of great singers.

Part of the issue is that Mitchell came out of Canada as folk-rock took off. When I first bought her albums they were in the folk section; later they moved to the “pop” section (go figure). Her later albums stayed in rock or pop, even as her love of Mingus and Jazz pushed her work solidly into jazz. I’ve never seen her work listed as jazz in any recording sales store.

So she’s tough to categorize. Is she as strong or influential in folk as Joan Baez or Bob Dylan? Is she as strong in Rock as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (at least half of whom she had affairs with)? Is she as good at jazz as Ella [Fitzgerald] or Tony Bennett? Is she as good a poet as Leonard Cohen?

I think one can make a solid case that Joni Mitchell’s work is as poetic as Paul Simon’s, deserving as much attention for that reason as his. Simon won the Gershwin Award from the Kennedy Center; has Mitchell ever been considered? Is she less deserving than Billy Joel?

One of my criteria: I think every party I attended as an undergraduate, someone put on the album “Blue.” In graduate school, in a hotter climate, Maria Muldaur made a run (time to get away when “Midnight at the Oasis” came on); but “Blue” has stayed a turntable hit for decades. When our oldest son was at the University of Dallas, on one visit I was struck that “Blue” played out of three different apartments in his complex, at least 40 years after its release. It’s not Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” but I think it lasts longer on the play list of people who play them both.

In the past three years I’ve been impressed at the appearance of her song “River” on Christmas song compilations. “I wish I had a river I could skate away on,” she and her covering artists sing. She captured a feeling of Christmas much as Irving Berlin did, with a more beautiful melody, if not quite as hummable. Has anyone ever compared her to Irving Berlin?

Long post required. I’m not musicologist enough to do it justice, I think.

See these:

“River” has become a movement!

This one is odd; I wonder if someone did a mashup of Charlie Brown and Joni Mitchell, or if the Schulz cartoon organization really did use Mitchell’s tune.

“River” is not ready for use in churches, I think. Still a good song for the time of year, if not the actual religious celebration.

Any other good versions of “River” you like? Any on Christmas albums? Tell about them.


Reckless Daughter: Yaffe’s book on Joni Mitchell

December 9, 2017

Reckless Daughter, a biography and analysis of Joni Mitchell, by David Yaffe. (Photo: Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Reckless Daughter, a biography and analysis of Joni Mitchell, by David Yaffe. (Photo: Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

David Yaffe’s biography of Joni Mitchell is out. Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell (Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 376 pp.) gives solid analysis from a good writer to a favorite artists whose music classed in folk, rock or jazz, always transcended categorization.

Yaffe spoke with PBS NewsHour:

Another interview with Yaffe, from Global News (CBC?):

And a 2014 interview with Joni Mitchell, by Tavis Smiley:


December 7, 2018: Fly flags for Pearl Harbor Remembrance, and for Delaware statehood — and at half staff

December 7, 2017

From Dayton Daily News: Jeff Duford, curator for the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, with a flag that flew on the U.S.S. St. Louis in Hawaii during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The same flag flew aboard the U.S.S. Iowa in Tokyo Bay on September 16, 1944, as Japan signed instruments of surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri.

From Dayton Daily News: Jeff Duford, curator for the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, with a flag that flew on the U.S.S. St. Louis in Hawaii during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The same flag flew aboard the U.S.S. Iowa in Tokyo Bay on September 16, 1944, as Japan signed instruments of surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri. [This flag was displayed for one day at the museum, on Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day 2016.]

December 7 is a two-fer flag-flying day.

By public law, December 7 is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, and Americans fly the U.S. flag in memory of those who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. U.S. flags should be flown at half-staff.

As for Delaware, under the U.S. Flag Code, residents of the relevant state should fly their U.S. flag on the date the state joined the union.

In 1787 Delaware quickly and promptly elected delegates to the former colony’s convention to ratify the Constitution proposed at the Philadelphia convention just over three months earlier. The ratification of the Constitution won opposition from strong factions in almost every state. Pols anticipated tough fights in New York, Virginia, and other states with large populations. They also expected other states would wait to see what the bigger states did.

Delaware didn’t wait.  On December 7 Delaware became the first of the former British colonies to ratify the Constitution. Perhaps by doing so, it guaranteed other states would act more favorably on ratification.

Because Delaware was first, it is traditionally granted first position in certain ceremonies, such as the parades honoring newly-inaugurated presidents. Delaware’s nickname is “The First State.”

In Delaware and the rest of the nation, fly your flags on December 7, 2016. If you can, fly your flag at half-staff to honor the dead at Pearl Harbor; if you have a flag on a pole that cannot be adjusted, just fly the flag normally.

The most famous portrayal of a U.S. flag flying in Delaware is in the painting by Emanuel Leutze (American, 1816–1868).

The most famous portrayal of a U.S. flag flying in Delaware is in the painting by Emanuel Leutze (American, 1816–1868). “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” 1851. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of John Stewart Kennedy, 1897 (97.34) Among other problems with this portrayal: The flag depicted had not been designated on the date of the crossing, Christmas 1776.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.


It’s Martin van Buren’s birthday, December 5

December 5, 2017

Former President Martin van Buren, circa 1855-1888. Matthew Brady photograph (Imperial print of Martin Van Buren. Salted paper print from glass negative. Provenance from W.H. Lowdermilk & Co., Rare Books, 1418 F Street, Washington, DC) Metropolitan Museum image, via Wikimedia

Former President Martin van Buren, circa 1855-1888. Matthew Brady photograph (Imperial print of Martin Van Buren. Salted paper print from glass negative. Provenance from W.H. Lowdermilk & Co., Rare Books, 1418 F Street, Washington, DC) Metropolitan Museum image, via Wikimedia

Martin van Buren was our nation’s 8th president, serving one term, 1837-1841.

This photo is roughly  15 years after van Buren left office, taken in the Washington, D.C., studio of Matthew Brady, whose photography gained fame from his work photographing battle sites during the American Civil War.

Martin van Buren was born December 5, 1782, in Kinderhook, New York. He is the only president to have the first name Martin. He’d be 235 years old today, and still king of the mutton chop sideburns among presidents.

Van Buren died on July 24, 1862.

More:

At Broad and Hudson Streets in Kinderhook, New York, one can sit with a statue of Martin Van Buren, and see if one can decipher the newspaper he is reading. PresidentsUSA image

At Broad and Hudson Streets in Kinderhook, New York, one can sit with a statue of Martin Van Buren, and see if one can decipher the newspaper he is reading. PresidentsUSA image

 


December 2: Millard Fillmore’s Guano Day! 2017 edition

December 2, 2017

Why December 2?

(You couldn’t make this stuff up if you were Monty Python.)

English: Millard Fillmore White House portrait

Millard Fillmore’s White House portrait, via Wikipedia

President Millard Fillmore, in the State of the Union Address, December 2, 1850

Peruvian guano has become so desirable an article to the agricultural interest of the United States that it is the duty of the Government to employ all the means properly in its power for the purpose of causing that article to be imported into the country at a reasonable price. Nothing will be omitted on my part toward accomplishing this desirable end. I am persuaded that in removing any restraints on this traffic the Peruvian Government will promote its own best interests, while it will afford a proof of a friendly disposition toward this country, which will be duly appreciated.

Did any other U.S. President spend so much time thinking about guano?  Did any president ever mention it in a State of the Union Address?  The curious case of Millard Fillmore, Seer, just grows.

Guano, or bird poop (and its relative, bat poop), contains phosphorus, which is an essential element for life.  Consequently, it turns out to be a key ingredient in effective agricultural fertilizers.  In international competition for supremacy in farming and farm exports, guano became a key resource to fight over, in the 19th century.

It’s almost safe to say the fights were economic; but guano did play a key role in wars in South America (see Andrew Leonard’s article, noted below).

Fillmore figured out that the substance had great importance, coupled that with the rather esoteric knowledge that sea birds tended to deposit guano in great abundance on certain islands, often unoccupied, and ordered the U.S. Navy to claim islands found to contain guano deposits that were not claimed by other nations.

By the American Civil War, the importance of phosphorus to the production of gun powder became an issue for the armies of the North and South.  Millard Fillmore had set the stage for the North to win an important advantage in gun powder production, just one of many that led to the defeat of the South.

It’s one more thing we should thank Millard Fillmore for doing. Our study of history should inform us that it is, indeed, important for politicians to understand the importance of guano.

Fillmore knew his guano.

Take a moment on December 2 to toast Millard Fillmore’s prescience, on Guano Day!

More:  

You can purchase Peruvian guano today, from Amazon, GrowOrganic.com, and other sources. It's roughly $15 per pound in the U.S.

You can purchase Peruvian guano today, from Amazon, GrowOrganic.com, and other sources. It’s roughly $15 per pound in the U.S.

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an edited encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.


Carl Sagan’s song of the open road; can you spare a penny?

November 29, 2017

NASA image of a launch of one of the Space Shuttles.

NASA image of a launch of one of the Space Shuttles. “The open road still softly calls,” Carl Sagan said.

“The open road still softly calls,” Carl Sagan said, optimistically, in this film.

Can you spare a penny to keep the road open? To answer the call?

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