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Kimbra’s Ring of Gold

Kimbra’s Ring of Gold

This 21-year-old singer has “it.”

Plain Gold Ring

Explosively controlled jazz. Volcanic scat and soul. She bobs and weaves and falls victim to the depths of her emotional possession, as all great artists do. But she rises from those depths and expresses the journey upward and outward, without losing her courage or her conviction.

Aside from her wonderful voice, running parallel with it, she moves in interesting, idiosyncratic ways to her own song. A refreshing change from all too many pop singers who dance in cookie cutter ways, pushed into narrow corporate forms to look like every other pop singer.  Joy Williams of The Civil Wars is similar in her physical originality.

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Kimbra Johnson was born in New Zealand, grew up there, but now makes her home in Australia. She has been compared with singers like Nina Simone, Amy Winehouse and Bjork. Her first album, Vows, was released this past August.

The Waikato Times has an article reminiscing about how far she’s traveled already at such a young age. An excerpt:

Remember Kimbra Johnson? The Waikato Times recommended you should when she first appeared on our pages as a cute 10-year-old a decade ago, and now the playful pop singer has signed an international record deal.

Kimbra, as she is now known, was unable to talk to the Times yesterday because she was busy in a Melbourne recording studio, but the former Hillcrest High School student was able to update things via email.

The 21-year-old has come a long way since she sang the national anthem at the Waikato Cup race meet in December 2000; she this week signed an international deal with Warner Brothers Records which will release her debut album, Vows, later this year.


The Physiology of Jazz

The Physiology of Jazz

She’s a dervish on the piano. She dances with it, tweaks and cajoles the notes, the rhythm, the beat. There are few performers with such a developed and idiosyncratic relationship with their musical instrument, and few who exhibit so much joy in performance. She makes music, the act of making music, physical, kinetic, electric.

NPR has a story and a good video up on its website showing her extraordinary technique.

Born in Japan in 1979, Hiromi later studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. She has played with several legends of the Jazz world, including Stanley Clarke and Chick Corea. Though known for her unusually high energy at times on stage, in this performance, she exhibits restraint, respect and devotion to her friend and mentor, the great Oscar Peterson, who passed away in 2007.

Witness to Genesis

Witness to Genesis

 First to see. Like Billie Holiday and Benny Goodman. 1933. Debut to beat the band. To be there. To be not square there. Ella singing scat with Dizzy in the 40s. Using her voice like a horn, playing with it, like a mad cat running up and down a tree. Running up and down and all over town.

Billie wrote a lot of songs. A lot of people don’t know that. Or care. They just want to hear her sing. And, maybe feel like they’re cool for liking her, knowing about her. Yeah, it’s cool if you’re hip without pushing it. A Zen thing. A Taoist dream thing. Like, you gotta float and move fast while you’re standing still. You gotta be strong as you’re bending with the melody again and again. You gotta flow with the wave that covers you with yourself. Inside you release the knot so the notes can fly.

When Ella sang with Duke Ellington, she hit perfection. She was supposed to be singing his songbook, but she made it her own and then some. Winsome scat. Wind song Jazz. Coolness at the Cote d’ Azur.

Ella and the Duke. 1966

Democracy of cool. Equality of cool. Patience when everyone has the turn to be genius for a moment. Patience and respect for craft, for fine, chiselled, sweet, saltry, hothouse song. Bluesy tune, meets feeling it. Billie feels it. As she looks at the band, at Hawkins and Mulligan and Young and Webster. They’re all feeling it, like the night come down on them soft and mellow.

Fine and Mellow. Billie Holiday.

The sublime is sacred. Dance bop slide . . .


Being in Time

Being in Time

Yves Tanguy’s Indefinite Divisibilty. 1943

For those of you north of the border, for those of you planning to take a trip to Canada soon, Desi Di Nardo has a poetic treat in store. On Wednesday, May 13th, she will be holding a workshop/reading at 7:00pm.

The location is:

The McNally Robinson Bookstore

Don Mills Road at Lawrence Avenue East
12 Marie Labatte Road
Toronto, Ontario
M3C 3R6

(416) 384-0084

From the bookstore’s announcement:

Desi Di Nardo is an author and poet living in Toronto whose work has been published in numerous North American and international journals and anthologies. Her poetry has been performed at the National Arts Centre, featured in Poetry on the Way on the TTC, and displayed in the Official Residences of Canada. Desi’s poems have also been studied in schools across the country, translated into several languages, and printed on Starbucks cups. She has also worked as an English professor at George Brown College and Writer-in-Residence Loretto College.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about missing things. Missing key, essential, historical moments. Especially firsts. The first time Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane played together. The first time Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie played together. The first time a small group of people heard those notes of genius. The very first time . . .



It wasn’t mass produced. It wasn’t packaged or preordained, that first time. It happened, much like the improv on display. It happened without being rigged, hyped, marketed, tagged, billed, bottled, or seized by people with dollar signs in their heads.


Art exploding without preconditions. Smooth. Sweet. Effortless. But oh they worked hard to be so effortless.

Recordings. We have those. Though some of the best moments were never recorded. Some of those firsts. Then take it on back through time and you had to be there. You had to be in that room, in time with their time, their rhythm, their cool. Not watching it on TV, or the Internet. But in the bar, that particular bar, where the right girl said the right thing and you smiled and you just knew the musicians smiled with you and for you. Being in time and saying, oh, man, what a time!


Freedom to Swing

Freedom to Swing

Django Reinhardt and company. Photo by Dietrich Schulz-Koehn

While doing some research for a new novel, I stumbled on a fascinating story. WWII, Occupied France, and Django Reinhardt, one of the great Jazz guitarists of his era. Many elements make the story fascinating, but perhaps the most unusual aspect of the whole thing is that Reinhardt was a gypsy. The Nazis included the Roma in with other minority groups it sought to destroy, killing hundreds of thousands of them before their reign of terror ended. According to Michael Zwerin, who wrote Swing Under the Nazis, Reinhardt rose to prominence in occupied Paris despite being a gypsy. A German officer from the Luftwaffe, Dietrich Schulz-Koehn, protected him because he liked Django’s music so much. This obviously went against official Nazi policy, which was adamantly and dangerously opposed to that art form. Though the Nazis weren’t above using Jazz, “hot music” and Swing to advance their own propaganda, there is no indication that Django collaborated in any way with the Germans.

Here’s Reinhardt playing “Minor Swing” in 1937.



Vienna Teng

Vienna Teng

One of my favorite recent discoveries is the music of Vienna Teng. I love the name. She chose it. It fits. A Taiwanese-American singer/songwriter from California, Vienna has a gorgeous, angelic voice that exudes intelligent sweetness, but is never saccharine.

She has called her music “Chamber Folk”, which rings true. Influenced by Classical, Jazz, Folk and Pop, Vienna Teng sings on the edge of discovery. She flies higher, but doesn’t overreach. When she is not singing, just talking, she sounds more than down to earth. She seems relaxed about her place on the surface of this planet. But music lifts her off that surface again and again and again.

From her myspace page:

Influences: My parents’ record collection: Simon & Garfunkel, James Taylor, Mozart and Beethoven, 60s Mandarin pop. That’s what I started with and it’ll never leave me. Later on, pianist-songwriters: Elton John, Billy Joel, Tori Amos. These days I’m influenced by whoever intimidates me. I hear them, I’m astounded by them, I think daily about quitting music because I’ll never be able to do it as well as they do. Then I try to steal from them without imitating. A tricky thing.

Her background is a little unusual for the music scene. She got her degree at Stanford in Computer Science, and later went to work for Cisco as a software engineer. Angelic geek, I suppose. I don’t hear the influence of computers in her music, but perhaps she integrates them in the production phase. Her music is exquisite.



Update: songs from her 2013 album, Aims.


Kandinsky’s Synesthesia

Kandinsky’s Synesthesia

Kandinsky’s Yellow, Red, Blue. 1925: Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

Kandinsky heard colors. They sang to him. His notes were colors, his colors notes. I see Jazz in the air, Bebop tickling the cerebral cortex, trailing after the watcher and the painter and the singer in all of us. I see blue notes, sharps and flats, choruses and improvs. The sun kisses that music and carries it through space and time. And there’s something not quite right, or unfinished, and waiting. There’s something ready to come into view on the right, like an unfinished symphony, an old Jazz or Blues number found in the papers of a known or unknown master. I see a natural mysticism, cool, making its own groove, its own geometry of pleasure. I see blue notes on a summer day, moving into glassy nights.

I hear colors. I see the Jazzy music of the spheres.



Copyright© 2008 and beyond, by Douglas Pinson and Spinozablue. All Rights Reserved.



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