May 4, 2007

Live at the Village Vanguard

by Sebastian Matthews

FRIDAY, 4 MAY, 2007
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Poem: "Live at the Village Vanguard" by Sebastian Matthews from, We Generous: Poems. © Red Hen Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Live at the Village Vanguard

Near the end of Bill Evans' "Porgy (I Loves You, Porgy)"
played live at the Village Vanguard and added as an extra track
on Waltz for Debby (a session made famous by the death
of the trio's young bassist in a car crash) a woman laughs.
There's been background babble bubbling up the whole set.
You get used to the voices percolating at the songs' fringes,
the clink of glasses and tips of silver on hard plates. Listen
to the recording enough and you almost accept the aural clutter
as another percussive trick the drummer pulls out, like brushes
on a snare. But this woman's voice stands out for its carefree
audacity, how it broadcasts the lovely ascending stair of her happiness.
Evans has just made one of his elegant, casual flights up an octave
and rests on its landing, notes spilling from his left hand
like sunlight, before coming back down into the tune's lush
living-room of a conclusion. The laugh begins softly, subsides,
then lifts up to step over the bass line: five short bursts of pleasure
pushed out of what can only be a long lovely tan throat. Maybe
Evans smiles to himself when he hears it, leaving a little space
between the notes he's cobbled to close the song; maybe
the man she's with leans in, first to still her from the laugh
he's just coaxed from her, then to caress the cascade of her hair
that hangs, lace curtain, in the last vestiges of spotlight stippling the table.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1626 that Dutch explorer Peter Minuit landed on what is now Manhattan Island. Two days later he bought the island from the Algonquin Indians for the equivalent of $24. The Dutch were drawn to Manhattan because of its extraordinary fertility and variety of wildlife. There were tall oaks, chestnuts, walnuts, maples, cedars, and pines, right up to the edge of the water. A vast array of flowers, including many roses, grew wild on the island of Manhattan, and the fragrance of flowers drifted far out to sea. Sailors coming into harbor said it was one of the sweetest-smelling shores they'd ever approached. There were huge 21-inch oysters and six-foot lobsters in the bay, and so many fish in the streams that they could be caught by hand.

Peter Minuit arrived, on this day, May 4, 1626, to take over as the director of New Amsterdam. There was already a small village in place, and more land was being cleared. On the west side of the island there was a cemetery, a small farm, an orchard, and two wealthy estates. Most of the houses were built along the East River, since its shore was more protected from winds than the shore of the Hudson. The main street was built over an old Indian path running from the southern tip of the island north to what is now City Hall Park. First it was called Heere Straat, which meant Gentlemen's Street, but it eventually came to be known as Breede Wegh—which became the name we know it by today, Broadway.

It's the birthday of the man who became known as "Darwin's bulldog," Thomas Henry Huxley, (books by this author) born in Ealing, England (1825). Huxley was a doctor and a scientist in 1856, when he went to visit his friend Charles Darwin, and Darwin explained to Huxley his theory of evolution. Once Huxley came to understand Darwin's theory, he became Darwin's spokesperson. Darwin was by nature a reclusive person, a great writer but not a great public speaker. But Huxley enjoyed public debates.

One of his first public debates about evolution came in 1860, at the British Association for the Advancement of Science. During that debate, the bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, famously asked Huxley whether Huxley was related to apes through his grandmother's or his grandfather's side of the family. There are different accounts of how Huxley replied, but he said something like, "I'd rather have an ape for an ancestor than a man who won't face the truth."

Huxley was the first person to hypothesize that birds were descended from dinosaurs, a theory that has only recently been accepted by most paleontologists. He also coined the word "agnostic," to describe his own religious idea that the only things worth believing in were things that could be directly observed in the world.

It's the birthday of the man credited with inventing the piano, Bartolomeo Cristofori, born in Padua, Italy (1655). He called his invention "the harpsichord that plays soft and loud." He had replaced the string-plucking mechanism of the harpsichord with hammers, which allowed the player to adjust its volume by applying different degrees of force to the keys. As the instrument grew more popular, the name was shortened to "soft-loud" and finally to "soft." In Italian, the word for "soft" is "piano."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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