Haunted Heart–Jo Stafford

By Kedrick Rue

Laurel.Canyon.Blvd_.sign_.9900N-600x397I am driving up Laurel Canyon from a day in the city. There is little nature in Los Angeles, but what is there seems to be concentrated in the canyons that separate Los Angeles from the Valley. Between the two locations is a deep, winding rift in the plastic-and-concrete reality of Hollywood. It is as if all of the dreams out of which these fictions originate well up out of this rift.

When I was a child, we lived in these hills. My father worked at Lookout Mountain Studios, and I still own the house, whose location I shall not disclose, and which I call the Rectory. There were folkies, and hippies, and Satanists running through the woods at the time, along with children. Joni Mitchell sang songs from her terrace not that far from my house, in preference to having to make conversation, while David Crosby chased groupies through the caves hollowed out in the bedrock below his bedroom.

One morning I came outside to find a number of tiny people with flowers gathered in the garden. At the time, this didn’t seem strange, as I would regularly come upon one of Frank Zappa’s G.T.O.’s dressed as a butterfly, or a wandering itinerant who appeared to be There Were Folkieshomeless but who nevertheless had numerous expensive silk scarves draped around his neck. But these people were different. They were fairies, or pixies, or whatever you want to call them. They were tiny, and seemingly made of light, and they were all gathered around a tiny puddle where a toad presided, staring solemnly at the two who appeared to be their King and Queen, draped as they were in flower petals and cobwebs.

Then someone in the canyon began to play electric guitar and everything vanished.

Did my parents put something in my breakfast orange juice? Impossible. Did I inhale the leftover pot smoke from a party nearby? Unlikely. Did I dream this fairy wedding? I’m still not sure.

What I am sure of is that in my youth, my parents were friendly with people who worked in and around the film and music industry, and my imagination at this time was fertile. The canyons seemed like an enchanted place, where anything could happen. There was no sense of danger. At least before the Manson murders.

Sometimes my parents would sometimes bring home keepsakes from their parties or their time at the studio. One of these keepsakes which I cannot shake, and which is constantly on my turntable at the Rectory, is a record from Jo Stafford which contains the song “Haunted Heart.”
Jo Stafford
Haunted Heart, my haunted heart.
There’s a ghost of you within my haunted heart.
Ghost of you, my lost romance.
Lips that laugh, eyes that dance.

My father may have played the record that day, or maybe I did. All I know is that it’s inextricably tied to that image of the fairy wedding. The hippies, for the most part, are gone, priced out of the canyon. The folkies are gone. Even the Satanists are gone. My parents are gone, but I am not, and the image is not. And when the magic of the canyons seems to have faded, taken over by the plastic or the concrete or the gentrification or the business end of things, I remember that fairy wedding, and I remember that song. It haunts me in the very best possible way.

Haunted heart won’t let me be.
Dreams repeat a sweet but lonely song to me.
Dreams are dust, it’s you who must belong to me
And thrill my haunted heart.
Be still, my haunted heart.

Haunted Heart on YouTube

Haunted Heart–Jo Stafford

Billie’s Bounce–Charlie Parker

by Spencer FinnanCharlie_Parker

When I was fifteen I became obsessed with Jazz music. I had taught myself to play piano a few years earlier, and I finally had the faculty and rudiments of theory to begin appreciating jazz on a deeper level as both a listener and a fledgling student. While most of my peers were listening to whatever forgettable bubble-gum spewed from the Top 40 circa the late 90s, I was lost in my own world of post World War 2 era Bebop. I loved the frenetic tempos, soaring horns, the endlessly complex lines weaving snake-like through dense harmonic changes. I loved the combative one-upmanship of the soloists, the “oh yeah you can play that, well check out this phrase” attitude. If you know anything about that era in Jazz, you know it starts and ends with the king, the legend: Charlie Parker. Or simply, Bird.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Charlie Parker occupies the same place in music history as giants like Bach, Beethoven, Louis Armstrong. He changed the way music was played forever after his short sojourn on earth. His fleet playing was oft imitated but never replicated. I also loved his compositions. Even with his ability to play anything that
Spencer Quotepopped into his mind, he always wrote very memorable, singable melodies. One of my favorites was the song Billie’s Bounce. This was the leitmotif of my Bebop studies, the song I kept coming back to and practicing obsessively. It was my vehicle for improvisation. I would spend long stretches of time walking a bass line in my left hand and working out phrases in my right hand over the bass line.

Thinking back to half a life ago and this song still bring up a host of crystalline memories. Getting my driver’s license, having a tape player in the car where I would listen to Bird’s solos over and over until I could sing along with every note. In my mind it’s always a sunny day, somewhat incongruous considering it was the Willamette Valley. I think I wore out that tape. Another memory is of deciding I needed the family piano in the basement, where my room was, so that I could play later into the night without keeping my parents up. I enlisted the help of friends to help me get the piano down the basement stairs. Even though it was small, the hallway was so narrow that I’m amazed it fit (I don’t think it’s a good idea to put a piano down on it’s side though). This was the age where I started to become a night owl, and having the piano downstairs really helped my late-night musings. It was in those late hours I think I played at my most inspired. Although I knew little about the jazz world, I knew for sure that both Jazz and everything else that was fun in life happened late at night.Spencer Quote

One of the most important things I learned in my discovery of jazz was that you’re never “done” with a song. Songs are templates for your improvisation and musicality, in a way that’s different than playing classical. With studying classical, at some point you finish your song and move on to the next, ideally retaining each in your repertoire. In my tidy world of being a good student and going through the Syllabus program, both grades and songs were benchmarks to be achieved and completed, only to move on to the next set. I find jazz to be so much more nebulous a discipline. One only hopes that from year to year your solos become hipper, more coherent, and ultimately closer to conveying your own style, finding your voice. It’s been 16 years or so since I first learned Billie’s Bounce, and I still play it regularly, hopefully much better than in my teenage years. In fact, I think I’ll go play it right now…

Billie’s Bounce on YouTube

Billie’s Bounce–Charlie Parker