Saturday Night Tunes: Out to Lunch!

Eric Dolphy is one of the most unique and therefore divisive voices in jazz history. A ridiculously accomplished multi-instrumentalist, Dolphy’s avant garde style — further out on the edge than Thelonious Monk, not quite as far out there as Ornette Coleman — is instantly recognizable and influenced the sound and style of every group he ever played with. Dolphy was a true prodigy who started playing clarinet at age 6, then picked up the oboe, saxophone, and flute along the way to his professional jazz career, during which he almost singlehandedly turned the bass clarinet into a legitimate jazz horn. He played in big bands, small bands, and was so well-versed in contemporary classical music that he became one of the key figures in what became known as “third stream” jazz, a fusion of hard bop and classical music that emphasized the former’s reliance on improvisation and the latter’s experiments in atonality, meter, and modality.

In the liner notes of Dolphy’s 1964 live album, Last Date, Charles Mingus (who gave Dolphy his first big major gig after he moved from Los Angeles to New York in 1960) is quoted as saying that Dolphy “was a complete musician. He could fit anywhere. He was a fine lead alto in a big band. He could make it in a classical group. And, of course, he was entirely his own man when he soloed…. He had mastered jazz. And he had mastered all the instruments he played. In fact, he knew more than was supposed to be possible to do on them.” His music is complex and practically demands multiple listenings, but it is brilliant stuff.

Out to Lunch!, recorded and released in 1964, is often regarded as Dolphy’s best album, or at least his best studio album. After recording it, he went on a European tour with Mingus and, dissatisfied with the U.S. jazz scene, decided to stay. He died in Berlin, in June of that year, after going into an undiagnosed diabetic coma. The doctors treating him assumed (because he was a black jazz musician) misdiagnosed his condition as a drug overdose, but Dolphy wasn’t a drug user.

Apart from Dolphy, who limits himself to bass clarinet (tracks 1 and 2), flute (track 3) and alto saxophone (tracks 4 and 5), the album features Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, Richard Davis on bass, and Tony Williams on drums. Of the decision to go with vibes instead of piano, Dolphy said “Bobby’s vibes have a freer, more open sound than a piano. Pianos seem to control you, Bobby’s vibes seem to open you up.” All the tunes are written by Dolphy.

“Hat and Beard” is a tribute to Monk, which I suppose is a little odd for an album without a pianist, but it has a “walking” feel because, as Dolphy said, “[Monk]‘s so musical, even if he’s just walking around.” The meter changes from 5/4 to 9/4, which I confess is pretty much imperceptible to me:

“Something Sweet, Something Tender” is a balled, Dolphy-style:

“Gazzelloni” was named for famous Italian flautist Severino Gazzelloni and, as you might guess, features Dolphy’s flute:

The title track really busts out of any defined structure in the solos, where the rhythm section is just kind of improvising right behind the soloist. It’s remarkable how well this works, producing great music where there could easily be total chaos:

Dolphy wrote “Straight Up and Down” to be reminiscent of, in his words, “a drunk walking.” You can tell he’s having fun here, producing pretty much any sound he wants out of his alto:

Trying something new: a weekly newsletter

I thought I’d try my hand and one of those newsletter type things that, ah, all the Hollywood celebrities keep talking about, probably. If you like my writing this will be a weekly summary of what I wrote with links to the places where it’s appeared, plus any other interesting stories that come across my radar. So the themes will be pretty much as you see them here — foreign policy, Middle East, history, jazz, occasionally politics — but I guess if I get good at newslettering (?) I could start adding links to articles in areas that interest me but that I don’t actually write about that much (languages, sports, heritage preservation, the environment, who knows really). I’m using TinyLetter, because that’s the site I was looking at when I had this idea, so…

Anyway, please subscribe and invite your friends, enemies, anybody you like or hate, depending on how you feel about this blog, to subscribe as well. Or don’t invite them, just get their email addresses and sign up on their behalf, I’m not picky about that kind of thing (please don’t do that). The first newsletter took a surprisingly long time to write, though I threw in a bunch of possibly unnecessary introductory stuff about me so that didn’t help, but I can’t see doing one of these every week if there’s no audience for it. It’s also ridiculously long, but again, I’m blaming that on the introductory stuff that will never appear again. To sign up, just enter your email address in the form below here at the TinyLetter website, because WordPress sucks, then some other stuff will happen and you’ll have to give me your bank account number but that’s purely for verification purposes.

I’m kidding. The bank account thing is actually totally out of my hands.

Some positive talk on the Iran front

Jim Lobe, the namesake of my sometime internet home, writes that this has been a positive week for news about the Iran negotiations. For one thing, the idea of a deal was endorsed by a key player in the Iran sanctions community:

In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, Amb. Stuart Eizenstat, who played a key role in promoting sanctions against Iran under both Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and who succeeded Dennis Ross as chairman of the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI), challenged Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz’s recent claim in a New York Times op-ed that the failure to reach an agreement “can be regarded a qualified success, because it would represent the integrity of an international community adhering to its principles rather than sacrificing the future of global security.”

According to Eizenstat, whose experience in Democratic foreign policy circles was described as “vast” by none other than Bill Kristol’s Weekly Standard two years ago:

No deal is not a success, because it means an unrestrained use of centrifuges, the Iranian plutonium plant at Arak continuing, no intrusive inspections, no elimination of 20-percent enriched uranium, and less likelihood of eliminating weaponization.

…[A deal] would not be a bouquet of roses. It has a lot of thorns in it. But the alternative is nothing but thorns. It would almost force a military reaction, which even under the best circumstances  …would set back Iran two to three years and have ripple effects that would tremendously harm Israel, such as attacks from Hezbollah.

Eizenstat, as you’ll read when you click over to Jim’s piece, is no Iran dove. He’s been firmly in the camp pushing military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities if necessary, for example, so if he’s come around to the merits of a deal along the lines of what the Obama administration is suggesting, that’s a real statement.

What kind of deal is the administration talking about? On Thursday, as Jim notes, the Wall Street Journal reported that a compromise on Iran’s enrichment program was being floated both here and in Tehran, one that would require that Iran cut the number of its active centrifuges down to 4000, rather than the 1000 that P5+1 negotiators were focused on earlier in the talks. In return it’s possible that Iran would agree to a slower draw down on sanctions, something the WSJ termed a “probation period of sorts,” though it’s not clear what that would mean since sanctions relief was always going to be a staged process. The Obama administration doesn’t seem to be saying much, but Jim also points to a speech given Thursday at CSIS by State Department Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, where she seemed to take an optimistic tone about the direction of the talks. None of this is a guarantee that things are moving in a positive direction, but it’s certainly better news than we’ve had in some time on this issue.


I wish I had something profound or unique to say about gun violence in this country, but even if I did it wouldn’t be appropriate to say it today. The horror of yet another school shooting sort of leaves you with nothing to say, although plenty of people aren’t letting that stop them. Thoughts and condolences, as little comfort as they might be, are with the parents, students, and residents of Marysville.

Good thoughts and best wishes also to Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum, who learned this week that he has multiple myeloma. He says his short-term prognosis, at least, is “pretty positive,” and hopefully that’s right. The long-term prognosis for multiple myeloma isn’t so good, but, and I Am Not A Doctor, he’s pretty young to have developed this type of cancer, so (again, hopefully) he’ll be able to beat the odds.

Rand Paul is the most important something who ever somethinged, you can be sure of that

The great unveiling of Rand Paul’s “conservative realism” foreign policy last night went about how you’d expect: Paul offered his usual confused mishmash of contradictions and platitudes, carefully designed to maximize his 2016 appeal to Republican primary voters without sacrificing his more non-interventionist cred with the general electorate. I had a few thoughts that I decided to put on Medium (please go read them):

Hours before the speech, the media was already in hype mode, with Olivia Nuzzi at The Daily Beast declaring that Paul would “use the words of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai to attack President Obama” (frankly, Malala doesn’t need Senator Paul’s help). But somewhere in all the grand strategy that Paul’s speech was supposed to unveil, nobody bothered to fix the single biggest problem with his foreign policy vision, the fact that it is an incoherent grab-bag of contradictory suggestions and non-specific platitudes.

The reason nobody bothered fixing that “problem” is because it’s not actually a problem for Paul, who wants to avoid specifics as much as he can so as to appeal to the unrepentantly neoconservative Republican primary electorate and then turn around and play to a much less war-minded general electorate. He wants to show you that he’s not an isolationist, unless that’s actually what you like, in which case he’s totally there with you. Paul calls this vision “conservative realism,” though its realism seems to come less from a sense of how the world works than of how the American political system operates. The bottom line is that, until somebody actually holds Paul’s feet to the fire, his foreign policy platform will continue to boil down to Burger King’s old slogan: “have it your way.”

Plenty of other people have noted the Paul’s foreign policy pronouncements are often lacking any sort of consistency (and, heck, that’s not just limited to his foreign policy; note how, at one time or another, he’s held a whole a la carte menu of positions on the Civil Rights Act). But I would be remiss in failing to point out that Paul also has his fans:

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Don’t know much about history

Predictions that the United States is on the verge of collapsing like the Roman Empire are pretty old hat, usually among the kind of people who are more worried about the national debt than about whether or not their fellow citizens have enough to eat (though there is a strain of this particular mania on the left as well). But give Ben Carson credit for finding a fresh new take on the genre:

Carson expanded on the notion in an interview with Bloomberg Politics’ Phil Mattingly. “For Carson,” Mattingly writes, “the canary in the American coalmine is political correctness.”

“The reason that is very troubling to me,” Carson explains, “is that it’s the very same thing that happened to the Roman Empire. They were extremely powerful. There was no way anybody could overcome them. But these philosophers, with the long flowing white robes and the long white beards, they could wax eloquently on every subject, but nothing was right and nothing was wrong. They soon completely lost sight of who they were.”

Carson has previously contended that gay marriage would lead to a Roman Empire-esque fate for the United States, so maybe he’s just got Rome on the mind. But, you know, every time this guy writes or says something he demonstrates that the old joke about “it’s not brain surgery” actually cuts both ways.

“It’s not brain surgery. Which I definitely know how to do”

History ain’t brain surgery, and consequently Ben Carson doesn’t actually seem to know anything about it. Let’s assume that the gay marriage thing was just another variation of his political correctness message (though it’s more likely that “political correctness” is just code for “treating the gays like human beings”), because if Carson really means that Rome fell because of marriage equality then I’m really giving him too much credit. Continue reading