#1 Emotional tempo upon awakening: Andante con moto.
#2 MOTIVATION: Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23 in F Minor Op. 57 (“Appassionata”) played by Claudio Arrau in Berlin 1970. Blissful 26-minute journey.
#3 MEDITATION: Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor retooled for flute by Jean-Claude Veilhan and performed by Helene Schulthess inside the 800-year-old Swiss church of St. Peter in Mistail. Schulthess uses the church’s impenetrable walls and echoes to create beguiling depth for the nearly 10-minute composition.
It reminds me (only slightly, but just enough) of Paul Horn’s “Inside” (1969), A jazz flutist, Horn took his instrument and some recording equipment inside the Taj Mahal and used the building’s echoey acoustics as his backup band. A daring experiment, at the time, it completely captured the imagination of 19-year-old me. Horn would send out a couple of notes and then surround them upon their return with several more creating harmonies, call-and-response, and giddy chaos. And on it went.
#4 INSPIRATION: “… like every beginner, I thought you could beat, pummel, and thrash an idea into existence. Under such treatment, of course, any decent idea folds up its paws, turns on its back, fixes its eyes on eternity, and dies.” — Ray Bradbury in his introduction to “Dandelion Wine”
#5 THE PERMANENT BREAKOUT ARTIST: Yesterday afternoon, my hometown friend Marybeth Valentine posted a YouTube video of Eva Cassidy singing “Woodstock.” One of her friends — rightly, in my opinion — responded: “I think I like this better than Joni’s or CSN’s versions.”
I’ve since discovered that this singer with a tendency to cover popular and classic pop songs invariably sang them better than the originals. Sting called Cassidy’s cover of his “Fields of Gold” the best version ever. A commenter on YouTube said, “Once you hear her cover of any famous song, you can’t go back to the original.”
A typical introduction to Cassidy will likely be her covers of “Over the Rainbow” (yes, better than Judy Garland’s) or “What a Wonderful World” (right up there with Louis Armstrong).
Right after, follows the question. “Why haven’t I heard of her before?”
Followed by, “She died when?”
See, Cassidy was a club singer, especially at the Blues Alley Jazz Club in Washington and Mick Fleetwood club and restaurant across the Potomac in Alexandria.
She made an album or two and — thank god — was recorded performing a lot.
On Sept 17, 1996, she closed out a benefit concert at the Bayou, another DC club, with “What a Wonderful World.” The benefit was for her and her fight against cancer. Eva Cassidy died less than two months later. That was her last public performance.
She was 33 years old.
And that might have been it. Another talented performer struck down too soon. Except, fans and fate wouldn’t let her go quietly into the night.
A U.S. album of Blues Alley recordings was made and in 2000, it fell into the hands of Terry Wogan’s BBC radio program and Top of the Pops2, which played the album “Songbird” and especially “Over the Rainbow.” As usual, the British have a way of snatching bonafide American treasures from obscurity and recognizing their greatness.
Sales soared to more than 500,000 in a matter of months and today, Cassidy’s album sales are in the millions on England. Special reports on ABC’s Nightline and NPR did the same for Cassidy’s music back in the States. In 2005, Cassidy was listed as the fifth best-selling musician on Amazon, behind, you know, The Beatles and U2.
Her record sales on both sides of the Atlantic now number in the millions.
New albums, compilations, newly discovered music, a possible movie, documentaries — the activity surrounding Eva Cassidy would positively embarrass Eva Cassidy. But the important thing is that all of it gets her name and music out there for others to discover.
Singers Katie Melua and Michael Bolton have braved Cassidy’s soaring jazzy sonics and unique tempos and rhythms to record posthumous duets. An album of duets someday would surprise nobody.
I do not exaggerate when I say her music is transformative. I spent a good part of the day listening to every single song that I could scrape up and I am unsatiated. I want more. My soul is lifted, set free, in this dreary Day 4,381 of Coronavirus captivity. I want to be a better human for listening to Eva Cassidy.
Her music heals. Scores of people commenting on her YouTube songs tell about their own losses — sons, daughters, spouses, lovers, partners, friends — gone suddenly and too soon from their lives. And it is Cassidy’s songs that bring them comfort, lift their sorrow, nurture their broken hearts and shattered souls.
For people who wonder if there is life after death, listen to Eva Cassidy. More than one fan describes her as an angel returned from Heaven to lift us up in these troubled times.
Her music is just what we need today.
Here’s the British documentary about Eva Cassidy, “Timeless Voice.” (60 min.):
#6: WATCHING: “Silk Stockings” (1957) Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. Hollywood’s gift to the Cold War.
Don’t you miss those days when we could easily make buffoons out of the Russians — instead of the other way around? This will make you long for the good old days, when the joke was on Russia.
Astaire is a decadent capitalist movie producer in Paris, charged with thawing out the tightly-wound Russian comrade played by Cyd. Easy. A little fancy footwork, some lingerie, and a whiff of Cartier jewelry and — ba da bing — you got one Red hot Ruskie.
Lyrics by Cole Porter are some of the best dialog in the film. (Full disclosure, we watched “Silk Stockings” on Sunday night.
#7 NO STRINGS ATTACHED: “The Red Violin” (1998) A trove of Western musical instruments found in post-Mao China is offered up for auction. Among them is a violin that is more legend than real — the Red Violin. It is so named because the master luthier who built it — his last and finest — used the blood of his dead wife in the varnish used to coat it. She died in childbirth.
As the auction proceeds toward the prized piece, the story of its odyssey over 300 years unfolds. The instrument possesses each owner, sometimes with tragic consequences, always with a passion for its music.
Samuel L. Jackson is the antiquities expert who is establishing the providence of the instrument (He does NOT say, “This is the real deal, mother f****ers!”). He also falls under the instrument’s spell.
Coincidentally, I’ve been reading about another violin with a fabulous back story — the Lipinski Stradivarius. This one was built in 1715 and was first owned by the composer Giuseppe Tartini whose most famous work came to him in a dream, a gift from the Devil.
Actually, Tartini claimed the Devil played a far more beautiful piece than his how “Devil’s Trill Sonata” but he recreated it as best he could. Good enough to earn him the means to buy a Stradivarius.
Tartini gave the violin to a student, named Salvini. Years later a young man auditioned before Salvini, himself a concert performer and teacher. Salvini took the young man’s violin and smashed it on a table He then presented the young man with the Stradivarius as a gift. That young man was Karol Lipinski. Understandably, Lipinski held on to it until his death.
The Lipinski Stradivarius passed through many hands, ending up in Cuba then New York City in 1962 where it sold for $19,000. It has stayed in one family and in 2008 it was loaned to Frank Almond concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony. Orchestra.
All was well until 2014 when Almond was attacked and Tasered in a parking lot after a concert and the muggers got away with the violin. Aided by a $100,000 reward, the violin was recovered and the mugs arrested in less than two weeks.
No movie in the works for the Lipinski sage, as far as I know.