Monday, November 24, 2014

In Memory of John P. Shanley, Sr

Last Thursday, my dad, John P. Shanley, passed away at the age of 79. Without going into details, it was an illness that came on fairly quickly. The last couple weeks were really painful for him, which was hard to witness. I'm glad he's at peace, though I wish he was still here.

There were a lot of layers to my dad. He could be reserved and soft spoken. He could be loud and opinionated. He loved his spy novels, but he also loved vintage comedy, which seemed as funny to him in the moment as it did when he first saw it decades ago. Almost every situation was ripe for a wry comment or observation.  I remember him telling me that on his final day of work, when he finally retired from United Mental Health, Inc., he marked the end of the day – and really, the end of an era – by marching a toy robot out of his office to indicate that he was about to leave.

If he really found something hilarious, he would let fly with a raspy laugh that sounded like metal rake being dragged across cement – a Shanley family trait which I heard coming from my aunt Mary Jeanne many times as well.

When I was in college I frequently came over for Sunday dinner and Pop often slipped me a couple dollars. “Don’t tell your mother,” he’d say. And he didn't say this because Mum would object to me getting the money. It might have been her idea, for all I know. “Don’t tell you mother,” was a line from a comedy routine by Shelley Berman, based on a conversation he had with his father.

I discovered this comedy bit through my folks. In it, Berman recounts how he wanted to join his friends at acting school and needed to ask his dad for the money to do it. Too afraid to ask him in person, he calls his day at work – at a delicatessen. On a Saturday, the busiest day of the week. 

You hear the phone conversation only on the father’s side. He’s already mad that he’s being pulled away from work, and he gets even madder when he hears that his son wants money for acting school - something he consider frivolous.

But as the conversation goes on, he gets his son to commit to working in the shop and he’ll give him the money, including “a Christmas bonus,” which is why the Jewish father tells him, “don’t tell you mother.”
In the set-up of the routine, Berman jokes about his dad but also defends him, saying he’s a good person. And you hear that as the bit proceeds. The father’s anger turns to support – even if he thinks his son is crazy, he’ll be there for him, reminding him, “No matter what happens, here, you’ll always a home.” I love this comedy routine because in addition to being funny it’s also poignant – a homage to his dad.

I once had a phone call with Pop that I feel paralleled Berman’s. I was taking a class in college that I thought I was going to fail and I wanted to drop it. But I was worried about how that was going to affect my financial aid. So I figured I’d call the house and get some perspective – from my mother. If I talked to Pop, I figured I’d be in trouble.

I called my parents’ house – and Pop picked up. Here it comes, I thought. He’s going to give it to me.

I told him what was going on. I couldn’t hack the class. I was afraid I was going to fail. What do I do?
Much to my surprise – and relief – Pop was cool. And empathetic. Don’t give up. Talk to your professor. If you’re straight with her, she ought to understand. 

He went on to explain that when he was going to Duquesne, he had a similar experience. He was working overnights at the J&L mill, going to school by day and needed to talk to a prof, and the two worked things out. In talking about his combination of school and work, he had to lighten the mood with a joke, “You get a difference perspective on things when you have three squealers at home,” which affectionately referred to my three older brothers.

I knew that he had worked overnights and had gone to school during the day. But it never occurred to me why up until that point. That was what you did to support your family. The weekend performances at Churchill Valley Country Club – it wasn’t just a music gig, even if the band really swung. It was to support the family.

The impact of what he said on the phone that day might not have been immediate but I did realize at some point that if he could do all that, one anthropology class is nothing for me. I could pull myself up by my bootstraps and work a little harder. And I did. And I got an A. When I told him that, he said, “See I told ya.” And it wasn't a patronizing thing. It was said with that mischievous look in his eye, that had wisdom with it.

Sometimes the things that you learn from your parents are not the things they say to you directly. They’re the things you discover after they’ve put you on the path of your life. The in-between things that you don’t even realize at the time.

There were a lot qualities that my dad possessed. One of the biggest ones was that he was deep. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

CD Review: Charles Lloyd- Manhattan Stories

Charles Lloyd
Manhattan Stories

2014 will probably be seen as a banner year for Resonance Records. Within a few months of each other they released John Coltrane's Offering: Live at Temple University (which is probably the most talked-about album of the year, other than Mostly Other People Do the Killing's Blue) and this two-disc set of two newly discovered live recordings by saxophonist Charles Lloyd. Like the Coltrane set, Manhattan Stories also comes with a huge booklet of photos and essays, including an interview with Lloyd, all of it added to the set.

Both performances occurred during the summer and early autumn of 1965 and they represent an exciting "in-between" time for the tenor saxophonist. Lloyd had already logged time with the groups of Chico Hamilton and Cannonball Adderley (the latter considered by many to be "mismatch," as Michael Cuscuna mentions in this liner notes). He also finished sessions for Of Course Of Course, his second Columbia album earlier that year with guitarist Gabor Szabo, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams. By the summer, Williams was gone, replaced by Pete LaRoca, whose performances can inspire one to search out the few albums he made as a leader, to get a greater dose of his powerful, unsung playing.

One disc comes from a set the group played at the Festival of the Avant-Garde at Judson Hall. The other comes from a gig recorded at the infamous Lower East Side club Slugs' Saloon. The sound quality of both sets is impeccable, capturing the excitement of these four at a time before they became revered jazz legends, but clearly revealing why such designations eventually came along, at least for a couple of them.

Considering the direction of jazz in 1965 and the name of the Festival of the Avant-Garde, disc one doesn't find the Lloyd quartet heading outward in any extreme direction. But even with their feet remaining on the ground, the three lengthy tracks have plenty of fire power. "Sweet Georgia Bright," from his Columbia debut Discovery! (all these exclamatory statements!) goes on for nearly 18 minutes, none of it excessive, from Lloyd's somewhat throaty tenor to Sims' propulsive work all over his kit. The tender ballad "How Can I Tell You" stretches out for over 11 minutes, and Szabo's "Lady Gabor" has the leader on flute for the first of two versions of this 6/4 vamp.

Despite its fertile ground for musical innovation, Slugs' had a seedy reputation too. This was a place where pushers and hustlers co-mingled with musicians like Jackie McLean and Sun Ra, or Salvador Dali, who showed up at least once with an entourage. For better or worse, the space has gone down in history as the locale where trumpeter Lee Morgan was shot and killed by his ex-girlfriend in 1972, which eventually put the kibosh on the joint. So it comes as no surprise that audience chatter can be heard during the Lloyd set recorded there. But if anything, the rugged nature of the room brought out the best in the band.

Also consisting of three lengthy tunes, disc two begins with "Slugs' Blues" which Lloyd supposedly wrote virtually on the spot. While adhering to the traditional structure, the group mixes it up as they go. Most impressive is Carter who walks a bit, switches to rich double stops and then, in his own solo adds some flatted fifth to make it sound even richer. No wonder someone (maybe a band member, maybe an audience member) repeated yells, "Yeah," throughout the set. La Roca really drives the second "Lady Szabo," which gets all manner of ideas out of Lloyd, including a moment where he predicts the vocal style of Leon Thomas. "Dream Weaver," later to be the title track of high-regarded album, is heard here in its early, but clearly set, stages.

A year later, Lloyd would form his own "classic" quartet with Jack DeJohnette, Cecil McBee and Keith Jarrett, and the Lloyd band heard here would be remembered only by a few. Thankfully, a few people had the foresight to document this work, which serves as a reminder that legends have to start somewhere.