I have to say it’s been a bit of a grim week, and although I did seem to feel a bit better last Wednesday, it has been pretty much downhill ever since. I am not too sure how much of a blog I will be able to get out today but will do my best to publish something.
My health is not good and to cut a long story short, my chest infection has become so bad that I have had to make 2 visits to hospital on successive days where they fed me intravenous medications to try and relieve my chest, and yesterday I was feeling so bad that they also had to put me on oxygen to help me breathe. I have hardly slept for several days as my breathing problems and congestion keeps me awake.
My chest feels like it has gone five rounds with Mike Tyson and I’m not sure if that is from coughing or more likely, the strain on my lungs from trying to breathe. I now appreciate how severe asthma sufferers feel as I understand the symptoms are quite similar.
Anyway, I will be going back to hospital this morning, after breakfast, so that will also hold back any plans to produce a lengthy blog, but I will do my best.
Tomorrow I’m off at the crack of dawn to see my heart and diabetes specialists at Bumrungrad, so right now, my life seem to be revolving around my medical misadventures.
The joys of getting old after a long life of dissipation? Maybe; who knows? I guess these things go in cycles and I am hoping I will be in good shape in time for my daughter’s visit early next month.
After yet another shoot-up of intravenous antibiotics and a nice sniff from the oxygen tank, I am now back home, all raring to go.
Tony’s still King
I recently watched a recording of Tony Bennett’s recent 85th Birthday anniversary at the London Palladium. Not only was it absolutely amazing that this man, at the incredible age of 85, is still on the top of his form, but I actually think he has got better in recent years. I remember watching him a few years back when I thought: well he’s still got that jazz timing in his soul, but he no longer has that power in his voice. It seemed that he was avoiding the top notes, but I could hardly complain, considering his great age.
But how wrong I was. As he went through his unbelievable repertoire of standards at his birthday concert, he put one of his guests, Leona Lewis, into the shade with his vocal range, and you could see how far away he held his microphone from his mouth, as compared to Leona, who is no mean singer.
The best was left till last. For his final encore, he had the entire band PA turned off and he sang, without mike or amplified instruments. I have never seen this done before in a public concert, and remember, the London palladium is a massive theatre. His voice rang out strong and true to the rafters, to remind us of the days before sound amplification and that if you have a real voice, you actually don’t need a microphone.
Power on… Tony…
The acceptable face of corruption?
The current Thai government was swept to power last year on the back of populist policies that included free tablet computers for every student in the land. This, by any standards was an extremely bold promise and ever since then, the Yingluck government has tried in various ways to amend, vary or in some way avoid fulfilling this promise by using all manner of excuses. But try as they might, they cannot escape the political imperative of making good their election undertaking.
So we learn of that they are negotiating the bulk purchases of very cheap, basic tablets from some dubious Chinese manufacture at a very low price, and no doubt without any software worth a sod.
I mean, it was a stupid promise in the first place and if anything is needed to improve the lot of Thai students and assist them in their fight to improve the very poor educational standards that are endemic throughout rural Thailand, it is not by giving them cheap junk tablets. They will probably be purely used for games, (if indeed it is possible to play anything on them), and as soon as they inevitably start to break down, they will be unceremoniously dumped, or if they have any residual value at all , they may possibly trade them in for a few a tasty tokes.
And as someone observed the other day, a class of 40 kids would require 40 electrical outlets to keep the tablets properly charged! I doubt that the average Thai class room has more than two outlets, if any at all. It will be interesting to see how this little pet government project plays itself out.
Meanwhile, back at government house, we hear that the House of Representatives has agreed to spend 50 million Baht to procure 700 iPads and 700 iPhones for MPs. The popular gadgets will be given to all MPs, Senators and governmental department chiefs.
That’s’ 1,400 machines at an average cost of 35,000 Baht per unit.
At last reckoning, that amount is around double the price that these products can currently be bought in Thai stores; and at that volume of purchase, I’m sure a great discount deal could be done with one of the major suppliers. So what happens to the ‘left-over’ 25 million Baht or so?
Maybe I should offer to make a trip to Pan Tip and negotiate a good price on their behalf?
It is also worth noting that a vast majority of Thailand’s elected officials are hardly desperate for a bob or two; indeed a great many of them come from the richest and most powerful families in the land and even those coming from more humble backgrounds, are hardly lacking a venal lobby-sponsor or two. It seems inconceivable that those who would wish to own such gadgets haven’t already bought them, and if they haven’t got them I am quite sure that they can afford to furnish these items from their own bulging, corrupt pockets.
Yet there has hardly been a word of consternation that I am aware of, from almost the entire spectrum of Thai public opinion. Even the opposition’s (Democrat) comments were quite muted; well I guess I have to understand that they all are going to benefit, and who wants to spoil the ‘High Tech’ party?
I wonder if any MP’s decline the give-away; can they sign a waiver and collect the cash instead?
All That Jazz
I have been a bit of a closet jazz fan and through the years I have made a few odd musical journeys into the mysterious world of Jazz. I have always loved Dixieland jazz which, when played live by a good bunch of musicians, is an electrifying and joyous experience. Most of us in our travels have all come across these Dixieland bands of varying quality bands in different settings throughout the world, and one of my own favourite memories is listening to Acker Bilk, quite late on in his career, performing at a venue back in Essex.
In much earlier years, in my late teens, I used to go with a friend to listen to small jazz combos who performed at a local pub in East London. I’m still not sure exactly what jazz category that kind of jazz fell into, but at the time it was quite popular – usually piano, double bass and drums, extemporising on popular song themes.
My friend was an avid fan and collector of ‘Deep South’ blues singers, (Muddy Waters and the like), which actually pre-dates the birth of jazz which it sort of spawned, and that was another early influence in my musical leanings.
But come Elvis Presley and in particular, the advent of the Beatles, and my appreciation of jazz took a distant second place to the 60’s pop music revolution and all that has happened since. I have to admit that my love of musical theatre and even classical music probably pushed jazz down into 4th place in my personal list for many years.
But I never gave up on jazz, and while admittedly knowing very little about it, have always appreciated and occasionally enjoyed listening to many of the jazz greats :– Errol Garner, Duke Ellington, George Shearing, Harry Connick Jr, Miles Davis, John Coltrane Benny Goodman, and some of our own UK virtuosos – Ted Heath, Johnny Dankworth and Humphrey Littleton, to name but a few.
I will never forget being completely blown away when I first listened to a performance of Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, which I borrowed on a reel to reel tape back in the late 60’s. I played it over and over again and to this day, it still sends shivers down my spine every time I hear it played.
And no blog on the subject of jazz would be complete without mention of the late, incredibly great, Louis Armstrong, who almost single-handedly invented jazz. What a colossus he is in the annuls of jazz, both for his incredible and innovative artistry on the trumpet, and his unbelievably unique singing voice; ‘scat’ didn’t exist before Armstrong.
He averaged 300 live performances a year for over 40 years, and every performance was a unique event – such is the power and inventiveness of the music genre.
Why am I telling you all this? The reason is, that I have just finished watching a marathon PBS documentary entitled JAZZ . This programme is no less than 20 hours in length and traces jazz right from its pre-civil war origins back in New Orleans in the 19th century, right up to the time the documentary was made, in 2000.
If you have a love of good music, and are interested in the development of American music generally, and in particular, if you want to hear a fascinating, heart breaking, soul searching story of 20th century America, then I strongly urge you to beg borrow or steal a copy of this 10 DVD box set collection.
Made by the renowned PBS film maker Ken Burns, the 20 hours of film includes hours and hours of ‘stills’ and moving footage never before seen, and contains interviews, speeches and other spoken recordings as well as countless music recordings of so many of the all-time jazz greats, most of them now long gone.
It is all woven together by well researched, beautifully spoken narration, together with intelligent, expert explanations and opinions, and covers the whole gamut of jazz genres from ‘Dixieland’ to ‘Swing’, to ‘Bebop’, to ‘Hard Bop’ to ‘Free’ to ‘Avant- guard’ to ‘Fusion’ and beyond. But the at the heart of it all are jazz’s greatest artists, from the earliest days till 2000, and they never disappoint in their efforts to perform, enthral and inspire us.
In your 20 hours of watching, your foot will rarely stop tapping, and tears will rarely be far from your eyes when it is brought home to you, time and time again – in stark, no frills reality- what a titanic contribution the blacks have made to American music culture, and how they suffered for their genius and how appallingly they were treated by the whites for so much of the past 150 years or so.
BUTT…BUTT…BUTT… I Don’t give a hoot!