A Life in Music
Conductor Craig Smith, world famous especially for his cycle of Bach Cantatas, leads this cheerful introspection on music as "a way to live." Smith died on November 14, 2007. This program is adapted from a WGBH television documentary from 1992.
Thereâ€™s a case to be made â€” and Paul Elie makes it elegantly in his Slate review of Oliver Sacksâ€™ Musicophilia â€” not just that Oliver Sacks is his own most interesting patient in his journal of musical symptoms, but that himself, the patient with 70-plus years of soaring, passionate musical memories, is more interesting than himself, the observant clinical neurologist.
The aura around the Palestinian pianist Saleem Abboud Ashkar -- performing, teaching and talking at Brown this weekend -- suggests a major musical career coming into bloom, and at the same time a world-historical conversation being extended to a new generation. Young Abboud Ashkar, just 31, could be the late Edward Said's successor in the exquisitely tantalizing dialog with the Israeli pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim. In counterpoint and close harmony, they are teasing out the implications of music for a world at war.
Amiri Baraka (then: Leroi Jones) chanced to live over the Five Spot in Manhattan in the summer of 1957 when Coltrane and Thelonius Monk had a five-month learning-by-doing gig on the Bowery. Willem de Kooning and Jack Kerouac were also among the listeners and drinkers at the Five Spot. Baraka says he missed barely a session of the music that culminated in the Monk-Coltrane Carnegie Hall concert in November, 1957 -- a Blue Note best-seller only after the Library of Congress unearthed the tapes in 2005. This was early, lyrical Coltrane, at the dawn of the civil-rights era -- "the rebellion" in Baraka's phrasing, then and now -- for which Coltrane became a sort of soundtrack. How did it feel that John Coltrane was "back," I asked the drummer Roy Haynes a dozen years ago, when Impulse reissued his classics and Whitney Balliett in The New Yorker solemnized a Coltrane revival. "I didn't know he ever left!" Roy shot back -- all we needed to know, delivered with Haynesian snap, crackle and pop. In this 40th anniversary autumn after his death, at 40, what lives with Coltrane and his music is the idea of love's forgiveness, of redemption through suffering, and the excruciating sort of beauty that Dostoevsky thought "will save the world."