Charles Dickens Gets In The Groove with Jazz Musician and Composer John Dankworth

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Charles Dickens. Image: Mirror

It might seem a bit improbable for the British Jazz musician and composer, John Dankworth, to tackle the work and characters of 19th century novelist Charles Dickens. But anything was possible in the 1960s. Charles was having a bit of a renaissance, with new paperback editions of his novels lining the shelves, several TV adaptations filling the weekend slots, plus films and musicals, most obviously Lionel Bart’s Oliver. Perhaps it was time for Dickens to get in the jazz groove?

I must have discovered John Dankworth around the same time as I did Charles Dickens (late 50s, early 60s), with John’s music in the background as I ploughed my way happily through the Dickens canon. The two went together well, most especially when I read The Pickwick Papers, accompanied by the early Dankworth Seven recordings. There was a similar jauntiness of tone and purpose. …

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Geoff Dyer. Image: Document

I’ve been re-reading Geoff Dyer’s But Beautiful recently — it was first published in 1991 — which is a book about Jazz, and is a must for any devotee of the music, and a small literary masterpiece that can — must — be read and re-read. It is one writer’s take on the life of jazz musicians. Let me quote from his piece on Lester Young:

“When he woke the room was filled with the green haze of a neon sign outside that had blinked to life while he slept. He slept so lightly it hardly even merited the name of sleep, just a change in the pace of things, everything floating away from everything else. …

Jack Newman wanted adventure…

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Defence of Mafeking by A Sutherland. Image: The Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University

My great uncle Jack was a loveable man with a handle-bar moustache and centrally parted, heavily brilliantined, dark hair. He smelled of Sunlight Soap, and Wills’ Gold Flake cigarettes, which he smoked incessantly, as did his younger brother, my grandfather Harry, as would Harry’s son, my father Roland.

Back in the mid-1950s my sister and I loved going to Uncle Jack’s cottage in Hampton Lucy, where he was born in 1877, a cottage that belonged to the Fairfax Lucy family, who lived in the big house, Charlecote Park, where Jack’s father had been the book-keeper for over fifty years. …

War and a New Pair of Gloves

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Warwick Road, Wellesbourne. Image: Our Warwickshire

Frederick Overbury was a small, polite, quiet and rather sad man, not unlike H. G. Wells’ Mr Polly. He was also, like Mr Polly, a draper who had learned his trade working in his father’s drapery business in Wellesbourne.

As far as I can make out the business started around 1864 when a financial deal was struck between a Stratford hotelier and Frederick’s father (also called Frederick) and a friend of his, one John Eden Sturch who, as far as I can make out, owned Anslow’s, a grocers and Wellesbourne’s post office back then (which can be seen in the photo above). …

The Artist Hands the Renaissance Baton to Shakespeare

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Michelangelo by his student Daniele da Volterra, 1544. Image: Rochester University

Now hath my life across a stormy sea
Like a frail bark reached that wide port where all
Are bidden, ere the final reckoning fall
Of good and evil for eternity.
Now know I well how that fond phantasy
Which made my soul the worshiper and thrall
Of earthly art, is vain; how criminal
Is that which all men seek unwillingly.
Those amorous thoughts which were so lightly dressed,
What are they when the double death is nigh?
The one I know for sure, the other dread. …

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Image: Etsy

In 1950 the distinguished English theatre critic, J.C. Trewin, wrote a book about Stratford-upon-Avon, where, in the preface he states that he…“fell in love with the town from the Gower Monument to the American Fountain, from the limes in Holy Trinity Avenue to the distant obelisk at Welcombe, from the canal towing-path to the Avon meadows.”

Trewin, if coming by road from London, would have entered Stratford across Sir Hugh Clopton’s bridge, built in the late 15th century. Sir Hugh had, at the time of building the bridge, become the Lord Mayor of London, creating, with the bridge, a future strong link between the capitol and the market town. The bridge is still in daily, heavy use today. …

“ A good book is the precious life-blood of a master spirit.”

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John Milton. Image: Kaliope

In March 1649, less than two months after the execution of Charles I, John Milton took on the position of Secretary for Foreign Tongues to the Commonwealth Council of State. Such a position would undoubtedly have come about as a result of a pamphlet written by Milton approving of the king’s execution, printed just days after the event. The new Commonwealth, and later Cromwell himself, needed good scribes to deal with communications from foreign nations. Milton, an affirmed anti-royalist, poet, and self-appointed supporter of Oliver Cromwell, was their man.

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A contemporary painting of Charles I execution. Image: vanproveratwordpress

John Milton soon made himself indispensable to the powers that be, and with six or seven languages under his belt, he quickly rose to a position where Cromwell could make good use him. …

A Portrait

“…poetry is a power to transform even the dullest activities of the mind.”

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Apollinaire, the Cubist at rest. Image: Mondayoumardi

Under the Pont Mirabeau the Seine

Flows with our loves

Must I recall again?

Joy always used to follow after pain…

Penguin’s 1965 Apollinaire: Selected Poems (one of their Modern European Poets series) is a strange mixed bag that at times seems charmingly old fashioned, yet at others is wonderfully modern, in the way Walt Whitman’s work must have felt in the 1850s. But it’s nothing like Edward Thomas’s output (a poet who was a contemporary of Apollinaire), feeling at times more like early Robert Frost, a poet Apollinaire would have been aware of; but there’s something else going on. …

An Autobiography

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A young Graves. Image: Evening Standard

I remember the elderly poet and novelist Robert Graves being interiewed on television by, I think, Michael Parkinson, sometime in the late 1970s. He’d come over from his home in Majorca to attend to some business, probably the television adaptation of his I Claudius novels. His wonderful Edwardian voice was a delight as he reminiscied about the past: his time at Oxford, then London, about his loves and losses, his poetry, and his time in the Army during World War One, and his autobiography, Good-bye to All That. He represented a time that was quickly passing.

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The 2014 facsimile cover of the original paperback Ist edition

His book was first published in the UK by Jonathan Cape in 1929, as was Ernest Hemingway’s, A Farewell to Arms, with the two books thereafter linked as the first anti-war books to come out of the war to end wars. Both authors denied their books were anti-war, with Hemingway describing his as just a novel, a love story that happened to be set during a war, and nothing more. Graves would only say that his autobiography was just a way for him of getting his experiences down in writing so they could be forgotten; oh, and the money would come in handy. …

A Film by Penrose Tennyson

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Image: We Are Cardiff

Paul Robeson was my mother’s favourite actor and singer, with his film, The Proud Valley, one that never failed to move her. We saw that film together many times, with its subtle message about the futility of racialism and hatred, and its less subtle message of the need to work, sing, and win a war together (that the ordinary man and woman in the street can make a difference) sinking into my young brain.

It was the last film Robeson made in Britain, and is set in the coal mining valleys of South Wales, which was a district Robeson had come to know well in the 1930s when he’d vociferously supported the miners in their endless struggle against poor working conditions. …


Steve Newman Writer

Playwright, Historian, Biographer & Freelance Writer Living and Working in Shakespeare’s Stratford

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