Monday, February 1, 2010

Sound of Surprise(s)

Whitney Balliett, long the jazz critic for The New Yorker, once, long ago, wrote a book The Sound of Surprise. That phrase SoS is never far from the surface in my memory because it so well captured what jazz has meant to me – there is always a surprise waiting just around the corner precisely when you thought the corner would not be taken by surprise.

So this is about a series of surprises that have captured me Body and Soul these last 72 hours. (Also at the surface of my memory are a thousand song titles, with lyrics to match – no chord progressions sad to say, so why not recycle them, titles and lyrics?)

"It’s Three O’clock in the Morning” on January 30th, and I am sleeping but in which state of sleep I do not know. Sounds are pouring in, however, sounds from Vermont Public Radio (VPR) OnLine, sounds that were first, when I was falling asleep those of All Things Considered.

A few minutes later consciousness began to take over, opened up by jazz from somewhere by somebody – the first of the surprises – and then, the second surprise superimposed on the first, a poetic voice - soloing. Now, briefly, short-term memory took over to remind me that I had read at VPR OnLine that a jazz and poetry group, PoJazz, would be performing live at VPR’s studio in Burlington, Vermont. All that a recently sleeping brain could take in at the time was impressions, mostly impressions of wonder and a question: "How was it possible for this to be happening – northern Vermont is not NYC but it sounded that way.

A few hours later – maybe 5 or so – my morning story began by opening George Thomas page at VPR to get a glimpse of the sources of my surprises. A few hours later – 7:30 AM Vermont time/13:30 Swedish time, I was composing an Email to Tony Whedon, trombonist and poet and leader of the group PoJazz. Then that Email was on its way across the Atlantic that my grandparents (some of them) and my great grandparents (some of them) had crossed a century and then-some ago.

Exactly one hour later there in my Gmail was the most delightful reply anyone could ever ask for – from Tony Whedon in little Johnson, Vermont, starting his day with words of surprise and coincidence. What surprise, what coincidence? How had he been starting his day?

Let him speak: “I’d been listening to Monika Zetterlund singing “Waltz for Debbie” with Bill Evans…it’s just beautiful”

Well Monika Zetterlund is, of course, the Swedish jazz singer who became a soulmate to Bill Evans. Coincidence right from the world of Paul Auster - Tony Wehdon gets the first Email in his life from Sweden while he is listening to Monika.

So lets let her (in Swedish) and Bill Evans (universal piano language)help you to understand how Tony Whedon started his day by hearing a voice from where I was writing (Sweden) with a piano “voice” from where I used to live (the US of A), two voices brought together here thanks to YouTube.

I have been able to embed the polished in-performance version, but the rehearsal version is blocked from embedding. (It is 23.00 here in Linköping and I have just come home from orchestra and am listening to the rehearsal version at the bottom of the post. I suggest you go down and copy the URL at the bottom of this post and just get lost listening and watching - if this does not speak to you, nothing will. But it will.)

Here is the URL to the both beautiful and touching session where Bill Evans and bassist Eddie Gomez are in the foreground and Monica Zetterlund is taking in what she hears before telling them OK "nu kör vi". I started by writing that jazz is about surprise but here you can see and hear that it is also about listening - so don't miss it.


  1. Vacker sång. Jag gillar konstig musik (by the standards of my American teen peers), men den är vacker.

    Musik säger mycket, även när förstår man inte.