Posted by: Mark Nielsen | June 12, 2018

Moanin’ w/ Blakey, Lee Morgan and the Old New Kids

I intended to let y’all listen to some classic hard bop jazz from October 1958, and as a bonus ALSO see some silly footage of Cary Grant and a chimp from “Monkey Business” (1952)…

Monkey Business (1952) – IMDb


Nov 07, 1952 ·  Directed by Howard Hawks. With Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, Marilyn Monroe, Charles Coburn…. A chemist finds his personal and professional life turned upside down when one of his chimpanzees finds the fountain of youth.


But the youtube won’t play… maybe a copyright thing…

So instead, here’s another version of the song, performed live…

As for the music, the song  Moanin’  was originally written for the album pictured below, and penned by the pianist here, Bobby Timmons. But it’s been covered many times since 1958, and had vocalese lyrics added by the great Jon Hendricks, and it’s become a terrific standard in jazz ever since.

The album overall was identified by jazz critic Scott Yanow as one of the 17 Essential Hard Bop Recordings. The Messengers performing on this track and throughout the album are as follows:

Other than Merritt, every other player here is a giant in jazz. The role of Blakey as a mentor should never be forgotten, either.


Blakey LP cover

Any serious jazz aficionado is likely aware that Blakey’s bands over the years, even into the 1980s, gave many a young player a great headstart in the big leagues of international jazz performers. He often auditioned or discovered them in their late teens or early twenties, and helped them “level up” in a big way for a few years. The people I’m most familiar with are trumpeters, like Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Wynton Marsalis, even Chuck Mangione (who I don’t see listed below in the list taken from Blakey’s Wikipedia page… a controversial player, but I’ve always liked Chuck’s melodicism and tone). But besides the trumpeters, I really dig Chick Corea and Horace Silver on piano, and Wayne Shorter on sax… heck, one really can’t go wrong with the solo work of most people in the list below. That so many went on to lead their own band is a testament to the teaching of Art Blakey, and the atmosphere he created.

While we are on the subject of Lee Morgan, I highly recommend the fairly recent documentary about him that’s up on Netflix: I Called Him Morgan.

lee morgan doc capture

It’s sort of dark in tone– as it should be with such a tortured genius and his weird story. Similar to the equally good Nina Simone documentary (also still up on Netflix, I believe). But the Morgan one also gives a better flavor for the jazz scene in the late Fifties and early Sixties in general. So if you’re into that kind of thing…

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | May 14, 2018


Where the Wolves Are…

I met this band The Pinkerton Raid awhile back in Chicago, though they’re actually from North Carolina (and also from MA, and probably another locale or two).

Good musicians, great storytellers, honest purveyors of alternative Christian Americana (who needs Nashville?!).

Listen up and see for yourself. They have a new record out. Plaintive singing, interesting indie rock or folk song structures and arrangements, and a cast of characters in the songs that rivals early Springsteen’s lovable losers and hopeful hungerers for righteousness. Pinkerton raid live demo

This is what Sendak’s “mad” Max would dance to when he turned 21 and finally went on a pub crawl out in Chapel Hill with his friends.

[Speaking of Wild Things, here’s a bonus item: a FanTheories reddit piece about Max going off to live with hoboes… reddit Max

reddit Max, we love you. Come home.]

Mingusithicus homo stoopingus, a rare species, at play


1. Charles Mingus pays tribute to tenor sax great Lester Young, released on Mingus Ah Um in 1959:

Goodbye, Porkpie Hat (the original) on YouTube


2. Joni Mitchell – Mingus (Studio album, 1979):

—-> Joni w/ Charles, shortly before he died via YouTube

  • Re the Joni album, via Wikipedia:

The album is quite experimental, featuring minimalist jazz, over-plucked, buzzing acoustic guitars, and even wolves howling through “The Wolf That Lives in Lindsey”. All of the lyrics are by Mitchell, while the music for four of the songs was composed by Mingus, three being new tunes, a fourth being his tribute to saxophonist Lester Young from his 1959 classic Mingus Ah Um, “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat“, for which Mitchell wrote a set of lyrics.


3. My poem in tribute to all of them (Young, Mingus, Mitchell, plus The Beats), as inspired by a section- on jazz and its effects- of Jack Kerouac’s novella The Subterraneans (1958) :


Boplicity on Bleecker

I walked, slinked really,

(or is it slunk? I’m slightly drunk,

and was so at the time)

like Garbo out slumming among the proles in an evening gown,

only mine was just a rose-print cotton thing.

That’s me, slinking down the crusty summer sidewalk

At 2am, just outside the Village Vanguard,

on my way to meet a friend at Nick’s.

I stumbled sleepily in halfmoonlight, suddenly waking,

as a young couple spilled out the door,leaving me listening, arrested, listening,

leaving me listening, arrested, listening,

meditating on Mr. Mingus’ Musical Musings

(based on “I Got Rhythm” changes)

for the first time.

Soon it’s me waving,

a finger dance lightly over my head,

feeling like toddler at play in the surf.

Rage, hope, dread –all of it poured out:

–all of it poured out:

the bloody history of Charles,

and how much he missed Charlie,

and also of Mr. Evans’ vague regrets

(played only on a piano’s black keys),

and of a trumpeter and a tenor sax axe-grinder

wrestling like puppies,

frolicking in sunlight at midnight–

all of it suddenly a mystical Unity

expressing itself in waves like electricity,

or p’raps a howling: hungry, hunting

for tasty, tongue-tingling ecstatic Life,

in a certain sound,

then springing, like a puma from a branch,violently extracting that Life

violently extracting that Life

from a gorgeous C Major Seventh chord–

the direct word, the holy Word,

divinity described

in God’s own private language,

heaven’s gates stormed

by tongues and lips and fleshy fingers,

by fleet-fingered pulse bringer

(don’t call him a drummer),

suggesting loudly

the salvation of perfect vibration,

intimation of nuclear fusion,

by cymbal-crashing of two souls

together, joining their atoms,

pure sex, soulful sound, drippingwith


and yet

also the call-and-response of the gospel choir,

the gospel choir,

the “smile in sound”,

the living insinuation of possible perfection,

just out of reach, dodging us,

wriggling and tangled and fraught with contrast,

every few bars, just a hint of dissonance, never complete or pure,

never complete or pure,

never resolved or final,

but always aspiring.

Charles Mingus reached out and grabbed me,

kidnapped me,

through that closed door,

all wooden and innocent-looking —

just like his bass fiddle–

but actually, behind the mask

of what some would call entertainment,

sneering and cruel and fraught with sadness,

sheer honesty, and harmonic empathy–

and harmonic empathy–

all in 5/8 time, in the key of Y–

on a misty, lonely night

in the biggest little village ever.

Grown from the seed below, in Kerouac’s The Subterraneans :

“she stood in drowsy sun suddenly listening to bop as if for the first time as it poured out, the intention of the musicians and of the horns and instruments suddenly a mystical unity expressing itself in waves like sinister and again electricity but screaming with palpable aliveness the direct word from the vibration, the interchanges of statement, the levels of waving intimation, the smile in sound, the same living insinuation in the way her sister’d arranged those wires wriggled and tangled and fraught with intention, innocent-looking but actually behind the mask of casual life” –pgs. 34-35

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | May 10, 2018

A small but classic Robert Downey Jr. reddit

When Burger King is the low that one has sunk to…

“Just because you’ve hit bottom, doesn’t mean you have to stay there.”-RD Jr


Research and writing for my forthcoming historical fiction novel Murder at Birdland  continues, at an increasing and invigorating pace these past few months (circa Spring 2018).

I had been on the fence about a few of the chancier elements of my approach, namely how heavily to incorporate real historical figures from the era (late 1958 thru perhaps the JFK assassination in ’63). My conundrum is about which real figures to include or exclude, especially in the frequently overlapping fields of entertainment, politics, and literature. Not to mention how to feature them without letting them “take over”.

I haven’t completely solved that problem yet, but it’s fun to play with that tension: how much can I safely blend fact and fiction, or real historical personalities and invented character traits or events, all for the sake of my own original story. But as a test case, I just discovered a current news item this past month, believe it or not, that is pushing me to create a more significant presence in my narrative for two major entertainment figures of the era: actors Kirk Douglas and Natalie Wood.

I was already including Natalie, since she briefly dated one of my main “real” characters, Morris Levy. Levy was part owner of Birdland and several other important NYC nightclubs, plus the co-founder of Roulette Records, …and reportedly doing all of that as a semi-legit front for the Mafia (he finally got convicted in the 80s, but that’s another story…). When Morris’ brother gets killed at Birdland in early ’59 (the inciting incident for my novel, including its insider look at the aspiring fictional sax player who works for Morris), it was never clear if the murder was mob-related, or just a random beef with a lowlife patron. Needless to say, for the sake of high drama, I’m going with the Mob angle. And Natalie Wood, it turns out, apparently had a thing for “bad boys” like Morris Levy, both before and after being involved with two-time hubby Robert Wagner (no angel himself). Not that she had a thing for Kirk… that s%!# was all on him!

Meanwhile, I had already been considering including Kirk Douglas, since an important secondary theme of my “coming of age” novel is prejudice against artists in the Ike and JFK era, whether for racial, homophobic, gender-based or ideological reasons. Case in point: Douglas’ big-budget movie Spartacus (1960) was reportedly the first film to break Senator Joe McCarthy’s anti-communist Hollywood blacklist. By openly crediting blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in 1960, Kirk’s actions as a producer put him at the center of a major change in how American performers and intellectuals finally “broke” the McCarthy blacklist. (See the Brian Cranston movie about Trumbo from 2016… it’s stupendous… as is the Coen Brothers’ more comic treatment of secret commies and gays in 2016’s very underrated Hail, Caesar!) Kirk Douglas was quite powerful from the 50s through the early 60s, the same period when the major movie studios were gradually losing their power to independent producers and other economic forces. In that, and in other respects, Kirk was very much the Harvey Weinstein of his day (though Weinstein apparently never performed himself… insert your own double entendre here…).

As for the resurgence of the Natalie Wood rape story, it’s another sad chapter in the #metoo saga of 2017 and 2018… even though Wood’s situation reportedly occurred sometime in late 1955. Wood was just 16, and Douglas was one of the first Hollywood stars with enough power to start a successful independent production company of his own. Earlier in 1955, strong rumors had circulated around town that Wood had been in a consensual affair with the much older Nicholas Ray, her director on Rebel Without a Cause. We’ll leave that one alone for the moment, since the ambitious but needy Nat was likely on-board with it… even though it IS pretty skeevy on Nick Ray’s part, I will admit.

On the other hand, the true “rough stuff” for Wood came when Douglas invited Natalie to his hotel room, theoretically to read for a part in some upcoming film. (Not that he ever hired her… to add insult to injury.) She later told friends he said he had always wanted her, and he didn’t take no for an answer. The drunken rape by Douglas was reportedly fairly brutal, and Wood was quietly taken to the hospital by her nut-job stage mother– the same mother who made her keep quiet, lest Douglas ruin her chance for a career as an adult actress. But Natalie did tell a few people that she was close to over the years, plus her family, including her daughter Natasha Gregson-Warner –which brings us to Robert Downey Jr., and 2018.

Downey was in the film Two Girls and a Guy with Gregson-Warner and Heather Graham sometime in the 1990s, and they became friends from that point onward. With both Natasha and Robert being children of movie figures from the 1960s, that enduring friendship only makes sense in retrospect. So apparently Natasha told Robert about her mother’s rape, …and now that Robert is safely back on top in Hollywood (having been WAAAAAY down near the bottom in the 1990s, with his own drug and domestic problems), he took it upon himself to call foul on Douglas. The occasion was the recent Golden Globe awards, which honored Douglas, who is currently 101 years old and appeared onstage at the awards with his daughter-in-law Catherine Zeta-Jones.

For the whole convoluted explanation of how it is somewhat provable that Downey was the “anonymous” commenter on an important Hollywood blog, I’ll direct you to the link below, rather than explain all the cloak and dagger research.

Gawker points to the Downey-Douglas-Wood story

So… now for me to decide, among other conundrums:

  1. How intimate did Wood get with my guy Morris Levy, yet another older man?
  2. How long were they involved, and should I bend the truth about either real person’s relationship timeline or their sexual proclivities? (Did they date, or cheat?  Or, more accurately, did SHE cheat?, …since I know that he did, with any number of partners.)
  3. From a believable fictional character perspective, how “damaged” was Natalie, … by the Kirk Douglas rape, by her family’s economic and emotional dependence upon her, and/or by the whole Hollywood studio system that she grew up within (especially at MGM, which specialized in screwed-up child stars)? Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds and Judy Garland all certainly got more tabloid ink about their romantic exploits than Natalie. But Nat was, to my eyes, a very insecure and sexually adventurous person in her own right. One look at her relationship with infamous Hollywood dog Warren Beatty in the early Sixties proves this beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Granted, I’m writing fiction. But I’d like my characterizations to be true to history. Be they my own versions of real people, or my own amalgams of various representative figures from the era, my goal is to ethically create honest characters, without resorting to cheap and sordid sexual fireworks. Besides, it’s already a finely woven work of fiction, with several romantic subplots, and it’s really not so much about Natalie Wood anyway (nor should it be). But I can’t see leaving it out, either. My secondary reason to bring her in at all, aside from the brief dalliance with Levy, is that she was also the West Side Story Maria for the 1961/62 movie… while several of my novel’s real and fictional main characters are involved in the original Broadway run of West Side Story (which was huge in ’59 and ’60) as musicians or dancers.

What’s a stand up guy like me to do?… when Downey, one of my heroes in a way, is at odds with Douglas, who I also until recently thought was pretty terrific, and heroic (for his progressive politics, if not his acting talent, which was consistent even when the material was not great)?…

Now, for me at least, Kirk’s gone the way of Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby and Louis CK: massive talents with apparently massive ethical blind spots or repugnant mental/sexual disorders.  I’m still bothered about contemporary society’s apparent (and perhaps twisted) need to scapegoat and tear down these monumental men, but if it’s all true (and I believe it is), then as with the Blacklist and the Confederate flag, it’s time for the rest of us to move toward a brighter future. Here’s hoping that, like Robert Downey Jr. (and, dare I say it, Mel Gibson and Rosanne Barr), Douglas and the others can conquer their personal demons, get some help, and eventually recover some semblance of a reputation and career. That is, if we are willing to let them… which is an interesting pyscho-social question of its own, but I’m afraid it’s one for another day.


I first came upon singer and mandolinist Chris Thile’s music thru the terrific newgrass group Nickel Creek, probably in the late 90s, on a public radio show out of southern California (I caught it on the web.)

He then went on to semi-stardom (for a folk musician, anyway) as a founding member of the Punch Brothers, and as a replacement host –with big shoes to fill– at A Prairie Home Companion, when Garrison Keillor retired.

Now, I’ve discovered he also (or instead? I’ve not checked in on Prairie in awhile… ) is doing a music and ensemble comedy public radio show called “Live from Here”– with here apparently referring to both the off-Broadway Town Hall in New York, and/or their original home base at the Fitzgerald Theater in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

It streams live as a video broadcast on Saturday nights, from 5-7pm CST. The audio version –at a length of just under two hours– also streams the rest of the week, starting after lunch on Sundays.

Get it here. They package a highlight version as a podcast, if you prefer, including the great comedian Tom Papa’s regular segment “Out In America”. They unfortunately can’t do a podcast version of the whole show, however, due to legal and music rights restrictions. But by using the web, you can also pick your poison, by going into the archives to hear gems from the likes of Calexico, Janeane Garofalo, David Crosby, Shakey Graves, Spoon, Maria Bamford, and a cast of thousands. Chris’ house band is pretty great, too, including members of Punch Bros. and various session greats and special guests.

Here’s a bunch of links and samples:


Video and audio of a recent show.


This show is folkin’ great. Tune in live, or catch it whenever you want online.

Keep public radio alive, too!!! –before the orange-haired Philistine sells all of our granola-lovin’ souls to bail out the 1%ers, or replaces the Kennedy Center with Trump’s Tune Town, or shuts down all publicly funded art like this in its entirety.

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | April 30, 2018

Everything Rushes Slowly (original cut-up poem by Mark Nielsen)

{Photo of Woodstock, IL by Laura Nielsen Mills, (c) 2017}

Everything rushes slowly.

I hear again that hint of

the Melody of snowfall,

a sky agitated–

but still snow falls, fills souls.

Then there is only the feeling of


(The poem at top was composed using a variation of William Burroughs’ and Brion Gysin’s version of “cut-up” technique [first developed by Dadaists in the 1920s], the source text being a left side of a page of a Natalie Wood biography, using first three words of about six lines in a paragraph. The clip above shows the original “seed” or inspiration of my poem.)


From Wikipedia:

In the 1950s, painter and writer Brion Gysin more fully developed the cut-up method after accidentally re-discovering it. He had placed layers of newspapers as a mat to protect a tabletop from being scratched while he cut papers with a razor blade. Upon cutting through the newspapers, Gysin noticed that the sliced layers offered interesting juxtapositions of text and image. He began deliberately cutting newspaper articles into sections, which he randomly rearranged. The book Minutes to Go resulted from his initial cut-up experiment: unedited and unchanged cut-ups which emerged as coherent and meaningful prose.


Try the Page Left technique yourself, with a favorite book or the Daily newspaper, and see what you come up with!

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | April 11, 2018

Pie-Eyed Piper (Poem)

{original poem by Mark Nielsen}


Pie-eyed Piper


[ purple prose is for scat-singers ]


I want to get Percy-pied,

pie-eyed, pepper-fried,

parading like the birthday girl

on her last day of school

before vacation.

I want to roar like Leo,

lionized in Rio,

singing One Note Samba,

crying out for Mama.

I want to swim the streets naked,

not have to fake it,

know how to take it,

and who wants It when I make It.

Me. Here. Now.


Inspired by the

Beat Consciousness, according to Master Ginsberg,

according to Master Ginsberg,

and the raw, confused, half-high love life

of Leo and Mardou

in Kerouac’s
half-high love life

of Leo and Mardou

in Kerouac’s The Subterraneans (1958).


” ’nuff said. . .”

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | March 29, 2018

Lines for an Old Man -by T.S. Eliot

Because I was feeling like a cranky bastard (one needing to confess and repent) when I went to pick up Ash Wednesday

Ya dig?

Lines for an Old Man -T.S. Eliot

The tiger in the tiger-pit
is not more irritable than I.
The whipping tail is not more still
than when I smell the enemy
writhing in the essential blood
or dangling from the friendly tree.
When I lay bare the tooth of wit
the hissing over the arched tongue
is more affectionate than hate,
more bitter than the love of youth,
and inaccessible by the young.
Reflected from my golden eye
the dullard knows that he is mad.
Tell me if I am not glad!

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | March 28, 2018

Larry Norman, Prophet or Pariah?

It’s “deja vu all over again”, as Yogi Berra once said… In this case, it’s a repeat of the Culture Wars begun by the Moral Majority in the U.S. in the 1980s. Except in our present era of “fake news”, is that an angel on your shoulder, or a devil in disguise?

I’m thinking about all this in the realm of pop and rock music this week, because if a new book about musician Larry Norman that critiques evangelical “party-line” cultural products, especially those which show no awareness of the repentance that Jesus (and Larry) called us to consider. Take that log out your eye, Mr. Pence! (Pence was once a Norman fan, as mentioned in this good radio story/interview) .

<iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

If an NPR national drive-time show is paying attention, maybe the church should be, too.

I’m not saying… But I’m just sayin’…

“Swing back, sweet pendulum. Comin’ for to carry me home…”

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