The BBC has a Sunday morning radio programme, ‘Desert Island Discs’ in which a guest is asked to imagine that he, or she, is about to be stranded, permanently, on a desert island and is invited to nominate eight records, a book (apart from The Bible and Shakespeare, which are supplied) and a luxury item (not something that will assist escape from the island) to take with them. The programme has been running for as long as I can remember (correction, it has been running for decades – I can barely remember last week!)
“Desert Island MP3s” is my daughter’s variation on the theme, except that she is a lot meaner than the BBC and allows only five records! She has invited her long-suffering parents and a few friends to join in. So for the sake of peace and quiet, here goes.
What a challenge! I have about 240 long-playing records, around 880 cassette tapes and about 50 CDs within a few feet of where I am sitting. I reckon that the music they contain is 60% jazz and the rest mainly classical with some older pop – and I am expected to pick FIVE records, that is (in the spirit of the BBC programme) five single tracks!
I am not a big fan of singers, whether solo or in a group. The only group that I considered for this massive shortlisting exercise was The Beatles but even they didn’t make it. Soloists that were on the list for a while included the wonderful Ella Fitzgerald – possibly singing “Mack the Knife” where she forgets the words and scat sings and makes it up as she goes instead. Then there is Shirley Bassey, singing “Something” by George Harrison, or maybe “I who have Nothing”, “And I Love You So” or “Where do I begin?” – that’s the trouble with Miss B, that voice has powered so many great hits. Then “Ol’ Blue Eyes” himself, Frank Sinatra “September Song”, “Fly Me to the Moon” – the latter in particular demonstrating the brilliant orchestral arrangements that marked so many of his hits.
There were a very few other singers who made an impression, none more so than The King himself but, sorry Elvis, you didn’t get into the last five.
Most of my favourite music is instrumental and I managed to choose number one on my list very quickly, despite years of devotion (and nostalgic attachment) to two violin concertos – the Brahms Violin Concerto in D and the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D, played by Isaac Stern, or David Oistrakh or Yehudi Menuhin. These are probably quite well known and therefore discounted by the “classics snobs”. They would probably “pooh, pooh” good old Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata for the same reason but I really couldn’t care less if the classic snobs regard my choices as a touch “common” – there was nothing common about messrs Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven, or Mozart either.
A large part of my music collection is devoted to dixieland, New Orleans, traditional, or whatever you want to call them, jazz bands. These include Chris Barber, Alex Welsh, Humphrey Lyttleton, to name but a few, also the Dutch Swing College Band, my particular favourite on this side of the Atlantic. So their style of jazz had to be represented in my final selection and I think I have been incredibly restrained to have limited it to just one tune. For this I decided to cross the pond and pick one of the many all-time great bands from just a bit nearer to the source.
In between writing bits of this post I have been playing tracks and trying to fill in the final five. There is one to go. This is difficult. I haven’t even looked at Ray Charles, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Errol Garner or even Duke Ellington. What about Jack Teagarden, Joe Loss, Glenn Miller and some of the beautiful music made by the Dave Brubeck Quartet?
I am not selecting entirely on the basis of nostalgia. If I was, it would be much easier. Both of those violin concertos would be in, and my jazz choices would be different. To me, music is a “mood adjuster” which can be relaxing or invigorating, depending on what is required. However, dependence on music when on the desert island might have to decline somewhat with only five tracks in the collection, so they had better be varied, and also genuine favourites, if they are not to be neglected rather quickly through sheer boredom.
So what is the final selection? Well, in the best traditions, here they are in reverse order:
5 Katie Melua – “Learnin’ the Blues”. My daughter will accuse me of including her only because she is a very pretty girl. I couldn’t possibly comment! In the present context, however, Katie Melua composes very melodic songs and has a highly individual arranging style. She also has a lovely voice, behaves like a good professional musician rather than some would-be drama queen and, when she sings, you can hear every word. As Jennie has included a more typical Katie M song in her selection, I have nominated a tune that was recorded by Mr Sinatra around 20 years before Katie was born. And I reckon she made a better job of it!
4 Hymn to Freedom, composed and played by Oscar Peterson, and allegedly dedicated to Martin Luther King Snr. This is from Oscar’s “Night Train” LP recorded in 1962. There is a video version on the web which is best ignored. It was made much more recently and, in my opinion, utterly mangled by the backing group.
3 Fidgety Feet, by Eddie Condon’s Band recorded in 1955. This recording has that loose, relaxed, but essentially together feel that so many British and European bands did not quite emulate for one reason or another (though I happen to think that Humphrey Lyttleton’s band came close) and I suspect that all of those bands named above would applaud this choice, including as it does Wild Bill Davison (cornet), Cutty Catshall (trombone), Edmond Hall (probably my favourite jazz clarinettist), Gene Schroeder (piano), Eddie Condon (guitar), Walter Page (bass) and George Wettling (drums).
2 Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D (op. 35) played by Isaac Stern with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted byEugene Ormandy. The first movement.
1 Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto – the second movement. See and hear it played here by Sharon Kam with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Manfred Honeck.
Now for the book and the luxury item. I rarely enjoy fiction so the book would be more or less surplus to requirements if I happened to choose (like my daughter, Jennie) a laptop computer as my luxury item. On the other hand, if I avoid anything which might improve my prospects of survival or escape, and choose for recreational purposes only, my book might be something like The Oxford Companion to Art, into which I could dip frequently without ever feeling that I had read it all. My luxury item would be my clarinet, fully serviced and with an indefinite supply of reeds so that I would have the challenge of learning to play it properly – perhaps one day playing along with the records.
All I am supposed to do now is nominate others to choose their five records, one book and one luxury item but I am not going to do that. Instead, I am going to ask for volunteers among my visitors to join in the fun and then comment here to let me know when you have done so.