Tag Archives: Duke Ellington

The deathlist

It is hard keeping track of who has died when you’re living in exile. There are two categories of people I’d know about if I hadn’t left the country of my birth; famous people [but not so famous that their deaths are reported internationally] and local people [to me] that any remaining friends I have would know that I’d want to hear about.

The Retired Children’s Librarian has done a sterling job over the years by keeping a deathlist. In between our phone calls, she writes down who has died, and when we have spoken, she rattles off the dead ones. Some I will know about, because they made it into a British newspaper. Others I won’t, and I’m grateful to be told. She also has a fairly good grip on who I’m most likely to be interested in.

Dead local ordinary people is the hardest. Mother-of-witch would tell me the names of those she knew, but of course, there are always names that wouldn’t have meant anything to her. And it is quite hard to find out if someone is still alive, once you’ve tried the phone directory [which tends no longer to be very effective].

My reason for talking about deathlists here is that today I read a Swedish magazine article about someone famous and long dead. There had been a television programme about her, in which ‘the late’ Alice Babs had taken part. That was the first inkling I had that Alice Babs is dead. Not surprising, though. She died two years ago at the age of 90, which is pretty good going. And when I searched, I found that she made it into the New York Times, but that was probably mainly the Duke Ellington effect.

I have blogged about Alice once before. I still maintain that her Swe-Danes album is one of the best ones I own.

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Best CD

Swe-Danes

It wasn’t my first, but may well have been my second. No, third, I believe. Now that I’m looking at mountains of CDs, and have abandoned most of them for my iPod, it feels strange to hark back to the early days of CD buying. When you already own masses of LPs and cassettes, it’s hard to know where to begin in a new format.

I came across this on holiday, and felt sufficiently grown-up to buy something with Alice Babs. She’s a Swedish National Treasure, roughly the same age as Mother-of-witch, so has always been around. She’s been around more than some, seeing as she started at the age of fourteen or thereabouts, in the 1930s. She was discovered by Duke Ellington, which doesn’t exactly happen to every teenager.

The CD is called Swe-Danes at Berns, and after looking them up I see that they are described as a jazz trio. Alice Babs teamed up with Danes Svend Asmussen and Ulrik Neumann in the 1950s, so they too have been around pretty much always, as far as I’m concerned. They played the kind of boring music adults might listen to. I knew them well, but more like old relatives you had to put up with. What’s jazz when you can have pop and cute bands?

Anyway, the older witch felt that some Swe-Danes might be nice. It was, and I often suspect it may be the best CD I own. It’s a live recording from a Stockholm restaurant in 1961, and my only other connection with Berns, as it’s called, is that I discovered one of their linen table cloths in the linen cupboard after Mother-of-witch died. I hope she didn’t steal it.

You can listen to the CD and just enjoy the music, which I’m sure is anything but ‘just jazz’. But if you understand a few languages, you can also sit back and enjoy their play with words in quite a few. Both Svend and Ulrik speak in ‘Swedish’, but in a rather Danish way. They joke and play in more ways than one, while seemingly effortlessly producing the highest standard of singing and violin and guitar playing.

Every time I listen to the album I hear something new, and I still marvel and laugh at all they do. Some of the 17 tracks initially look a little boring in the track list, but there isn’t a single one I could do without. Because the recording is live and includes their banter, you need to listen to the whole thing. It’s less well suited to shuffle, unless it’s Scandinavian Shuffle.

It may have started as an impulse, but that was a seriously good impulse purchase. If  I could I’d give a copy to everyone I know. I can’t, so I won’t. (It’s the thought that counts.)