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Three poems by Carl Sandburg put to music

Posted: Fri Nov 12, 2021 2:44 pm
by Lúthien
In this topic I posted a song from the old Dutch tv series Pension Hommeles ("Guest house Discordance"), performed by American-born actor / dancer Donald Jones and composed by Cor Lemaire.

Last week I stumbled upon an episode of the TV show Reiziger in muziek ("Traveller in music") where they had invited the composer's son, Paul Lemaire, and Donald Jones to chat about Mr. Lemaire's musical heritage. Apparently, on the outset of WW2 he had been touring in Asia as part of a Dutch cabaret ensemble and they been interned in a Japanese pow camp. During those years, he befriended an American soldier who had given him a booklet with work of poet Carl Sandburg, which fascinated him so much that he put a number of them to music. 

Somewhere during the 1960's, he did invite Donald Jones to try and sing some of them, and they worked on them for some time. But for some reason, he never got around to publishing them. In the late 1990's Paul, his son, asked Donald Jones and a pianist to perform a few of those songs for this tv show. When I first hear them last week I was mesmerised: I hold Cor Lemaire's work in very high regard anyhow, but this is yet completely different from his other work. I think it is enchanting and, frankly, a work of genius.

The interview is in Dutch, so I added the YT video's below to start playing at the songs themselves, with Sandburg's poems below.
Piano: Bert van den Brink, vocals: Donald Jones (note he's around 68 yrs old at the time of that performance, and his voice is still quite ok)

Summer Stars

Bend low again, night of summer stars.
So near you are, sky of summer stars, 
So near, a long-arm man can pick off stars, 
Pick off what he wants in the sky bowl, 
So near you are, summer stars, 
So near, strumming, strumming, 
                So lazy and hum-strumming.

Snatch of Sliphorn Jazz

Are you happy? It’s the only
way to be, kid.
Yes, be happy, it’s a good nice
way to be.
But not happy-happy, kid, don’t
be too doubled-up doggone happy.
It’s the doubled-up doggone happy-
happy people . . . bust hard . . . they
do bust hard . . . when they bust.
Be happy, kid, go to it, but not too
doggone happy.

Jazz Fantasia

Drum on your drums, batter on your banjoes,
sob on the long cool winding saxophones.
Go to it, O jazzmen.

Sling your knuckles on the bottoms of the happy
tin pans, let your trombones ooze, and go husha-
with the slippery sand-paper.

Moan like an autumn wind high in the lonesome treetops,
moan soft like you wanted somebody terrible, cry like a
racing car slipping away from a motorcycle cop, bang-bang!
you jazzmen, bang altogether drums, traps, banjoes, horns,
tin cans — make two people fight on the top of a stairway
and scratch each other's eyes in a clinch tumbling down
the stairs.

Can the rough stuff . . . now a Mississippi steamboat pushes
up the night river with a hoo-hoo hoo-oo . . . and the green
lanterns calling to the high soft stars . . . a red moon rides
on the humps of the low river hills . . . go to it, O jazzmen.

(note how mr Jones, after the last song, sticks out his hand to the pianist forgetting for a second that he's blind, and then simply grabs his hand instead)

Re: Three poems by Carl Sandburg put to music

Posted: Fri Nov 12, 2021 6:02 pm
by Meneldur Olvarion
The Summer Stars one is great in the way it's worded. It's puts me in mind of this description of Lórien's gardens:

The Coming of the Valar, BoLT 1 wrote:They were full of labyrinths and mazes, for Palúrien had given Lórien great wealth of yew trees and cedars, and of pines that exuded drowsy odours in the dusk; and these hung over deep pools. Glowworms crept about their borders and Varda had set stars within their depths for the pleasure of Lórien, but his sprites sang wonderfully in these gardens and the scent of nightflowers and the songs of sleepy nightingales filled them with great loveliness. There too grew the poppies glowing redly in the dusk, and those the Gods called fumellar the flowers of sleep — and Lórien used them much in his enchantments. Amidmost of those pleasances was set within a ring of shadowy cypress towering high that deep vat Silindrin. There it lay in a bed of pearls, and its surface unbroken was shot with silver flickerings, and the shadows of the trees lay on it, and the Mountains of Valinor could see their faces mirrored there. Lórien gazing upon it saw many visions of mystery pass across its face, and that he suffered never to be stirred from its sleep save when Silmo came noiselessly with a silver um to draw a draught of its shimmering cools, and fared softly thence to water the roots of Silpion ere the tree of gold grew hot.

The mention of the 'Mississippi steamboat' reminds me of the time I rode on the Belle of Louisville when I was about 10. That was very interesting for me as I was always interested in steam power and things about 100 years before my time, which then would have been the 1870's

Re: Three poems by Carl Sandburg put to music

Posted: Thu Nov 18, 2021 10:30 pm
by Lúthien
Yeah, this is really evocative stuff. I'll try and read more of Sandburg's work.

Re. the steamboat - I've never seen one, though the Mississippi ones are so iconic they've turned into archetypes  :) . Steam trains I know, there's a museum line running behind my mother's house (running from Dieren to Apeldoorn during the summer). There are a few others in the Netherlands, and many more in Germany (I saw one a few years ago during our holiday that was called Rasender Roland. The British are even more fond of them, and they have many abandoned lines as well to run them on thanks to the elimination of about half of the network in the 1960's by the infamous Dr. Beeching (well, depending on how you feel about it - I understand British Rail was at the time losing so much money they really had to do something to save it at all).