Tag Archives: Procrastination

Seizing the day – the Hawk meets the Duke

albumAt 2pm on August 18, 1962 – a hot, summer Saturday – a 57-year-old man, wearing a dark suit, a pork pie hat and carrying an instrument case, walked into a small building on Sylvan Avenue in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

He was early for an appointment but discovered that the man that he was meeting, an acquaintance of decades past, was already waiting.

And so Coleman Hawkins and Duke Ellington found themselves in a studio at last – a date which had been 20 years in the making. Ellington, for the record, had arrived early.

Over the following next six hours tenor saxophonist Hawkins would accompany Ellington and a small band of Duke’s regulars – Johnny Hodges, Ray Nance, Lawrence Brown, Harry Carney, Aaron Bell and Sam Woodyard – on half a dozen or so songs. This would form the album Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins.

The music was all Ellington, sweet and sharp and singing, but with a strain of melancholy throughout (their take on ‘Mood Indigo‘ is almost mournful).

Listening to it half a century later one hears two important figures in American music, if not at the height of their powers then in full, easy command of them. The recording they left on tape that afternoon still sounds and swings as fresh as it did on that August day.

We’re lucky it exists at all. The meeting of Duke Ellington and Coleman Hawkins almost didn’t happen – and the background to it shows that even the greats are subject to the perils of procrastination.

In an interview published in the album’s liner notes Hawkins told how the album was two decades years in the making.

Coleman Hawkins and Duke Ellington

Coleman Hawkins and Duke Ellington

“Duke came to me twenty years ago…and said: ‘You know, I want you to make a record with me, and I’m going to write a number specially for you.

“‘Fine,’ I said, ‘I’m for it!’

“But we never did make it, although we sometimes spoke of it when we ran into one another.”

Twenty years after Duke’s offer Hawkins was still speaking of the long-fingered plan. After he referred to it in a magazine interview an outside force, legendary producer Bob Thiele, intervened.

By petition, cajolement or the promise of a payday he convinced Duke and Hawkins to make the trip across the Hudson River to New Jersey for an afternoon’s work.

Though their careers ran in parallel for four decades Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins was their only meeting – a lesson that if something’s worth doing it’s worth doing, even if it takes 20 years to do it.

Stanley Dance‘s liner notes recall the pair’s farewell that evening.

“”After four hundred years, we made it!” Coleman said.

“You don’t think it was too soon?” Duke asked.

“Maybe we should have waited, but…”

“We’re leaving town for a week or so. I’ll call you when we get back. Maybe we can think of something else to do!””


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This happens to the best and to the worst

FullSizeRender (6)You sit and stare into space.

You change tack – by sitting and staring at a blank screen.

You’ll do it tomorrow, and tomorrow – you said yesterday, and the day before.

You take a morning trip to the city centre, walk around, drink coffee, get rained on, hope that something will strike.

You return home.

You reckon you could squeeze out something on Bob Dylan and Frank Sinatra, or your sign-up to Spotify, or running in December. Or that plate of sprats you ate in London, unlike any other you’d had.

You don’t – the blank screen’s in the way.

You make lunch and eat it. You pack a bag for a trip to see your father. You dig out a Sonny Rollins CD you bought a month ago but haven’t listened to. You google details about the CD.

You text your wife, telling her you’re set to start. You check Facebook, again.

You want to finish a book of short stories but you’ve promised yourself that you’ll do this first.

You assure yourself that this happens to the best and to the worst of them.

In desperation you copy a trait from a novel you’re just finished, writing in the second person narrative.

You start.

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Time to raise the unread

Feels like one...

Feels like one…

I WILL read 756 books before I die.

That’s presuming that I’ll be reading right up to the fatal moment, at the same rate as I read now, that I don’t re-read anything and that I make 78 – the life expectancy of the Irish male.

It also presumes that I avoid the Russians, or Ulysses, or anything not in English. And that I don’t develop pernicious habits, like gardening or golf.

756 books. It sounds like a lot. But it’s not, of course. Every time I enter a bookstore I spot another dozen books I stick on the mental must-read list.

Add those to the many already on my ‘I’II have to get round to that one’ list, or titles recommended, or ones found browsing online, or classics.

Suddenly 756 doesn’t sound like too many. John Updike’s novels and short stories account for 39 books alone.

You’d therefore be inclined to think that I’ve refined book purchasing to a precise art, buying only what I really, really want to read.

Of course not. Our home is littered with purchases which seemed like a good idea at the time. Some of them are buried away, sources of shame, dead wood (in every respect).

Others have been placed on top of piles, as my better nature tries to remind my actual nature that they deserve a shot. Will they ever get it? Unlikely.

And this is before we get to the boxes in storage elsewhere, containing selections so dubious, or turgid, that they were never read. And never will be.

Dostoevsky’s The Idiot? Not a hope. Not even if I found myself transported to 1860s St Petersburg with nothing else to read.

Cogito Eco sum: I proscrastinate therefore I am.

Cogito Eco sum: I procrastinate therefore I am.

Eco’s The Island Of The Day Before? I made it to page 151 a few years ago. Pathetically, I can’t bring myself to remove the bookmark. On the plus side the cover looks good.

Steinbeck’s East Of Eden? I’ve even visited its setting – the Salinas Valley – in the years since I bought this one, but I’ve haven’t started into it.

Turns out I’m not alone when it comes to such procrastination.

Half of the books on the shelves in every homes are unread, according to a survey released to mark World Book Day last week.

These titles were no doubt bought with the best of intentions – like my own were.

It’s one thing lamenting the situation but what should I do about it?

As my wife – reading this –  is now about to ask: will I ever get rid of these unread books?

And here’s where the second part of the survey comes into play: two thirds of people hoard books because they’re emotionally attached to them, it seems.

Which explains my battered Penguin copy of The Odyssey, a title I’ve hopefully hauled from bookcase to bookcase since I bought it more than 20 years ago.

Like the others above its spine remains uncracked.

Not to worry. I have 756 chances to raise the unread, beginning today.

Page one of The Idiot sounds like a good place to start.

The Great Unread - a selection.

The Great Unread – a small selection.

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