The web page of the Albion Beatnik Bookstore in Oxford, now closed (as usual) for business: muses and misspills on books, jazz, poetry, stuff like false flags and smoke screen: was randomly decrepit and proven to be more than neo-bankrupt: it was so analogue it was anal and now deceased.
Published today is Peter J. King’s new poetry pamphlet, All What Larkin, published by the Albion Beatnik Press. Philip Larkin wrote jazz criticism for the Daily Telegraph for ten years from 1961, criticism marked by its nostalgic taste and anti-modernist rhetoric, also an earthy poetic timbre: “Fats Waller’s face… was the kind you can carve on an orange; squeeze it one way and it laughs, another and it weeps or looks puzzled.” In private when sat in his armchair and not on public display, Larkin’s taste was probably less retrospective and grumpy, but there is a softening of its edges as the decade progressed, a decade that witnessed the most violent of jazz fracture; it wasn’t easy at the time to sit amidst dissonance and dewy-eyed sentimentality. Eventually he came to admire the likes of Parker, Mingus, even Coltrane; by 1967 Larkin was a confident enough critic to take off water wings and plunge into the deep end, Ornette Coleman’s Chappaqua Suite was one of his records of the year. (He also accused some other critics of being “so square they could play snooker with dice.”)
In this poetry pamphlet, Peter has cut up Larkin’s prose and assembled a collage of poetry, a sequence of jazz portraits from Louis Armstrong to Ornette Coleman, each revealing aspects of their style, their frailty and hubris (with occasional collage illustration by Jude Cowan Montague). Earl Hines he describes as “baroque delight / a lovely fight / his trill with knobs / a facet spoils, but / listen tenderly.” Oh yes, Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines was the most complete of all jazz pianists, his genuine two-handed, ten-fingered improvisatory approach replete with carefree abandon and danger, jazz fisticuffs so often leading to mishap and fall, but always like a high wire artist he found his balance. As he did so often in life: Hines had survived gangster-heavy Chicago in his early career – he was Al Capone’s ‘Mr Piano Man’ at the Grand Terrace Ballroom for over a decade – and he had survived many harrowing big band tours in the southern states, run-ins with the police, and even survived a bomb exploding under the bandstand in Alabama (” …we didn’t none of us get hurt but we didn’t play so well after that either”). He was noted for firing a youthful Charlie Parker from his band for his “bad time-keeping,” meaning of course his inability to turn up on time for gigs, Parker’s musical timing already shown to be a gift from the Heavens (“the chaos of his life / transcends the limitations / of hand and brain”, observes Peter).