Review of The Maid with The Flaxen Hair by Mary Halvorson, Tzadik, 2018
1. Moonlight in Vermont
2. The Maid with the Flaxen Hair
3. Scarlet Ribbons for Her Hair
4. In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning
6. The Nearness of You
7. Black is the Color of my True Love’s Hair
8. Old Folks
10 Walk Don’t Run
Johnny Smith. Why a record with Johnny Smith’s ballads is on this blog? What does it have to do with experimentation, with the contemporary, with the avant-garde? Why did I buy it? Why is the laser beam of my new CD player literally consuming it while I’m writing it these notes?
You can trust me, there are several reasons. I think it’s better I start from the beginning, about a year ago, when I was lucky to find for my record collection the first ever recorded edition of the Schoemberg’s Serenade. Amazing record, I admit it’s still hard to keep my satisfaction with this purchase: recorded in 1949 for the now defunct Esoteric, with the great Dimitri Mitropoulos as conductor. Sophisticated record, recorded on 33 rpm just a year after the introduction of this format by CBS.
I wrote about it on the blog some time ago ( https://neuguitars.com/2018/02/17/arnold-schonberg-dimitri-mitropoulos-%e2%80%8e-serenade-opus-24-esoteric-%e2%80%8ees-501-1949/ ) a solitary post where I reconstructed the history of this record and talked about the guitarist called to interpret the guitar parts written by the master of dodecaphonic music. That guitarist was not Segovia, he was not even a classical guitarist. He was a jazzman, American, born in Birminghan, Alabama, in 1922, named Johnny Smith. Looking for information I checked on that beautiful book that “The Jazz Guitar Its Evolution, Its Players and Personality Since 1900” by Maurice J. Summerfield is, third edition, 1993. Look for and buy it, it’s worth it. Always better than any Wikipedia. I found two pages, 280 and 281, dedicated to Johnny Smith:
“Johnny Smith, one of the foremost jazz guitarists of the 1950s and the 1960s, is also an accomplished performer on trumpet, violin and viola. A self taught player he cites Andres Segovia and Django Reinhardt as his major influences. Smith, whose father was a banjo player and guitarist, first developed an interest in the guitar at the age of five”
I decided to goo deeper inside this story. I discover that he is the author of a classic, battle-like piece from the instrumental rock band The Ventures. I’m a Ventures’s fan. An unmissable band for surf music’s lovers. The song is “Walk, Do not Run”. Pop masterpiece also played by the great Chet Atkins. What a beautiful music. How beautiful its plots, its coincidences, its quirks. I had left Johnny Smith alone, for some times. But they made him coming back to my listening and my thoughts. Mary Halvorson and Bill Frisell. And John Zorn’s Tzadik. “The Maid with The Flaxen Hair”. A tribute to Johnny Smith. Ten tracks. Nine ballads associated with Smith, plus his masterpiece”Walk, Don’t Run”, all for guitars duo. Now that I listen to it for the fifth time in a row I think maybe I was wrong. I should have bought it for Christmas. It’s a record full of balladsand guitars!. And then there is “Walk, Don’t Run”. Frisell and Halvorson play it almost like a bouree. A swinging and winking Renaissance dance like few others. And the contemporary? And the avangarde? But here we have ballads and a good story! “The Maid with The Flaxen Hair” is a beautiful record. It will make you happy. Everyone.