Another solitary night, Lonely, but not lonesome–J taught me the difference years ago in a letter, one of the hundreds between us during those formative 10 years. Speaking of our letters, one of my life’s dreams is to someday make a beautiful book out of them. That would be a most detailed look at how we grew up together.

J’s in Atlanta with her cousin’s family for the Thanksgiving holiday. No, people, it’s not what it seems, again. I’m thus able to stay up as late as I need to finish this blog, though, so a momentary loneliness has its effect.


Back in the last decade of last century, I was busy collecting US/UK rock and pop songs, and I hadn’t started to appreciate jazz/swing music. And those were the days before the ubiquitous cheap pirate CD, so tape cassette was the only viable mass medium. And I never had much money to buy original tapes, even those “punched” ones.

cover I went to Tianjin University for a day, maybe in 1993 or 1994, with the Tsinghua student military band to play accompaniment for a trumpet or trombone–yeah I played a hell lot of accompaniment in Tsinghua and became quite sick of it. I found a tiny music store while roaming the campus, and saw a Sinatra at the Sands tape and bought it on a whim. I knew Sinatra was a big star, but I had never heard his songs nor of the Count Basie Orchestra–I was very ignorant about jazz. What attracted me was the cover: a fat black man at the piano and Sinatra in the strong the backlight seems like a stereotypical image of jazz, and I could never forget the image ever since.

Now I know that Sinatra was born in Hoboken and Basie in Red Bank, NJ, and in his monologue during the show Sinatra joked about a made-up name “The Secaucus Kacamamies” for his band at the beginning of his career, the album seems more intimate to me. But I never need the cover or the life stories to love the music: It’s quintessential Sinatra, Big Band, and swing–American art at its best. There’s never been anyone who can sing with such ease as Sinatra, yet his voice has a rare and deep sense of sincerity. Count Basie’s band is one of the last and greatest Big Bands. And Quincy Jones, arranger and conductor in the album, is of course one of the greatest black musician/producer ever. There’s no surprise that this album is reputedly Sinatra’s best selling one, but of course I didn’t know any of these when I bought it. I just liked the cover.


That’s not the first time that I got really lucky by judging music by its cover. Another time in Tsinghua, I went by the library and noticed a music sale in there, where I caught sight of the cover of an album called “Entre Dos Aguas”. paco.jpg I’d never really listened to flamenco music or heard of Paco de Lucía before, but I bought it for the cover and listened to it on the way to J’s university, and realized it’s a great investment. I gave it to J and one of her roommates, a Spanish major and music lover, saw it and told J that Lucía is the greatest flamenco guitarist ever, and I appeared really smart for getting it 🙂

miro.gif And that, my friend, isn’t the first time that I escaped my ignorance about Spanish culture in front of J’s Spanish-major roommates. At one time they served as translators at a Spanish trade show, and one girl brought back some nice posters to share with friends. I happened to be there (well I was there a LOT of times, at least once a week) and she asked me “Do you like Miró?” I had not the faintest idea who the hell Miró is, but to appear artsy and knowledgeable I said “sure, he’s pretty good”, and she seemed fooled (perhaps) and gave J a nice poster by Miró promoting tourism in Spain, which J put on her door at home for many years, and could may as well have seeded our great trip to Spain.

End of digression. The Paco de Lucía album is available at Amazon but the cover looks very dull to give me an excuse for not buying the CD. Instead I bought a nice MAudio USB audio interface, recorded the cassette, denoised and made tracks out of it. Sinatra at the Sands was an easy get from the library, and it’s one of the few CDs that still have its liner notes in the case. Now that the two of my best-buy cassette albums have both ended up in iTunes, ready to be played for a special occasion.

Or, to paraphrase Sideways,

The day you play music like Sinatra at the Sands and Entre Dos Aguas, that’s the special occasion.

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