Cloister Commentary, Day 132: Purply Passionate Pomp, for Hours

What it’s often like to live in the same space with me.

So, I was about to finish Maurice Waller’s lively biography of his father, the contagiously ebullient pianist, singer, songwriter, performer and human, Thomas “Fats” Waller, and had been stunned by the number of classic sessions on which he’d backed up other masters, particularly blues empress Albert Hunter. Hunter’s marvelous late recordings, made in her eighties after she retired from music and worked for years as a nurse, are hallowed in our house, but I realized I’d not heard (or not heard much of) her early material, specifically the stuff with Fats. Normally, I would blindly just buy such recordings, but I demonstrated unusual good sense and chose to stream them (honestly, I just couldn’t wait for a parcel to arrive).

So, as Nicole was trying to wake up and make peanut butter cookies, I ran Hunter’s Twenties records from my phone through our house stereo, at medium-loud volume–sometimes, you have to crank up early twentieth century music, and, like I sugggested, Hunter is vaunted enough in our abode, I didn’t feel the need to…touch base. However, and I’m bound to get some blowback on this assessment, Alberta’s youthful singing style was, shall we say, robust, full-throated, maybe occasionally a bit…purply passionate with just a thread of quasi-operatic pomp running through it, while in her eighties, singing mostly with her mind (and, with surprising frequency, from below the waist), she came off like a sly, wise, randy, and totally irresistible great-granny.

BUT: I was listening through the difference, to the players, keeping my ears pricked for Waller’s piano and pipe-organ (he considered the latter his first instrument) and the contributions of other masters (like Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet) who also backed her. I can concentrate right past even the most conspicuous noise. And I kept listening for a few hours–through Hunter’s complete Twenties output–while Nicole tried to get caught up with the news, struggled to take a quiet, meditative shower (the stereo volume was such that it infiltrated the rain room’s sanctity), and with eyebrows furrowed, gamely put herself together for the day.

Suddenly, she emerged in the hallway.

Nicole: “Who is this?”

Me, wary: “Uhhhhh, Alberta Hunter?”

Nicole, gently, but succinctly and firmly: “A little of this goes a long way.”

Me, snapping back to the world of other humans: “Yes. Indeed. It’s Buddy Guy’s birthday?”

Nicole: “That will suffice.”

Streaming for Strivers:

She wasn’t kidding.

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