Musical Ambrosia Pt. 1

Ambrosia is the nectar of the gods in Greek mythology. For me it’s a little more mundane: a fruit salad with mandarin oranges, pineapple, grapes, pecans, cherries, with a dash of whipped cream. I have added a splash of Cointreau to this beautiful mélange.

I heard the word in a different and incongruous way the other day, when I read an article in the New Yorker by the late Oliver Sacks, writing about his mother’s gefilte fish that he loved so much as a child. Later he had a housekeeper from the South who equaled his mom’s recipe, and who called it “Filter Fish.”  Sacks used the word ‘ambrosia’ to describe the mixture of types of fish used to make the traditional Jewish dish.

So what the heck, if Oliver Sacks can use the word for gefilte fish, I can use it for some musical nectar made up of tried and true treasures that have been part of my life for a long time.

We begin this week’s show with a work that inspired John Coltrane’s classic song, “Impressions,” namely the lovely “Pavane” by Morton Gould. If you listen to the middle part of the song, you will hear the melody that Coltrane used. We jump into the Coltrane classic next, an usual studio version he recorded later than the original 1961 live version.

We turn to a rare LP on the Swedish Dragon label of a show recorded in Stockholm in March 1960. Coltrane turns in an overwhelming solo on the jazz standard, “On Green Dolphin Street,” written by Hungarian-born expat Bronislav Kaper for a Hollywood B-movie.

Mongo Santamaría follows with his song, “Afro-Blue,” in a live 1967 recording done at the Village Gate in New York City. Hubert Laws, then a student at Juilliard, was gigging at night with various Latin bands; check out his piccolo solo, especially when he circular-breathes, holding a note for about a minute. Amazing stuff.

Changing the mood, we next hear an early version of “Oblivion,” written by and performed by the great tango master, Ástor Piazzolla. It has become a favorite and much recorded piece.

Brazilian guitar virtuoso Baden Powell is next, with a rare and scintillating solo performance from the Frankfurt Opera House, 1975.   The song is a famous forró classic from Pernambuco great Luiz Gonzaga“Asa Branca” (White Wing).

The two next songs belong together, French chansonnierHenri Salvador with “Soleil de Minuit” (Midnight Sun) from 1962; followed by Quincy Jones’s adaptation of the song, with vocals by Sarah Vaughan. Salvador and Jones became close friends during the latter’s sojourn in France in 1960.

We wrap it all up with a song from the debut album by the late Terry Callier, and a nice cover of a Stevie Wonder classic, “Can’t Find My Way Home,” by Ellen McIlwaine from an obscure 1976 LP.

Hope you enjoy this musical nectar, this ambrosia. It is music of great beauty and fit for the gods, too.





Tom Schnabel