Soft, Slinky And Strangely Inspiring.

The writing lair doesn’t share space with a love nest, and I don’t routinely play seduction music around the house. But, I’ve discovered that some jazz compilation albums make for the best at-work listening. Writing work, that is, not day job work. When I sit down at the keyboard, I’m trying to resituate myself in Chicago’s ethnic blue-collar bungalow belt circa 1959, dodging big-finned cars to cross the street enroute to a dimly lit neighborhood cocktail lounge, where a neon martini glass sign flickers to life over a shadowy doorway. 

Downloads might be easier than pawing through used bookstores’ audio bins, particularly since some of these “jazz for lovers” compilation albums favor saucy cover art that’s certain to elicit smirks from cashiers. But it’s a dedicated vinyl and disk zone ‘round here. I’m no expert on postwar era lounge singers or pre-Beatlemania jazz combos, but the albums teleport me to my make-believe “there-and-then”, and suddenly I can hear coins dropping into jukeboxes, Zippo lighters clinking open, taffeta cocktail dresses swishing against nyloned legs and leather soled shoes shuffling across a postage stamp sized tiled dance floor. Hell, order me a Rob Roy, fire up a Viceroy, and I’m ready light up my keyboard. (Technically, it’d be a cup of coffee. I’ve never actually tasted a Rob Roy.)

I’ve only bought a couple of these goofy albums so far, but I’m still on the prowl for more. I imagine there’s a lot of duplication among the tunes, but that’s okay. I’m not paying attention. It’s only mood music. Not for soft light seduction routines, a night of romance or even some…uhm…”private time”, which I suppose is what the albums were intended for. Actually, with the volume dialed down a bit, the music is more like vintage white noise. But it works for me, sets the mood, gets the words flowing, and I can’t argue with that. 

Photo: The Pianist, by Dima Veselov

A Broken Heart To Go…

Martinis And A Broken Heart To Go

Mid-January: Snowflakes started falling mid-afternoon Friday, and by Saturday morning (not especially cold) a thick coating of snow turned streets and sidewalks treacherous. But by mid-afternoon today, the temps plummeted into the 20’s, headed for the frigid teens by tonight, with gusty winds whipping people right down icy driveways.

The writing lounge sounds like the place to be tonight, maybe tomorrow as well. Maybe there’s no reason to poke my nose out the door till I head back to work on Monday. The keyboard beckons, and there’s work to be done. There’s a freshly refilled thermal carafe of coffee on my desk, the ashtray’s in reach, and though they’re only CD’s (vinyl would be better) the Jazz Noir compilation and 1997’s Martinis And A Broken Heart To Go (complete with Richie Fahey case art) ought to do the trick to keep things warm while I pound the keys.

There are worse ways to spend a weekend…

Jazz Noir

Cool Yule.

Diana Krall Xmas 1

If I want some smooth Yule-time tunes — the sort of background music that goes well with an easy chair, beverage of choice and a good book on a cold winter night…or perhaps some keyboard time over a manuscript when the icy winds are audibly howling outside the writing cave’s windows — then Norah Jones, Aimee Mann, She & Him and Sarah McLachlan all have terrific Christmas albums that are suitably seasonal but can be unobtrusive when dialed down low. My fave of that bunch of contemporary softies, though, is Diana Krall’s Christmas Songs from 2005.

Cocktails 1 and 2

On the other hand, if you’re not cozying up beneath a blanket or working your brain in front of a computer screen, but instead, decking the halls for a seasonal soiree, then I recommend the Christmas Cocktails series. I’ve got them all, though I still favor the first album, which was also the first one I happened to buy. Sure, there are a few silly novelty style numbers on those disks, but overall, they make for ideal Christmas party background music.

Cocktails 3 and 4

There are no wild bacchanals on my agenda at the moment, only some restful writing desk time. And the wind is literally howling right outside my windows. So, Diana Krall it is…

Diana Krall Xmas 2

Listening To: Take It Off

Take it Off

No one’s practicing strip tease moves here or planning on a career in burlesque. But compilation CD’s often make for the best background music when you’re writing period noir (which I am…y’know: ‘The Stiletto Gumshoe’) and Take It Off – 50 Essential Striptease Classics is ideal listening for that kind of work. Sure, there are a few cliched stripper tunes, but there’s also film and retro TV theme songs and soundtrack music from Peter Gunn, 77 Sunset Strip and Dragnet as well as some utterly perfect smoky jazz that can easily make you imagine yourself perched at the bar in a 1950’s cocktail lounge or roadhouse, or engaging in something naughty or nefarious (or both) in a run down hot sheet hotel or roadside motor court…just close your eyes for a moment and listen. Billy Vaughn, Buddy Johnson, Nelson Riddle, Henry Mancini, Elmer Bernstein’s Studio Orchestra…man, this one’s perfect.

Listening To: Love For Sale (1959)

Love For Sale LP

Technically, not listening to, but still waiting for: Pioneer jazz pianist Cecil Taylor (1929 – 2018) and his fifth album, Love For Sale from 1959, the year I’m fixated on with my own writing work. Vinyl’s been ordered, and back-ordered since forever. Suitable background music’s a must when I’m pounding the keyboard. The Mac keyboard that is. I’m not tinkling any ivories here. Love that album cover, though. The photo could be a scene right out of ‘The Stiletto Gumshoe’.


Listening To: Ute Lemper

The Very Best Of Ute Lemper

The icy winds roared all day and night on Sunday, ‘gale force’ according to the TV news, and enough to rattle the windows, no exaggeration. But comfy behind the keyboard once back home (had to work Sunday AM, several stops on the way back), I felt like I was ensconced in some dark little Weimar era Berlin café.  The soundtrack for Sunday’s writing desk sessions: Ute Lemper on CD and vinyl, the German chanteuse and stage star’s eclectic mix of pop, cabaret, jazz and show tunes all suitably moody, some not even in English so I wouldn’t get too distracted.

Crimes Of The Heart - Ute LemperBerlin Cabaret Sngs - Ute Lemper


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