"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Birthday Today - Bud Powell

Bud Powell, born in 1924 (d. 1966), was probably the greatest bebop pianist, adapting the idioms and musical ideas of Charlie Parker to the piano in the late 1940s and early 1950s.   His tune, "Un Poco Loco," was included by critic Harold Bloom in his list of the greatest American works of art of the 20th Century; the complexity of the playing on the song by Powell is astonishing to anyone who has every played piano and tried to make music.

Powell was tormented by mental illness throughout his life, and died at age 42 of malnutrition, alcoholism and tuberculosis.   As I do these birthday tributes -- and the girls of the day -- it's astonishing and sad to me how many people died young of drink or drugs or suicide who might have been saved had their mental illnesses been identified.   But, then again, maybe they were, and maybe some people are just self-destructive.   There's a line in the great novella, A River Runs Through It, where the sane brother laments about his not-so-sane brother (the Brad Pitt character in the movie) that "why is it that the ones who need our help the most won't ask for it?"   A hard question about people who, like Powell, for whatever reason, make their lives harder than they need to be.  

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