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Want to change the world? Die young

I’ve developed an expensive habit of browsing album tracks on YouTube late at night. I get excited about them, and if I can find the album listed I will fire off an order to Amazon. It’s a conspiracy. Because the albums are rare, they can cost £30 to £50 each, even on basically cheap, reproducible CDs where they sound like nothing much. (My son thinks I’m an idiot, I can download the tracks on RealPlayer. Not the same!)

That’s how this week I came to own a copy of Sunday at the Village Vanguard (sorry, I know, it’s jazz) by the famous Bill Evans trio of 1961, featuring the bassist Scott LaFaro. Only 25, he and Evans, a pianistic guru who sort-of invented a new style of playing, or at least popularising, jazz, had an instant rapport. Their ensemble playing is of the highest order, LaFaro’s soloing is confident, virtuosic, stylistically groundbreaking, and the album is rated one of the 100 best of all time.

Ten days after the recording, LaFaro died in a car crash. This live session, which resulted in two albums being released, two other albums and some random demo tapes, are his legacy. Interviewed years later, interestingly, Evans, who himself was to die relatively young at 50 (from years of heroin/cocaine addiction) opined that La Faro had already peaked, and probably wouldn’t have gotten much further musically. Immediately, one thinks of another influential, innovative bass-playing genius, Jaco Pastorius, who suffered from bipolar disorder and died after starting a fight in a bar, at 28 (Wikipedia).

Jazz afficionados will be able to reel off the names of musicians who died young, the most tragic of them all being Charlie Parker (34), who became irreversibly addicted to heroin at 17 while spending six months in hospital after a car crash, being administered morphine. Classicists may feel free to counter with Mozart (34, cause debatable) and Schubert (33, syphilis); literati citing Shelley, Keats, Rupert Brooke… Jane Austen, Christina Rosetti…. (NB women added by request of Ms Brown, below. Complete list available…)

All of them in their way in the short time allowed to them had a lasting effect on our cultural history. Tragically, God seems to have ordered things so only talentless old buggers like me can go droning on into our sixties, and hopefully our nineties.

But then, I have yet to peak….

PS added later

Listening intensively to Elis & Tom, a 1974 recording by Elis Regina and Antonio Carlos Jobim, I am reminded that Regina, formerly Brazil’s top singing star, died from a cocktail of drugs and alcohol, aged 36. (Cocaine and benzodiazepam, if you’re interested). This prompts me to raise the question: can these events be predicted with hindsight, as it were? Several times on the recording she breaks down in tears, or sighs deeply as if bearing some intolerable emotional burden. It is a wonderfully human gesture, to leave those moments for posterity, most producers would edit them out, but was it not also perhaps a cry for help? 


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