The Greatest Hits of Alan Watts: Stream a Carefully-Curated Collection of Alan Watts Wisdom

“My name, ‘Alan,’ means ‘har­mo­ny’ in Celtic and ‘hound’ in Anglo-Sax­on. Accord­ing­ly, my exis­tence is, and has been, a para­dox, or bet­ter, a coin­ci­dence of oppo­sites.”

Zen Bud­dhism is full of para­dox­es: prac­ti­cal, yet mys­ti­cal; seri­ous­ly for­mal, yet shot through with jokes and plays on words; stress­ing intri­cate cer­e­mo­ni­al rules and com­mu­nal prac­tices, yet just as often brought to life by “wild fox” mas­ters who flout all con­ven­tion. Such a Zen mas­ter was Alan Watts, the teacher, writer, philoso­pher, priest, and cal­lig­ra­ph­er who embraced con­tra­dic­tion and para­dox in all its forms.

Watts was a nat­ur­al con­trar­i­an, becom­ing a Bud­dhist at 15 — at least part­ly in oppo­si­tion to the fun­da­men­tal­ist Protes­tantism of his moth­er — then, in the 1940s, ordain­ing as an Epis­co­pal priest. Though he left the priest­hood in 1950, he would con­tin­ue to write and teach on both Bud­dhism and Chris­tian­i­ty, seek­ing to rec­on­cile the tra­di­tions and suc­ceed­ing in ways that offend­ed lead­ers of nei­ther reli­gion. His book of the­ol­o­gy, Behold the Spir­it, “was wide­ly hailed in Chris­t­ian cir­cles,” David Guy writes at Tri­cy­cle mag­a­zine. “One Epis­co­pal review­er said it would ‘prove to be one of the half dozen most sig­nif­i­cant books on reli­gion in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry.’ ”

As a Bud­dhist, Watts has come in for crit­i­cism for his use of psy­che­delics, addic­tion to alco­hol, and unortho­dox prac­tices. Yet his wis­dom received the stamp of approval from Shun­ryu Suzu­ki, the Japan­ese Zen teacher often cred­it­ed with bring­ing for­mal Japan­ese Zen prac­tice to Amer­i­can stu­dents. Suzu­ki called Watts “a great bod­hisatt­va” and died with a staff Watts had giv­en him in hand. Watts did­n’t stay long in any insti­tu­tion because he “just did­n’t want his prac­tice to be about jump­ing through oth­er peo­ple’s hoops or being put in their box­es,” writes a friend, David Chad­wick, in a recent trib­ute. Nonethe­less, he remained a pow­er­ful cat­a­lyst for oth­ers who dis­cov­ered spir­i­tu­al prac­tices that spoke to them more authen­ti­cal­ly than any­thing they’d known.

Watts, a self-described trick­ster, “saw the true empti­ness of all things,” said Suzuk­i’s Amer­i­can suc­ces­sor Richard Bak­er in a eulo­gy — “the mul­ti­plic­i­ties and absur­di­ties to the Great Uni­ver­sal Per­son­al­i­ty and Play.” It was his con­trar­i­an streak that made him the ide­al inter­preter of eso­teric Indi­an, Chi­nese, and Japan­ese reli­gious ideas for young Amer­i­cans in the 1950s and 60s who were ques­tion­ing the dog­mas of their par­ents but lacked the lan­guage with which to do so. Watts was a seri­ous schol­ar, though he nev­er fin­ished a uni­ver­si­ty degree, and he built bridges between East and West with wit, eru­di­tion, irrev­er­ence, and awe.

Many of Watts’ first devo­tees got their intro­duc­tion to him through his vol­un­teer radio broad­casts on Berke­ley’s KPFA. You can hear sev­er­al of those talks at KPFA’s site, which cur­rent­ly hosts a “Great­est Hits Col­lec­tion” of Watts’ talks. In addi­tion to his 1957 book The Way of Zen, these won­der­ful­ly mean­der­ing lec­tures helped intro­duce the emerg­ing coun­ter­cul­ture to Bud­dhism, Tao­ism, Hin­duism, for­got­ten mys­ti­cal aspects of Chris­tian­i­ty, and the Jun­gian ideas that often tied them all togeth­er.

No mat­ter the tra­di­tion Watts found him­self dis­cussing on his broad­casts, lis­ten­ers found him turn­ing back to para­dox. Hear him do so in talks on the “Fun­da­men­tals of Bud­dhism” (top), and oth­er talks like the “Spir­i­tu­al Odyssey of Aldous Hux­ley,” the “Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion of Oppo­sites” and a talk enti­tled “Way Beyond the West,” also the name of his lec­ture series, more of which you can find at KPFA’s “Great­est Hits” col­lec­tion here.

via Metafil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Alan Watts Presents a 15-Minute Guid­ed Med­i­ta­tion: A Time-Test­ed Way to Stop Think­ing About Think­ing

Alan Watts Dis­pens­es Wit & Wis­dom on the Mean­ing of Life in Three Ani­mat­ed Videos

Alan Watts Reads “One of the Great­est Things Carl Jung Ever Wrote”

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Italian Advice on How to Live the Good Life: Cigarettes, Tomatoes, and Other Picturesque Small Pleasures

“I guess everybody’s got a dream and we’re all hop­ing to see it come true,” mus­es Gio­van­ni Mim­mo Man­cu­sou, a philo­soph­i­cal native of Cal­abria, the love­ly, sun-drenched region form­ing the toe of Italy’s boot, above. “A dream com­ing true is bet­ter than just a dream.”

Film­mak­ers Jan Vrhovnik and Ana Kerin were scout­ing for sub­jects to embody “the very essence of nos­tal­gia” when they chanced upon Man­cu­sou in a cor­ner shop.

A lucky encounter! Not every non-actor — or for that mat­ter, actor — is as com­fort­able on film as the laid­back Man­cu­sou.

(Vrhovnik has said that he invari­ably serves as his own cam­era oper­a­tor when work­ing with non-actors, because of the poten­tial for inti­ma­cy and intu­itive approach that such prox­im­i­ty affords.)

Man­cu­sou, an advo­cate for sim­ple plea­sures, also appears to be quite fit, which makes us won­der why the film’s descrip­tion on NOWNESS dou­bles down on adjec­tives like “aging”, “old­er” and most con­fus­ing­ly, “wis­ened.”

Mer­ri­am-Web­ster defines “wiz­ened” with a z as “dry, shrunk­en, and wrin­kled often as a result of aging or of fail­ing vital­i­ty” … and “wis­ened” not at all.

Per­haps NOWNESS meant wise?

We find our­selves crav­ing a lot more con­text.

Man­cu­sou has clear­ly cul­ti­vat­ed an abil­i­ty to savor the hell out of a ripe toma­to, his pic­turesque sur­round­ings, and his cig­gies.

“Seren­i­ty, joy, ecsta­sy” is embroi­dered across the back of his ball cap.

His man­ner of express­ing him­self does lend itself to a “poet­ic thought piece”, as the film­mak­ers note, but might that not be a symp­tom of strug­gling to com­mu­ni­cate abstract thoughts in a for­eign tongue?

We real­ly would love to know more about this charm­ing guy… his fam­i­ly sit­u­a­tion, what he does to make ends meet, his actu­al age.

Home movies accom­pa­ny his nos­tal­gic rever­ie, but did he pro­vide this footage to his new friends?

Did they hunt it down on ebay? It def­i­nite­ly fits the vibe, but is the man with the eye­brows Man­cu­sou at an ear­li­er age?

Our star pulls up to a small petrol sta­tion, declares, “All right, here we go,” and the next frame shows him wear­ing a head­lamp and mag­ni­fi­er as he peers into the work­ings of a pock­et watch:

Time out of mechan­i­cal. It’s mag­ic.

Is this a hob­by? A pro­fes­sion? Does he repair watch­es in a dark­ened gas sta­tion?

The film­mak­ers aren’t say­ing and the blurred back­ground offers no clues either. Curse you, depth of field!

We’re not even giv­en his home coor­di­nates.

The film, part of the NOWNESS series Por­trait of a Place, is titled Par­adiso, and there is indeed a vil­lage so named adja­cent to the town of Belvedere Marit­ti­mo, but accord­ing to cen­sus data we found on line, it has only 14 res­i­dents, 7 male.

If that’s where Man­cu­sou lives, he’s either 45–49, 65–69, 70–74, or one of two fel­lows over age 74…and now we’re real­ly curi­ous about his neigh­bors, too.

No shade to Sign­or Man­cu­so, but we’re glad to know we’re not the only view­ers left unsat­is­fied by this por­trait’s lack of depth.

One com­menter who chafed at the lack of speci­fici­ty (“this video is a ran­dom por­trait of basi­cal­ly any­one in the world that is hap­py with the lit­tle he has”) sug­gest­ed the omis­sions con­tribute to an Ital­ian stereo­type famil­iar from pas­ta sauce com­mer­cials:

Peo­ple in Italy actu­al­ly work and have ambi­tions you know? And often are very well-edu­cat­ed and hard-work­ing. The per­spec­tive of Italy that you have comes from the Amer­i­can media and Ital­ian post-war neo­re­al­ism. Indeed, Oscar-win­ning Ital­ian peo­ple com­plained about the fact that what the media wants is see­ing Ital­ians wear­ing tank tops doing noth­ing if not mafia or smelling the ros­es.

Watch more entries in the NOWNESS Por­trait of a Place series here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

What Are the Keys to Hap­pi­ness? Lessons from a 75-Year-Long Har­vard Study

A Guide to Hap­pi­ness: Alain de Botton’s Doc­u­men­tary Shows How Niet­zsche, Socrates & 4 Oth­er Philoso­phers Can Change Your Life

Pos­i­tive Psy­chol­o­gy: A Free Online Course from Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty

The Sci­ence of Well-Being: Take a Free Online Ver­sion of Yale University’s Most Pop­u­lar Course

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.


Haruki Murakami Jazz Mixes: Hear Playlists of Jazz Pieces Namechecked in Norwegian Wood and 1Q84

Haru­ki Muraka­mi has long since bro­ken with the tra­di­tion­al mod­el of the nov­el­ist, not least in that his books have their own sound­tracks. You can’t go out and buy the accom­pa­ny­ing album for a Muraka­mi nov­el as you would for a movie, grant­ed, but today you can even more eas­i­ly find online playlists of the music men­tioned in them. A die-hard music lover, Muraka­mi, has been name-check­ing not just musi­cians but spe­cif­ic songs in his work ever since his first nov­el, 1979’s Hear the Wind Sing. Eigh­teen years lat­er, he titled a whole book after a Bea­t­les num­ber; the tale of yearn­ing and dis­af­fec­tion in 1960s Tokyo that is Nor­we­gian Wood would become his break­out best­seller around the world.

When Nor­we­gian Wood first came out in Korea, where I live, it did so as The Age of Loss (상실의 시대). That title is still ref­er­enced in the video above, an hour­long mix of songs from the nov­el post­ed by the Kore­an Youtube chan­nel Jazz Is Every­where. (This does­n’t sur­prise me: here–where Murakami’s many avid fans in Korea refer to him sim­ply as “Haru­ki”–more of his work has been trans­lat­ed into Kore­an than ever will be into Eng­lish.)

Selec­tions include the Bill Evans Tri­o’s “Waltz for Deb­by,” Anto­nio Car­los Jobim’s “Desa­fi­na­do,” Thelo­nious Monk’s “Hon­ey­suck­le Rose,” and Miles Davis’ “So What.” More recent­ly, Jazz Is Every­where put up a mix of songs from Murakami’s 2011 nov­el 1Q84, fea­tur­ing the likes of Nat King Cole, Louis Arm­strong, Bil­lie Hol­i­day, and Duke Elling­ton.

These mix­es focus on jazz, one of Murakami’s most beloved gen­res; as is well known, he even ran his own jazz bar in Tokyo before turn­ing nov­el­ist. (Its name, Peter Cat, now adorns a book café here in Seoul.) But the 1Q84 mix ends with Leoš Janáček’s decid­ed­ly un-jazzy Sin­foni­et­ta, a some­what jar­ring orches­tral piece that became an unlike­ly hit in Japan soon after 1Q84’s pub­li­ca­tion. This only hints at the vari­ety of West­ern music of which Muraka­mi has made lit­er­ary use, much as he has trans­posed the tech­niques of the West­ern nov­el (a trans­la­tor from Eng­lish in his spare time, he has also pro­duced a Japan­ese ver­sion of The Great Gats­by) into his native lan­guage. An eclec­tic, impro­vi­sa­tion­al, and often under­stat­ed style of sto­ry­telling has result­ed — which, much like jazz, has proven to know no cul­tur­al bound­aries.

Relat­ed con­tent:

A 96-Song Playlist of Music in Haru­ki Murakami’s Nov­els: Miles Davis, Glenn Gould, the Beach Boys & More

Haru­ki Murakami’s Pas­sion for Jazz: Dis­cov­er the Novelist’s Jazz Playlist, Jazz Essay & Jazz Bar

A 26-Hour Playlist Fea­tur­ing Music from Haru­ki Murakami’s Lat­est Nov­el, Killing Com­menda­tore

Haru­ki Muraka­mi Day: Stream Sev­en Hours of Mix­es Col­lect­ing All the Jazz, Clas­si­cal & Clas­sic Amer­i­can Pop Music from His Nov­els

A 3,350-Song Playlist of Music from Haru­ki Murakami’s Per­son­al Record Col­lec­tion

Son­ic Explo­rations of Japan­ese Jazz: Stream 8 Mix­es of Japan’s Jazz Tra­di­tion Free Online

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

How Did Cartographers Create World Maps before Airplanes and Satellites? An Introduction

Reg­u­lar read­ers of Open Cul­ture know a thing or two about maps if they’ve paid atten­tion to our posts on the his­to­ry of car­tog­ra­phy, the evo­lu­tion of world maps (and why they are all wrong), and the many dig­i­tal col­lec­tions of his­tor­i­cal maps from all over the world. What does the sev­en and a half-minute video above bring to this com­pendi­um of online car­to­graph­ic knowl­edge? A very quick sur­vey of world map his­to­ry, for one thing, with stops at many of the major his­tor­i­cal inter­sec­tions from Greek antiq­ui­ty to the cre­ation of the Cata­lan Atlas, an aston­ish­ing map­mak­ing achieve­ment from 1375.

The upshot is an answer to the very rea­son­able ques­tion, “how were (some­times) accu­rate world maps cre­at­ed before air trav­el or satel­lites?” The expla­na­tion? A lot of his­to­ry — mean­ing, a lot of time. Unlike inno­va­tions today, which we expect to solve prob­lems near-imme­di­ate­ly, the inno­va­tions in map­ping tech­nol­o­gy took many cen­turies and required the work of thou­sands of trav­el­ers, geo­g­ra­phers, car­tog­ra­phers, math­e­mati­cians, his­to­ri­ans, and oth­er schol­ars who built upon the work that came before. It start­ed with spec­u­la­tion, myth, and pure fan­ta­sy, which is what we find in most geo­gra­phies of the ancient world.

Then came the Greek Anax­i­man­der, “the first per­son to pub­lish a detailed descrip­tion of the world.” He knew of three con­ti­nents, Europe, Asia, and Libya (or North Africa). They fit togeth­er in a cir­cu­lar Earth, sur­round­ed by a ring of ocean. “Even this,” says Jere­my Shuback, “was an incred­i­ble accom­plish­ment, roughed out by who knows how many explor­ers.” Sand­wiched in-between the con­ti­nents are some known large bod­ies of water: the Mediter­ranean, the Black Sea, the Pha­sis (mod­ern-day Rioni) and Nile Rivers. Even­tu­al­ly Eratos­thenes dis­cov­ered the Earth was spher­i­cal, but maps of a flat Earth per­sist­ed. Greek and Roman geo­g­ra­phers con­sis­tent­ly improved their world maps over suc­ceed­ing cen­turies as con­quer­ers expand­ed the bound­aries of their empires.

Some key moments in map­ping his­to­ry involve the 2nd cen­tu­ry AD geo­g­ra­ph­er and math­e­mati­cian Marines of Tyre, who pio­neered “equirec­tan­gu­lar pro­jec­tion and invent­ed lat­i­tude and lon­gi­tude lines and math­e­mat­i­cal geog­ra­phy.” This paved the way for Claudius Ptole­my’s huge­ly influ­en­tial Geo­graphia and the Ptole­ma­ic maps that would even­tu­al­ly fol­low. Lat­er Islam­ic car­tog­ra­phers “fact checked” Ptole­my, and reversed his pref­er­ence for ori­ent­ing North at the top in their own map­pa mun­di. The video quotes his­to­ri­an of sci­ence Son­ja Bren­thes in not­ing how Muham­mad al-Idrisi’s 1154 map “served as a major tool for Ital­ian, Dutch, and French map­mak­ers from the six­teenth cen­tu­ry to the mid-eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry.”

The inven­tion of the com­pass was anoth­er leap for­ward in map­ping tech­nol­o­gy, and ren­dered pre­vi­ous maps obso­lete for nav­i­ga­tion. Thus car­tog­ra­phers cre­at­ed the por­tolan, a nau­ti­cal map mount­ed hor­i­zon­tal­ly and meant to be viewed from any angle, with wind rose lines extend­ing out­ward from a cen­ter hub. These devel­op­ments bring us back to the Cata­lan Atlas, its extra­or­di­nary accu­ra­cy, for its time, and its extra­or­di­nary lev­el of geo­graph­i­cal detail: an arti­fact that has been called “the most com­plete pic­ture of geo­graph­i­cal knowl­edge as it stood in the lat­er Mid­dle Ages.”

Cre­at­ed for Charles V of France as both a por­tolan and map­pa mun­di, its con­tours and points of ref­er­ence were not only com­piled from cen­turies of geo­graph­ic knowl­edge, but also from knowl­edge spread around the world from the dias­poric Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty to which the cre­ators of the Atlas belonged. The map was most like­ly made by Abra­ham Cresques and his son Jahu­da, mem­bers of the high­ly respect­ed Major­can Car­to­graph­ic School, who worked under the patron­age of the Por­tuguese. Dur­ing this peri­od (before mas­sacres and forced con­ver­sions dev­as­tat­ed the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty of Major­ca in 1391), Jew­ish doc­tors, schol­ars, and scribes bridged the Chris­t­ian and Islam­ic worlds and formed net­works that dis­sem­i­nat­ed infor­ma­tion through both.

In its depic­tion of North Africa, for exam­ple, the Cata­lan Atlas shows images and descrip­tions of Malian ruler Mansa Musa, the Berber peo­ple, and spe­cif­ic cities and oases rather than the usu­al drag­ons and mon­sters found in oth­er Medieval Euro­pean maps — despite the car­tog­ra­phers’ use of the works like the Trav­els of John Man­dev­ille, which con­tains no short­age of bizarre fic­tion about the region. While it might seem mirac­u­lous that humans could cre­ate increas­ing­ly accu­rate views of the Earth from above with­out flight, they did so over cen­turies of tri­al and error (and thou­sands of lost ships), build­ing on the work of count­less oth­ers, cor­rect­ing the mis­takes of the past with supe­ri­or mea­sure­ments, and crowd­sourc­ing as much knowl­edge as they could.

To learn more about the fas­ci­nat­ing Cata­lan Atlas, see the Flash Point His­to­ry video above and the schol­ar­ly descrip­tion found here. Find trans­la­tions of the map’s leg­ends here at The Cresque Project.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

The His­to­ry of Car­tog­ra­phy, the “Most Ambi­tious Overview of Map Mak­ing Ever,” Is Now Free Online

Down­load 91,000 His­toric Maps from the Mas­sive David Rum­sey Map Col­lec­tion

Why Every World Map Is Wrong

Ani­mat­ed Maps Reveal the True Size of Coun­tries (and Show How Tra­di­tion­al Maps Dis­tort Our World)

The Evo­lu­tion of the World Map: An Inven­tive Info­graph­ic Shows How Our Pic­ture of the World Changed Over 1,800 Years

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

“Oye Como Va” Played by Carlos Santana & Musicians Around the World

By now, you’re famil­iar with “Play­ing for Change,” a mul­ti­me­dia music project that brings togeth­er musi­cians and singers from across the globe–some well known, many oth­ers not. Their lat­est video fea­tures Car­los San­tana play­ing “Oye Como Va,” a song he made famous in 1970. He’s joined by Cindy Black­man, Tito Puente, Jr. (whose father wrote the song in 1963), bassist Tal Wilken­feld, Rubén Rada and musi­cians from Colom­bia, Pana­ma, Uruguay, the Con­go, Brazil, and beyond. For more Play­ing for Change videos, see the Relat­eds below. The one fea­tur­ing John Paul Jones per­form­ing “When The Lev­ee Breaks” is a per­son­al favorite.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent

“When The Lev­ee Breaks” Per­formed by John Paul Jones & Musi­cians Around the World

“Stand By Me” Sung By Musi­cians Around the World

The Grate­ful Dead’s “Rip­ple” Played By Musi­cians Around the World (with Cameos by David Cros­by, Jim­my Buf­fett & Bill Kreutz­mann)

Musi­cians Around the World Play The Band’s Clas­sic Song, “The Weight,” with Help from Rob­bie Robert­son and Ringo Starr

Great Mixtapes of 1970s Japanese Jazz: 4 Hours of Funky, Groovy, Fusion‑y Music

Like Amer­i­can jazz, Japan­ese jazz start­ed with ear­li­er styles like fox­trot and rag­time. Jazz was an inter­na­tion­al music, spread­ing across the Atlantic to Lon­don, Paris, and Berlin and across the Pacif­ic to Shang­hai, Manil­la, and Tokyo. Lux­u­ry lin­ers crossed the ocean and their house bands fer­ried new styles of dance music with them. “There was pre­cious lit­tle impro­vi­sa­tion,” in ear­ly Japan­ese jazz, “but that was­n’t as big a deal, as you know, in Amer­i­can jazz of the 1910s or ’20s,” his­to­ri­an E. Tay­lor Atkins tells NPR.

Japan even had its own jazz age. The word first entered the coun­try in a 1929 “pop­u­lar song attached to a movie called Tokyo March,” says Atkins. “The lyrics refer to jazz, and … that’s sort of where it came into mass con­scious­ness. It was asso­ci­at­ed with dance halls, it was asso­ci­at­ed with ‘mod­ern girls’ and ‘mod­ern boys’ — the Japan­ese ver­sion of flap­pers and dandies — and the urban leisure class­es: excess, and dogs and cats sleep­ing togeth­er, and all those sorts of por­tents of future calami­ty.”

When calami­ty came in the form of World War II, jazz was banned in Japan as the music of the ene­my. On August 15, 1945, when the Emper­or went on the radio to announce Japan’s sur­ren­der, Hat­tori Ryoichi, “Japan’s pre­mier jazz com­pos­er and arranger,” found him­self stuck in Shang­hai, “the city that since the late 1920s had served as the jazz Mec­ca of Asia,” Michael Bourdaghs writes in a his­to­ry of Japan­ese pop music. “From now on,” Ryoichi sup­pos­ed­ly toast­ed his fel­low musi­cians upon hear­ing the news, “we can car­ry out our musi­cal activ­i­ties in free­dom.”

How lit­tle Ryoichi could have pre­dict­ed the kind of musi­cal free­dom Japan­ese jazz would find. But first there was a peri­od of imi­ta­tion. “In the ear­ly post­war years, Japan­ese musi­cians were essen­tial­ly copy­ing the Amer­i­cans they admired,” notes Dean Van Nguyen at The Guardian. Some of the most pop­u­lar bands on TV and film were com­ic acts like Frankie Sakai and the City Slick­ers, a big band formed in 1953 in imi­ta­tion of Spike Jones & The City Slick­ers. Anoth­er pop­u­lar jazz com­e­dy act, Hajime Hana & The Crazy Cats “are sig­nif­i­cant,” writes Atkins, “for cap­i­tal­iz­ing and pur­vey­ing an image of jazz musi­cians as clown­ish, slang-singing ne’er-do-wells.”

Pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi was “the first Japan­ese artist to break away from sim­ply copy­ing Amer­i­can artists and devel­op a dis­tinc­tive sound and iden­ti­ty that incor­po­rat­ed Japan­ese har­monies and instru­ments,” Van Nguyen writes. By the lat­er 60s and 70s, eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment led to a “renais­sance” of Japan­ese jazz, writes the Sabukaru Guide to 1970’s Japan­ese Jazz. “The unique cre­ative land­scape in the jazz com­mu­ni­ty, along with Japan­ese music as a whole becom­ing simul­ta­ne­ous­ly more exper­i­men­tal and main­stream, led to an abun­dance of excel­lent Japan­ese jazz music in the 1970s.”

In the four playlists here, you can hear hours of this ground­break­ing music from some of the great­est names you’ve prob­a­bly nev­er heard in Japan­ese jazz. These include trom­bon­ist Hiroshi Suzu­ki, “one of the most-revered Japan­ese jazz artists,” notes the blog Pink Wafer Club, “even if most lis­ters are only famil­iar with his work thanks to the num­ber of times his music has been sam­pled.” Suzuk­i’s 1975 album Cat is one of the funki­est jazz albums from any coun­try released in the decade.

These playlists also include fusion key­boardist Mikio Masu­da, sax­o­phon­ist Sadao Watan­abe, and oth­er musi­cians who, like Akiyoshi, helped spur “young artists to evolve away from Blue Note mim­ic­ry towards free jazz, fusion, funk, spir­i­tu­al, modal and bebop,” writes Van Nguyen. “These dar­ing vir­tu­osos implant­ed rock and elec­tron­ic ele­ments, or took influ­ences from Afrobeat and fla­men­co music.” Their inter­na­tion­al influ­ences reflect­ed 1970s jazz exper­i­ments around the globe. The music also ben­e­fit­ted from the excel­lent record­ing qual­i­ty of Japan­ese stu­dios and the rise of small­er labels, which allowed for more exper­i­men­tal artists to record and release albums.

Find out above why “many young Japan­ese musi­cians cite the jazz inno­va­tors from this era as influ­ences,” Sabukaru writes. Read about ten of the best 1970s Japan­ese jazz records here. See a huge guide to Japan­ese jazz from all eras at Rate Your Music, and find track­lists with time­stamps for each of the playlists above at their YouTube page.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

A 30-Minute Intro­duc­tion to Japan­ese Jazz from the 1970s: Like Japan­ese Whisky, It’s Under­rat­ed, But Very High Qual­i­ty

Son­ic Explo­rations of Japan­ese Jazz: Stream 8 Mix­es of Japan’s Jazz Tra­di­tion Free Online

Acclaimed Japan­ese Jazz Pianist Yōsuke Yamashita Plays a Burn­ing Piano on the Beach

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Bach Played Beautifully on the Baroque Lute, by Preeminent Lutenist Evangelina Mascardi

In the two videos here, see Argen­tine lutenist Evan­geli­na Mas­car­di play pas­sion­ate ren­di­tions of J.S. Bach com­po­si­tions on the rich, res­o­nant Baroque lute. In Bach’s time, lutenists were some of the most wide­ly-admired instru­men­tal play­ers, and it’s easy to see why. The Baroque lute is not an easy instru­ment to play. Much less so were the the­o­r­bo and chi­tar­rone, instru­ments like it but with longer necks for longer bass strings. We see Mas­car­di con­cen­trate with utmost inten­si­ty on every note, a vir­tu­oso on an instru­ment that Bach him­self could not mas­ter.

Indeed, there has been sig­nif­i­cant debate over whether Bach actu­al­ly com­posed his four pieces for solo lute for that instru­ment and not anoth­er. For one thing, he seems to have had a “weak grasp” of the instru­ment, gui­tarist and lutenist Cameron O’Con­nor writes in an exam­i­na­tion of the evi­dence.

“The lute may have been an intim­i­dat­ing sub­ject even for Bach.” There are sev­er­al prob­lems with authen­ti­cat­ing exist­ing copies of the music, and “none of the pieces in staff nota­tion is playable on the stan­dard Baroque lute with­out some trans­po­si­tion of the bass­es and changes in chord posi­tions.”

Clas­si­cal gui­tarist Clive Tit­muss notes, “as stu­dent gui­tarists, we learned that J.S. Bach wrote four suites and a num­ber of mis­cel­la­neous pieces for the lute, now played on the gui­tar.” How­ev­er, recent schol­ar­ship seems to show that Bach, that most revered of Baroque com­posers, “did not write any music specif­i­cal­ly intend­ed for solo lute.” As O’Con­nor spec­u­lates, it was “the Laut­en­wer­ck, or lute harp­si­chord… which Bach most like­ly had in mind while com­pos­ing many of his ‘lute’ works.” You can see it in action here.

What does this debate add to our appre­ci­a­tion of Mas­cardi’s play­ing? Very lit­tle, per­haps. British lutenist and Bach schol­ar Nigel North writes in his Linn Records Bach on the Lute set, “Instead of labour­ing over per­pet­u­at­ing the idea that the so-called lute pieces of Bach are prop­er lute pieces I pre­fer to take the works for unac­com­pa­nied Vio­lin or Cel­lo and make them into new works for lute, keep­ing (as much as pos­si­ble) to the orig­i­nal text, musi­cal inten­tion, phras­ing and artic­u­la­tion, yet trans­form­ing them in a way par­tic­u­lar to the lute so that they are sat­is­fy­ing to play and to hear.”

A lutenist with the skill of North or Mas­car­di can trans­form solo Bach pieces — whether orig­i­nal­ly writ­ten for vio­lin, cel­lo, or laut­en­wer­ck — into the idiom of their cho­sen instru­ment. In Mas­cardi’s trans­for­ma­tions here, these works sound pos­i­tive­ly trans­port­ing.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How a Bach Canon Works. Bril­liant.

Hear Bach’s Bran­den­burg Con­cer­tos Played on Orig­i­nal Baroque Instru­ments

Hear J.S. Bach’s Music Per­formed on the Laut­en­wer­ck, Bach’s Favorite Lost Baroque Instru­ment

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Margaret Atwood Releases an Unburnable Edition of The Handmaid’s Tale, to Support Freedom of Expression

When first pub­lished in 1985, Mar­garet Atwood’s The Hand­maid­’s Tale drew acclaim for how it com­bined and made new the genre con­ven­tions of the dystopi­an, his­tor­i­cal, and fan­ta­sy nov­el. But the book has enjoyed its great­est fame in the past decade, thanks in part to a 2017 adap­ta­tion on Hulu and a sequel, The Tes­ta­ments, pub­lished two years there­after. It’s even become promi­nent in mass cul­ture, fre­quent­ly ref­er­enced in dis­cus­sions of real-life pol­i­tics and soci­ety in the man­ner of Nine­teen Eighty-Four or Fahren­heit 451.

Like George Orwell and Ray Brad­bury’s famous works, The Hand­maid­’s Tale also seems at risk of becom­ing less often read than pub­licly ref­er­enced — and there­fore, no small amount of the time, pub­licly mis­in­ter­pret­ed. The only way to for­ti­fy your­self against such abuse of lit­er­a­ture is, of course, actu­al­ly to read the book. For­tu­nate­ly, The Hand­maid­’s Tale is now wide­ly avail­able, unlike cer­tain books in cer­tain places that have been sub­ject to bans. It is against such ban­ning that the lat­est edi­tion of Atwood’s nov­el stands, print­ed and bound using only fire­proof mate­ri­als.

“Across the Unit­ed States and around the world, books are being chal­lenged, banned, and even burned,” says pub­lish­er Pen­guin Ran­dom House. “So we cre­at­ed a spe­cial edi­tion of a book that’s been chal­lenged and banned for decades.” This unique­ly “unburn­able” Hand­maid­’s Tale “will be pre­sent­ed for auc­tion by Sotheby’s New York from May 23 to June 7 with all pro­ceeds going to ben­e­fit PEN America’s work in sup­port of free expres­sion.” You can bid on it at Sothe­by’s site, where as of this writ­ing the price stands at USD $70,000.

Pen­guin has exper­i­ment­ed with phys­i­cal­ly metaphor­i­cal books before: the paper­back edi­tion of Nine­teen Eighty-Four, for exam­ple, whose cov­er becomes less “cen­sored” with use. More recent­ly, the graph­ic design stu­dio Super Ter­rain pub­lished Fahren­heit 451, its title long a byword for book-burn­ing, that only becomes read­able with the appli­ca­tion of heat. But it’s Bal­lan­ti­ne’s 1953 spe­cial edi­tion of that nov­el, “bound in Johns-Manville quin­ter­ra, an asbestos mate­r­i­al with excep­tion­al resis­tance to pyrol­y­sis,” that tru­ly set the prece­dent for this one-off Hand­maid’s tale. Those mak­ing bids cer­tain­ly under­stand the book’s place in today’s cul­tur­al debates — but let’s hope they also intend to read it.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Pret­ty Much Pop #10 Exam­ines Mar­garet Atwood’s Night­mare Vision: The Handmaid’s Tale

An Ani­mat­ed Mar­garet Atwood Explains How Sto­ries Change with Tech­nol­o­gy

An Asbestos-Bound, Fire­proof Edi­tion of Ray Bradbury’s Fahren­heit 451 (1953)

The Cov­er of George Orwell’s 1984 Becomes Less Cen­sored with Wear and Tear

To Read This Exper­i­men­tal Edi­tion of Ray Bradbury’s Fahren­heit 451, You’ll Need to Add Heat to the Pages

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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