Tuesday, April 13, 2010

OLEO Liberation Day

The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best, and therefore never scrutinize or question.
~ Stephen Jay Gould

One of the reasons I moved to New York City (other than for overtly-serious reasons, like college) was . . . live jazz. I love the hole-in-the-wall blues bars and jazz clubs, like the one near my alma mater -- Smoke.

I need music to write puzzles. And so, I rely on my home state (NJ) for a fantastic late-night soundtrack; the radio is tuned to WBGO, a great jazz station out of Newark.

Jazz made me love that crossword recidivist --  OLEO. Yes, that's right. Oleo.  You heard me. My OLEO has no transfats and doesn't clog the arteries. It's greaseless and doesn't sit around in a tub. You needn't stick it in the fridge, unless that's where the CDs are stored.

"Oleo" is a jazz standard that weaves through Ken Burns's documentary Jazz. It's immediately recognizable to those with even a cursory knowledge of music. Written by Sonny Rollins in 1954, "Oleo" is a cut on Bag's Groove:  Miles Davis's classic album and one of the most important jazz recordings ever.

The song has been in circulation for over 55 years. And yet, it doesn't appear as a crossword clue. In puzzles, OLEO is invariably associated with the weird, non-dairy spread that doesn't melt. (Oh yeah, I can believe it's not butter!)

This is why I don't buy the old, unquestioned crosswordese myths. It's my job, as a puzzlemaker, to uncover new ways of cluing words like OLEO -- with an openness to the far corners of music, art, literature, classics.

Art Blakey said: "Jazz is known all over the world as an American musical art form, and that's it. No America, no jazz." The jazz OLEO is more than welcome in an American crossword puzzle.

OLEO . . . crosswordese?  Hey, don't say that about my "Oleo."

Recognize this tune?

June 21, 2010:  Inspired by the recommendations of Mr. Charles Mingus (see comments), I've added Phineas Newborn Jr.'s excellent "Oleo" to the play list. Thanks, Charles!


Gareth Bain said...

Huh? Our OLEO comes in tubs - or in bricks, but not sticks, actually still only have a vague idea what a stick is. It's not called oleo it's called MARGE though - since its full name is MARGERINE here sans the OLEO bit. And around here it turns to oil if it's not in the fridge. It is the same stuff right? Don't know nothing about jazz, so that OLEO is a mystery to me... Guessing the Miles Davis riff is a nod to Alex Boisvert's puzzle?

Writing your own clues seems, well, obvious right? Very easy to write your own clues that are identical to already done clues though.

Elizabeth said...

The Miles Davis riff is coincidental, and I was happy to see Alex's puzzle yesterday!

Five years ago I didn't have to remind new constructors to write their own clues. You're right - it should be obvious.

Today, with the proliferation of clue databases and puzzle software, it's become an issue.

I don't worry when someone says, "duh, that's obvious." I worry when they say "huh, what do you mean, write my own clues?" :)

Jon88 said...

I have submitted puzzles with OLEO clued via Sonny Rollins, but editorial intervention occurred.

Elizabeth said...

Hello Jon88! Well, I like your style. Keep up the good work. Let's stick together and bring the Jazz OLEO into the crossword family. Thanks for checking in!

Charles Mingus said...

OLEO is based on the chord changes to the George Gershwin tune "I GOT RHYTHM" . These changes are so popular that jazz musicians refer to them as "rhythm changes". Charlie Parker recorded many tunes with these chord changes: "MOOSE THE MOOCHE" is a great example.

Listen to "Relaxin' With the Miles Davis Quintet" recorded in 1956. It features Miles and Coltrane on OLEO.

Another fantastic OLEO version is Miles recorded live at the Plaza Hotel, NY NY Sept 9, 1958. It features Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley along with Miles.

This version of OLEO by Memphis pianist Phineas Newborn Jr. demands to be heard!


Elizabeth said...

Charles, you're right! I've got the Gershwin tune overlapping "Oleo" in my head. Thanks for your excellent playlist. Phineas Newborn Jr.'s version is awesome (I hadn't heard it before). The faster tempo makes it sound contemporary.

Now, about your work: Joni Mitchell's studio album ("Mingus"), her tribute to you, is one of my favorites. Charles, you really know the score! ;)

Joon said...

it helps to have a long memory, doesn't it? :)

La Liz said...

Awww, you noticed! :)