Oct. 14: Arnold Davidson’s passages

As many of you know, there will be a celebration on Oct. 14 of the publication of Stanley Cavell’s new autobiography, Little Did I Know: Excerpts from Memory (Stanford University Press). Arnold Davidson (University of Chicago and University of Pisa) will be one of five speakers who will respond to selected passages from Cavell’s just-published memoir (for full information about this event, please click here). Prof. Davidson has sent me the passages he intends to speak about, and I wanted to share them with all of you, to give you a chance to mull them over yourselves before the event. As the other speakers send me their selections, I will post them here as well. I hope to see many of you there!

Stanley Cavell and Ben Webster On Expressivity and Improvisation

Passages from Stanley Cavell, Little Did I Know: Excerpts From Memory:

  • On hearing the Benny Goodman band at the World’s Fair:

“To hear the familiar arrangements played live, with inevitable and enlivening alterations in the improvisations, confirmed for me as it were the knowledge of existence in the form of, or a prophecy of, the reality of happiness.”

  • On improvisation and the marriage of words and music:

“Thompson told me of witnessing Ben Webster, tenor saxophonist with the Ellington band — whose playing sometimes outstripped his natural competition with the other two geniuses of the tenor saxophone contemporary with him, Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins — having joined a small group in a club on 52nd Street in New York, once suddenly stop playing in the middle of a chorus, seeming bewildered.  Asked why later, Webster replied that he had forgotten the words.”

  • On philosophizing:

“…in philosophizing — perhaps only of a certain kind — there is the odd feature that two can enter unknown territories together.  (This is true of playing music but not of composing.  One perhaps thinks here of the history of improvisation; let’s call it mutual inspiration…)”

— B.R.

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