The Gift Guide
Published: November 24, 2010
A groundbreaking historian of topics from labor to black liberation movements, Kelley is all about context, and if ever a musician's life needed context it's Monk's. And not just the context of his fellow musicians that Monk's life requires — Dizzy and Miles, Sonny and Trane are all here, as well as promoters, producers, publicists, record execs and the like. As Kelley makes clear, Monk's achievements are virtually unimaginable but for the supportive circle of the close-knit mother-headed family he was born into, a family that expanded with his marriage to his hard-working working-class wife, Nellie. Later came the well-heeled Baroness (seriously) Pannonica de Koenigswarter, whose closeness, too, made her, for practical purposes, family as well. The Monk family gave Kelley unparalleled access, and he's rightly made the book very much about them as well.
Monk may have marched to his own drummer, but it took this village to enable him on the road to brilliance (and ultimately success), what with clashes with cops, jail time, jobless stretches, house fires, and the obstinacy of Monk himself ... and then there's the mental illness. One of Kelley's constant balancing acts is in dealing with Monk's eccentricities, press and press agents prone to magnify them (and trivialize the man), and dealing with the fact that, through much of his life, Monk was, indeed, deteriorating mentally. (Bipolar disorder seems the most likely culprit, but a clear diagnosis was never rendered.)
Casual jazz fans recognize Monk's classic — written when he was in his early 20s — "Round Midnight." Moderately serious jazz fans know Monk as the music's second great composer after the Ellington-Strayhorn team, and that the estimation rests on a mere 70-odd songs to their thousands. Monk's improvisational style was as powerful as his compositional pen, and both profoundly influenced the course of jazz. Given Monk's import, this won't be the last word on interpreting his life and art — and sometimes one wishes Kelley would give us more synthesis for the mass of details — but it seems clear that those who follow will be riffing on Kelley's research for a long, long time. Released in hardcover last year, it has now been reissued in paperback. (And the book site monkbook.com, by the way, is far more than a promotion site, and a true resource worth the time of anyone interested in Monk or the book.) —WKH
Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series
Sci-fi fans love this British TV show about a time-traveling doc and his hot companion. And it's easy to see why: plenty of in-jokes, apocalyptic storylines and mind-warping theories about busting through the time-space continuum. This six-disc set includes 13 episodes, plus extras (like outtakes) that will have geeks drooling all over their space modulators. —MG
George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I
by Miranda Carter
Knopf, $30, 500 pp.
Nowadays, we take the irrelevance of monarchy for granted. Miranda Carter's George, Nicholas and Wilhelm looks at pre-World War I Europe, a time of yet some influence of the English king, and the Russian and German emperors. The three were cousins, each a grandson of England's Queen Victoria. Their cover photos show (as Carter says of King George) "melancholy, direct stares and unflinchingly upright deportment." The three dabbled in diplomacy and politics, though only the temperamental Wilhelm did so willingly.
One message of the book is how ordinary people (the royals) found themselves over their heads as "superior, high-bred" royalty. And their aides fed their illusions to maintain their own positions. The mystical, withdrawn Nicholas ended up with Rasputin as a guide. George loved nearly full-time shooting of birds and stamp collecting. Hence the irrelevant monarchy.
In July 1917, George changed his German-sounding surname, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, to the neutral, made-up Windsor (then enjoyed some freedom fries?). George is credited with remaking the British monarchy into a domestic, ceremonial, symbolic institution.
Carter is thorough, some have said scholarly — the book front includes four pages of the overlapping family trees of the European monarchies — but she's also modern, with knowing, flip comments on many absurdities of the royals. Details on controversies, wars and nationalism of the time maintain interest because of the personalities involved. These monarchs often co-operated and opposed each other to fulfill their desires ... to preen in military uniforms: British naval, Royal Dragoons, Scottish army duds (with kilts!). They loved 'em.
Imagine the three on the paparazzi TV show TMZ: George in his favored naval uniform and hard stare, Wilhelm, alternately cloying and conspiratorial, and Nicholas, a country bumpkin type, but with regal calm. Disbelieving comments are provoked. Rolling of eyes is assumed.
Reality hit the three with the progress and end of World War I: Nicholas killed gruesomely in 1917; Wilhelm fleeing to neutral Holland; George's face lined and bagged with care, his stare ubiquitous. Fifteen pages of minute synopsis on the start of the war explain events and connections for baffled history buffs. And, once again, we can say, "Never again."—DS
Leica D-LUX 5
No doubt, this is a big-ticket item. To put it in economical perspective, you could buy this classically styled yet state-of-the-art digital camera with HD video capability, or you could jump on the chance to scoop up a 1985 Chevy Celebrity wagon with 90,000 miles, new head gaskets and a relatively clean interior (well, at least you could find it on Craigslist the other day). But think about it: To the tune of 800 bones, you have an artistic tool almost 100 years in the making. Since 1913, Leica has produced innovative cameras with particularly magnificent lenses — that's a hot piece of glass. The aptly titled D-Lux is a slick digital single reflex (d-slr) camera. It's also notably compact for a camera that produces such high-quality photos. Rivaling professional DSLR cameras, the D-Lux shoots 10.1 megapixels, with an über fast f/2-3.3 DC Vario-Summicron 24 to 90 millimeter lens (equivalent to 35mm) lens, with an ISO as high as 12800. If those specs mean nothing to you, just know they're awesome enough to those in the know. The camera has also garnered high marks for a very bright, high resolution, three-inch LCD display. And if this baby weren't already sexy enough, Leica is throwing in Adobe Lightroom 3 for processing. If you got the dough, look no mo'. —TW
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