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‘Colour me gone, baby…’

The death of the film director Monte Hellman this month, at the age of 91, occurred exactly 50 years after the full screenplay to Two-Lane Blacktop, his best known picture, was published in the April 1971 issue of Esquire magazine. Its appearance preceded by three months the release of a film that starred James Taylor and Dennis Wilson as two hot-rod racers engaged in a cross-country contest between their ’55 Chevy and a Pontiac GTO with a fantasist played by Warren Oates at the wheel, their three lives complicated by the presence of a footloose hippie chick played by the 18-year-old Laurie Bird, in the first of her three films.

By the time the film was premiered, the published screenplay — by the novelist Rudy Wurlitzer and the actor Will Corry — had been stripped as effectively as the primer-grey Chevy. Quite a lot of it disappeared in the shooting. Some of it was replaced by improvised dialogue: “The wheels didn’t grab off the start” became “The tires didn’t bite out of the hole.” Even more was removed in the eventual studio-enforced final cut from three and a quarter hours to 100 minutes. No bad thing, perhaps, since it removed a lot of car talk; what remains is quite enough.

Far from being, as Esquire claimed, “the movie of the year”, Two-Lane Blacktop was a flop. Most film critics hated it. In particular, they hated Taylor and Wilson. I thought, and still think, that they were perfect for Hellman’s vision of an existentialist road movie peopled by damaged characters — none of them given a name — set in an America undergoing a cultural upheaval so profound that people could hardly communicate with each other. Look at it now and you see a couple of performances of considerable sensitivity by two musicians who had never acted before. The ill-fated Bird provides the perfect complement, while Oates is magnificent as a character caught in nervy bemusement between two eras, his use of already dated argot — including the phrase I’ve used for the headline of this piece — perfectly judged.

Other highlights include one “H. D. Stanton” as a gay hitchhiker who weeps when the GTO driver rejects his advances (apparently Harry Dean initially objected to his character’s sexual orientation). Wurlitzer himself plays a fellow with a ’32 Ford in an early drag-strip sequence shot in Santa Fe, while James Mitchum, lookalike son of Robert, can also be glimpsed in one of the racing scenes. The unresolved ending was something else the critics detested, but it’s exactly the one the film demands.

I bought the April 1971 Esquire when it came out and have hung on to it ever since. It’s amusing to leaf through it now and find a counter-cultural screenplay sharing the issue with a lavish colour feature on golf-course architects, Malcolm Muggeridge’s review of The Female Eunuch, a survey of men’s two-tone shoes for the spring season, and ads for Johnny Carson’s “Carson-eze” polyester/wool blend slacks and Flying Dutchman pipe tobacco (“Lead women around by the nose!”).

A few years ago I also bought a Universal Pictures DVD of the film; its extras include Hellman and Gary Kurtz, one of the film’s co-producers, giving a fascinating off-screen commentary as the film rolls. Among the things they tell us is that although Jack Deerson was credited as the director of photography, he was hired merely to satisfy the union, which had refused a card to Gregory Sandor, who was actually responsible for the brilliant cinematography. Only when two cameras were required was Deerson summoned from the hotel rooms in which he spent the vast majority of the shoot, which ranged from California through Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina. A much-requested DVD release of Hellman’s three-hour version was scuppered, they say, by the studio’s refusal to negotiate the rights to the extra music originally included.

Oh, yes. A last thing. Three ’55 Chevys were built: the first for interior shots, with camera platforms built in; the second with roll bars for stunt work, such as the sequence in which the car ends up in a field; and the third as a full-blown race car. I wonder where that last one is now?**

* Here’s the Two-Lane Blacktop trailer: And here’s an obituary of Monte Hellman by Ronald Bergan:

** The answer:

Blues for Bob Porter

The name of Bob Porter started appearing on jazz albums at the end of the 1960s and then, with gathering frequency, through the succeeding decades. It soon became obvious that, whether as a record producer, a compiler of historical anthologies or a writer of liner notes, Porter — who died last week at the age of 80 — was most interested in the kinds of jazz that stayed close to old verities: a powerful swing, the feeling of the blues, a warmth of expression, a direct engagement with the audience’s emotions.

Porter did a lot of his work for Bob Weinstock’s Prestige label, but when the Savoy label was bought by Arista he supervised a reissue programme that included a series of double albums called The Roots of Rock ‘n’ Roll, two of which you can see two of them above. What Porter located was a sweet spot where jazz and R&B fed each other in hits like Paul Willliams’ “The Hucklebuck” and Big Maybelle’s “Candy”. He supervised anthologies of Miles Davis for Prestige and John Coltrane for Atlantic (for whom he also put together the seven volumes of Atlantic Rhythm and Blues 1947-1974), won a Grammy for a 1979 anthology of Charlie Parker’s Savoy sessions, and produced new albums by Jimmy McGriff, Gene Ammons, Red Rodney, Hank Crawford, Charles Earland and many others. For the last 20 years he was a regular on WBGO, the public-service radio station broadcasting from Newark, New Jersey

His particular take on jazz was summed up in his only book: Soul Jazz: Jazz in the Black Community 1945-75, the story of musicians who earned their living mostly in dance halls and clubs of black America and whose recordings were primarily aimed at the listeners they found there. The book starts with the last of the commercially viable popular-oriented black big bands, such as those led by Buddy Johnson and Erskine Hawkins, and advances chronologically via Louis Jordan, Lionel Hampton, Arnett Cobb, Jack McDuff and Lou Donaldson all the way through to Grant Green and Grover Washington Jr. Producers like Teddy Reig and Bob Shad take their place in the narrative, along with record-company bosses as different as Roulette’s Morris Levy, Savoy’s Herman Lubinsky and Verve’s Norman Granz, and radio disc jockeys from Alan Freed (a jazz fan before he helped invent rock and roll) to Frankie Crocker, a hero of disco whose closing theme — at the end of shows full of Kool & the Gang, the Commodores and Earth, Wind & Fire — was King Pleasure’s “Moody’s Mood for Love”.

Porter only wrote his book, he said, because no one else had, and it was a story that needed to be told. If Soul Jazz were a night out, it would be an organ-tenor-guitar-drums quartet playing to an audience of working people in a lounge on the South Side of Chicago: the kind of meat-and-potatoes jazz you could find on the albums Porter supervised. Swing, blues, warmth, engagement, informality, a complete lack of pretension: the recipe for a kind of basic nourishment that might be harder to find today.

* Bob Porter’s Soul Jazz was published in 2016 by Xlibris.

Woman at her typewriter

Mom was my greatest champion right from the very beginning. Except for drugs, I shared every event with her. Boyfriends, famous friends, triumph, and regret. My mother subscribed to Rolling Stone for an entire decade, complaining that I was not on the cover again. Watching me fade from the limelight seemed harder on her than it was for me. She didn’t understand that careers must be pliable. If an act insists on not changing and making the music audience come to them, they can end up an oldies act. I always wanted my music to be a place un-aging. The real danger of early success is that our parents, our children, our friends also reap what we sow. I had watched the trajectory of every member of my family change as they chased the fairy light of my success.

I weathered the storms of humility, the people who did not offer backstage passes anymore, or the people who did not even know my name anymore, and I kept on working. Mom told me I should just quit. Finally, I asked:

“And do what, Mom? This… this is what I am.”

Here is the tone and texture of Last Chance Texaco, Rickie Lee Jones’s new memoir. Subtitled “Chronicles of a Troubadour”, it’s one of the most remarkable I’ve read from a musician, a first-person commentary on the life and early career of this extraordinary artist, full of romance and adventure, misadventure and indiscipline, anecdote and reflection — just the stuff we want from those free spirits who live the life so that we don’t have to, inviting us to stand and watch in fascination, half admiring and half appalled.

If you want to know what prompted Steve Gadd to devise that drop-dead-laconic snare-drum lick on “Chuck E’s in Love”, or precisely how her first producers, Lenny Waronker and Russ Titelman, teased and moulded the songs that made up Pirates into a classic album, this is not the book that you might have hoped for. Most of the albums after those first two don’t even get a mention. She does tell you how some of the songs came into being (“Last Chance Texaco” itself resulted from a first meeting with Tom Waits, dancing together under a streetlight on Doheny Drive, before she drove away in her yellow Chevy Vega). But there’s rather more to her autobiography than a recital of facts.

The fact that we’re 260 pages into a 360-page book before we even get to signing with Warner Bros for the debut album that made her an overnight sensation at the age of 24 indicates that the emphasis of the narrative is firmly on her childhood and adolescence. This works because her early life was so peripatetic and picaresque, travelling with her perennially malfunctioning family through Oklahoma, Arizona, California and Washington State, sometimes enrolling at three new schools a year, running away and coming back and running away again and eventually staying away but without being able to sever the bonds to her father, the child of a vaudeville performer, and his wife, who had been brought up in an orphanage. They were a couple who “had learnt as kids to avoid government, big institutions and authority” and who “used cash to avoid declaring income and… avoided obligations beyond next month’s rent.” We know where that less than stable background got her, but the journey to her destination makes for compelling and sometimes distressing reading.

She’s good on how music took a hold of her, most significantly through the Beatles (“I fantasised all the ways I could meet Beatle Paul… In melodramatic scenarios I abandoned my hopes and dreams for the sake of Paul who would eventually come find me as I lay dying and realise how much he loved me”) and, later, through seeing Laura Nyro on TV: “(She) seemed to send a message to me that day that said, ‘Come you young girls who are not like the others because you love Broadway as much as rock ‘n’ roll.'” Other influences: an English teacher who got her writing poetry in one of her several high schools, and picking up a book at her sister’s house — Dick Fariña’s Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me — that “told me I was not the first to go for this bohemian life of hitchhiking, pranksters, pot smokers, rebellion and free love.”

There are vivid descriptions of her early experiences as a performer, including her first gig with her first band, playing to an audience of deaf people, her first professional engagement as, briefly, the only white member of Little Caesar and the Romans, famous for their doo-wop hit, “Those Oldies But Goodies (Remind Me of You)”, and the fraught appearance on Saturday Night Live that made a hit of “Chuck E” and a star of Rickie Lee in 1979.

Her lovers — from the famous, including Waits, Lowell George and her heroin buddy Dr John, who shot up with her after being assured that she’d tried it once before, to the lesser known — are given due and intimate consideration. As with her treatment of family members, she’s both generous and unsparing. “We stayed in character throughout our entire romance,” she writes of Waits, “and our characters were sometimes cruel and selfish.” She is wry and realistic about his disciples: “Was I going to be another ghost, sitting around in Tom Waits’s peripheral vision, hoping he looked directly at me?” It led her to a conclusion about the problematic relationship between performer and listener: “I don’t want to have sex with someone who has mistaken me for my song.”

The book sent me back to the albums — the first two, of course, then the great covers collections of Pop Pop, Girl at Her Volcano and It’s Like This, and Traffic from Paradise and a later favourite, The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard — and to the memories of one of the finest concerts I’ve ever attended, at the Dominion Theatre in London in 1992, and one of the most hair-raising, at the Jazz Café in 2007. Most of all, without being unnecessarily literal-minded, it gave me a much clearer idea of the life went into the making of songs like “Coolsville”, “Traces of the Western Slopes”, “The Horses”, “Stewart’s Coat” and “The Evening of My Best Day”: one in which, as she says, “most of the dangerous choices I made were in fact lesser evils.”

By the time she came to read On the Road, it was a disappointment. She’d already lived the story herself. On the journey from the three-year-old lapping up applause for her performance as a snowflake in a children’s ballet to a recovered addict with a Grammy on her mantelpiece, via deportation from Canada as a teenaged hippie officially described as being “in danger of leading a lewd and lascivious life”, she’d learnt that “fame brings no solace, no love, and no warmth” and that money can cut you off. “You may say, ‘So what?’ and ‘I’ll take it if you don’t want it,'” she writes. “I do want it, fame and money and all that goes with it. It’s just that they weren’t what I thought they would be.”

* Rickie Lee Jones’s Last Chance Texaco is published by Grove Press. The photograph is from the album It’s Like This, released in 2000, and was taken by Lee Cantelon.

A cappella in Barcelona

Just off the Ramblas in Barcelona is a square containing the city’s Museu d’Art Contemporani, housed in a plain white modern building by the American architect Richard Meier. Facing it, on the other side of the Plaça dels Ángels, is a convent established by an order of Dominican nuns in the 16th century. Attached to the main building is a small chapel in which, back in 2007, I had an experience I’ll never forget.

The convent now belongs to the museum and for four months that year they used the chapel to house a work by the Canadian artist Janet Cardiff, who specialises in sound installations. For this one, A Forty-Part Motet (2001), she took a recording by the Salisbury Cathedral Choir of “Spem in Alium”, the 12-minute piece composed in around 1570 by Thomas Tallis for 40 voices, and channeled each individual voice through its own speaker, all mounted at head height on plain stands in a U shape, as Tallis apparently intended his singers to be arranged (the photograph explains how it looked).

There were two plain wooden benches within the U of the speakers, on which one could sit while listening. It was deserted while I was there. The recording opened with the ambient sounds of performers settling themselves. And then it began. “Spem in Alium” is one of the great masterpieces of English music. Within that ancient austere space, the effect of the voices blooming and soaring in overlapping waves, building and receding and building again, was extraordinary.

For the first time through I listened while standing, with eyes open. For the second time, I sat down and closed my eyes. The experience was even more intense. I was inside the music in a way that seldom happens to non-performers.

Today I read of plans to remodel the museum and to turn the chapel into an entrance — the equivalent, they say, of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. They’re good at architecture in Barcelona, so I imagine they know what they’re doing and it’ll turn out just fine. But I’m glad I had that half-hour alone in the chapel, immersed in another world.

* A Forty Part Motet (2001) has been installed in many venues around the world. Janet Cardiff talks about it here:

A Mike Taylor discovery

When the English jazz pianist and composer Mike Taylor walked into the sea and died in 1969, aged 30, he left behind two albums — Pendulum, by his quartet, and the self-explanatory Trio, recorded in 1966 and ’67 respectively — as a memorial to a talent silenced by the kind of problems experienced by too many creative souls in that era.

Taylor’s gifts and instincts put him somewhere in the line of pianists running from Thelonious Monk through Herbie Nichols and Elmo Hope to the young Cecil Taylor. His playing had a similar sense of a private language being put on public display. There could be a hint of obsession in the way he jabbed at his phrases, testing their resistance before turning them to catch the light from a different angle, but there was nothing forbidding about his music.

His story, from bright promise to unexplained death, was told in a feature in Jazzwise magazine by Duncan Heining in 2007 and at greater length in a useful biography by the Italian writer Luca Ferrari, published six years ago. Taylor remains much mourned both by first-hand witnesses to his short career and by those who know him only from those two albums, produced by Denis Preston for EMI’s Columbia label and now collectors’ items.

A third Mike Taylor album, then, is quite a significant discovery. Mandala consists of a live session by Taylor’s regular quartet — with Dave Tomlin on soprano saxophone, Tony Reeves on double bass and Jon Hiseman on drums — at the Studio Club, Westcliff-on-Sea in January 1965. It was Hiseman who recorded the gig on a reel-to-reel machine and filed the tape away in his archive. On August 29 that year the same group would support the Ornette Coleman Trio in an historic concert at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon; the following May they would assemble at the Lansdowne Studios in Holland Park to record Pendulum.

Mandala contains one jazz standard and four of Taylor’s compositions, making 38 minutes of high-octane music in which the musicians display an obvious reverence for the John Coltrane Quartet of the early ’60s while conveying the impression that, given time and scope, they will find a way to move beyond the template towards the expression of their own character. It can be heard emerging in the hectic exuberance of “Night in Tunisia” — more linear and less dense than the version of the Gillespie favourite captured on Pendulum — and Taylor’s “Folk Dance #1” (a 6/8 tune with unexpected modulations), and in the interesting rhythm section figurations behind Tomlin on “Half Blue”.

Tomlin is the main soloist, confidently feeling his way towards a Trane-like level of incantation while keeping a few more emotional buttons done up. Reeves is slightly under-recorded, as was often the case on amateur recordings from the period, but he can be heard to work well with Hiseman, who is a rewardingly active presence throughout, providing an incessant but constantly stimulating commentary reminiscent to me of Charli Persip. Together they create a powerful momentum.

If there is a regret, it is that Taylor chose to take only two relatively short solos on this occasion, on “Son of Red Blues”, the agile opener, and “Night in Tunisia”. Both are typically intriguing, if somewhat subdued. There might have been a third solo: the title track, which closes the album (and was left untitled until the album’s compilers borrowed one from a painting by the pianist), fades to silence just as Tomlin closes his long, intense solo and Reeves appears to be bridging into what might have been a piano improvisation. Maybe the tape ran out. But Taylor’s accompaniments are so consistently interesting that this is a minor reservation: the point here is the music of a fine group, captured in full and free flight.

* Mandala is available as a download and a limited edition CD from the Jazz in Britain label: A vinyl release is forthcoming. Luca Ferrari’s Out of Nowhere: The Uniquely Elusive Jazz of Mike Taylor is published by Gonzo Multimedia.

The uneasy trio

It’s possible that, like me, you think there are already quite enough jazz piano trio albums in your collection. Think again. Uneasy, the new recording by Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh and Tyshawn Sorey, demands attention.

The realignment of the piano-bass-drums hierarchy from “piano with rhythm accompaniment” to a full three-way conversation of equals has been going on for decades, and Uneasy is about as elevated as the format currently gets. Listen to the opener, “Children of Flint”, to appreciate the level of interaction between three musicians with virtuoso-level skills and giant imaginations. It sounds lyrical, even simple. But just concentrate on the astonishing touch displayed by each of the trio, whether on piano keys, bass strings, drums or cymbals, and the sense of three seamlessly interlocking and interdependent components.

As you work your way through the 10 tracks — eight compositions by Iyer, plus Geri Allen’s “Drummer’s Song” and Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” — you’ll also notice a complete absence of ego-projection. No one is showing off. On the sole standard, it’s easiest to hear how far Iyer can take the line of piano-playing founded by Bud Powell. Oh displays the deep sense of swing, nimble melodic imagination and beautiful sound of a 21st-century Paul Chambers. Sorey creates a momentum at once light but deep, exploiting a combination of technique and intellect that redefines the investigation of rhythm.

Recorded in a studio in Mount Vernon, NY three months before pandemic arrived, the album comes with a cover photograph of the Statue of Liberty seen through mist and against clouds. In his sleeve note, Iyer writes that Uneasy was originally the title of a collaborative piece with the choreographer Karole Armitage in 2011, exploring “the instabilities that we then sensed beneath the surface of things… the emerging anxiety within American life. A decade later, as systems teeter and crumble, the word feels like a brutal understatement.”

That heightened disquiet, however, remains implied. You’re not thinking about the end of the world. You’re remembering how even the darkest of times can’t extinguish such astonishing creativity. One of the records of the year, no doubt.

* Uneasy is on ECM Records. The photographs of (from top) Iyer, Oh and Sorey are from the CD’s booklet and were taken by Craig Marsden.

The sound of two

Daniel Cano is a Spanish trumpeter who was born in Huelva in 1983 and has lived in London since 2014. Doug Sides is an American drummer who was born in Los Angeles in 1942, moved to Europe in 1989 and now lives, improbably enough, in Ramsgate, a fishing and ferry port on the eastern tip of Kent. This week they released a four-track digital EP called Duplexity.

It slots into the modern tradition of trumpet-and-drums duets stretching back to Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell, taking in Bobby Bradford and John Stevens and going all the way to Eyebrow, the contemporary Bristol-based pair of Pete Judge and Paul Wigens. If it reminds me of anything, it’s of the best parts of the duo concert by Max Roach and Dizzy Gillespie at the Maison de la Culture de Seine Saint-Denis, released as Max + Dizzy: Paris 1989 by A&M. That’s an album which came a little too late in the careers of two great men, making you wish they’d done it 30 or 40 years earlier, when the fires were burning brightest. Duplexity, by contrast, seems to have been made at exactly the right time.

Cano, whose involvements as a leader and a sideman include membership of the London Improvisers Orchestra, studied at the conservatoire in San Sebastián. His groups — including an Ornette Coleman tribute band — have won festival prizes. Sides studied at the University of South California, New York University and Berklee College in Boston, where he was taught by the great Alan Dawson, a mentor of Tony Williams. Over a long career which featured an early stint as the house drummer at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, he has played with Illinois Jacquet, John Handy, Teddy Edwards, Phineas Newborn, Bobby Hutcherson, Abbey Lincoln and many others.

Recorded last October at Big Jelly Studios in Ramsgate, Duplexity is a fine showcase for the evidently strong relationship between a trumpeter whose warm, bright open tone evokes the hard-bop masters of the ’50s and ’60s and a drummer with a light touch and a supple sense of swing. Restricted means, in terms of instrumentation, but the result is a rich experience with no sense of austerity — or of overplaying to fill the spaces.

Trajectories and densities are chosen to make the most of the available resources. The session feels informal and spontaneous, with the rough edges left in. Two of the pieces were composed by Sides and two by Cano, and none of them, ranging from four and a half to six minutes, outstays its welcome. Most of all, it’s good to hear two musicians from different generations and of such diverse backgrounds revelling in the common language.

* Duplexity is available at (click on the track “Perpetual Motion” to see a video). Cano and Sides will perform together in a livestream from Ronnie Scott’s Club on April 15: The photograph is by Martin Goodsmith.

The arts of Bob Crewe

Perhaps the greatest week of Bob Crewe’s life was the one in 1975 when Frankie Valli’s “My Eyes Adored You”, which he had produced and co-composed with Kenny Nolan, fell from the No 1 position in the Billboard Hot 100 and was immediately replaced by Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade”, which he and Nolan had also written together.

Or perhaps it wasn’t. Maybe it was the one in 1994 when the first retrospective show of his paintings and mixed-media artworks opened at a gallery in West Hollywood, after he had left the music business behind and climbed out of the valley into which his addictions had led him.

Crewe must have had a lot of great weeks in his life, as the man whose credits as a co-writer and/or producer, running all the way from doo-wop to disco, included the Rays’ “Silhouettes”, Diane Renay’s “Navy Blue”, Freddy Cannon’s “Tallahassie Lassie”, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels’ “Jenny Take a Ride/See See Rider”, Norma Tanega’s “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog” and Disco Tex and the Sex-O-Lettes’ “I Wanna Dance Wit’ Choo”. And, of course, towering above everything, that fabulous string of hits he produced and co-wrote with Bob Gaudio for the Four Seasons and Frankie Valli, including “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Walk Like a Man”, “Rag Doll”, “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Any More)”, “You’re Ready Now”, “The Proud One” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”.

Born in 1930 in Newark, New Jersey, Crewe was a blond Adonis in the Tab Hunter mould. He looked like a star, custom-built for American Bandstand, and he had a decent voice, as Jerry Wexler recognised when he persuaded him to record a solo album in Muscle Shoals in 1977. But the studio was where he expressed himself. He couldn’t read a note of music but he had well tuned ears and an instinct for a great hook, musical or lyrical, and he knew how to hire the best arrangers, men like Charlie Calello and Hutch Davie. The idiom didn’t matter. As Andrew Loog Oldham put it: “No one spoke more dialects of ‘hit’ than Bob Crewe.”

But there was another side to his talent, and it was one he seemed to have abandoned after ending his studies at the Parsons School of Design in Greenwich Village after only a year. Mentored by two older gay men, Austin Avery Mitchell, who showed him the art galleries of New York, Paris and Rome, and the photographer Otto Fenn, an early Warhol collaborator, he had begun painting and had his first show in 1950. Soon, however, music took over and ruled his life for the next quarter of a century, first as a crooner and then as a writer-producer. But a love of the visual media was merely dormant, and after being knocked over by a car in Los Angeles in 1977 he began to rededicate himself to art.

Influenced by Jean Dubuffet, Antoni Tàpies, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, he made abstract pieces out of a variety of materials, characterised by a love of texture acquired from Dubuffet and a feeling for outline and repetition that may have come from Johns. Leafing through Bob Crewe: Sight and Sound, a new book about his artworks, it’s easy to respond to his instinct for shape and surface. Here’s one of his pieces, Excavation 8/3/96, juxtaposed with one of the hit singles for which he’s remembered:

I chose that painting because, like many of his pieces, it contains the motif of a perfect circle — in this case three of them, half-hidden within the complex surface markings inscribed on three wooden panels, 7ft tall by 9ft wide. Whether those circles reminded him of all the hits he’d helped to make, I have no idea. I’m not a psychologist. And I am not, of course, an art critic; that side of things is explored by the painter Peter Plagens in one of the book’s three essays. But I do like much of what I see here, and it would be interesting to be able to examine it in a gallery one day.

Crewe’s role in the Four Seasons story was brought back to public attention in Jersey Boys, the musical that opened its run on Broadway in 2005 before enjoying success around the world. He died in 2014, in the retirement home where he had lived after receiving serious injuries from a fall down a flight of stairs in the home of his younger brother Dan, who had been his business partner in the 1960s.

In the first of the book’s essays, Andrew Loog Oldham locates Crewe within the rapid evolution of post-war American popular culture, alongside such figures as Hugh Hefner, Lenny Bruce and James Dean. Oldham knew him in the hit-making days and watched him at work, making and selling his music in the days when he could start a song with lines like “Loneliness is the cloak you wear / A deep shade of blue is always there.” And, linking Crewe’s two artistic preoccupations, he observes: “He liked to think of music in terms of colour and challenged his musicians to think that way along with him.” Alone with his paints and his brushes and his palette knives, he challenged himself.

* Bob Crewe: Sight and Sound: Compositions in Art and Music, edited by Dan Crewe, is published in the US by Rizzoli Electa ($55). The photograph of Crewe in the studio in 1966 is from the book. The 45 is “Music to Watch Girls By” by the Bob Crewe Generation (DynoVoice, 1967).