Zinsser, William. Willie and Dwike.
"You know, Stravinsky is buried in Venice, Ruff said. There's an island called San Michele that's the cemetery for the whole city, and it has one section of Russian Orthodox graves." I remembered seeing a tele-vision documentary about Stravinsky after he died in 1971 that ended with his coffin being taken by boat across the waters of Venice. "That's who I can play for," Ruff said. "Come on. I'm going to play the 'Pange Lingua' for Stravinsky."
We walked to the Grand Canal and caught the vapor-etto that takes passengers out to San Michele and several other islands. It left the main city and headed across a strait of open water, and I thought the ce-metery might be quite far away. But the ride took only ten minutes. On the way I asked Ruff why Stravinsky was such a giant to jazz musicians.
"He's the giant," Ruff said. "He was so advanced and hip. He's the main hero to jazz musicians because he was weird. That was an important word in the bebop era, and it was highly complimentary. It meant that you were thinking with superintelligence and that you were pushing beyond the conventions. At the end of World War II the first cadre of highly educated black people was coming into the mainstream of American society. These people needed a music--a music that was more of their day. The sophistication of jazz as it existed then was not enough. There was nobody, not even Duke Ellington, who was speaking to that period as these people needed to be spoken to musically. But Stravinsky spoke to them: first to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk and Art Blakey and Kenny Clarke and Max Roach--the great bebop innovators in New York who pulled all this music together. Then the music was taken in an even more outrageous direction by Miles Davis and John Coltrane and the other pioneers of 'modern jazz.' Stravinsky was a god to them all. He's what modern jazz was all about."
We got off at the cemetery and the custodian gave us a map of the grounds. Probably he thought we had come to see Ezra Pound. We took a gravel path leading past rows of tall cypresses that were the only touch of formal landscaping. Four gravediggers were singing at their work, and Ruff found this encouraging; here at least, among the dead, there was no objection to music. The graves were long slabs lying on the ground, not upright headstones in the American and English style. We found Stravinsky and his compatriots in a small enclave at a far end of the cemetery. His immediate neighbor was Aspasia, Widow of H.M. Alexander I, King of the Hellenes, and a few yards beyond that was a grave marked "SERGE DIAGHILEV, 1872-1929." That the choreographer of The Firebird, Petrouchka and The Rite of Spring had preceded his composer to this distant plot of Mediterranean earth so long ago was one of the most touching of the Byzantine mysteries that kept being revealed to me.
Stravinsky's grave was a slab of white marble with just two words in slanted capital letters: IGOR STRA-VINSKY. The letters were made of deep-blue stone embed-ded in the marble. They had the informal rhythm of calligraphy, the second S more antic than the first. "It looks like him," Ruff said; he was reminded of the graceful pen strokes on Stravinsky's own music manu-scripts.
Ruff opened his Liber Usualis to the "Pange Lin-gua," took his horn out of its case, and looked around to see if he would be disturbing anyone. Only a few birds were within disturbing range, but Ruff was taking no chances and, as an afterthought, he put a mute in his horn. Then he stood by Stravinsky's grave and played. The ancient melody had great power; yet somehow it had a quality that was modern in its associations. Ruff looked quizzical, seemingly surprised by the same paradox, and when he finished he said, "Did you hear it? It was the mute! It never occurred to me when I put it in, but of course that was one of Stravinsky's favorite sounds. There are whole sections of The Fire-bird and Petrouchka that are scored specifically for muted horns and brasses. He was a master of that color-ing--he could paint pictures with muted brass. It all came back to me when I started to play. I remembered how I went to Fantasia every night at our army base just to hear that sound. And how we used to play Stra-vinsky records over and over in the dayroom at Lock-bourne. That sound is unique. If I had thought about it all morning I couldn't have come up with anything more distinctive--because it's also in Stravinsky's religi-ous music. He wrote a number of Masses--he was rooted in the music of the liturgy."
Ruff played the "Pange Lingua" one more time, giving it a joyful lilt. Then he took the mute out of the horn and put the horn back in its case and we walked out of the cemetery and took the vaporetto back to Venice. Ruff was at ease. The frustrations of the morning had been blown away.
--pp. 159 ff.