The Dylan Nobody Knows: Wynton Marsalis and Jacek Kaczmarski

By Tony Attwood and Aaron Galbraith

“The Dylan Nobody Knows” is a new series we are launching – and as ever it is an experiment. If we find it impossible to write, or if nobody bothers to read it, we’ll stop after one or two episodes.  If on the other hand we are nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature (or maybe get a few comments) we will endeavour to keep it going.

“Nobody Knows” of course is an exaggeration, but the title sounds bit better than “The Dylan only a few people know and maybe you don’t” so we are sticking with it for now, and the essence of the series will be the finding of really obscure songs or recordings and taking a look at them, or if we have already taken a look, taking another look, just to make sure the first look was ok.

At least that is what our original discussion agreed, except that we’re totally breaking that guideline for the first article, because if we have got the right man, a huge number of people know Jacek Kaczmarski, if our memories serve.  We shall see.

But as a starting point we have this new version of It Takes A Lot To Laugh.   Bob Dylan recorded this with Wynton Marsalis and it came out on Wynton’s “United We Swing” album in 2018.

The feeling here is that this slipped most people by…it’s a great version. It’s certainly obscure and really worth listening to.

Obviously the swing and the slow tempo are what hit the listener first, but it is as the vocals come in that we realise exactly how far this is going to swing.  By the end of the first verse as the band ups the relaxed cool swing element we really can feel the difference.

By the end of the second verse we hear the changes to the chord sequence which accompany, “Don’t the sun look good” and can feel just how the whole emphasis of the song is different from the Dylan original.

What is so clever is that the instrumental break takes us back down a step – there is nothing from the musicians that suggests they are trying to outdo each other and all that they have done before.  They are just being ultra cool.

There is then one more great surprise – it is subtle but it is glorious.   One of the great, great lines of “Train” is “I want to be your lover baby I don’t want to be your boss” which turns up here on the three-minute mark.

It’s one of those things that slaps a musician around the face while for non-musicians, there is that sense of slight unease that something is not right.   What in fact happens is that the vocalist starts singing the line, but instead of the musicians playing the chord change in keeping with the melody – as they have done in the first two verses, and indeed as Dylan does, they hold back so they are always half a bar behind.  It is doubleplus weird.

Now of course non-musicians won’t know what is happening, but it does generate a sense of unease, a sense of edge, a sense of all not being right.  And that is perfect for that line, for the line itself is expressing an element of love mixed with discontent.  It is a line we all know so well, and if delivered in the normal way with the chords and lyrics moving together we hear nothing new. By now we have got used to the song and the arrangement, we’ll just swing along with it.  But no, for here we are knocked out of our comfort zone – not least because it comes at the end of the performance.

A brilliant rendition.

For our second piece by Jacek Kaczmarski, a Polish artist who wanted to record a piece which “sounded like Dylan at Live Aid” so there are elements of “When The Ship Comes In” and “Blowin In The Wind”.

It’s called Epitafium Dla Boba Dylana  (epitaph for Bob Dylan).

Now what we could have done here is sent a note to Filip Łobodziński (whose work on Untold Dylan you will of course know, if you are a regular here) and asked him to help us out with the meanings and background etc, and as soon as this is published that is what we are going to do.

But there is a reason for not asking Filip before publishing because we wanted to record our thoughts on hearing this and not understanding the lyrics at all.

The point is that for those of us who are native English speakers, our sole challenge with a new Dylan song is simply deciphering some of the less intelligible parts of Bob’s diction.  Now that can be difficult to do first time around (you should see some of the abuse [which we did not publish] Tony got for his attempt to set out the lyrics of “Murder” within half an hour of hearing the song for the first time).

Yet we are only having to do this in English.  Working from a position where English is not one’s first language must be a totally different affair.

So we are trying to feel what that is like vis a vis a Dylan-esque song – hearing it and appreciating it, without a clue as to what the lyrics are saying.  It is for us a totally different experience.  We hear the guitar, the Dylanesque style, the emphasis and movement of the lyrics and melody line, we hear the melodies, we feel the hour that the ship comes in, but what are the lyrics?  What is making the highly respectful audience applaud at various points?

Tony had one thought – the name was familiar.  Not so familiar that he could say who Jacek Kaczmarski is or was for sure, but a hint – a hint that he was associated with Solidarity.  Now I’ll confess, rather than make a total idiot of myself, I have now checked that this is right, and yes it seems so.   And I see that sadly Jacek Kaczmarski passed away in 2004.  Such matters pass us by as we get on with our own lives, unseeing, unaware.

But now, the email goes off to Filip, and I hope he will reply and give us more insight into what is happening in this song, and how Jacek Kaczmarski is remembered today.


Details of the major series that we have run or are running are given at the top of the page under the picture, and on the right side of the page under “Indexes and reference pages”.  If we manage to write half a dozen or more articles in this series we’ll create an index to make them easier to find.

What else is on the site?

We have a very lively discussion group “Untold Dylan” on Facebook with over 3400 active members.  (Try imagining a place where it is always safe and warm).  Just type the phrase “Untold Dylan” in, on your Facebook page or follow this link 

You’ll find some notes about our latest posts arranged by themes and subjects on the home page of this site.  You can also see details of our main sections on this site at the top of this page under the picture.

The index to all the 602 Dylan compositions and co-compositions that we have found on the A to Z page.

If you are interested in Dylan’s work from a particular year or era, your best place to start is Bob Dylan year by year.

On the other hand if you would like to write for this website, or indeed have an idea for a series of articles that the regular writers might want to have a go at, please do drop a line with details of your idea, or if you prefer, a whole article to Tony@schools.co.uk

And please do note our friends at  The Bob Dylan Project, which lists every Dylan song in alphabetical order, and has links to licensed recordings and performances by Dylan and by other artists, plus links back to our reviews (which we do appreciate).

 

 

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6 Responses to The Dylan Nobody Knows: Wynton Marsalis and Jacek Kaczmarski

  1. Filip says:

    I’ll write some words, possibly paragraphs, promptly. Thank you for namechecking me, btw. It’s a subject for a longer article than just some hints. Stay observant.

  2. Joost Nillissen says:

    Great idea! Being tone deaf and unable to carry a tune at any time or place (even in the shower) I am grateful that you pointed out to me that “I wanna be your lover, I don’t wanna be your boss” is not quite right because the band lags half a bar behind. I felt the discomfort!
    Anyway, make sure you listen to the Dutch musician Ernst Jansz. He’s on Spotify: Ernst Jansz doet Dylan. Great voice and great translations. Check it out.

  3. jastour 2010 says:

    Both songs are fantastic! I am listening to Jacek Kaczmarski for the first time, wonderful singing. Thanks!

  4. philip hale says:

    A few things. Great post, thank you. I am pretty sure there was video of this on youtube or elsewhere online at some point and that I saw it. Dylan was having fun. I think that comes across on the recording anyway even if I imagined the video. Re the musical element, I also do not have any kind of understanding of the technique, chord changes etc but I also don’t have Aaron’s self restraint around this “Now I’ll confess, rather than make a total idiot of myself” so here goes with what maybe a dumb question. Why is what happens on that line “doubleplus weird”. How does it differ from just jazz sensibility? I hear Dylan changing his vocal inflection on that verse, he comes in on that 3rd line a little sooner than on at least one earlier verse and the band kind of lean out of it and it gives them room to kind of surge on “Don’t” as Dylan brings the song to a dynamic finish. I would not have noticed any of it if you had not highlighted it but having listened to it a few times that’s what I hear with my untutored and no doubt unsophisticated ears. How does that make it “doubleplus weird”? Fair warning that any answer may be pearls before swine!!

  5. TonyAttwood says:

    Philip – I’ll try to explain myself.
    In jazz and blues there is a tradition of coming in a little before or a little after the beat in order to give the music a feeling of “swing” or “edge” depending on how it is done. That’s quite normal.
    But there is no tradition of holding back a chord sequence, so what happens here is very unexpected indeed. Indeed so unexpected that even though I was trained as a classical musician, and went on to become an R&B, and blues player that I had to play the track again thinking “what did he just do?”
    The original movement of the chords fits with the beat
    I WANT to be your LOVER baby I DONT want to be your BOSS.
    Want is beat 1, Lover is beat 3, Don’t is beat 1 Boss is beat three.
    The melody fits with the chord change. But by shifting the chords back, the chords don’t fit with the melody. But much more to the point, we are so used to hearing the progression that Dylan used on the original – a progression so natural and which fits so well, hearing the progression changed in a very unusual and subtle way really challenges the listener.
    Of course for those who have not been trained as musicians, what is happening is not understood, but I suspect it still sounds different.
    Certainly I can’t think of any other occasion in which this is done to a very famous line using a distinctive chord progression.
    But, of course, this is just how I reacted. The band did it and thought about it, and I went “wow” but that doesn’t make it a work of genius. It is to me, but that’s just my thought.
    Hope that helps explain it a little bit.

  6. philip hale says:

    Hi Tony, thanks for your response, I appreciate you taking the time to do so. On that subject time is short so the prospect of me training as a classical musician and going on to be a R&B and Blues player while technically not impossible is highly unlikely. So I am going to have to live with the fact that you hear something that I am incapable of discerning but I appreciate you pointing out the how and why it is there. It makes sense even if I can’t fully “feel’ it. It brought into focus an element I just wouldn’t have noticed. On this point, “But much more to the point, we are so used to hearing the progression that Dylan used on the original – a progression so natural and which fits so well, hearing the progression changed in a very unusual and subtle way really challenges the listener.” I think there is a key to Dylan’s art right there. Its a bigger point than I want to make here but the “i couldn’t recognize his songs” and the pain that seems to bring to concert goers is that whole idea writ large throughout his career.

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