Downton Abbey Seasons 7, 8, and 9 (Excerpts)

Downton Abbey

If, like me, you were stung by the disappearance of major characters in the course of Season 3 of Downton Abbey, perhaps will find some grim enjoyment in the following.

Season 7, Episode 1.

After the dramatic cast attrition that began in Season 3, picked up speed in Seasons 4 and 5 with a swallowed champagne cork (Mosley) and bad oysters (three Crawleys, Mrs. Patmore, and a couple of unnamed kitchen staff), and reached a horrific crescendo in the final episode of season 6—the unforgettable crashing chandelier (“the body count of Granthams and Crawleys in the drawing room at that moment brought to mind the corpse-strewn stage in the final moments of ‘Hamlet'”—The Guardian), this new season begins on a quieter note. Carsons continues to be exasperated by the whirring gears (all right, the turning gears) of a new can opener. Lady Mary and Branson have now moved to separate wings of Downton, meeting only in the evening to claim their children from the nursery, where of late young Lady Sybil is playing soldier with her cousin, young Matthew “Ponsy” Crawley. While the children use building blocks and a toy pop-gun to re-enact the Easter Uprising, a different, far more sinister mischief is playing out in town: someone is clipping off all the rose blooms in local gardens. Believing that these matters should be dealt with a firm hand, Lady Grantham proposes flogging the commoners.

Season 7, Episode 4.

If you are among the viewers who have found the empty rooms and Beckett-like silences of this season a tad dispiriting, you will rejoice or at least take heart at the arrival of previously unmentioned Crawley cousins from across the pond, even if they are played by Britney Spears and Adam Sandler.

Season 7, Episode 7.

On a misty morning, the town constable catches the elusive rose thief in action. A magnificent 12-point buck makes a quick breakfast of three magnificent blooms of Variegata di Bologna before bolting over a hedge-row. Still adamant about obtaining a confession, Lady Grantham suggests flogging the local fauna as well as any itinerant Catholics.

Season 8, Episode 2.

Branson survives his drinking binge, and good news for the coffers of Downton arrives in the form of a job offer for the flush-faced heir as a local sales representative for Jameson’s. Lady Mary’s absence from the cast is hardly noticeable as her letters continue to arrive from India. Meanwhile, Carsons summons the courage to watch one of the new talking pictures that have created such a stir in town, though he ends up exasperating other audience members when he berates the onscreen kitchen staff for their slovenly service.

Daisy gets a tattoo.

Season 8, Episode 5.

The rumors bruited in Entertainment Weekly are, alas, true. The actor hired to wear front half of the deer costume in the role of the rose thief seems to have optioned out of his contract at the end of Season 7, and now we’re getting only glimpses of the back half of the animal—which explains the sometimes puzzling placements of garden walls, delivery trucks, and that restless tinker with the sandwich board. Since no gentleman would ever shoot a prize stag from behind, this four-legged marauder seems destined to live on at least until the next round of negotiations with the actors’ union.

Season 9, Episode 4.

Granted that of all the Granthams and Crawleys, we’ve seen only Branson for the past two episodes, and the actors playing servants seem to change abruptly every few scenes. But the intrigue of the show continues as Branson struggles to meet his sales quota with Jameson’s while unraveling the mysteries posed both by Mary’s letters and some cryptic postcards from New York, which as one astute viewer has noted appeared prominently two seasons ago on Antiques Roadshow.

Season 9, Episode 7.

Despite its longeurs, the season reaches a highly satisfying conclusion when Carsons beats the Adam Sandler character to death with a poker.

A rousing finish to this epic tale.

Photo: Creative Commons, some rights reserved by JBUK_Planet

Remembering the Jazz Scene at the Old Eulipia Cafe

I was pleased to read this week that the Eulipia Cafe in downtown San Jose is being reincarnated as a jazz club, which is how the restaurant began. The name has changed: the new cafe will be called Cafe Stritch. A stritch is an alto saxophone without a curved bell. Jazz horn player Rahsaan Roland Kirk used to play one. He also coined the term Eulipia.

When the Eulipia opened in the late 70’s, there was nothing like it in San Jose. There were certainly no other jazz clubs. Downtown San Jose was the business district of an old farming town that had boomed a bit. It hadn’t yet become anything like the bustling, more cosmopolitan place it is now.

But there on First Street, next to an avantgarde cinema, was Eulipia, a jazz club that booked major acts. What a gift.

We were teenagers. The wait staff welcomed us anyway. We ordered enormous goblets of hot chocolate. They were delicious.

The first time we went there was a Friday or Saturday night. We heard Mel Martin and his band Listen. Susan Muscarella, who would later found the Jazzschool in Berkeley, was on piano. Her performance thrilled me. I wanted to be able to play like that: to swing, to comp, to dash off those dazzling runs.

We bought Mel’s album, Growing, which featured a tune called “King Kong’s Honkey Tonk and Space Tango.” To my young ears, accustomed to classical music, a little pop, and a little country, it was wild. The music blared. It honked. It screeched and thumped. The spirit of this music could roar.

I can date that Mel Martin concert pretty easily, because it was either the next night or the next weekend that I attended my second jazz concert: Sonny Rollins, Donald Byrd, and Tony Williams at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. That performance ended up being recorded and issued as Don’t Stop the Carnival, one of Sonny’s few live albums from the sixties and seventies. The liner notes on “Don’t Stop the Carnival” say it was recorded on April 13-15, 1978, so that first trip to Eulipia must also have been in early April 1978.

Over the years, we heard other great players, including John Handy (with Pharoah Sanders, too, that night, as I recall), Richie Cole, and Phil Woods (I know we saw him at Keystone Korner in SF, but I think we also heard him at Eulipia, as well). I remember enjoying a piano trio led by a woman named Martha Young, who was somehow related to Lester Young (she might have been his niece). Unfortunately, I can’t find anything about her online.

The staff at Eulipia were always welcoming. I’m grateful to them for booking these acts and not minding that some teenagers are taking up some of the tables. I’ve lost track of some of our friends from those days, but Hafez is now a Professor of World Cultures in Music at San Francisco State. His new album Post-Chromodal Out! is soulful and spritely in an Ornette Coleman kind of way.

My twin brother went on to play tenor and soprano saxophone. He’s studied under Bruce Ackley of the Rova Quartet and Steve Lacy, and is studying composition now in Brooklyn.

I don’t play music any more, but I listen to jazz every day. And oddly enough, I never feel more at home than I do in a small club with a good band on stage that’s really cooking.

So thank you, Eulipia of old, and welcome Stritch. Let the music play on.

Here’s a track from Mel Martin’s album, Growing: