Guest post by Mick Frankel
Gemini is the sign of the Twins. It’s the sign of Mutable Air. What sort of music might fit with this quick-minded sign?
The mutability suggests music that flows and changes. The air element means that there has to be a clear intelligence at work. And Gemini is ruled by Mercury so this reinforces the intelligent communication. Maybe some gentle humour and an overall lightness of touch as well.
Gemini rules the fingers so there should also be some real high-speed, virtuoso playing involved. Certainly none of the heavy-duty emotional depth of the sign of Scorpio.
So, we’re looking for music that has something of the dual nature of the Twins and that is quick-witted, enjoyable, light-hearted, playful and intelligent.
Starting off with the nimble-fingered side of Gemini, it’s intriguing to find that two top Jazz clarinettists Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw were both born with the Sun in Gemini. I find it hard to think of Benny Goodman, the so-called “King of Swing”, without picturing those fingers rippling as he plays an inventive solo, improvising on a jazz tune.
Equally pleasing is the fact that both Les Paul and Chet Atkins have the Sun in Gemini in their birth charts. These are two pioneers of the electric guitar. Picture their fingers flying around the fretboard at lightning speed.
Inventive genius Les Paul was also one of the first to use double-tracking techniques so that he could duet with himself. How’s that for Gemini? He also used electronic wizardry to speed up the sound of his guitar.
Chet Atkins brought a wonderful lightness of touch to his guitar playing on high-speed tunes like “Mr. Sandman”. Speed of playing and light-heartedness seem to be the characteristics of many Gemini musicians. But there’s also this dual-nature to think about. Take, for example, trumpeter Miles Davis (born 25th May) who was known for being difficult to deal with.
I heard bass player Marcus Miller (June 14th) tell this story about Miles Davis. Although he’d heard terrible stories about Miles being impossible to work with, Marcus Miller went along for an audition.
Miles said something like, “Just play E and F sharp. That’s all.”
Marcus Miller, a brilliant bass player, did as he was told. After a short while, Miles stopped playing and said, “Are they the only two notes you know?”
Miller began playing runs and fills with every possible note in them. Miles stopped playing and said, “I thought I told you just to play E and F sharp?”
The story ends happily though. Driving from the audition in a foul-temper, Marcus Miller switched on the radio to hear his uncle Wynton Kelly with Miles Davis playing “Someday My Prince Will Come”. Taking this as a sign, Miller took the job with Davis and they went on to produce some wonderful music in the last phase of Miles’ life.
Miles Davis is one of many Gemini musicians who were able to change and adapt over the years. Always at the forefront of changes, Miles Davis’ musical output is amazing. As a youngster he was a pioneer of Be-Bop playing alongside Charlie Parker. Be-Bop tunes were deliberately constructed to be so fast and difficult that only best musicians could play the themes let alone improvise around them.
In his early years, Miles was going through the phase where he was trying to play “The Flight Of The Bumblebee” as fast as possible. Many musicians know about this phase but some never grow out of it.
Constantly searching, Miles recorded an album called “Birth of the Cool” – what a title – which featured tightly written arrangements with a heady, intellectual sound. After that period came the magnificent “Kind Of Blue” featuring a crystal-clear, sparse sound with Miles Davis’ trumpet now playing a very different, instantly recognisable sound.
And throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, recordings by groups led by Miles Davis were consistently challenging and ground-breaking. This continued right through to the Marcus Miller period towards the end of Miles’ life.
Longevity and changing with the times seems to be a feature of Gemini musicians like Miles Davis. Les Paul was still playing guitar in his nineties. Bob Dylan went from acoustic musician to the leader of an electric band much to the dismay of the die-hard fans. Dylan’s career has been full of twists and turns but he’s still around.
And surely, Bob Dylan is an excellent example of the Gemini mind at work. Lyrics tumbling out of him, each verse full of ideas and imagery, constantly creative and inventive. Anyone listening to Bob Dylan now as a DJ on BBC Radio will know that the Gemini sense of lightness and fun is alive and well.
Paul McCartney is another Gemini musician who’s come through all sorts of changes. Still making music and trying new things, McCartney’s songs have a lightness about them that fits well with the sign of Gemini. He is also able to have many changes within the same song while preserving some kind of continuity. The Beatles “Sgt. Pepper” album has some magnificent examples of the Gemini mind at work.
But I think that the piano totally exemplifies the sign of Gemini especially one particular style of Jazz playing known as “stride”.
Gemini Musicians Taking It All In Their Stride
To play stride, the pianist has to keep a steady time with their left hand whilst playing a broken time and improvising with their right hand. For most of us, this is pretty much impossible to even think about let alone to attempt to play. And yet in the hands of two Gemini musicians, stride piano sounds magnificently wonderful and funny.
Thomas “Fats” Waller was born 21st May 1904 as the Sun moved into Gemini. His music appears to be great fun with him singing in a playful style and shouting encouragement to his fellow musicians as on “Twelfth Street Rag”.
Fats Waller was also one of the first, if not the first, Jazz organist. His skill as a musician extended to being able to use pedals as well.
But listen to his piano playing and you hear the Gemini genius at work. His left hand plays 1-2-3-4 moving through the changes in a way that would normally be perfectly adequate as an accompaniment on its own. But his right hand flies effortlessly over the top playing across the beat in such a way that it makes you smile as your ear tries to assimilate it all.
There’s something about being split in two like this that makes you laugh. It’s at the heart of most jokes. Pure Gemini.
But even more than the great Fats Waller, the pianist who exemplifies the sign of Gemini for me is Erroll Garner.
Erroll Garner – The Epitome Of Gemini Music
Here’s an un-timed chart for Erroll Garner, born on 15th June 1923 in Pittsburgh PA:
Sun Gemini, Mercury Gemini and, provided that he was born after 9 a.m. Venus in Gemini as well.
The powerful Mars/Pluto conjunction in the sign of Cancer the Crab trine Jupiter in Scorpio gives Erroll Garner tremendous physical stamina and endurance. The Moon could well have been tightly involved as well. Apparently he was able to, “…sit at the piano without prior planning and record three albums in one day.”
Here’s a paragraph from his biography on AllMusic.com:
“A brilliant virtuoso who sounded unlike anyone else, Erroll Garner on medium-tempo pieces often stated the beat with his left hand like a rhythm guitar while his right played chords slightly behind the beat, creating a memorable effect.”
Erroll Garner took stride piano playing to a new level. He sounds like two people playing piano together.
The Beautiful Moonglow
But I think that there’s even more of the Gemini two-ness to his playing. Take for example the beautiful song, “Moonglow”. The lyrics to the start of the song are:
“It must have been moonglow
Way up in the blue…”
Often, when you hear Jazz players stating the theme of a song, you can imagine them hearing the lyrics to the tune as they play. There’s no doubt that Erroll Garner would have known the lyrics to “Moonglow” but in his magnificent version, he plays it as if he hears something like this:
“It must-must have been moon glow
Way up-up in the blue-blue…”
So here we have a piano player accompanying himself with his left hand keeping a steady beat while his right hand states the theme in a way that’s slightly against the beat and also doubling up some of the notes in the melody.
The effect is wonderful. I often burst out laughing just listening to Erroll Garner play.
Erroll Garner Plays Misty
Here’s another quote from Allmusic.com:
“His playful free-form introductions (which forced his sidemen to really listen), his ability to play stunning runs without once glancing at the keyboard, his grunting and the pure joy that he displayed while performing were also part of the Erroll Garner magic.”
Erroll Garner was a self-taught genius. His most famous composition is the song “Misty”. How ironic for the sign of Gemini that Johnny Burke’s lyrics include the line:
“…never knowing my right foot from my left…”
Be sure to visit Mick’s excellent website for Tarot, I-Ching, Astrology and Dream Interpretation services and articles.