J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Happy Birthday Svend Asmussen

The great Danish jazz violinist Svend Asmussen’s birthday is today. The 1940’s were a bad time to be a jazz musician in National Socialist occupied Europe. Early one morning, Asmussen got the dreaded knock on the door, and quickly found himself incommunicado in a Copenhagen prison. Fortunately, Danes weren’t too keen on collaboration. Eventually Asmussen was released through the efforts of Danish-German Gestapo officer, sympathetic to the Danish cause. Asmussen would survive to become one of Europe’s leading jazz musicians, and to dub one of the voices in the Danish version of Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland.

Always a tasteful player, Asmussen attained international stature through his own recordings, and work with French violinist Stephane Grappelli. He played on an unusual Ellington small group session, also featuring Grappelli and Ellington violinist Ray Nance. Benny Goodman was impressed enough by the violinist to try to bring him to the States twice, but was stymied by restrictive U.S. immigration regulations. Our loss.

And of course, he is a Dane, so he must be trouble. Like the National Socialists before them, the Islamic fascists take issue with the Danish commitment to freedom. Amazing how similar extremists are in their prejudices. Fortunately we can enjoy Asmussen’s music of ninety swinging years.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Emily for Assembly Tomorrow

Tuesday is special election day on the Westside. I encourage everyone in the district to vote for Emily Csendes, the only candidate with a background in financial management. This would be a particular weakness of Linda Rosenthal, the county endorsed Democrat in the race. In response to a question at last week's candidate forum, she estimated her campaign had raised between $10,000 and $50,000—a pretty substantial spread on its face. The actual figure available on the Board of Election website is $90,700. I suppose Democrats would say that’s close enough for government work. Those with higher standards should vote for Emily (www.electemily.com).

Man with the Golden Arm

Probably best known for the role of Nighstalker reporter Carl Kolchak, Darren McGavin, who passed away Sat. had a key supporting role in The Man with the Golden Arm, a film of significant importance in the jazz cinema canon. It was one of the more ambitious attempts by a Hollywood composer, Elmer Bernstein, to integrate jazz into soundtrack scoring. It featured the work of jazz greats like Shorty Rogers and Shelly Manne, who also appear as themselves during an ill-fated audition for Frank Sinatra’s drug addicted jazz drummer, Frankie Machine. That’s a scene I’ve actually used in several SCPS classes.

Ultimately, the sum of Golden Arm’s parts is greater than its whole. McGavin himself is effectively creepy in key scenes, luring Sinatra back into heroin use. However, he looks more like a country squire in his three-piece tweeds, than a drug pusher. At the time Golden Arm’s ambition was to be a shockingly realistic look at drug addiction, but now it seems dated. If you’ve seen Travolta pop a syringe of adrenaline through the OD’ing Uma Thurman’s sternum in Pulp Fiction, Golden Arm is likely to strike you as a bit white-washed. Ozzie & Harriet with smack. Yet there are fine elements, like the music and Sinatra’s performance, which mixed desperation with dignity. Unfortunately, it reinforced the general public’s association of jazz with drugs, which sadly had a very real basis in reality for too many artists in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Man with the Golden Arm demonstrates a film may be flawed in its execution, yet remain important over time.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Spanish Tinge Under an Iron Heel

The Feb. 20th Jazz Week reports: “Puente Jr., Mayfield Contribute to New Film Exploring Cuban Participation Within Negro Baseball Leagues” link here (paid registration req’d if not industry or academic). Their involvement is certainly appropriate given Cuba’s history in the development of jazz.

Cubans were prominent in the development of jazz from the beginning, with a considerable Cuban community in New Orleans at the turn of the century, active in the city’s musical scene. Many early New Orleans band leaders, like Manuel Perez, were of Cuban descent. Jelly Roll Morton himself was influenced by Cuban rhythms, and coined the term “the Spanish tinge” to describe Latin influences in jazz. In the late twenties Cuban Alberto Socarras continued the tradition, practically introducing the flute into jazz.

In the late 1040’s Dizzy Gillespie combined bop, Latin and big band jazz with his Cubop band, featuring electrifying percussion from Chano Pozo. A legendary figure in Cuba, rumored to be involved in voodoo, Pozo’s time with Gillespie was abruptly cut short when he was killed in bar fight in 1948. Their collaboration did yield classic recordings, such as “Manteca.”

Unfortunately, Cuban would fall under the iron heel of dictator Fidel Castro. Like his fellow Communists, the National Socialists, and Apartheid South Africa, Castro banned jazz. At one point, Arturo Sandoval was imprisoned for listening to Willis Conover’s Voice of America jazz program. Sandoval and fellow musicians like Paquito D’Rivera were able to disguise their jazz as traditional Cuban music well enough to fool the authorities, but they couldn’t kid Dizzy. Gillespie always kept an open ear to Cuba, and when he heard Sandoval and associates, he was able to hire them for the big band he led under the auspices of the United Nations. Ultimately, Gillespie helped both musicians to defect to the United States, but many of their associates still live under Castro’s police state.

The 1990’s saw an explosion off interest in Cuban music, following high profile films like Calle 54 and The Buena Vista Social Club. Castro has lifted his foot from jazz’s throat, for the sake of propaganda and hard currency. However, if you’ve been taken in by one of Castro’s Potemkin jazz tourist packages, don’t mention it to NEA Jazz Master Paquito D’Rivera. Ordinarily one of the most affable artists in music, D’Rivera has no love for Castro, and does not mince words in his autobiography My Sax Life. Enjoy the rich sounds of Cuba, but don’t forget the reality of life under totalitarianism. See at the Real Cuba.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Odd Spin 2/24: Bud Shank’s Folk & Flute

Bud Shank’s Flute & Folk
Leader, flute: Bud Shank
Guitar: Joe Pass
Plus the Folkswingers
Label: World Pacific

The platter: One of the Folk-Swingers was Joe Pass. The others may be lost to the sands of time, but they support Shank’s tasteful playing well in this surprisingly enjoyable set of folk standards by the likes of Bob Dylan and Woody Gutherie. Bud Shank is one of the great alto players, but his reputation probably suffers from some of the gimmicky sessions World Pacific put him in. Trust me, this one actually works.

There has been some affinity between jazz and folk artists. Perhaps it’s a matter of proximity, in that jazz and folk were often programmed in the same venues. The Village Vanguard is one of jazz’s true shrines, but Max Gordon’s West Village club originally featured both jazz and folk acts. George Wein, long the producer of the Newport Jazz Festival, has also been one of the leading folk concert promoters. Even the venerable jazz label, Verve Records, launched a blues and folk subsidiary, Forecast.

Some genre crossing artists have pursued their own musical fusions. Folk singer Josh White, Jr. made the centerpiece of his act, a song closely associated with jazz diva Billie Holiday: “Strange Fruit.” His father, blues singer Josh White, actually recorded a 78 for Blue Note Records, the revered jazz label, early in its history. Oscar Brown, Jr. created a successful, politically conscious cabaret act mixing jazz and folk. Folk singer Barbara Dane recorded a big band album with jazz legend Earl “Fatha” Hines. Dane herself was at the forefront of the “blues roots” movement, which sought to identify and celebrate traditional bluesmen as folk’s fore-bearers. With distant blues ancestry in common, it’s not as surprising that many gimmicky jazz folk cover albums were actually quite successful, particularly this one.

Bottom line: It may be a good album, but it hasn’t carried a high price tag, due to the folk material. Hold out for something less than $10.00.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Comedy Last Night

I missed the show, but there are on-line reports that at last night's Upper Westside Assembly candidate night, Democrat Linda Rosenthal received text messages during the forum link. I guess thinking on your feet is a tall order for some candidates. One candidate giving the forum her full attention and actually thinking for herself was, yes that's right: Republican Emily Csendes www.electemily.com.

Unions Exploit Immigrants

There is story flying under the radar in Colorado that might have wider implications around the country, thanks to the dogged efforts of former State Rep. Rob Fairbank. When he read in his local paper about the Colorado construction union’s efforts to “recruit” immigrants, regardless of immigration status, he started to connect some dots. Union member’s dues are largely funneled into their PACs, which in turn donate to political candidates (largely Democrats). However, Colorado prohibits non-citizens from donating to candidates. Therefore, a large percentage of union political donations (approximately 66% in the case of CO construction workers) are in fact illegal campaign contributions. He sketches out the current situation in CO here, here and here.

While Rep. Fairbank’s posts are particular to CO, there are elements of the story that should apply to all states. Restricting political donations to U.S. citizens is pretty near a universal state requirement.

Unions have responded by trying to muddy the waters with an argument about illegal immigration. However, those who claim to advocate on behalf of immigrants should be the most outraged, as those workers are, I would argue, the most victimized by this situation.

I am extremely sympathetic to people seeking economic opportunity through hard work. In fact, I would actually like to see it easier for foreign workers to find legal employment here. Those who come to America to work, legally or illegally, want to obey the U.S. law, once they are here. However, unions have made them unwitting accomplices in an effort to circumvent campaign finance law.

Those illegal donations are usually funneled to candidates who take positions that are not in the interests of many immigrant union workers. Unions tend to favor Democrats, who typically take positions that are pro-abortion, liberal on gay issues, and opposed to free trade agreements with developing countries. Latin American immigrants tend to be Catholic, pro-life, and concerned about economic development in their home country, which would benefit from increased trade.

Most immigrants, legal or illegal, start their new lives in America in a precarious economic position. If given a choice, they would most likely prefer to save their money to build a new life here, or to send funds home to family members, rather than give illegal contributions to candidates running in a political system they cannot participate in.

Obviously, this system needs reform. Non-citizen union members should be refunded the portion of their dues that do not directly support collective bargaining efforts. Unfortunately, Democrat politicians and their union paymasters have a vested interest in maintaining the corrupt status quo.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Friends Like These

Although Bill and Hillary Clinton have had their personal electoral successes, their golden touch has not rubbed off on many of their associates. Andrew Cuomo, Robert Reich, Erskine Bowles, and Janet Reno have all lost high profile elections since their days in the Clinton White House. Now, Reno associate Charles Simon is running for an open Assembly seat on the Upper Westside.

What name should jump out on his campaign finance filing, but Bernard Nussbaum, stroking a check for $500.00
http://www.elections.state.ny.us/finance/contribandexpend.htm. I’m assuming this is the same Bernard Nussbaum who was also a member of the Clinton administration. That Nussbaum botched the handling of Vincent Foster’s tragic suicide, and was named in a Judicial Watch lawsuit for his part in the inappropriate handling of sensitive personal FBI files of former executive branch appointees (http://judicialwatch.org/alexander.shtml).

Should we be concerned about Simon’s commitment to the right to privacy, knowing who his associates are? Probably no need to worry, given his underwhelming performance at the Goddard-Riverside forum and the track record of Clintonites seeking elective office. There are three more talented candidates also in the race. The most committed to reforming Albany would be the lone Republican, Emily Csendes (www.electemily.com).

Ragtime Patriot: James Reese Europe

“My country calls me and I must answer, and if I live to come back, I will startle the world with my music”—James Reese Europe, quoted in Reid Badger’s A Life in Ragtime.

So Lt. Europe spoke before reporting to Fort Dix, after enduring two invasive surgeries, which most likely could have excused him from duty. As Europe’s 15th New York National Guard Infantry Division began the process of mustering into the U.S. Army, one of WWI’s more remarkable stories was set in motion, culminating in an unprecedented 171 citations for individual heroism, and a forty percent fatality rate for the original 2,000 volunteers.

Born today on February 22, 1880 to a freed slave who became a Republican appointee in the postmaster-general’s office, James Reese Europe would quickly rise to the pinnacle of the New York dance band world. Nearly all the top dance bands operated under the auspices of his benevolent club, most directly under his own name. More than any other band leader, he ushered American music through its early changes from Ragtime to a more syncopated style that would eventually become Jazz. As musical director for Vernon and Irene Castle, he broke the color-line providing music for white America’s dancing sensations.

Europe led many orchestras, but it was as the leader of the 15th’s marching band for which he is most celebrated. It was the band itself that enticed many of the 15th’s volunteers into service. While attached to the U.S. Army, Europe’s band thrilled U.S. servicemen and French civilians in performance. Due to Army reluctance to pursue battlefield integration, the 15th was re-christened the 369th Infantry Regiment, and attached to the French Army at the front. Soon dubbed the “Hell Fighters” for their warfighting tenacity, Europe’s men endured trench warfare and distinguished themselves under artillery fire and chemical attack.

As a result of their heroic service, the 369th band led a historic victory parade on their return to New York. Although most of Europe’s music was unrecorded, some sessions survive, including the song “On Patrol in No Man’s Land,” which he wrote in a field hospital while recuperating from a gas attack. Sadly, Europe was killed by a mentally disturbed band member shortly after his return. His premature death prevented him from fully attaining his musical ambitions, but his brief life demonstrated unusual leadership both on the bandstand and the battlefield.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Thomas Nelson Under Very New Management?

PW Daily carried this news item reports today that religious publishing house Thomas Nelson (www.thomasnelson.com/consumer/) will be bought by InterMedia Partners VII. Terms of the agreement are available here: http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6308997.html?display=breaking

What caught my eye was the name Leo Hindery, Jr., InterMedia’s managing partner. Hindery is a big-time cable deal-maker and prolific Democrat donor. Mother Jones profiles his donations here: http://www.motherjones.com/news/special_reports/mojo_400/29_hindery.html

It’s interesting that just as Nelson moves into conservative non-fiction in a big way, with books by conservatives like Glenn Reynolds and Michael Savage published under their Nelson Current imprint, the house is bought by a firm controlled by a major liberal donor. This could be a very interesting marriage of corporate cultures. One hopes InterMedia simply sees religious and conservative publishing as a growth area, and will give company president Michael Hyatt complete editorial control.

If this is a George Soros-styled attempt to muzzle dissenting opinions, it is doomed to failure. The notion that conservative books sell is now well established in my industry. Regnery will continue to publish bestsellers, and the New York-based houses will follow their lead. Let’s hope Hindery & Co. are looking to make money, rather than waste it.

The Night Flock—Jazz and Religion

“All praise be to God to Whom all praise is due.” So John Coltrane begins the famous liner notes to his seminal album A Love Supreme. It was his thanksgiving to God for his “spiritual awakening,” which gave him the strength to stop using cold turkey, and begin his remarkable musical-spiritual journey. After his early death, the spiritual devotion of Coltrane would inspire a church in San Francisco devoted to the artist and his music (www.saintjohncoltrane.com). Certainly, a first in jazz history.

The very word “jazz” is thought to originally be derived from a slang term for sexual intercourse. It is strongly associated with night clubs and all manners of night life. Yet throughout its existence, jazz has had a relationship with sacred music, beginning with the early jazz pioneers, who often included hymns like “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” in their repertoire.

Frequently, jazz musicians’ first exposure to music came through the church. Lionel Hampton for instance, received his formal musical training from the Fathers of the private Catholic school he attended on scholarship. Hampton eventually converted to Catholicism, and after an inspiring tour of Israel, he wrote The King David Suite, his most ambitious composition.

Hampton was not the only jazz legend to compose works reflective of his religious convictions. Duke Ellington, the urbane ladies man, composed the stirring spiritual “Come Sunday” as part of the Black, Brown, and Beige suite he premiered at Carnegie Hall in January 1943. However, the depth of his religious feeling was not widely recognized until he recorded his 1960’s Sacred Concerts in Grace Cathedral, which he considered his most important work.

1960’s soul jazz gave new impetus to jazz’s interest in the music of the church. Borrowing equally from gospel and r&b, Soul Jazz was an attempt to reconnect jazz with its African-American roots. The result was a nexus between the sacred and the profane.

Some men of the cloth truly personified the soul of jazz, performing and recording as jazz musicians themselves. Father Jack Herrera played with many territory swing bands before finding his calling in the church. He later returned to jazz for an Enterprise LP expressive of his faith. Father Tom Vaughan was more prolific, recording three piano trio albums on RCA in the 1960’s, often with top sidemen, like Elvin Jones and Art Davis. His repertoire mixed jazz and pop standards with more sacred fare.

Throughout it all, one church more than any other has ministered to the spiritual needs of jazz musicians—St. Peter’s on 53rd Street at Lexington Avenue in Manhattan (www.saintpeters.org/jazz/). The late Pastor John Gensel was a jazz fan himself and understood working musicians needed a religious home with flexible hours. His jazz congregation, known as the “Night Flock” finally had a Father who understood the music scene.

Many Jazz musicians continue to work with sacred themes. Wynton Marsalis has composed extended works like In This House, On This Morning and All Rise that are deeply rooted in the church experience. As with any musical endeavor, the deeper the feeling, the more moving a particular recording is apt to be.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Shelly Who?

Thursday night, candidates running in the State Assembly special election on the Upper Westside faced each other at a forum at Goddard-Riverside. One audience member (why is everyone looking at me?) submitted the following question: “As a member of the Assembly, potentially, do you support the re-election of Sheldon Silver as Speaker? If so, why?” Or words to that effect. The crowd reacted with murmurs, suggesting this was an unfair question. However, if you believe Silver has been good for the City, it should be a snap to answer.

First to respond was Democrat Mike Lupinacci, who called Silver “an abomination,” and said “no,” to supporting Silver. (I actually enjoyed that answer, but it probably gave his campaign manager a heart attack). Second was Democrat Linda Rosenthal, who had previously made much of her work with the Democrat power structure, including Rep. Nadler, Borough Pres. Stringer, and Sen. Clinton. She said: “I don’t want to get personal. I’ve actually never really met the man.” She then offered some mild criticism of Silver, for not being as open as previous assembly leaders, but did not really address the question. The next candidate, Democrat Charles Simon, claimed to be too busy with his own campaign to think of such matters, and proceeded to change the subject. Finally, Republican Emily Csendes answered that as a Republican, she wouldn’t owe anything to Silver, and would not be supporting him.

So to recap, four candidates (three of which being Democrats), running in an overwhelmingly Democrat district, speaking before an audience that was more Democrat than Republican, were unable or unwilling to offer any positive justification for reelecting Silver as Speaker. I don’t understand why Republican candidates are reluctant to make support for the Silver regime more of an issue. Despite the other candidates’ lip-service, it was crystal clear Emily Csendes was the only candidate who would be willing and able to stand up for real reform in the Assembly. If you don’t live in her district, you can still send some green to the campaign here: www.electemily.com.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Prosecution Soon Rests

I prefer to concentrate on local rather than national politics. However, I might eventually write on grand jury-shopping D.A. Ronnie Earle, and his incredible shrinking case against Rep. DeLay, because I think “Witless for the Persecution” would be a great title.

Of course that’s a reference to Agatha Christie’s short story and stage play “Witness for the Prosecution,” a great production of which is currently being staged by the Heights Players in Brooklyn (www.witnessfortheprosecution.net). The acting is first-rate, and it looks fantastic—give props to the props. Unfortunately, it ends its run today, so act quick if you want to catch it. I suspect time is running out for Earle as well.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Ray Barretto 1929-2006

Ejazznews posts the sad news of Ray Barretto’s passing this morning. Barretto was a giant of Latin jazz, a first-call conguero whose percussion was highly sought after by jazz legends looking to add some Latin flavor to their sessions. He played with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Gene Ammons, Art Blakey, and Wes Montgomery.

Barretto lead scores of his own sessions, producing some of his strongest jazz work late in his career, with CDs like Homage to Art and Contact! Coincidently, Barretto also played on today’s featured LP from “Juan Calle.” His Latin jazz album of Bond themes entitled Senor 007, is another entertaining LP I might feature here in the future. Whatever the musical context, Barretto always played with passion.

Barretto’s contributions were recognized in his lifetime when the NEA named him one of the 2006 Jazz Masters in January.

http://www.ejazznews.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=5782&mode=thread&order=0&thold=0

Welcome Real NY YR’s

And you know who you are. Thanks for the link http://nyyrcrecord.blogspot.com/, between Instapundit and Little Green Footballs, distinguished company to keep. I’ll try to spin something fresh here every weekday, so visit regularly.

If anyone is fired up about something posted here, e-mail me at: jb.feedback@yahoo.com. All mail considered fit to print, unless otherwise noted. We’ll be giving away some books here soon as well, so keep watching these pages.

Odd Spin 2/17: Juan Calle’s Mazel Tov, Mis Amigos

Juan Calle’s Mazel Tov, Mis Amigos
Leader, lute: Juan Calle (John Cali)
Piano: Eddie Palmieri
Timbales: Willie Rodriguez
Conga, bongos: Ray Barretto
Trumpets: Clark Terry, Lou Oles, Doc Cheatham
Bass: Wendell Marshall
Clarinet, bass clarinet, flute: Shelly Russell
Label: Riverside (RLP 7510) 1961

The skinny: Under the Latinized name Calle, banjo player John Cali switches to the lute and leads a Latin big band through a set of traditional Yiddish songs. This LP was released by Riverside, under their “Popular Records” series, intended for more mainstream audiences than the jazz recordings they specialized in. Oddly, they assumed Middle American was waiting to embrace tunes like "Beltz, Mein Shtetle Beltz Pachanga" and "Vus De Vilst, Dus Vill Ich Oich Cha-Cha." Riverside’s important recordings by Bill Evans and Wes Montgomery were easily more popular with mainstream audiences, than most of their releases on the “Popular” imprint. Still, this session has some good moments, with great Latin musicians like Eddie Palmieri and Ray Baretto keeping it real, and jazz legends Clark Terry and Doc Cheatham occasionally getting a chance to stretch out.

Bottom line: There are enough straight-up Latin legends to make this a sought after platter. Presumably, not many were pressed. Expect to see it in the $20-25 range.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Cold Fusion—Strange Collaborators

In 1946 Igor Stravinsky composed Ebony Concerto for Woody Herman’s big band. At the time, it was a highly unexpected collaboration, but it would establish a precedent for further fusions of jazz and classical music, later to be dubbed Third Stream.

Fuse the verb—to combine elements—became Fusion, a noun for a particularly style of jazz in the late 1960’s. Fusion: the deliberate mixing of jazz and rock musical styles. Of course there were many earlier fusions of jazz with other musical genres, be it Third Stream Jazz, Western Swing, or Terry Callier’s blend of folk and jazz elements.

There is always curiosity about unusual pairings, like Bing Crosby singing White Christmas with David Bowie, Frank Sinatra singing with Bono, or Tony Bennett teaming up with Flea. Someone usually makes stylistics concessions. In their popular rendition of White Christmas, Bowie wisely adapted his style to Crosby’s. Sometimes diverse collaborators come together for a shared musical conception. Sometimes for novelty.

While I enjoy many musical fusions, I think the time for fusion in New York politics has come and gone. New York has an unusual system, where major party candidates may also take the ballot lines of minor fusion parties, and add those votes to their total return. For instance, Gov. Pataki has long been the nominee of both the Republican and Conservative Parties.

There are noble roots to some fusion parties. Anti-Communist liberals like Reinhold Niebuhr were instrumental in founding the Liberal Party, as way to support national and statewide progressive candidates without voicing support for the corrupt local Democrat Party, or the American Labor Party which was dominated by Communists and fellow travelers.

That was then. Now several NY minor parties seem to survive largely on donations from prospective candidates interested in their ballot line. It’s hard to see the value they add to the political system. When the Conservative Party can join the far-left Working Families Party, cross-endorsing Democrat Michael McNulty (NY-21), with a lifetime ACU rating of 22% (http://www.acuratings.org/), you have to wonder. The Conservatives might at least play a role keeping the state party from reverting to its Rockefeller roots, but the Working Family Party doesn’t have to worry about state Democrats morphing into Zell Miller anytime soon.

Currently, the most coveted minor ballot line is row C, the Independence Party. Consisting of elements from the Perot campaigns and the avowedly Marxist New Alliance Party (http://www.adl.org/special_reports/nap.asp), the IP’s endorsement has been sought in the past by most major NY politicians, including Pataki, Spitzer, and Clinton. It does make one wonder about stylistic concessions. For fusion, I prefer early Weather Report.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Playing Dress-Up

Most people have scene the footage of Dana Milbank playing dress-up http://michellemalkin.com/archives/004550.htm. Perhaps he thinks he has a future as a prop comic. I have a suggestion for his next costume: Muhammad. Standing up for free expression would be a lot more impressive than this kind of juvenile acting out.

G-Rated Jazz

Last week’s odd spin raises the issue of jazz family values. Rightly or wrongly, jazz does not have a strong family image. Its roots are in the brothels of Storyville, the speakeasies of Kansas City and Chicago, and the night clubs of Harlem. Even today, the formerly smoke-filled night club is the most common jazz laboratory for musical development.

While jazz’s ancestry might be notorious, individual musicians are much more likely to be responsible family members, struggling to earn some bread. Life as a jazz musician, with constant touring and late night performances, certainly can put a strain on family life. Musicians like Charlie Parker and Joe Albany also faced the demons of drug addiction and mental illness, causing tremendous chaos for their families.

Other musicians were able to raise their children in a stable, creative environment, ultimately bringing them into the musical tradition. Ellis Marsalis raised four musical prodigies: Wynton, Branford, Delfayo, and Jason. Duke Ellington passed the leadership of his Orchestra down to his son Mercer, and now grandson Paul leads the band. A similar succession took place when Arturo O’Farrill took over the leadership of Chico O’Farrill latin big band after the elder O’Farrill passed away.

Even children not born into a jazz dynasty can be enriched by an early exposure to jazz. Wynton Marsalis oversees many Jazz for Young People programs at the Lincoln Center, and the Jazz Standard has a special weekend set for kids. After all, there are important lessons to be learned from jazz. It was born out of America’s racial struggles, yet it expresses America’s philosophy of freedom. More than any other music, it prizes individual expression. It is the truest American musical expression. Sadly, there have been a relatively small number of jazz albums produced explicitly for young audiences, but Horace Silver did do his part.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Olympic Warning: Don't Pull an Ackerman

Memo to politicians: don't try to inject yourself into a constituentss moment of glory. Just send a nice letter, suitable for framing. Don't pull an Ackerman. That's Gary Ackerman, the Congressional excuse from Queens and a sliver of the Long Island, that included the home of figure-skater Sarah Hughes. Moments after winning her upset Gold medal, an emotional Hughes expecting a call from her parents, was confused to receive a call on her cell from Ackerman, trying to worm his way into some Olympic publicity. Find an archived recap on the dormant politicsny congressional rankings, under "below average:" http://www.politicsny.com/archives/2003/february/congressionalratings.shtml

David Ricardo and Paco Sery

On the whole, I’m quite impressed with the i-pod and the i-tunes service. My one complaint is that American i-tunes users are not able to download from the international i-tunes sites. I’m sure that’s to protect the territorial rights of record labels. If an American label has the license for an album in this territory, they would not want U.S. users downloading the same music from a foreign record label, through one of i-tunes international arms. They are within their rights to expect i-tunes to help protect their investment. However, it is frustrating that we can’t access foreign music that is not being distributed in America.

Jazz record buyers have a long history of chasing import editions. I have a fairly large collection of Japanese import CDs reissuing American sessions not currently available in their original land of recording. Indeed high-end LPs are regularly flipped between Japanese and American collectors.

Music, like ideas and commerce should travel between borders relatively easily. During the 1950’s, the British musicians’ union essentially closed the country to visiting musicians. Yet, it was their members who suffered the most, forced to travel abroad to hear the latest developments in Bebop and modern jazz.

Jazz as an art form has a unique ability to soak in and synthesize foreign influences into something entirely new itself. Anything that constrains that trade, robs the music of new stimulus.

When I listen to the music of Paco Sery, it’s difficult to understand the demonization of global trade underway by the left. A native of Côte d'Ivoire, Sery played in the band of Joe Zawinul, an Austrian keyboardist whose own credits include stints with Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis. Sery’s CD Voyages, incorporates the sounds of jazz, world & traditional music, funk, and I’m not sure what else. It’s an amazing blend, but don’t bother looking for it on i-tunes. I purchased this French Bluenote CD on-line, and I intend to hold onto it.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Jazz for Hart

NRCC has a notice about an upcoming fundraiser for Rep. Melissa Hart (PA-4) this Wed., titled "Taking Jazz to Hart." The Dino Efantis Trio is playing. I've never heard of them, but I assume they're local D.C. musicians, so good for Hart for showcasing them. It's not even that expensive compared to most of the event s listed here: http://www.nrcc.org/contents/events/ (about a quarter down the page) and sounds like a lot more fun. Still, I won't be jumping on an Amtrak for it.

Update 2/16: I assume the fundraiser happened, and I hope the Hart campaign made bank. Last night kicked also kicked off this semester's SCPS class, Jazz in the Modern Age. Of course I went past 8:00, but everyone seemed cool about it. Hopefully many of you were helping the Csendes campaign, which also needs volunters this weekend. Volunteer info on her website: http://www.electemily.com/

Ghost in the Army Band

Just finished listening to the last of the music discs of Revenant Records’ mammoth Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost boxed set. I’ve yet to work through the interview discs (www.revenantrecords.com/ayler/). Although Ayler is often thought to be one of the more extreme figures of the Free Jazz, I find him to be one of the most accessible in the movement. One can often hear echoes of early jazz and martial music in his tunes, as well as a playfulness, which gives listeners something to latch onto.

In addition to seven discs worth of previously unreleased, adventurous music, Revenant included of bonus disc of two tunes recorded by an Army combo, featuring Ayler. From roughly Spring 1959 to Spring 1961 Ayler was stationed in Orleans, France, and played in the Adjutant-General’s 76th Army Band. In that capacity he played in a variety of genres, and started experimenting with the fiery style that he would be remembered for.

Most reviews have dismissed the bonus disc as a historical curio. Certainly, the two cuts can’t compare with the power of Ayler’s later work as a leader, but they are not an embarrassment to the musicians involved. There is a rather sweet reading of “Tenderly” in the Glenn Miller tradition, and a competent version of “Leap Frog.” While not transcendent, they demonstrate the fluency such groups had with all manner of big band music. The role of the U.S. military in jazz history is something I’ll explore in further posts. Many jazz artists got early experience playing in formally sanctioned military bands, or informal groups while in service, including in this case, the Ghost himself, Albert Ayler.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Class Greenlighted

SCPS just gave the go ahead to this semester’s class, Jazz in the Modern Age. It’s still not too late to register here: http://www.scps.nyu.edu/departments/course.jsp?courseId=62681

We will definitely be starting this Wed. at 6:20. This class will survey Modern Jazz, from Bebop to contemporary explorations happening right now. I absolutely check the politics at the door. This is about the artists, and I try to let them speak for themselves through full audio and video selections.

Running Reprise

If there’s anyone lurking here from Asheville, NC or New Rochelle, NY, I’m impressed you found your way here. Your reward is a heads up on an entertaining documentary screening in your area in early March. It’s called Running in High Heels, and it chronicles Emily Csendes’ 2004 NY State Senate campaign.

Emily was the energetic Republican challenger to an entrenched Democrat incumbent, Tom Duane, whose only distinction during his previous term of office had been to post the second highest rate of absenteeism in the senate. Just watching her debate her boorish opponent is worth the price of admission. Unfortunately the district, taking in most of Manhattan’s Upper Westside, is overwhelming Democrat. The Csendes campaign was simply overwhelmed by the presidential turnout.

At its best, Running in High Heels captures a scrappy, underdog campaign in all its ragged glory. Emily and her campaign manager, Stephen M. Evans III, come off as real people, dealing with the comic frustrations of an under-funded campaign. Sample a clip on the film’s website: http://www.mtmanelski.com/diet_of_campaign_champions.mov and the trailer here http://www.52women.org/rihhtrailer.mov (these are Quick Time). There are some hilarious campaign moments in the film, and if you watch closely you can see the back of my head in a few scenes.

Filmmaker M.T. Manelski’s intent was to make a statement about women’s access to power in the political process. Too often she cuts away from the campaign for tiresome interviews with talking heads. Most are activist feminists from a decidedly leftwing perspective. Myrna Blyth does come off well, as a voice of reason. However, the deck is obviously stacked against Phylis Schlafly in her interview segments, through selective editing. It looks cheap and undermines the credibility of the film.

The real action is on the campaign trail. There you’ll see what its like to street campaign as a Republican in New York City. Whether you’re a man or woman, it can be down right brutal. Republican campaigners, including myself, have been cursed at, spat on, and called the vilest epithets imaginable by New York Democrats who can’t accept the mildest challenge to their world view.

After seeing the film, we now have a real life sequel. Emily Csendes is back on the campaign trail, running for an overlapping assembly seat recently vacated by the incumbent. Most of the original supporting cast is back too. Emily remains a smart, hard-working individual, with the kind of real world experience we need in Albany. To support her assembly campaign go here: http://www.electemily.com/. For those in Asheville and New Rochelle catch Running in High Heels, if you can. It’s definitely entertaining. Screening schedule here: http://www.52women.org/.

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Friday, February 10, 2006

Bloomberg Brings Out His Inner Republican

NY1 reports Mayor Bloomberg fired a city worker for playing solitaire during work hours. http://www.ny1.com/ny1/content/index.jsp?stid=3&aid=56990 Many New York Republicans are currently questioning his commitment to the GOP, but give the Mayor credit. That was about as Republican as it gets.

The Odd Spin 2/10: Horace Silver’s Guide to Growing Up

Every Friday we’ll be spinning some of the more bizarre, gimmicky jazz records ever recorded. Sometimes they worked. Often not. These schemes cooked up by over-imaginative A&R men are guaranteed to catch the eye, if not inspire confidence. Yet for a die-hard vinyl-hound, they have a beauty all their own.

Horace Silver's Guide to Growing Up
Leader, Piano: Horace Silver
Tenor Sax: Eddie Harris
Guitar: Joe Diorio
Bass: Bob Magnusson
Drums: Ron McCurdy
Recitations: Bill Cosby
Vocals: Feather (Weaver Copeland & Mahmu Pearl)
Label: Silveto
Recorded: 9/18/81 & 9/29/81

The dealio: Who better to help raise your kids than a group of jazz musicians? Don't worry, jazz enthusiast Bill Cosby (seen smiling with Silver on the jacket, I’d love to show it to you, but I believe in copy-write enforcement) is on hand to make sure everything is cool. Silver recorded this on his own Silveto label at a time when he was writing tunes with heavy New Age lyrics and ungainly titles like “The Soul in Communion with it’s Creator.” This LP continues that tradition with New Age parenting numbers like “Accepting Responsibility” and “Honesty and Self Control.”

The bottom line: Despite being didactic, in a New Agey kind of way, Silver’s Silveto sessions feature some great playing, most notably by Silver himself, and tenor great Eddie Harris. This LP is no exception. Look to pick it and other Silveto records up for $8-$12.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Duke’s Legacy vs. Hollywood’s Agenda

I just caught up with this item in Variety. It should be great news, but knowing Hollywood’s habit of putting agenda before historical accuracy, it’s also cause for concern:

“New Line has acquired ‘The Jazz Ambassadors,’ a pitch for Antoine Fuqua to direct and Morgan Freeman to star in as jazz impresario Duke Ellington.

“Project covers the Ellington orchestra’s tour of Iraq during a 1963 CIA-led coup that would eventually pave the way for Saddam Hussein’s rise to power.”
http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117937327?categoryid=13&cs=1

I’m afraid I can see where this is going, and Duke would not approve. Ellington was a staunch anti-communist, who enthusiastically toured on behalf of the State Department and played for American servicemen in Viet Nam. His visceral rejection of Communism went back to the early 1950’s when he was shocked to learn his name had been added without his permission to the Communist-orchestrated Stockholm Peace Petition. Although he was never overtly political, he became a friend of Richard Nixon in 1969, when he was awarded the Medal of Freedom on his seventieth birthday.

Many are surprised to learn the elegant Ellington was also devoutly religious. He recognized communism was an evil force diametrically opposed to the interests of his country and his God. He was also a musical genius, who almost single-handedly introduced long-form compositions into the jazz idiom. I hope New Line accurately presents his amazing life and legacy, rather than seeking to score contemporary political points.

Jazz Saves World, Writers Miss Story

Recently, I read books about jazz during the Cold War and WWII. While I’m fascinated by these subjects, in both cases the authors’ voices undermined their respective works.

Most frustrating was Penny Von Eschen’s Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War (Harvard University Press). Jazz played a vital role undermining Communism through Voice of America broadcasts and State Department sponsored tours. Rather than write what could have been a fascinating account of jazz history, Von Eschen preferred to write a didactic, revisionist critique of U.S. Cold War policy, which seems almost totally blind to the historical horrors of Soviet repression.

When relating an incident in the Russian port city of Sochi, in which members of the Benny Goodman band feared for the safety of the leader of the local jazz society, Von Eschen shows none of the outrage which permeates most of her book. The story is conveyed almost as an amusing anecdote. When the Soviet Army invades Prague, to Von Eschen it is simply an expression of the Kremlin’s “conservatism,” and hardly worth mentioning. When the CIA takes action against the Communist-aligned Lumumba in the Congo, her outrage is palpable.

The real problem with Satchmo Blows Up the World, is not the ideology of the author, but rather the constant editorializing which hopelessly disrupts the book’s narrative flow. She frequently repeats her political points, even in mid-paragraph, showing little interest in the music she writes about. It is merely a convenient club to bash U.S. foreign policy. Her subjects deserved better.

Mike Zwerin is certainly more respectful of his subject, National Socialism's repression of swing, in La Tristesse de Sainte Louis: Jazz Under the Nazis. Yet he also allows his authorial voice to interrupt the narrative flow as well. Zwerin relates many important historical events, like the story of the Ghetto Swingers, a Jewish jazz band which was formed by the Nazis, as a propaganda effort, to play in the Theresienstadt concentration camp during a Red Cross inspection tour. However, he constantly interrupts himself, to tell the reader how difficult this book has been to write, and how many kilos he has lost as result.

Zwerin is a respected jazz writer and musician in his own right, so I’m inclined to cut him more slack than Von Eschen. I still would have preferred that his editor had cut these interludes, from what is otherwise a serious work of nonfiction. What strikes me about Zwerin’s book, is how blog-like it is, even though it was written well before the advent of blogs.

On-line the author’s voice is paramount. I’m certainly trying to offer a distinctive one myself. When I get my sea legs, I’ll open up feedback. Frankly, I’ve often been underwhelmed by blog feedback in the past. Much of it seems to fall in either the “Amen, brother,” or “you ignorant tool” categories. But this blog is an odd hybrid (I hope), so the feedback should be distinct too. For now, please e-mail me your feedback directly, if you’re inclined, and I’ll post when appropriate. Also, please spread the word about what we’re spinning here. Looking ahead, I’ll be posting items on jazz’s role in fighting Communism and National Socialism in the near future. I earnestly believe jazz has not gotten its proper due in both regards. Spin on.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Who Are You Picking in Your Office Grammy Pool?

Are you planning to watch the awards tonight? Did you even know they will be on? Pop and rock are in a pretty sorry state right now. Frankly, the Grammy’s are in a pitched battle with the Tony’s for least anticipated award show.

For Jazz listeners it’s an even more ho-hum affair. They booted our categories out of primetime long ago, relegating us to the awards banquet with best polka album. The truth is, we hardly noticed. The Grammy’s have declined to recognize many of the groundbreaking jazz albums from the last fifty plus years. Grammy’s for Kind of Blue? A Love Supreme? Nope. Who do you think won in 1959? Miles Davis for Porgy and Bess? Ornette Coleman for Something Else? Actually, it was Jonah Jones for I Dig Chicks. I like Jonah Jones and his muted jazz, but the Grammy’s clearly missed the boat that year.

Traditionally, we’ve been more interested in the magazine polls, particularly Downbeat. Grammy’s are nice, and they have recognized some important albums. Bitches Brew did win in 1970 after all. But they’ve never been our thing.

Now that NEA Chair Dana Gioia has dramatically increased jazz’s profile at the agency, the Jazz Master has become the top jazz award http://www.iaje.org/award.asp. Under his stewardship a meaningful $25,000 fellowship has been added for recipients. Gioia has been one of the best chairs in NEA history, and is another reason to be thankful Bush was re-elected in 2004.

Great Show, Easy Applause

Last month the International Association of Jazz Educators held their annual conference in Manhattan. There were some great concert performances, particularly e.s.t. and Javon Jackson. There were also worthy lectures and seminars, but I heard a common refrain from speakers complaining about America’s lack of government financing for jazz. It was an easy applause line, but was it fair?

Representatives from the Smithsonian, the NEA, and the Library of Congress all made presentations on their jazz programs. The Smithsonian (www.smithsonianjazz.org) was touting April as Jazz Appreciation Month. The NEA presented their annual Jazz Master Awards, the jazz equivalent of the Academy Awards, during the conference’s marquee concert (http://www.nea.gov/national/jazz/index.html). They also reported on their NEA Jazz in the Schools on-line curriculum http://www.neajazzintheschools.org/. Representatives of the Library of Congress (www.loc.gov) reported on their archival efforts, and tantalized the audience with clips of rare performance recordings, largely unheard since their original radio broadcast, including a clip of Dinah Washington singing with the Ellington band. The newly discovered Thelonious Monk/John Coltrane Carnegie Hall concert tapes released on Blue Note are an example of these treasures in the LOC archives. Between each government agency or quasi-governmental entity, Uncle Sam actually produces, promotes, and preserves jazz in many ways.

Frequently, speakers complained that European governments are much more supportive, pointing to their subsidized radio bands, like the WDR Orchestra in Germany. Yet, the American government funds several excellent big bands, but it’s actually the Defense Department picking up the tab. The U.S. Army Blues Jazz Ensemble (http://www.usarmyband.com/) performed twice at the conference, including a fantastic set with newly crowned NEA Jazz Master Buddy DeFranco. Other military big bands, like the U.S. Military Academy Jazz Knights, the USAF Airmen of Note, and the U.S. Navy Band Commodores were present as exhibitors. In fact, military uniforms were a fairly common sight at IAJE.

I don’t know how much American taxpayers spend on jazz. I’m not sure anyone has tried to total it up, but I suspect it is much greater than conventional wisdom suggests. Oddly enough, some speakers repeated the same complaint about Uncle Sam’s stinginess towards jazz, even though their fantastic work seemed to contradict the point. It always received a nice round of applause though.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

And Now a Word from Our First Sponsor

Jeff Oves of Northwest Mutual has a fine appreciation of rhetoric, and passes along one of his favorites paraphrased from the McCain quotation book:

JO: My favorite McCain quote is from Meet the "Depressed". In a conversation regarding the McCain / Feingold Bill. Paraphrased.

Russert: "Senator McCain, does the partisan bickering in Washington irritate you?"

McCain: "No Tim. I get irritated when someone hooks me up to a car battery. This stuff really doesn't phase me."

I salute Jeff’s commitment to quality political discourse. www.nmfn.com/jeffreyoves

Tone Deaf

That Islamic extremists have historically been tone deaf to satire is safe to say. It’s certainly the case in the Danish cartoon controversy. Most of the Sacrilegious Twelve are relatively benign—essentially illustrations, offensive only in that they depict the prophet. Of the more pointed, one directly addresses Islamafascism’s violent hyper-sensitivity. See them all for yourself, courtesy of Michelle Malkin, who is currently eating the antique media's lunch with this story: http://michellemalkin.com/archives/004413.htm

In this particular cartoon, Mohammed tells the raving jihadists: “Relax. It is just a sketch made by a Dane from south west Denmark.” Once again, the extremists missed the joke. By reacting like violent, insecure fanatics, they have validated the entire premise of the cartoon. In a post-modern twist, they have become the punch line, except it’s not funny. It is a deliberate, orchestrated attempt to stifle free expression.

Bloggers like Malkin are boosting a Buy Danish campaign to counter the Moslem boycotts. Buying some butter cookies or havarti is certainly a painless way to show support for free expression. For those looking for a less fattening option, Denmark is also home to two well regarded big bands.

The Danish Radio Band has an auspicious history. Thad Jones led the band from 1977-1978, after abruptly leaving America and Mel Lewis, his co-leader of the Village Vanguard based Jones-Lewis Big Band. DRB has recorded extensively, often backing star soloists from around the world.

The Metropole Orchestra is also based in Denmark. They have a strong reputation for performing both big band jazz and actually orchestral pops. Frankly, I’m not familiar with them, but their recording of Ferde Grofe’s Tabloid Suite, featuring a movement inspired by the comics, might be an appropriate listen.

The Danish Radio and Metropole bands represent the cultural nourishment of civilization. It is worth taking sustenance during a time when many want to spread famine.

McCain Brings the Sarcasm

I was never enthusiastic about McCain as a presidential candidate, but I have to give him credit for his stone cold sarcasm. He really lowered the boom on Sen. Obama:

"I would like to apologize to you for assuming that your private assurances to me regarding your desire to cooperate in our efforts to negotiate bipartisan lobbying reform legislation were sincere.

“I'm embarrassed to admit that after all these years in politics I failed to interpret your previous assurances as typical rhetorical gloss.

“I understand how important the opportunity to lead your party's effort to exploit this issue must seem to a freshman Senator, and I hold no hard feelings over your earlier disingenuousness." http://www.suntimes.com/output/news/cst-nws-obama07.html

Ouch. You have to admit, the man can write.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Emily for Assembly

Voters in Manhattan's 67th assembly district probably don't realize it yet, but they are going to the polls on Feb. 28th for a special election. They would be well advised to vote for Emily Csendes. Her opponent will be a hand-picked puppet of our assembly overlord. Emily however is capable of independent thought. She's also intelligent and energetic. Currently, she is a public school teacher, with a professional background in finance.

That's all good, but she's also a jazz supporter, having attended one of my SCPS classes in Washington Square Park. This is actually an important district from a jazz perspective, taking in Lincoln Center proper (though not J@LC), Juliard, the Jazz Foundation office, Local 802, the Natural History Museum (which has a summer jazz concert series), the Iridium (just barely), and the Tower Records flagship store. It would be nice to have someone representing the district who is familiar with the greats of the music, and I can attest that she is.

Special elections aren't well publicized, so if you live on the westside, mark your calendars. To review the district lines and learn more about Emily, check out her website: http://www.electemily.com/

Instruments for NOLA Musicians

The Jazz Foundation of America is still working with many displaced musicians who lost instruments during Hurricane Katrina. I've been honored to help them coordinate this effort. We're working with musicians who lost all sorts of instruments, so all offers are very welcome. We've had a particularly difficult time replacing flugelhorns, soprano & baritone saxes, and all manner of keyboards. Anyone who might be able to help is more than welcome to hit me at jb192 *at* nyu *dot* edu

The Foundation has been able to offer some incredible assistance, including replacing over 25 drums sets and 11 pianos. They have provided extensive financial assistance as well. Personally, I feel very strongly about the instrument replacement efforts. Its more than just temporary assistance. It helps working musicians resume their careers, and represents an economic future. If think you might me able to help, send me an e-mail and I'll give you the specifics. And check out JFA's work here: http://www.jazzfoundation.org/new_orleans.php

Reasons to be Happy the Steelers Won

Even if you're not a Steelers fan there are two reasons to be happy with Pittsburgh's Super Bowl victory. One reason is their longtime association of Harold Betters. http://www.haroldbetters.com/bio.tpl

Betters is jazz trombonist who has been based in Pittsburgh for most of his career. He recorded for Reprise and Gateway. He has played for football fans at Steeler games for years. Although his website schedule doesn't include Steeler games, I've heard from co-worker who attended a game this year, that a trombonist's group was entertaining the crowd. Presumably, that was him. Betters is a Pittsburgh institution and hats off to the Steelers for showcasing him.

The second reason to be happy is Lynn Swann http://www.swannforgovernor.com/, former Steeler star and current candidate for governor. Pundits have argued the Steelers success this year has boasted his campaign. PA would be well served by a governor determined to hold the line on taxes and spending (so would NY for that matter). If a Steelers win helps his campaign, great.

For political and musical reasons, I'm happy Mike Holmgren butchered the Seahawk's closing drives. As a New York sports fan though, I just can't wrap my arms around football. When pitchers and catchers report, then we'll be getting somewhere.