Thursday, February 26, 2015

Not just my imagination

One of the more annoying social trends...

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Boniface Ferdinand Leonardo De Franco...

... was better known as Buddy De Franco, the greatest jazz clarinetist after Goodman.

In a way, that superlative is damning with faint praise, because after all, how many have there been? The liner notes to "Mr. Clarinet," one of De Franco's albums from the 50s, state: "It's the stepchild of jazz, the clarinet, and it is curious why this should be so– but true it is."

If one were to speculate on what killed the jazz clarinet, the suspects might include bebop, or the saxophone... but really, those both amount to pinning it on Charlie Parker, and I don't believe he did the crime... though he was capable: even a gifted bopper like De Franco was no match for Bird. My own theory is that it was the LP. Let's face it: the clarinet's tone usually wears out its welcome after a couple of tunes. Mind you, with sidemen like Kenny Drew and Art Blakey, Buddy's welcome was more durable than most.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Oscars report

Apparently Hollywood has appointed Lady Gaga, of all people, the unofficial keeper of the Great American Songbook. Her duets with Tony Bennett seem to be popular, perhaps because the two are perceived as cute together– in a condescending, creepy, or ironic way. At the Oscars she belted out a Sound of Music medley. She sang loudly and, for the most part, on key. I suppose even a bad treatment of great lyrics and melodies is justified if it brings them to the attention of a new generation. The songs will certainly outlast any abuse they receive from Lady G. I did feel a little bad for Julie Andrews, whose voice, though not my style, was once alive with the sound of music.

Sunday, February 22, 2015


The excellent Jerusalem Quartet played a fine program of Haydn, Bartok, and Schumann at our local JCC this afternoon as part of the Music@Menlo series. The concert featured an unexpected break during the first movement of Bartok 4, when the unfortunate second violinist, Sergei Bresler, suffered a coughing spasm and had to leave the stage for a few. He returned with a bottle of water, and they picked right up where they left off. Great music, especially the Schumann A major.

Keeping with the theme, for dinner I made a modified version of chicken with Jerusalem artichokes from Ottolenghi and Tamimi's Jerusalem cookbook. The Jerusalem artichoke is neither an artichoke nor from Jerusalem. And Ottolenghi's restaurant is in London. The dish is mighty tasty, regardless.

Clark Terry, RIP

Dad had Clark Terry's album with Coleman Hawkins, "Back in Bean's Bag"(1962), on vinyl. I listened to it a lot. This track, laid back and swinging, is so typical of Clark Terry's work. Major Holley's playful voice-with-bass melody must be what wormed its way into the center of my brain those many years ago. Listening to it again, I find additional pleasure in Tommy Flanagan's little nod toward modal jazz in the piano solo.

Rip Van Skillsgap?

Paul Krugman says the "skills gap" is not a compelling explanation of recent inequality trends. He shows us this graph:

I grant you, the message here is that getting a college education was not a ticket to prosperity over the past decade plus. Except, of course, relative to NOT getting one!

Sorry Paul, but the skill premium is part of the story, even if you and I agree it is not the main part. The push toward more and better education for America's kids remains an essential long-run strategy for economic equality, not to mention quality of life.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Coming around to Coltrane

Of course, he was a genius, one of the most important figures in American music. Still, I have found it possible to wonder whether his greatness resided in his innovativeness, rather than in his playing. Listening to his ballads tonight, I am hearing Sinatra– that artful casualness (or is it casual artiness) that makes you wonder whether that guy sitting on the bar stool next to you pouring his heart out might not be quite what you thought he was when you first bellied up to the bar. That is, not an everyday poet, but someone so in command of every phrase that the gap between artifice and spontaneity is erased. Yeah, he really was that good.

Monday, February 16, 2015