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

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fun "Court and Spark" fact...

From the Wikipedia entry: "The album was kept from the top spot by three No. 1 albums—in order Bob Dylan's Planet Waves, Barbra Streisand's The Way We Were and John Denver's Greatest Hits."


Satsuki has some whiskers on her

Just Like This Train...

... just might be the best song on Court and Spark, don't you think?

Anti-terrorist fantasies

I'm not sure what to do about ISIS or "home-grown" terrorists in Europe and elsewhere, but I am pretty sure that overreacting to every albeit horrific act of terrorism is bound to fail. Treating murder as murder seems to me the civilized and smart approach...
Terrorism is murder, whether it is in Paris, Copenhagen or any US town. Every day about 70 Americans are murdered, most by guns. Unless the victims are famous or cute most are ignored by the media. But a minor terrorist attack gets headlines. A YouTube video of a beheading forces the US President to go to " war" in order to avoid being called weak by his domestic political opposition. That's not leadership! Worse, the so called Hawks push for deeper evolvement irrespective of military reality. They live in a fantasy world of US military exceptionalism. (Kenneth S. Brower, "Some thoughts about our so called 'war' on ISIS," excerpted by James Fallows here.)

Philip Levine, RIP

One of my favorites. He was best known for his poems about factory work, but he was also a wonderful observer of California.

Philip Levine

The leaves rusted in the late winds
of September, the ash trees bowed
to no one I could see. Finches
quarrelled among the orange groves.

I was about to say something final
that would capture the meaning
of autumn's arrival, something
suitable for bronzing,

something immediately recognizable
as so large a truth it's totally untrue,
when one small white cloud - not much
more then the merest fragment of mist -

passed between me and the pale
thin cuticle of the mid-day moon
come out to see the traffic and dust
of Central California. I kept quiet.

The wind stilled, and I could hear
the even steady ticking of the leaves,
the lawn's burned hay gasping
for breath, the pale soil rising

only to fall between earth and heaven,
if heaven's there. The world would escape
to become all it's never been
if only we would let it go

streaming toward a future without
purpose or voice. In shade the ground
darkens, and now the silver trails
stretch from leaf to chewed off leaf

of the runners of pumpkin to disappear
in the cover of sheaves and bowed grass.
On the fence blue trumpets of glory
almost closed - music to the moon,

laughter to us, they blared all day
though no one answered, no one
could score their sense or harmony
before they faded in the wind and sun.

(from What Work Is, 1991)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A little bit o' Schubert

Sundstrom offspring in the concertmaster's chair...

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Watchin' a little Grammies...

... wishin' I could be back out in Foothills Park as the Pineapple Express blows through...

Bobby Jindal for President!

When it comes to screwing low-income people, he's got the creds!

John Quiggin nails it

On the Republican anti-vaxers:
The logic of the issue is pretty much identical to that of climate change, gun control, and other policies disliked by the Republican/schmibertarian base. People want to be free to do as they please, even when there’s an obvious risk to others[,] and don’t want to hear experts pointing out those risks. So, they find bogus experts who will tell them what they want to hear, or announce that they are “skeptics” who will make up their own minds.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Now's my chance!

I think the position of 23rd-most-trusted person in American will soon be vacated... why not me? Now I just have to dig up some dirt on Denzel...
Before the episode, Mr. Williams long had been considered one of the most trusted people in not only in the news business but in the country as a whole. He was trusted by about three-quarters of consumers, making him the 23rd-most-trusted person in the country, according to the celebrity index of The Marketing Arm, a research firm owned by Omnicom. That places him alongside the likes of Denzel Washington, Warren E. Buffett and Robin Roberts.

Return to Return to Forever...

... well, more like Mahavishnu revisited, in little Dana Street Cafe in Mountain View CA, of all places. The proprietor, Nick Chaput, has some very musical friends, most notably the extraordinary drummer Scott Amendola, who brings some of his buddies in to play every few months. Last night it was a truly all-star quintet, including Jenny Scheinman on violin and the idiosyncratic guitar god, Nels Cline.

I'm usually not a big fan of fusion anything, but this was jazz-rock of a high order. Amendola is a master of freewheeling polyrhythmic pulse and swishingly propulsive brushwork, but he also loves to rock out and pound the skins. I might have preferred more pulse and less pounding, but what a joyful noise, especially when co-guitarist Jeff Parker ratcheted up the reverb, and you could feel the waves of overtones as they bounced around in the small space's humid atmosphere. Over to the left, lean and lanky Scheinman seemed a little lost and badly under-mixed during the first half, but she made up for it after intermission with a couple of ferocious Paganini-possessed solos, at sufficient volume. Across the "stage," Cline generally looked relaxed, his back against the cafe's front window, fingers flying, a man who can coax any sound in the world from an electric guitar. And in the middle, Amendola, having a ball.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

My King Zephyr

The King Zephyr model sax was produced by the H.N. White Co. in Cleveland during the mid-century. My alto, serial number 292223, dates to 1947. As a player, I suck, but I love this old sax. It is supposedly quite close in design and quality to the King Super 20 that Bird played on some of his recordings. Mine lacks the original double-socket neck, but the sound is sweet, and the fingering is comfortable. I have a book of Bird solo transcriptions, and I can play a few of them... at around 1/8 speed.


One of those emails you hope not to receive but have to expect, sooner or later...
To Our Members:  
Safeguarding your personal, financial and medical information is one of our top priorities, and because of that, we have state-of-the-art information security systems to protect your data. However, despite our efforts, Anthem Blue Cross was the target of a very sophisticated external cyber attack....

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Hip Hop Family Tree

Always a pleasure... and the video clips at the end are always a kick...

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Bob sings (?) Frank

Umm... Bob Dylan is an American musical genius somewhere up there with Armstrong or Holiday or, yes, Sinatra. And I don't doubt that Dylan reveres Sinatra as much as many of us do. But...

Monday, February 2, 2015

Don't drill

Obama, keeping hope of compromise alive, throws a bone to the GOP and the carbon lobby with his proposal to drill for oil and gas off the East Coast. But as Martin O'Malley argues: don't go there. In some constrained benefit-cost calculation, Obama is right: if you have to drill, baby, drill, this may be the drilling you want to do. But we don't have to. Carbon is priced at well below marginal social cost, so every decision should be stop until we get closer to the margin. Ditto Keystone XL. Not a big disaster in itself, just another small tack tapped into the planet's coffin.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Freakin' Serena

“I just threw up, and I had to run back on the court, and I thought, I’ve got to hit an ace,” she said. “For me there’s no other option. That’s my game.”

And so she did. Oof.