Saturday, October 21, 2017


A jazz venue worth Czech-ing out...

Last night we paid our first visit to Cafe Pink House, a cozy and comfortable jazz club on the main drag of sleepy, upscale Saratoga, CA. In the house was a quintet led by pianist Anne Sajdera, with Jan Fečo (alto sax) and Miroslav Hloucal (trumpet and flugelhorn) visiting from Prague, and local talents Dan Feiszli (bass) and Jason Lewis (drums). The compositions were mostly by Fečo and Hloucal, and according to Sajdera featured some Romani melodies from the home country. Roma meets Blue Note, perhaps. I'm not sure I could pick out the folk melodies, but the choruses, chord changes, and rhythms were all clearly challenging, and the band, with minimal rehearsal time, more than rose to the occasion.

Hloucal was fine throughout, with clean lines and clear tone. Fečo took a while to warm up, but by the second set he was flying... definitely took the best solo of the night. Lewis more than kept up, adding plenty of color and punctuations to tricky compositions he could not have played more than once or twice before.

Altogether, about as good as jazz gets, and in an intimate setting where every seat is spitting distance from the musicians. For $20. In the live music desert of the South Bay, I don't expect this place to last, but I wish them well. Do give them some business.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Weirsdale Community Cemetery after Irma

My parents live in Stonecrest, a retirement development in central Florida near the better-known and enormous Villages. Their house is on the periphery of the development, near two cemeteries that predate the housing tract. In this picture, the upper circle identifies the Forest Hill Cemetery, traditionally occupied by white deceased, and the lower one the Weirsdale Community Cemetery, traditionally for African-Americans. As you can see, the WCC has been surrounded by the encroaching Stonecrest golf courses and ranch homes, but for the catty-corner contact with rancher Frank Smith's expansive cattle land to the northeast...

From my parents' back yard, to make your way to the WCC, you pass the colorful flock of butterflies on their lantana and slip through the gap in the barbed wire fence that separates new from old Florida... from there, down a dirt track that skirts between the development and the cattle ranch...

A couple hundred yards along, you reach the cemetery– sparsely occupied and minimally maintained. The budget is presumably modest. A black snake may slither out of your path, a brown thrasher may make its presence known in one of the live oaks, or, Dad says, a pair of great horned owls may hoot to each other at dusk or dawn. Aside from these creatures, the bugs, and the background sound of a lawnmower in the distance, you generally have this peaceful corner to yourself and its quiet residents. Irma left some damage, but nothing that can't be fixed in time.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Fly Me to the Moon

In this the golden age of Spotify, it's instructive and delightful to search on a great song and play through the covers. Alexi is working on a transcription of "Fly Me to the Moon" for solo violin, which made me curious. The Sinatra version is of course definitive. If you really expect to fly me to the moon, you better make it swing, and Frank made it swing. What's interesting is how many renditions get hung up on the clever melody and fall flat.

After Frank's, the best version is surely by the Oscar Peterson Trio, with Oscar channeling Bach from the get-go, and then going all blues, and then swinging pretty hard, and finally just showing off and ripping it for the last few choruses, with a great full stop:

The worst must surely be by Johnny Mathis. Great pop singer, but god did he butcher this one:

Among the versions that don't try to swing, the best is Sarah Vaughan's, because, well, Sarah Vaughan:

Also recommended, if you love that cheesy Hammond B3 sound (and admit, you do love it!), is Joey DeFrancesco's:

Friday, October 6, 2017

Granddad had a gun

He died when I was still a kid, but his memory is vivid to me. He fished, and he hunted. He had German shorthaired pointers – sleek, nervous, beautiful dogs that might, or might not, help with the pheasant hunting: Pip, as I recall, was "gun-shy" and apparently useless for hunting– but no less loved for that. Fishing was something he wanted me to do– he gave me a beautiful lightweight fly rod, which was snapped by the car door closing, a strange sad fleeting memory. I'm not sure he ever wanted me hunting... was it that he had mixed feelings himself, or that Mom didn't approve, or that he respected Pip's misgivings, or that I was just too young? What I know now is that I still have no strong moral objection to hunting, given proper restrictions. But what I also know is that 2/3 of gun deaths are suicides, that wildlife are better appreciated through the lens of a camera or a pair of binoculars, that we have enough trouble with living that we don't need to facilitate killing. So, basically, fuck the 2nd Amendment. Let's get civilized.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Kazuo Ishiguro

If one can win the Nobel prize based on a single novel, then yes, he deserves it: Were I forced to list the ten greatest novels I have read, I can imagine Never Let Me Go making the cut. I've read two of his other books: The Remains of the Day, considered his other masterpiece, exquisitely written and structured but to me just too chilly and mannered; and When We Were Orphans, a tedious, disappointing mess. Among living writers in English, does he pass the Philip Roth test?