June 2010 Archives

Disclaimer: What follows is neither urgent social commentary nor music criticism. Instead, in honor of Father's Day, I'm sharing a short essay with you. I guess it's one of those "daddy pieces"--something I never thought I'd find myself writing but, then again, I'm doing a lot of things these days that I never thought I'd be doing. It's on love of son and sport, and about growing older.

Happy Father's Day.

LB

Dribbling for Sam

By Larry Blumenfeld

"Don't make the mistake daddy did," I hear myself saying. "Don't limit yourself."

It's a lesson for my boy, Sam--about choices, about life. About basketball. It's simple enough: If you're right-handed, learn to dribble and shoot with your left (if you're a lefty, practice going right). I didn't. Sure, in compensation I worked out a half-hook layup from the right side and a righty up-and-under move from the left. But I'm not fooling anyone about what's coming.

There's plenty of time yet to impart court philosophy. What's got me worried is sharing the game itself, physically. I can do the math. He's 1. I'm 48. His first real jump shots and dribble drives? I'm mid-to-late-50s. Game taking shape? Wrong side of 60. Ready to compete with grown men? Thinking about having my hip checked out. That's why I'm achy from a couple hundred jumpers in an empty gym. The clock is ticking; as his muscles learn their jobs, mine are forgetting theirs.

Sam was never going to blessed with advantages of height, brute strength, or flat-out talent. But I believe there to be some helpfully refined fast-twitch muscles, perhaps even an innate scrappiness and stamina, in those genes I've passed on. These days I focus mostly on just not passing out. I'm training hard for the first time, less for the integrity of my game than the promise of Sam's

June 20, 2010 11:30 AM | | Comments (0)

Brass-band street musicians are once again at odds with the NOPD and the powers that be. Unlike the scene I wrote about in Tremé in 2007, nobody's been hauled off in cuffs (yet). Newly elected mayor Mitch Landrieu and his newly appointed police chief Ronal Serpas are too wise for that. But some old and probably archaic noise ordinances are being dusted off an enforced to the detriment of the very spontaneous street action depicted in, say, HBO's "Treme". 

You can find a good account of this still-developing story at the N.O. weekly Gambit's blog here. 

And a further update here.

As always, the Times-Picayune's Katy Reckdahl puts it in good perspective:


Along with the storied legacy of street music in New Orleans is a long history of those very streets (and plazas, such as Jackson Square) as contested space. I touched on all that in my Village Voice piece on HBO's "Treme" (if you're willing to read most of the way through, that is...)

If you want to register indignation in a productive way, try this FaceBook page:

Anyway, I'm trying to stay on top of the current situation, and I'll write more on this when I know more. 


June 17, 2010 10:56 AM | | Comments (0)

A woman's leg extends from a limousine. A man looks though a telescope on a tripod in the middle of Sixth Avenue. Jazz legend Thelonious Monk leans back from his piano bench-arms extended, fingers on keys, cigarette dangling from lips--as arranger-composer Hall Overton stands beside seated musicians, sheet music on their stands.

The original black-and white photography of W. Eugene Smith provided both inchoate pleasures and precise documentation in "The Jazz Loft Project," a recent exhibition at the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts. We'll never know if that woman was stepping in or out, or what that telescope revealed. But some of these images clarify moments in jazz history, specifically Monk's collaboration with Overton for a landmark 1959 big-band concert at Town Hall: When the photos are paired with excerpts of Smith's reel-to-reel recordings (as they were at the exhibit's listening stations), we can essentially see and hear Monk and Overton at work.

Complete though it seemed, the exhibition--original prints, sound recordings, film footage and personal artifacts--contained but a fraction of the contents from Smith's former home, known for a decade beginning in the mid-1950s as "the jazz loft." Nothing today about that nondescript building at 821 Sixth Ave., off 28th Street, provides clues to its past. But at the library one could see the loft through the eyes and ears of Smith, who in 1957 left the home he shared with his wife and four children in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., for that dilapidated, five-story building. By that point, Smith, who died in 1978, was a celebrated photojournalist; the building, a known congregation point for jazz musicians at all hours owing to the presence of its others residents (Overton, pianist Dick Cary, and painter David X. Young) and its four available pianos. Addicted to alcohol and amphetamines, Smith was also an obsessive regarding work. Eventually, he fixated on the loft itself: the sights within, and from his fourth-floor window, captured in some 40,000 images; and the sounds, preserved on more than 4,000 hours of reel-to-reel tape, carried by microphones wired throughout the building.

"He was a case," recalled drummer Ronnie Free, who lived for a time in Smith's loft, in one of the oral-history videos on display at the library. "Always working."

June 3, 2010 4:27 PM | | Comments (0)

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