Rifftides: June 2006 Archives

It was not my intention to open a forum covering the range of abuse of the English language. At some point, we'll have to move on, but this is too much fun to cut off yet. If we had stopped, I wouldn't have been able to mention what happened at dinner tonight in Seattle. I thanked the waitress for her good service. She said, "Hey, no problem." When did we lose "You're welcome?"

I like this one from Noel Silverman in New York.

High on my list are "any and all," and "each and every," both needlessly redundant, except that "needlessly redundant" is itself needlessly redundant, or at very least redundant.

Then there's "ya know what I'm sayin," and its partner in obfuscation "ya know what I mean," both of which seem overwhelmingly to be used by people who either haven't thought about what they're saying or, having thought about it, have failed to convey what they mean.

For closers, I would nominate "She goes...then he goes..." in relating a conversation. Then I go.

Ted O'Reilly chimes in from Toronto, expanding the discussion to include pronunciation.

And, if we can get into mispronunciations, the word "patina" is, correctly, PAT'-in-uh, not pa-TEENA'.

All right, I'll see your patina and raise you one data. Data is of Latin derivation and properly pronounced DATE'-uh, not DAT'-uh, although you wouldn't know that from listening to most people who work in the data field.

For previous entries in this fiesta of annoying phrases and words, go here and here.

June 29, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (1)

It's Jazz And Other Matters, remember? We'll get back to jazz before long. Rifftides readers have my mind on words, and Seattle has my mind on the splendid weather they're having here and the hike I took around Green Lake. When the weather is good, as it is most Junes, there is no more breathtakingly beautiful city.

Next time you're here, don't miss Ravenna Park, an urban treasure even many Seattleites have yet to discover. I pulled into one of the park's few parking spots, lunched on a Clif Bar and an apple, then hiked into woods so deep, green and dense, I might have been in the wilds of the Olympic Peninsula. For a half hour, the only other living creatures I saw were two crows trying to steal a morsel from a squirrel. The squirrel kept the food and escaped into the foliage. The crows squawked at the bushes for five minutes. It was a good day for a remarkably spunky squirrel. I enjoyed it, too.

June 29, 2006 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

A Rifftides reader named Deborah writes in response to the Clifford Brown item:

Ah. The penny just dropped. I am a fairly new listener to jazz, and sometimes I feel like I'll never get up to speed. The first album I ever bought was John Lewis-The Wonderful World of Jazz and it remains an all-time favorite.

One of the songs on the album is "I Remember Clifford" by Benny Golson. It is performed by Lewis on piano, Jim Hall on guitar, George Duvivier on bass, and Connie Kay on drums. It is a tender goodbye, see-you-down-the-road kind of song that stops just short of being melancholy.

Was this song composed in tribute to Clifford Brown?

It was, shortly after Clifford died, and has been a part of the standard repertoire ever since. The Lewis album, from 1960, is a classic. That was a fine way to start your listening career.

June 28, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Reaction has begun coming in to the more or less lighthearted Rifftides posting about annoying, overused phrases. Here's a note from Bill Holman.


Your response to "if you will' is the same as mine. Nancy is still taken aback when, while we're watching TV, I blurt "I won't!".

How about "as we speak"? (seems to be fading)

Here's one from Gene Lees.

"If you will" is used by every reporter and anchor I can think of. And in the case of Wolf Blitzer's show, as much as five or six times in an hour.

Literally, as I heard today in a story about the floods back east: "People were walking literally up to their waist in water." Disentangle that.

Hopefully, and its cousins such as thankfully, as in "Thankfully no one was hurt."

If it was up to me . . . .

I wish they would have . . . .

From Bill Kirchner:

Words Frequently Misused By Otherwise Literate Persons:

1) disinterested (when they really mean uninterested);

2) compliment (when they really mean complement);

3) masterful (when they really mean masterly).

June 27, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (3)

Fifty years ago today at The Seattle Times, as I ripped copy from the wire machines my eye went to a story in the latest Associated Press national split. A young trumpeter named Clifford Brown had been killed early that morning in a car crash. My heart stopped for a beat or two. My stomach churned. I felt ill. I was attempting to master the trumpet and, like virtually all aspiring trumpet players, idolized Brown. The life of a majestically inventive musician had ended violently on a rainy highway in Pennsylvania. He was four months short of his twenty-sixth birthday. When I think about his loss, I still feel ill. brownie.gif There has never been a jazz musician who worked harder, lived cleaner, and accomplished or promised more in so short a lifetime. His practice routine encompassed taping himself as he worked out on trumpet and piano. I have listened to some of those tapes. It is moving to hear Brown pursue--and achieve--perfection as he brings complex ideas to fruition through the persistent application of his technical mastery, to hear him sing a phrase and then play it repeatedly until he has polished it nearly to his satisfaction. Like most first-rank artists, he was never truly satisfied with his performance. To listeners, however, Brown's solos are among the glories of twentieth century music. To trumpet players, his work remains an inspiration. His passion, power, lyricism and flaweless execution constitute a model whose pursuit is bound to bring improvement.

In Today's Washington Post, Matt Schudel summarizes Brown's life and contributions. For a fuller account, read Nick Catalano's biography of Brown. Fortunately, Brown recorded copiously during his few years of playing. Most of his work remains in print. This album captures him at his peak with the group he and drummer Max Roach co-led. This box set covers highlights from his recordings for several labels. If you don't know Clifford Brown's work, I suggest that you move immediately toward the nearest CD shop or website.

June 26, 2006 2:02 PM | | Comments (1)

In 1975, Mike Levy, the publisher of Texas Monthly, and Gregory Curtis, a staff writer, visited me in my office at KSAT-TV in San Antonio. They were on a tour to create good will for the fledgling magazine, which was even then attracting national notice for its quality. In the course of the conversation, Curtis asked me if I would write for Texas Monthly. I jumped at the chance, became a regular contributor, then for twenty-five years a contributing editor, sending in articles and reviews long after I left Texas. Curtis eventually became editor of the magazine and stayed at its helm for nineteen years. We developed a close friendship, as he did with most of his writers. They respected him for his intelligence and journalistic savvy, and for giving a damn about them as well as about their work. During Greg's run, Texas Monthly won five National Magazine Awards. The Columbia Journalism Review named him one of the ten best magazine editors in the country.

Sometimes, when people learn that I was connected to Texas Monthly, they ask me what made it a great magazine. I have never been able to get beyond cliches; focus, local knowledge, judgment, fact-checking, close editing. Greg, however, understands the reasons for Texas Monthly's success. I just found on his website a piece he wrote when he bowed out in 2000. He is unsparing of himself for early mistakes, but makes it clear that he knew from the beginning what kind of magazine he did not want.

There was an editorial formula we could have used that would have solved our newsstand problems. In the eighties, I listened in terrified fascination, as if a surgeon were teaching how to perform a lobotomy, to a city magazine editor explaining that he had no choice but to put a yuppie couple on the cover of every issue. "The yuppie couple wants a weekend getaway. The yuppie couple looks for the best hamburger," he said. "You can even do serious issues: The yuppie couple buys a gun for fear of crime." When those issues were on the stands, he said, "sales went through the roof." They may have, but I hated yuppie-couple covers--all those phony-looking models trying to express surprise or pleasure or fear. Most of all, I hated making our magazine look like all the other city magazines in America.

For the whole article, go here. Reading Curtis's philosophy about shepherding Texas Monthly helps understanding of magazines in general and, in particular, what it takes to make a good one. When you're through, go to the top, click on "Home," then roam around Greg's site. You will discover an editor who can write. In the lower left corner, there are links to several of his pieces. This is from one about horses.

A horse is an animal that weighs half a ton, has a brain the size of a tomato, and is instinctively alarmed at the approach of any predator, including man. Horses can be trained and they can become affectionate toward humans, but they never develop the slavish trust and devotion of dogs. Horses are prey and their trust in us is always provisional, maintained shakily on top of their fear, which can rise up as panic in an instant.

I am adding Greg Curtis's website to the list of Other Places in the right-hand column. I haven't mentioned his book. It's a good one. It's not about Texas, magazines or horses. It's about the Venus de Milo.

June 26, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

"That said..."

."..the likes of..." (He has played with the likes of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker and Andres Segovia.)

"...looking to..." (The President is looking to cut taxes.)

"...Indeed." Mindlessly intoned by anchors as a way of demonstrating sophisticated understanding. Or something.

"At the end of the day..."

"...if you will." (I won't.)

June 26, 2006 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

Terri Hinte has been fired by Concord Records. Her name will not mean a thing to most of you, but her work has indirectly benefited serious jazz listeners for decades. The news of her dismissal is of intense interest to many writers because Ms. Hinte is the very model of what a record company publicist should be-- deeply knowledgeable about the music and its players, intelligent, responsive, resourceful, helpful in countless substantive ways. She went to work for Fantasy, Inc. in 1973 and was its director of publicity since 1978.

The Fantasy complex of labels contains much of the most important recorded jazz from the 1940s on, as well as significant collections of blues and pop. In addition to Fantasy itself, Prestige, Riverside, Milestone, Contemporary, Pablo, Debut, Galaxy and Stax are under the Fantasy umbrella. Among the artists on those labels are Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Wes Montgomery, Cal Tjader, Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Gerry Mulligan, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald, Sonny Rollins, Art Pepper, Sarah Vaughan and Dizzy Gillespie. The list is much longer, but those names give you an idea of the importance of the Fantasy catalog.

Far from simply sending out review copies and news releases, as many companies do, Terri Hinte made it her business to know the extensive and varied catalog inside out and to understand the importance of the hundreds of musicians who recorded for its labels over more than five decades. Her newsletters and advisories were light years beyond the puffery that passes for publicity in too many precincts of the music business. They contained news that writers about the music, and those who broadcast it, could and did use, resulting in better informed listeners. Her phone calls often brought writers valuable story ideas. The catalogs she produced are valuable reference works packed with information.

Concord bought Fantasy eighteen months ago, fueling speculation among jazz professionals and listeners about what would happen to the invaluable recordings in the Fantasy archives. The dismissal of Ms. Hinte has only increased nervousness about Concord's intentions concerning the future of those treasures. Concord's timing was interesting; it let her go on the eve of her recognition with a special A-Team award from the Jazz Journalists Association, which named her "De Facto Curator of Fantasy Records."

In the current issue of Billboard, reporter Dan Ouellette quotes Concord President Glen Barros.

"We're committed to jazz and the jazz catalog we've invested in." He adds that he has "tremendous respect" for Hinte as "a great caretaker, proponent and spokesperson" for jazz. "However, when companies merge, there are unfortunate consequences," Barros says. "But I don't think Terri's departure means that we have any less respect for the Fantasy catalog."

Many musicians, including Sonny Rollins, came to depend on Ms. Hinte for counsel and guidance. She has been Rollins's only publicist for twenty-eight years. Now, she plans a career as a free lance writer, editor and publicist, continuing to work with Rollins. The Rifftides staff wishes her well.

For a sample of Ms. Hinte's considerable writing ability, on a subject you may not expect, go here.

June 24, 2006 12:46 AM | | Comments (5)

A Rifftides Reader who identifies himself only as David P. sent a link to his internet radio website, which is called Poolside Jazz: Cooler Than The Cool Side Of The Pillow. The music I heard there in a half-hour visit was cool only in the slang sense. In succession, David P. played Fletcher Henderson's "Queer Notions," Gil Evans' "The Time of the Barracudas," Sonny Rollins' "You Don't Know What Love Is," Dizzy Gillespie's "Woody 'n You," Jelly Roll Morton's "Sweetheart 'O Mine" and Bud Powell with "Confirmation." All hot. All good.

June 21, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Barbara Nessim, the artist known for her Rolling Stone, TIME and New York Times Magazine covers, among other works, has a fascinating website tracking her output from the beginning of her career in the 1960s to the present. It includes a piece of video showing Nessim's hands as she invents place cards for one of her dinner parties. I haven't seen a more effective on-screen demonstration of improvisatory graphic art since the 1955 Henri-Georges Clouzot film, The Mystery of Picasso.

A tour of Nessim's site stimulates thoughts about lines: her ability to express complete ideas in one or two sweeping lines, and the thin, shifting and indefineable line between commercial art and "serious" art. The parallels with jazz are obvious.

June 21, 2006 1:04 AM | | Comments (0)

The Jazz Journalists Association announced its annual awards last night in New York. Roy Haynes was honored for lifetime achievement in jazz. Sonny Rollins was named musician of the year, Dafnis Prieto up and coming musician of the year, Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall, album of the year. And there was this:

Best Book About Jazz
Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond (Parkside), by Doug Ramsey

Many thanks to JJA's members. Recognition by one's colleagues is the most valuable and humbling honor possible.

To see the complete list of forty-one winners, go here.

June 20, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (4)

After Fathers Day activity (a present, a card, a few phone calls) subsided, I listened to two CDs, one because the publicist for the band keeps calling and asking if I've heard it, the other because I try never to go longer than a month without a Harry Allen fix.

Harry Allen

Allen is a thirty-nine-year-old tenor saxophonist from Rhode Island who managed to grow up in the post-Coltrane era without absorbing a detectable trace of John Coltrane's influence. His Encyclopedia of Jazz entry says that his favorites are Ben Webster, Stan Getz and Scott Hamilton. Hamilton, twelve years older than Allen, is another Rhode Islander. He, too, is Coltrane-free. Maybe it's something in the salt water taffy up there. Whether or not it was Allen's or Hamilton's aim, by not playing like Coltrane they got attention in a world crowded with Coltrane clones.

In Allen's latest album, Hey, Look Me Over, co-led with guitarist Joe Cohn, his Getz influence is notably apparent in "Danielle," a ballad by Cohn's father Al, whose tenor sax spirit is also present in Allen's playing. They include three of Al's tunes in the CD, and Allen is torrid on "Travisimo." It seems to me that Allen's Ben Webster component is channeled through Zoot Sims, who in his last years increasingly exhibited Webster's gruff tenderness. But he invests full-bore Zootness in his solo on "With the Wind and the Rain in Your Hair."

Since he debuted in the late 1980s, Allen has recorded twenty-eight albums as a leader and appeared on dozens of others. He and Cohn have worked together for fifteen years and developed, among other elements of their ESP, an uncanny approach to counterpoint. It is demonstrated to a faretheewell throughout "Pick Yourself Up." That track and their romp on Charlie Christian's and Benny Goodman's "Seven Come Eleven" make me realize how much I miss the improvisational counterpoint that seems to have largely faded from jazz since Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond, Clark Terry and Bob Brookmeyer, Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz employed it.

Cohn is an ingenious soloist, a resourceful accompanist and, when he is moved to practice it, an effective rhythm guitarist. Throughout the album, bassist Joel Forbes and drummer Chuck Riggs, the other regular members of Allen's quartet demonstrate that having a working band can assure benfits of rhythm and cohesiveness. This is a consistently satisfying group.

The Reptet

The album the squeaking-wheel publicist kept plugging, nicely but persistently, is Do This! by a Seattle band, The Reptet. In common with Harry Allen's group, they do not have a piano. Nor do they have a guitar, which leaves the sextet free of a chording instrument to provide harmonic guidance. That leads to some soloists being cast adrift on the waters of free jazz without a paddle, but there is a redeeming sense of joy, whimsy and almost reckless abandon in much of the skilled ensemble writing and playing. Some of it has echoes of Hindemith, Milhaud, and, in keeping with that line of musical thought, voicings remarkably like those in certain pieces by the Dave Brubeck Octet. There are also elements of street-corner brass bands, third stream composers and the Charles Mingus of Tijuana Moods, to single out only three of the disparate influences I think I hear.

Much of the writing is by the trumpeter Samantha Boshnack, with additional pieces by reed players Tobi Stone and Izaak Mill and bassist Benjamin Verdier. The other members are trombonist Ben O'Shea and drummer John Ewing. Stone, Mills, O'Shea and Ewing have stimulating solo moments. I admit that I was moved to listen to The Reptet by, in addition to the phone calls, the fact that four of the compositions are titled "Zeppo," "Harpo," "Chico" and "Groucho." I am happy to report that they live up to their names. And, yes, "Harpo" gets an introduction by an actual harp. I also like the occasional unexpected, but quite discreet, group and individual vocal touches that include shouts and moans. Great fun.

June 19, 2006 1:29 PM | | Comments (0)

Alec Wilder (1907-1980) wrote sonatas, suites, concertos, operas, film scores, ballets, art songs, woodwind quintets, brass quintets and music for French horn. In his composing, he was as prolific as he was ingenious and eclectic, but his work was politically incorrect in the sense that it did not fit the preconceptions of the classical establishment of his time. The individuality, substance and pronounced American character of Wilder's concert music cannot be denied, but little of it gained widespread peformance or widespread popularity.

A few of Wilder's songs, however, became standards, including "I'll Be Around," "Moon and Sand," "While We're Young" and "Lady Sings the Blues." Those and a few less famous Wilder songs are among jazz musicians' favorites. It is strange, then, that there have been only a half dozen jazz albums of Wilder pieces. One of the most important has been unavailable for decades. Bob Brookmeyer made the elegant 7 X Wilder in 1961. Verve has never seen fit to reissue it on CD, the same fate the company has dealt several other essential Brookmeyer albums. Jackie Cain & Roy Kral and Marian McPartland recorded Wilder collections, as did guitarist Vic Juris and saxophonist David Liebman.

Recently, a 2002 CD of Wilder songs made its way into my hands. It is Walk Pretty, by the Ben Sidran/Bob Rockwell Quartet. The album is on a small Danish label and worth finding. Although Sidran's interests cover rock and roll, radio broadcasting, record producing, music journalism and oral history, he is an accomplished jazz pianist and a singer whose qualities may remind you of Mose Allison and Dave Frishberg. Rockwell is an American tenor saxophonist and flutist who moved to Denmark nearly thirty years ago. He remained there and is little known in his native land. The bassist is Billy Peterson, the drummer Kenny Horst. Like Rockwell, neither is famous. Both are excellent.The quartet approaches the Wilder songs with relaxation, fresh harmonies and respect for the melodies.

Alec would have applauded that last point. When he heard a jazz player begin varying his tunes, he would grumble, "My God, couldn't he at least play it straight for the first chorus." During my New York years in the 1970s, I was privileged to know Wilder a little. Several of us would gather late at night in the lobby of the Algonquin Hotel where Alec held court. On any given evening, the group might include Willis Conover, Marian McPartland, Paul Desmond and the great French hornist Jim Buffington, all devoted Wilder admirers. The Algonquin was Alec's only home for a substantial part of his adult life. He loved the place, and the staff loved him for his kindness, his grumpiness and his wit.

"I like to sit here," he once told a friend, "keeping an eye on who's coming and going so I can separate the chic from the gauche."

Alec behaved unconventionally in many ways but dressed in the conservative New England fashion he grew up with, almost always wearing a jacket and necktie. In an article in Down Beat at the height of hippie culture, with its tie-dyes, buckskin and fringes, Wilder said that he found it difficult to take seriously a musician wearing "a feed-bag reticule."

With the invaluable help of James T. Maher, Wilder wrote American Popular Song, an indispensible work of analysis that is also a great read. Desmond Stone and Whitney Balliett wrote fine books about Wilder. For a short biography, go here. During his lifetime, much of Wilder's music did not receive the acceptance it deserved, but it is making its way into the repertoires of more and more "serious" musicians. His fellow craftsmen in the songwriting business long ago put him in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. The Sidran-Rockwell recording helps remind us why he belongs there.

June 17, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (5)

When I set out on a short bicycle ride yesterday, I had every intention of being at the computer by noon and writing the rest of the day. I ended up cruising along the Yakima River, and it captured me. The stream was swollen with snow melt from the Cascade mountains. Yakima River.jpg This photograph shows the river at normal height. I've never seen the Yakima so full short of a major flood. It was roaring along, bound for the mighty Columbia ninety miles downstream, and I rode along with it miles farther than I had planned, enjoying every foot of the trip. By the time I got home, I was exhausted and exhilirated. Deadlines didn't seem to matter. I lost a day of work, but the experience was a net gain.

See you tomorrow.

June 16, 2006 1:06 AM | | Comments (1)

Jim Wilke, who produces and hosts the splendid Jazz After Hours program carried by radio stations across the land, is also an accomplished performance and recording engineer. He frequently combines his specialties in Jazz Northwest, a broadcast he does once a week on KPLU-FM, the Seattle-Tacoma jazz station. Sunday, June 18, Wilke will air a concert by the Jeff Johnson Trio, recorded at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Also in the trio are Mark Taylor, alto & soprano saxes, and Byron Vannoy, drums & percussion. From a Wilke communique, here's what he wrote about the special bass that Jeff Johnson played.

The instrument Jeff brought to the Garden Court of the Museum was one I hadn't seen or heard before. When I asked him about this beautiful instrument, he said "Ahhh, the CONTESSA! I dubbed her that because she is old royalty. She is definitely female because she will only dance in certain settings at her preference!"

Jeff Johnson & Contessa.gif

When he first encountered her among several other basses he was trying out, he said he kept going back to the "old Bohemian lady." She was discovered in a church in Budapest. Her ancestry is not known, possibly Italian, but very old for sure, possibly mid 1700's. A sample of the varnish used gives evidence that oxblood was one of the materials (a la "The Red Violin").

"I have never played a bass with such a dry and dark sound before," Jeff said. "I can only use it in the studio and very special environments where I don't have to play too hard. It has really become my 'Sunday' sort of bass. I LOVE it. Thanks for recording the CONTESSA ... amazing recording you got in that space!"

My admiration for Johnson's bass playing is no secret. I'll be listening to KPLU at 1 pm Pacific Daylight Time next Sunday. If you would like to hear the concert, you will find Jazz Northwest on your computer by way of KPLU's audio stream.

June 15, 2006 1:06 AM | | Comments (0)

Following yesterday's posting about Jeremy Steig's Flute Fever (see the item below this one), Bill McBirnie was moved to expand on his enthusiastic evaluation. To wit:

Even though I am a self-declared disciple of Hubert Laws, Flute Fever is, without qualification, my favourite jazz flute recording. This album is in my view THE classic jazz flute record for all time. Jeremy was utterly on fire on this session...and he was teamed up for a "blowing session" with what proved to be an outstanding trio (including the young but fantastic Denny Zeitlin on piano). Although this album was recorded over forty years ago, it should still be required listening...as well as study...for every single flute player who is at all serious about performing on this instrument in an improvisatory setting.

I admit that all of the humming and buzzing in which Jeremy engages is not my cup of tea and that it does not reflect my preferred approach to the instrument. Nonetheless, Steig's work on this album is absolutely staggering!...He is wild....He is untamed....He is THE jazz flute guy because he plays with such serious--though unorthodox--skill and, more importantly, deeply held conviction!

I was very fortunate in that someone in Calgary heard me singing the praises of this album a couple of years ago...as well as my corresponding lament that I no longer had the vinyl...and now I could not find it on CD either...Then he FOUND the record in a library...and somehow burned a copy/CD for me. I probably hadn't listened to that album in at least 20 years but it hasn't lost a thing to my ears...and it has been in regular rotation on my platter ever since. That album had an enormous influence on me...which I recognize now more so than I did when I was merely a kid (because I admit that Hubert's pristine technique and very melodic sense were much closer to my own sense of musical direction as well as being more in keeping with my "classical roots").

I might add that Bob Parlocha (who has probably the largest syndicated jazz show in the US) still gives "Flute Fever" a spin now and again...and that is about as reliable an endorsement of Jeremy's work as one could ever ask for.

Thanks for the acknowledgement, Doug,...and now I don't feel so alone about Flute Fever.

June 15, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

The fine Canadian flutist Bill McBirnie writes:

I am so glad to hear someone acknowledge what is truly a masterpiece...Flute Fever...with Jeremy Steig (flute) and Denny Zeitlin (piano). When will this album ever be re-issued on CD?!

That question has been asked frequently over the years (by me, among others). Eventually the A& R people at Sony/Columbia will get the message. But will the the guys who really matter, the Sony/Columbia accountants, get it?

When I tell you that McBirnie is a fine flutist, trust me. Or go here, listen to him on an MP3 of his recording of Nat Adderley's "Teaneck" and find out for yourself.

June 14, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Tag in a Jazz At Lincoln Center news release:

Brooks Brothers is the official clothier of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis
June 13, 2006 11:10 AM | | Comments (1)

Richard M. Sudhalter, the gifted cornetist, biographer of Bix Beiderbecke and invaluable jazz historian, needs help. Following a massive stroke nearly three years ago and a recent diagnosis that he has MSA (multiple system atrophy), Dick's medical bills have mounted to proportions that he cannot begin to manage.

Sudhalter wrote Lost Chords: White Musicians and Their Contributions to Jazz 1915-1945. Following racist attacks by ignoramuses when it was published in 1999, it is now beginning to get the credit due it as one of the most valuable historical and analytical studies about jazz. He also wrote superb biographies of Beiderbecke and Hoagy Carmichael. Three books of their quality would be accomplishment aplenty for anyone. But Sudhalter is also a superb cornetist in the Beiderbecke tradition and beyond it. His contributions to the music and to the general culture are profound.

Friends are organizing a benefit concert to be held at St. Peter's Church in New York on September 10, but Dick's financial situation is crushing now. He is due to go to the Mayo Clinic for treatment. It's going to be expensive. I am sending a check. I hope that you will also help, to whatever extent you can. Go here to find out how.

June 12, 2006 2:10 AM | | Comments (0)

Observe, please, that in the right-hand column is a new set of Doug's Picks: two CDs, a DVD and an enchanting novel.

June 12, 2006 2:00 AM |
Marc Johnson, Shades of Jade (ECM). The cast of musicians--Johnson, Joe Lovano, John Scofield, Eliane Elias, Joey Baron--might lead you to believe that it's an all-star jam session. But it's an hour of salon music, carefully conceived, beautifully executed, relaxed with an outré tinge, in the ECM fashion. Highlights: Johnson's medium-tempo blues "Blue Nefertiti," evoking a Miles Davis-Wayne Shorter mid-sixties mood, and Elias's "Ton Sur Ton." If you haven't heard Elias's piano playing lately, prepare to be impressed.
June 12, 2006 1:06 AM | | Comments (0)

Yesterday, Rifftides was one year old. Thanks to all of you for keeping me interested. It has been a rewarding and broadening experience.


June 10, 2006 10:01 AM | | Comments (0)

When I wrote about Django Reinhardt on his birthday, I didn't know about a classic piece of film showing him and the Quintet of the Hot Club of France. Earl Minor sent this from Portland, Oregon:

This one literally made me cry tears of joy. I hope you enjoy it. It's amazing how wonderfully he played with two fingers burnt off his left hand. The human spirit knows no bounds when put to good use.

Here is the link to the video, thanks to Mr. Minor.

June 10, 2006 10:00 AM | | Comments (0)

Peter Levin writes from New York:

While (unlike, it appears, Jimmy Knepper) I love Monk's music, Knepper was right about the childlike quality of a lot of Monk tunes. When one of our sons was three, Monk was his favorite composer. When we asked him why, he said it was because Monk's music sounded like "our city" (which is New York, where we live a few blocks away from West 63rd Street, Monk's home for many years). He could hear car horns and exhaust as well as playground chants in those tunes.

Interestingly, when he and his pals hit the pre-teen years, their primary allegiance was to Mingus, who is the only jazz artist many of our sons' peers collect. The energy and swagger of Mingus is very appealing, at least to city kids.

June 9, 2006 11:37 AM | | Comments (0)

The Commission Project's Swing 'n Jazz event in Rochester, New York, raises money to commission compositions, produce workshops and fund composer-in-residence programs in public schools across the United States. The four days of TCP's ninth edition of Swing 'n Jazz overflowed with music, most of which I heard. Here is a compact account.

Thursday, June 1: Intermittent rain nearly washed out the Community Drum Circle concert in a small public square across from the Eastman School of Music. Few listeners materialized, but a game group of drummers performed during the lulls. Some, from the Bush Mango Drum & Dance organization, played African drums. Master percussionist Bill Cahn and Eastman School professor John Beck demonstrated the precision of unison regimental drumming. Kristen Shiner-McGuire, director of percussion studies at Rochester's Nazareth College, drummed in a jam session of a dozen or so percussionists, then improvised a dance. Good, damp, fun.

While we were sheltering from a squall, jazz trumpeter Herb Smith, who also plays with the Rochester Philharmonic, told me about his TCP project. He teaches elementary school children the blues. He has the kids create their own blues songs. "I tell them they have to write what they know," Smith said. "It would make no sense for a fifth grader to sing, 'Woke up this morning...and found my woman gone.'" What do they write and sing about? Here's a new blues from a student at School No. 30.

School lunch blues

School food is so nasty it taste so bad
School food is so nasty, it taste so bad
It taste so bad, it just makes me mad

I wish I had some mashed potatoes with gravy on top
I wish I had some mashed potatoes with gravy on top
To drown out that nasty taste I need to drink some pop

I opened up the chicken patty, it smelled like French fries
I opened up the chicken patty, it smelled like French fries
It taste so nasty, I rather eat flies

I got the school lunch blues
I got the school lunch blues
It taste so nasty, I rather eat flies

Smith makes sure that his students learn not only how to apply lyrics to the blues, but that they know the form's harmonic structure.

Friday, June 2: At the School of the Arts in a 9 a.m. class, José Encarnacion rehearsed the SOTA jazz ensemble. The band, one of several in this jewel of the Rochester school system, is mostly seniors. They tackled Jim McNeely's tricky "Extra Credit" and nailed it. Next came "Some Skunk Funk," transcribed and expanded from the Brecker Brothers recording. The big band dispersed, and the SOTA wind ensemble moved in. Under the tutelage and direction of Mario Belcufine, they played "Designs," a TCP commission by composer and trumpeter Paul Smoker. The piece walks the line between jazz and classical. Smoker wrote it based on ideas suggested by the members of the ensemble. It has harmonic density, mass, wit and rhythmic variety. The youngsters played it beautifully. When I asked for a demonstration of the ideas they contributed, several of them played their seedling phrases and the whole band beamed.

Later at the Country Club of Rochester, members of the club who support TCP turned out for drinks, dinner on the lawn and Drummers Night Out. Cahn, Beck and Shiner-McGuire from yesterday's Drum Circle were there, along with drummers Rich Thompson and Jason Wildman. The non-drum accomplices were bassist Jay Leonhart and vibraphonist Howard Potter. As at all of the major Swing 'n Jazz events, the master of ceremonies was Rochester attorney Tom Hampson, who doubles as the city's longest-running and best-known jazz radio host. The program consisted of a drumming retrospective beginning in Africa and ending in bebop. Cahn and Beck repeated their regimental drum duet. "Big Noise from Winnetka," naturally, was a part of the proceeding, with Leonhart taking Bob Haggart's role. He whistled through his teeth and played the chords with his left hand while Beck attacked the strings with sticks, a la Ray Baduc. The crowd went wild. For those who can't get enough drums, it was quite an evening.

Saturday, June 3: The morning was devoted to the workshops reviewed here. At night, with a rainstorm pounding Rochester, musicians and listeners gathered at the Hochstein Performance Hall. Formerly the Central Presbyterian Church, the hall is domed and acoustically blessed. It is resplendent with mahogany woodwork and a pair of crème staircases sweeping down from the balcony to the main floor on either side of the stage, the balustrades accented with green baize. Among the many historical events this room has seen were the funerals of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass.

Swing 'n Jazz musical director Marvin Stamm was in charge of marshaling twelve musicians in what was billed as a Gala Jam Session. The evening was a tribute to the late bassist Keter Betts. A huge color photograph of Betts hung like a tapestry above the rear of the stage. Through the evening, musicians turned to gaze at the man who was with them in this session a year ago. Stamm introduced the first set by tenor saxophonist Ken Hitchcock, trumpeter John Sneider, trombonist Scott Whitfield, pianist Mike Holober, drummer Rich Thompson and bassist Phil Flanagan. Like all of the Jazz 'n Swing musicians, they donated their talents. All but Whitfield were regulars and not taken for granted, but Whitfield's virtuosity seemed to catch the audience unawares. I heard sharp intakes of breath and murmurs when he was a few bars into his solo on "In Your Own Sweet Way." Whitfield flew from Los Angeles to Rochester to do a workshop and this concert and headed back the next morning.

Sneider introduced his composition "New Level" as "kind of a bossa nova." He is a study in stillness when he plays, and the trumpet seems barely to touch his lips during his effortlessly fluid solos. I haven't heard Hitchcock's vigorous Coltraneish tenor since his days with Charles Mingus and Louis Bellson and knew Holober only on record. Both are fine soloists. I had been listening to Holober's Thought Trains CD and heard in his chord voicings on the piano the wellspring of the deep harmonies in his big band writing. The set ended with a romp through "Donna Lee."

Flanagan and Leonhart did a kaleidoscopic bass duet on "Blue Monk," with Leonhart's singing-bowing solo, the two alternately accompanying and soloing both arco and pizzicato, plucking the time together, and ending with Flanagan bowing and Leonhart plucking the melody in unison. Hip stuff. Then came the satirical moment that had some in the audience in tears. Leonhart accompanied himself and sang his new song, "Nukular." Fair warning: if you follow the link to Leonhart's website, be prepared to spend the day. Please come back.

Holober and Stamm played "My Funny Valentine." Stamm's solo was exquisite, ending in a note held longer than normal lungs can keep supplying air. As far as I know, he does not use circular breathing.

Drummer Anthony Pinciotti joined Holober, Hitchcock, alto saxophonist Carl Atkins and Leonhart for an uncompromising major blues, then the same rhythm section with trumpeters Sneider and Paul Smoker for an equally committed minor blues, "Birks Works." Pinciotti drums with buoyancy and quick rhythmic adaptability, making it clear why he is in great demand in New York City jazz circles. You will find a brief biography of Pinciotti here (scroll down). Atkins, a veteran of bands led by George Russell and Jaki Byard, is the former president of the Hochstein School of Music and Dance. In everything I heard him play, his soloing was notable for cogency of line and an inclination toward the blues. Atkins, Smoker and Stamm played Kenny Dorham's "Blue Bossa." Stamm soloed with crystal clarity and Pinciotti executed a drum solo based on melody. The sexet followed with another jam session standard, Miles Davis's "Four."

Stamm brought on two youthful musicians for "Afro Blue." Tenor saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown is a 6-foot three-inch high school student with a big sound who has mastered his instrument. His conception owes something to John Coltrane, something to Sonny Rollins, something to Michael Brecker, but not so much that he doesn't have his own identity. It will be interesting to follow the development of this accomplished young man. Drummer Evan Smoker, Paul Smoker's son, connected nicely with Lefkowitz-Brown.

For the finale, Stamm brought all of the musicians on stage for a long "Caravan." It had few jam session low points and a fair share of high ones, none more amusing than the "Night in Tunisia" riff that developed among some of the horns. Thompson, Pinciotti and young Smoker alternated on drums, Leonhart and Flanagan on bass.

In the lounge of the Lodge at Woodcliff, I relaxed with Stamm, Holober, Leonhart and Pinciotti as we listened to pianist Gap Mangione and his quartet. Mangione has been a fixture at the resort hotel since he came off the road several years ago.

Sunday, June 4: This was the day of the golf tournament that gives double meaning to the "swing" in Swing 'n Jazz. Golfers who support The Commission Project played a round or two at the Greystone Golf Club, contributing their fees--and in many cases more money than that--to help TCP carry on its work. Several of the musicians, including Hitchcock and Leonhart, hit the links. When the last putt had been sunk, everyone assembled in a huge white tent of the kind used for wedding receptions. Following an awards ceremony in which Leonhart spoke hilariously for his winning threesome, there was a buffet dinner, then Swing 'n Jazz IX closed with another jam session. The cast of musicians was essentially the same as Saturday's, with trombonist Mark Kellogg replacing Whitfield and drummer Akira Tana and guitarist Bob Sneider joining. Tana flew in from San Francisco just to be a part of the evening. His crisp, swinging drumming was a pleasure to hear. Sneider, John's brother, teaches at Eastman. He plays with intensity and deep feeling. He was new to me, and I want to hear more of his work.

I won't give you another blow by blow account. It was a jam session, a good one, a fine conclusion to an interesting and rewarding four days.

June 9, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (0)

While I was in Rochester, New York, I kept busy in The Commission Project's official Swing 'n Jazz schedule of concerts and workshops, and the unofficial one of eating and drinking well and hanging out. Still, I managed to absorb a bit of the atmosphere of a city with remarkable historical and cultural depth. Some of the culture is the kind promoted by arts and historical preservation organizations. Some is simply in the fabric of daily life.

Kodak declined as the result of its failure to properly guage the speed of the digital revolution in photography. But George Eastman and his Eastman Kodak company influenced Rochester's economic and cultural life for much of the twentieth century. The Eastman imprint on the city is pervasive. He founded the Eastman School of Music, an enduring institution that brought Rochester fame and has given us Howard Hanson, Renée Fleming, William Warfield, Ron Carter, Maria Schneider, the Mangione brothers, Steve Gadd and Mitch Miller, among other leaders in several areas of music. Alec Wilder attended Eastman for a time and although his name is often connected to the school, for the most part he taught himself. Wilder gave us Wilder. A part of the University of Rochester, the Eastman School is a big physical presence and an even bigger civic one.

By 1900, George Eastman's photographic inventions had made him one of the wealthiest men in the nation. A bachelor all of his life, he bought his mother a thirty-seven room mansion on East Avenue, which is to Rochester as St. Charles Avenue is to New Orleans or California Street was to San Francisco in its heyday. The house and grounds had a staff of forty. Eastman lived there until failing health restricted his active life. He found immobility unacceptable and shot himself to death in 1932. "My work is finished," he wrote in his suicide note. "Why wait?" The living quarters and gardens of the George Eastman House are maintained as they appeared while he was alive. But its greater importance lies in its existence as an independent nonprofit museum devoted to photography and motion pictures.

I set aside an hour to tour the museum, spent two hours and wished that I had scheduled a day. I expected glass cases full of cameras and walls hung with pictures glorifying Eastman and his inventions, and I found them. I did not expect the stunning exhibition of modern--even avant garde--photography called Picturing Eden, which presents the ways in which thirty-eight bold photographers picture the world after the fall, mankind's struggle to regain paradise and its despair in losing it. The overall mood is as bleak and beautiful as our times. Nor was I ready for "Project Space," which currently allows photographer Bill Finger to experiment with ways of displaying his digital inkjet prints evocative of childhood secrets and fears. Finger's exhibit is a work in progress, but its component pictures are finished compositions loaded with mysteries.

Seeing Ourselves: American Faces is from another region of the photographic spectrum. Mostly straightforward black and white portrayals, forty prints show us Babe Ruth, Maryilyn Monroe, Abe Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Jackie Kennedy, Igor Stravinsky, Sioux chiefs in suits and ties assembled to sign a land treaty, and ordinary people. The photographers include Edward Steichen, Matthew Brady, Gordon Parks, Richard Avedon and Alfred Stieglitz. Most of us have seen the pictures often over the years. To see them all in one room, in high-qualilty prints, is to see them as if for the first time.

I missed last year's Gershwin to Gillespie: Portraits in American Music and I'll miss September's Why Look at Animals? photo exhibitions at the George Eastman House. If I lived in Rochester, I'd be there weekly.

As we drove through Highland Park, I regretted that I hadn't been in Rochester three weeks earlier, when the Park's acres of lilac bushes were in bloom and the city's Lilac Festival was in full swing. Now, there were just a few faded blooms hanging on; I'm partial to lilacs. Most of this beautiful hillside park was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the landscaping genius who created New York's Central Park.

The Erie Canal has been a part of Rochester's history since the canal aqueduct over the Genesee River was completed in 1823. Its commercial traffic mde New York City the nation's busiest port and helped Rochester thrive in the nineteenth century, but by the second half of the twentieth, the canal's economic glory days were past. Today, it's a tourist and recreational attraction. Runners, walkers and cyclists use its miles of towpaths. Towns along the canal celebrate its history--and drum up tourist business--with festivals like Fairport Canal Days. On Sunday, 200,000 people crowded into the little town east of Rochester. The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra piled onto a boat and serenaded them.

Now we come to the non-historical, non-preservationist part of the local culture. I hadn't been in Rochester more than a half hour when I was asked, "Have you been to Wegmans?" By the end of the second day, I had been asked a half-dozen times. Wegmans is a huge chain of supermarkets in the northeast. Its flagship and showplace is a gigantic store on Monroe Avenue near the town of Pittsford. It is the only supermarket I have patronized that includes a first-class restaurant and a cinema. Fortified by a bowl of clam chowder at the restaurant, I toured the market.

"I have mixed feelings about the place," a woman had told me the night before. "I love the selection and the displays and the sort-of medieval-festival atmosphere, but, you know, when a monster like that goes in, it drives out six or seven little pharmacies and a lot of mom-and-pop stores. It's the Wal-Mart effect."

Not everyone has misgivings. I Googled Wegmans and came up with this on a website called Yelp! from a woman who had moved away from Rochester.

...it's own french patisserie, beautiful produce, a candy section with bonbons piled sky high (along with a little choo-choo candy train). Just dreaming about wegmans makes my mind reel into a blissful coma. Truly one of the most extraordinary and wonderful places on the planet.

Along with Tahiti and Paris, perhaps. She was right about the displays. In the produce department--or wing--fruits and vegetables lay in perfectly organized ranks and rows, hundreds of them receding into the distance. They were lighted as enticingly as rings and bracelets at Cartier. Sumptuous meats and fishes, regiments of cheeses and squadrons of teas got the same artistic treatment. When I selected apples, it was like removing a couple of pieces from a mosaic. Shoppers cruised the aisles full of determination and intensity, piling their carts high, and they seemed to come from the full width of the social landscape.

I was wracking my brain trying to summon up what this reminded me of. Finally, it came to me: not a medieval market, but the grocery section of Harrod's in London. The same courteous, friendly attitude of clerks, butchers and greengrocers; the same profusion of goods; the meticulous organization and display; the canny creation of an atmosphere conducive to buying. A supermarket as a tourist destination? That's marketing.

Our penultimate stop in this scattershot tour of the Rochester area is several miles west on Ridge Road. Ned Corman, the head of The Commission Project, detecting that we shared his interest in wine, arranged for trumpeter Marvin Stamm, pianist Mike Holober and me to visit Century Wines and Liquor and have a chat with one of its owners, Michael Minsch, the son-in-law of the founder, Sherwood Deutsch. The chat quickly disclosed that Minsch has forgotten more about the intricacies and satisfactions of wine than I'll ever learn. It came after we toured the large store, marveling at its extensive collection from every imaginable wine-producing part of the world. We were allowed into the temperature- and humidity-controlled back room where Deutsch and Minsch keep the really good stuff. We wandered along aisles between stacks of cases of wines, most of them choice Bordeaux. It is both fascinating and unnerving to see a stack of cases of vintage Petrus, Margaux or Lafitte when you know that acquiring a single case of, say, a 1955 Margaux would necessitate a second mortgage. I bought a non-mortgage-inducing Bordeaux, we had a good talk with the amiable and knowledgeable Mr. Minsch and departed for the next event of Swing 'n Jazz.

But first, I had to find a book. I finished one on the flight east and did not want to be caught headed west in the ultimate travel horror short of a hijacking or a crash--nothing to read. As I strolled the streets around the Eastman School, I nearly walked past the solution, but something induced me to turn around and scan the stores on the far side of East Avenue. "Used, Rare & Out of Print Books," said the sign on one. I sauntered into Greenwood books and asked the woman at the desk if she had anything by Jorge Amado. "I believe we do," she said. She made a beeline for the back room, climbed a ladder and brought down two Amados. For fifteen bucks, I had a fine copy of the first American edition of The War of The Saints and walked out relieved. The woman, it turned out, was Franlee Frank, the owner of what City, the Rochester alternative newspaper, proclaimed the best bookstore in town.

Next posting, we'll wrap up the Rochester visit with an account of some of the music of Swing 'n Jazz. Coming soon to a blog near you.

June 8, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (2)

Eric Felten writes from Washington, DC:

I enjoyed the Monk posts, and it reminded me of a gig I did years ago with Jimmy Knepper. He was an incredibly distinctive musician, and as quirky, interesting, and difficult as a person as was his trombone playing. Before this particular gig with Jimmy I suggested we play some Monk tune (I don't remember which), and Jimmy just put that puzzled (and slightly dismayed) look on his face before pronouncing: "You know, nobody's willing to say it, but lot's of Monk's stuff is just plain stupid." Then, in a mocking tone, he sang "Green Chimneys" -- "Na, na, na, na, n-na, na; Na, na, na, na-Nah" -- emphasizing the in-your-face monotony of it. Then he gave "Straight No Chaser" the same treatment.
We didn't do any Monk on the gig.
June 6, 2006 4:12 PM | | Comments (0)

When Paul Desmond made his observation that jazz can be learned but not taught, he had in mind the core jazz skill of improvisation, rather than the ability of musicians to be effective in large aggregations. Marvin Stamm, the musical director of this year's Swing 'n Jazz, recalled that he taught himself improvisation by playing along with his brother's collection of jazz records, memorizing solos and eventually absorbing the basics of chord changes and rhythmic competence. That happened after he had learned the rudiments of music, become an accomplished teenaged trumpet player and was mastering the classical repertoire. Some variation of that experience is how all jazz players began learning to improvise. But, Stamm insisted, the fine points of ensemble playing can be taught. In a workshop--a sort of master class--at the Commission Project's Swing 'n Jazz event, he and the New York City drummer Anthony Pinciotti demonstrated.

The beneficiaries of Stamm's and Pinciotti's education were the Rochester Music Educators' Jazz Ensemble. The ensemble is a big band directed by Howard Potter of the Eastman School of Music. Its members are music teachers at public schools in the Rochester, New York, area. They rehearse on Monday nights, but for Swing 'n Jazz, they assembled at the Eastman School early on Saturday morning.

Stamm and Pinciotti listened to the band run through a Sammy Nestico piece called "Hay Burner." Passersby on the sidewalk paused to hear the music drifting through the big street-level windows of the rehearsal room. Stamm complimented the musicians, then he and Pinciotti began to work with them. Stamm asked the trumpets, in the back row, to stand so that their sound would project over the band and have greater clarity. He suggested that the two rhythm guitarists play more lightly, evoking Count Basie's Freddie Green. Green, he said, often propelled the Basie band as much by being felt as by being heard. Pinciotti asked the drummer not to get locked into the shuffle rhythm of the piece, but to vary his approach. Later, playing air drums as he spoke, he demonstrated how the drummer could swing harder by relaxing. Stamm urged the lead alto saxophonist and the rest of the reeds to phrase Nestico's folksy melody more loosely and lower their volume, but not to lose the intensity crucial to the piece.

Turning to the rhythm section, Stamm said, "Not once did I see you five guys look at each other. Check each other out. Get off the paper. You've played this enough times that you don't have to read the changes." To the horns he said, "Leave space in there--air--don't overphrase."

I had thought that the initial performance of "Hay Burner" was impressive, but the next time through, there was palpable improvement in the band's dynamics, expression and time. Stamm's and Pinciotti's tutorial had not transformed the piece; Nestico's work was still as he created it. By applying the workshop tips, however, the band advanced their interpretation of the piece, polishing it and learning principles that would help them in approaching other music. Next came "Ray Gun," an impressive large composition by Tom Davis, a member of the trumpet section, then Charles Mingus's "Haitian War Dance." Both received Pinciotti's and Stamm's lapidary attention. During the same two-hour period, other Swing 'n Jazz faculty members were conducting workshops at the Eastman School, elementary schools, the School of the Arts and Nazareth College. Student musicians were getting the benefit of the experience and wisdom of twenty-seven professionals who volunteered their services.

"The important thing," Stamm told the band members at the end, "is that you take the things we have discussed back to your students. That's what this is all about. Transmit your enthusiasm and love of this music." Ned Corman, the founder and guiding spirit of The Commission Project, sat at the back of the room, smiling. Stamm and Pinciotti had just put his philosophy into practice.

The next gig for the Music Educators Jazz Ensemble will be on June 13 as part of the Rochester International Jazz Festival. The festival starts June 9 and headlines McCoy Tyner, Wayne Shorter, Phil Woods and Toots Thielemans.

June 5, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (1)

This is my first visit to Rochester, New York, in more than twenty years. I thought in the 1980s that it was an agreeable place, slightly down at the heels in some districts but riding in comfort on the economic updraft of its biggest corporate anchors, Eastman Kodak, Xerox and Bausch & Lomb. Kodak and Xerox have cut local employment sharply in the past few years. At $28,000, the median annual income in this city of 215,000 is about $14,000 below the national average. In compensation, real estate prices are dramatically lower those of other urban areas on both coasts. As we drove near downtown through pristine neighborhoods built at or before the turn of the twentieth century, my guide from the Greater Rochester Visitors Association pointed out splendid-looking houses that she said would sell for half or less the price of comparable houses in Seattle, Miami or San Francisco. The streets, sidewalks and vacant lots of even the most economically fatigued parts of Rochester seemed to me remarkably free of litter and debris, compared with those of other big cities. "Yes," Patti Donaghue told me, "just about everyone who comes here says that."

Following a period of sustained civic unease generated by a long-term partisan standoff between former mayor William Johnson and Monroe County Executive Jack Doyle, the city is benefiting from unaccustomed cooperation between city and county. The new mayor, Robert Duffy, is a former police chief and a Democrat. The new county executive, Maggie Brooks, is a former television anchor and reporter and a Republican. Unlike their predecessors, they speak to one another and are working together toward solutions for the Rochester area's problems, which include a $102-million-dollar county budget deficit over the next two years. Despite early indications that the two will continue to collaborate, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle found it necessary to publish a recent editorial warning that differences over a tax-increase solution to the budget deficit could "develop into a recurrence of a dysfunction that was stifling for too long." Still, Rochesterians with whom I've talked this week are optimistic that the new city-county government atmosphere has begun to melt the glacier of disillusion and apathy that blocked progress and enthusiasm. Among the beneficiaries of the thaw are the arts.

Encouraging as it may be that in 2006 there is at least one island of cooperative leadership in the American poliical landscape, I am not in Rochester to report on politics, but on the ninth edition of a phenomenon called Swing 'n Jazz. It is a piece of a cultural mosaic that, for its variety and vitality, would be remarkable in many larger cities. Swing 'n Jazz is three days of musical activities sponsored and organized by The Commission Project. TCP's mission description reads that it shall foster "creativity through music education by bringing students together with professional composers and performers in schools and communities nationwide." Swing (as in golf) 'n Jazz is built around a tournament attracting well-heeled contributors who provide the money that keeps the nonprofit TCP running. Some of the musicians involved swing on both fronts. But, mostly, they work with students and those who educate students, to improve understanding of how to make jazz.

There are those--Paul Desmond claimed to be one--who believe that jazz can be learned but not taught. There are others--like trumpeter Marvin Stamm, this year's music director of Swing 'n Jazz--who volunteer to come here and prove that it can be learned and taught. This morning, I witnessed Stamm and a colleague in a workshop setting, helping the musicians of an already-accomplished big band with nuances and subleties that more or less instantly improved their interpretation of arrangements. Each member of that band is a public school teacher who shapes the talents of student muscians. More in the next posting on that and other aspects of this heartening event. Right now, I'm moving on to the next installment of Swing 'n Jazz, which is described as a "Gala Jam Session," with Stamm in charge of herding the cats.

June 3, 2006 1:43 PM | | Comments (0)

He has to be, to withstand the abuse he's taking. From the right, a pianist identified as Hans Groiner--who may actually be someone named Hans Groiner--castrates Monk, with results that make John Tesh sound like Arnold Schoenberg. Groiner, or the Groiner simulacrum, writes on the Myspace website, "I am from the Austrian village of Braunau, (also the birthplace of Hitler, but please don't hold that against me!"

Then he tells of hearing Monk for the first time.

Although his music fascinated me, I had very mixed feelings. On the one hand, Mr. Monk had obvious talents, but on the other hand, his piano playing was very messy, and his songs had many funny notes and rhythms. Over the many years that I have been studying his music, I have grown to the conclusion that his songs would be much better, and much more popular, if many of the dissonances, or "wrong notes," were removed.

So, he removes them. Go here to listen to samples of the results, which Groiner says are "from my CD, which I am planning to release worldwide, very, very soon!" You have been warned.

From the left, a heavy metal rock group calling itself Brilliant Coroners (get it?) collects the energy that Groiner extracted from Monk's music, expands it to nuclear proportions and unleashes it without mercy. You may sample it here. Samples were enough for me, but I don't know your taste or your tolerance level.

Somewhere in the middle is Thelonious Moog, which is beguiling at first. After a few tracks, however, its comic synthesizer simulations of explosions, sirens, animal sounds, belches and other body noises become--oh, I don't know--whoopee-cushion humor. These cats can meter, though. I became exhausted imagining the hours of computer programming involved in contructing this electronic tower of Babel.

As Bach rose above Wendy Carlos, Monk rises above these tributes, if that's what they are. It may help restore your faith in his genius, not to mention your sanity and your sense of humor, to listen to the real thing. There are dozens of terrific Monk CDs, but why not go back to this one, recorded years before he made the cover of TIME ("I'm famous, ain't that a bitch?"). It is one of his best. Added attractions: Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane and Gigi Gryce.

June 1, 2006 1:05 AM | | Comments (9)

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Rifftides in June 2006.

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