Is it worth it?
Monday April 30th 2012, 4:50 pm
Filed under: This 'n' That

“Today’s solutions become tomorrow’s problems” said Sam Greengard last week at the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference. He was talking about how cool technological gadgets and ‘apps’ have left us drowning in gigabytes of data. Tagging is one of today’s solutions and applying tags to email messages and files not only allows you to categorize them without having to move them into various folders, but it also allows you to assign more than one tag to each item. Wondering if I really have time to re-read and tag tens of thousands of emails and files led me to more basic questions: Do I need to do it? What do I have to gain? Trying to harness, arrange and tame our data troves seems an illusive goal and takes way too much effort. And that, in turn, led me to an even more interesting consideration: What might I lose by doing it, besides the most obvious time suck?

Coincidentally, while thinking about this I was embroiled in the parallel endeavor of straightening up an office, arranging and taming the piles of envelopes, papers, bills, receipts, cards and letters, articles, books, stick-it notes, photos….

Whether the labeling and filing is physical or electronic, once done one can quickly and efficiently find what one is looking for and that is the ultimate pay-off, right? Time is money; waste not, want not. Hmmmm…..maybe not. By arriving so immediately at the destination, what is lost is the journey itself. It may take longer, possibly even create a detour, but if one has to sift through piles, or open multiple electronic documents to see what is inside, serendipity might strike, yielding an answer or solution not previously considered, or uncovering something about which you had forgotten. Even if what you find is not relevant to the impetus of the search, accidental rediscoveries might open up a whole new avenue of thought…or just make you smile.

Gray is more than a hair color
Saturday April 21st 2012, 2:13 pm
Filed under: Hmmm....

I remember the clarity of my youth when I was certain about everything. Things were clearly right or wrong, good or bad. Love was supreme and war was reviled. Democracy was good, communism was bad. My friends and I were child activists, picketing the sale of war toys at a nearby “five and ten cent store” — GI Joe Must Go — and savvy enough to call the local TV station and end up on the evening news.

It was the 1960s. Our ideology was nonviolence. “Flower Power!” We were in favor of passive resistance and free speech. We marched WITH Dr. King and we marched ON Washington. We sang the songs of Bob Dylan (“Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin’“) and Phil Ochs (“There but for Fortune“).

In our teenage and college years our concepts grew a little deeper but still we held to a simple clarity of right and wrong. Quality was of higher value than quantity. We knew journalists to be reporters and fact-checkers who would not dream of ‘making news’ or becoming celebrities unto themselves. Without question, substance was supremely more important than style. I knew what I believed in, believed that I was right, and that fueled my confidence.

I don’t know when it changed, but the light began to fade and our vision required corrective lenses. When I was 42, a friend referred to me as “a woman of a certain age,” meaning, of course, that I was no longer a kid. I thought of myself as principled, but perhaps I was just naive? Answers to questions large and small no longer seemed so simple. I noticed style was rewarded even when substance was absent. Was it time to pay more attention to style, at least as it pertained to self and one’s future. I had improbably survived a stage four cancer and the graying temple hairs were now very noticeable — perhaps it was time for a little hair color and a brand new attitude. Time to grow up and ‘get ahead,’ whatever that means.

Get ahead? I invested in myself, looked good, worked hard and made a little money too. But the work was just for money, devoid of passion and not all that enjoyable. I watched my husband and others around me – the happiest and the healthiest of them were passionate about their work. “Don’t worry, be happy” sounds good, but how to pay one’s bills? Can one seek both money and happiness? Somewhere I took a wrong turn, another of life’s detours.

Fifteen more years have gone by and I no longer color my hair. I am once again clear about my likes and dislikes, ideology is back, BUT I have come to accept that nothing is simple, there is no clear black and white, right and wrong, just lot of pros and cons. There are many applicable quotations:

    “Life is a journey, not a destination.”
    Ralph Waldo Emerson
    “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.”
    William Keane
    You’ve got to get to the stage in life where going for it is more important than winning or losing.
― Arthur Ashe

Some phrases seem almost cliche, but their points are well-taken. I evaluate life’s compromises on a case-by-case basis. Embracing the gray is my new mantra for navigating life’s path. For this Libra, life is now a game of balance, and the prizes to be sought on every given day are the little bits of color one finds while unraveling the tangled layers of gray.

Kampai, my darling
Friday April 13th 2012, 1:24 pm
Filed under: This 'n' That

Yesterday I had visit from prolific record producer Kiyoshi Itoh and his associate Takeo Suzuki. Because of their longtime business association with John, I have known both of these gentlemen for decades. During the 1980s-90s, when Kiyoshi produced many of Nancy Wilson’s recordings, we saw them often here in Los Angeles, in New York, and also in Tokyo. 

Even though we had not seen Kiyoshi in many years, he kept in occasional touch and he spoke to John by phone this past December. Kiyoshi’s travel plans had him coming to Los Angeles in April and he made a date with John to come and visit him then, right around his 100th birthday. I put it on our calendar, even though John didn’t expect to be here and said so, but John was very happy just to have spoken with Kiyoshi and to have felt his heart’s intent. That meant more to him than the possible visit. 

A few weeks ago Suzuki told me that Kiyoshi still had me on his calendar and wanted to come to the house, or perhaps the cemetery.  I had to explain that John gave his body to science and that there is no cemetery plot to visit. A drive to our house in Altadena from the west side of town near the airport would take at least an hour, and probably much more. Definitely would be worth any hassle to see John, but with him gone…. 

“Are you sure?”, I asked Suzuki. “It’s a long round-trip and I know Kiyoshi has just this one afternoon in town. Please make sure he knows that I would not be offended if he needs to change his plans.”

“We will be there at 3 PM.”

Knowing what the traffic would be like, I actually felt bad for them and considered refusing so they would not have to make the trip, but some part of me understood that for them this was an action of deep cultural import. Most cultures speak of paying respects, but here in America (maybe even more so in Hollywood) it can be more a matter of lip-service. This is why John was adamant about not having a funeral or memorial concert mounted in his name. He hated to see people show up at such events and speak of their love and admiration for the departed when they had not been there for the person while still alive. “If you are going to pay tribute or give thanks, do it while they can hear you,” John would say. But John also had great respect for other cultures, and I think he would have felt, as I do, that the Japanese desire to show their respect is deeply rooted and more honest, particularly regarding elders. 

To be sure, I consulted with my friend Chie Imaizumi and she confirmed that for me to refuse would have been rude. I was still a bit nervous so I invited her to be here as well. I wanted everything to be just right.  I was also thinking that she is a fabulous composer/arranger and I could hear John saying ‘it will be good for them to meet.’  With “I’ll Be A Song” ( Nancy Wilson produced by Kiyoshi, seated, and arranged by Masahiko Satoh, standing) playing softly in the background,  I prepared some green tea with green tea cookies, and awaited their arrival.

Through the window I watched Kiyoshi and Suzuki park and pull from the back seat a huge floral arrangement. I had just the spot for it on John’s desk next to his portrait. They entered and put the vase on the desk, then clasped their hands prayerfully and bowed to John. Then we exchanged hugs and sat down to chat for a bit. I told them about John’s last months and how peacefully he made his transition. 

In years past, following meetings on our offices or hours in the studio, we often went out with Kiyoshi to eat shabu-shabu in restaurants on one coast or the other. John was especially fond of this meal where you cook your own thinly sliced beef and vegetables in a pot of hot broth then dip in goma-dare (sesame) or ponzu sauces. When John and I found an authentic Japanese restaurant here in Pasadena specializing in it, we became regulars, going once a week for many years. With only one day in town, Kiyoshi and Suzuki were not free for dinner, but after they left, Chie and I went there and toasted John. 

Kampai, my darling.

Happy birthday my darling!
Wednesday April 11th 2012, 12:01 am
Filed under: Date Specific,Dear John

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I love you yesterday, today, forever… just like it said on our wedding cake.

I know that some little part of you wished to make it to the 100th birthday milestone, not because you reveled in rituals or awards – everyone who knew you knows better than that – but I know you wanted that centennial happy birthday letter from Obama! Again, all who knew you are keenly aware that the value of that letter lies not in it’s Presidential nature, you have letters of thanks and commendations from prior Presidents, but because Obama is America’s first African-American President.

I will never forget inauguration day – a day you thought would never come. We hosted a small breakfast party in our living room. You, your son Michael, and friends Washington Rucker and John Mitchell – representing three generations of Black men – partaking of scrambled eggs with grits, bacon, and biscuits while talking about history and watching it unfold.

When the swearing in ceremony was to begin, plates were left behind and you four moved to straight-backed chairs much closer to the television. You could have heard the proverbial pin-drop and if someone had been able to gather up the tears of joy that were shed around the world when Obama was sworn in, mankind would never fear another drought.

During the hours we were glued to the television I saw other emotions as well — concern for Obama’s well-being, fear for his life, and fury when he and Michele got out of their car and walked down The Avenue…and oh yes, a great deal of pride. I am so glad you lived to see that day.

I am glad, too, that you lived to see some more personal milestones, growing closer to your children and grandchildren, and holding in your arms your one and only Levy great-grandson who will carry the Levy name forward.

Before you left, you got to read the many 100th birthday messages that people sent, and I saw how touched you were by their words. The only message I really wish you could have seen was a condolence letter I received from a total stranger — Sally, now an older woman and a jazz fan for decades, wrote “Mr. Levy was a great man (not only as an artist himself) but for his recognition of all these great jazz artists!”

You see, my darling, your legacy lives on in oh so many ways….

[here's a link to the memorial card and letter to friends posted on]

Bad Music
Tuesday October 04th 2011, 8:45 am
Filed under: Boos & Bravos,Jazz Ears

Duke Ellington said there are two kinds of music – good and the other kind.
Here are some of observations regarding the Other:

    a jazz group is not an ensemble when all of the individuals solo simultaneously
    velocity and volume do not make up for a lack of taste or talent, no matter how great the technical execution
    drowning an audience in an avalanche of sounds gives them no space in which to discern
    it’s not likely to be good if the only message sent is ‘look ma, no hands’
    same approach to each and every tune – performer can’t possibly understand the ‘meaning’ of the compositions
    a few inventive licks get re-used, over-used, and ultimately abused until the spice kills the whole dish

Too many performers have played too many notes while managing to say nothing at all.

And furthermore…
Wednesday September 28th 2011, 5:11 am
Filed under: This 'n' That

In addition to the discussions of musical presentation selections vis a vis jazz audiences (Jazzwax and my mention to start), the same applies to other musical genres: see yesterday’s review by Steve Smith in The New York Times (Blending the Unfamiliar With the Ordinary Is a Recipe for Selling Out the Show).

Coincidental Timing?
Tuesday September 27th 2011, 10:31 am
Filed under: This 'n' That

For my listening pleasure today while in the HBOT tube, I chose The Bill Holman Band Live. Big band studio recordings are nice, but the live recordings get the listener a little closer to that indescribable experience of being there, up close, with a 16-piece swinging ensemble. There really are no words to sufficiently convey THAT feeling, so if you’ve never experienced it, please seek out an opportunity at your soonest convenience.

This disc, recorded back in Sept of 2004 in Los Angeles, includes several excellent Holman originals starting with Woodrow, dedicated to Woody Herman. But it was the second tune that surprised me — A Day In The Life by John Lennon and Paul McCartney — and provided coincidental timing #1: immediately my thoughts turned to this past Sunday’s post by Marc Myers at Jazzwax where he discussed how a group’s tune choices can invite or alienate audiences. Marc suggests that including some recognizable selections is one of the things that can help bring audiences into the fold. To me, that sense of recognition not only can make a listener feel ‘in the know’ and ‘at home’, but also aids in educating ears, helping one to hear where an improvisor is going and then allowing one to feel the elation of the return when the music comes back from an improvisatory run that might have one well out onto a limb.

Coincidental timing #2 came with the last selection on the disc, another Holman original titled Zoot ‘n’ Al. Bill Crow reported that the Water Gap gig dedicated to the tunes from the Zoot and Al songbook (see last post) went beautifully and he reminded he me that on November 13, at the U of Pennsylvania in East Stroudsburg, where the Al Cohn Collection resides, they’re having a Zoot Fest, celebrating Louise Sims’ gift of Zoot’s memorabilia to the collection. Bill writes:

They’ll be concentrating on the jazz loft music at Dave Young’s place (821 6th Ave) where Zoot, Al, Jim, Jim Raney, Brookmeyer, etc. etc. played frequently, and where W. Eugene Smith took photographs and recorded a lot of the music.  After a morning presentation by Sam Stephenson regarding his Jazz Loft Project and a panel of some of the loft denizens, the afternoon will feature music by Phil Woods, Bob Dorough, Ronnie Free, Lew Tabackin, Bill Goodwin, me, the COTA Festival Orchestra, and “surprise guests.

I don’t believe in coincidence. You just have to open your ears and listen to the universe. Jazz is but one of may excellent ways to connect.

a little nudge
Saturday September 24th 2011, 10:41 am
Filed under: This 'n' That

Just received a note from long-time friend Bill Crow, fabulous bassist and excellent writer and jazz raconteur (From Birdland to Broadway and Jazz Anecdotes: Second Time Around).

He asks:

… did you abandon your blog? I miss your comments. Hope it is because you’re doing something that’s too interesting too leave time for Devradowrite.

I keep making elaborate plans to re-launch this blog and life keeps getting in my way. The interesting diversion has been the re-focusing of my Luther Henderson biography and I am now back on track there and in high-gear. I will be describing the re-focus aspect, along with the challenges of biography and of writing about music, in some upcoming blog posts.

For those who want to know, the not-so-interesting diversions have been health-related (see Diver Devra and HBOT, just below).

There are certain tenets to maintaining a successful blog, and primary among them is consistency. When I first began, back in 2005, I posted every weekday, and sometimes more. I don’t know if I will be able to keep up with myself, but it is clear now that I will just have to plunge back in and do the best I can. So, thanks for the nudge, Bill.

If you ever have a chance to hear Bill play live, grab it. Tonight, anyone near enough to Delaware Water Gap, PA should head for the Deer Head Inn where Bill, along with Bob Keller, Lew DelGatto, Jesse Green and Tom Whaley, will be playing tunes from the Al Cohn & Zoot Sims songbook.

Diver Devra and HBOT
Saturday September 24th 2011, 9:42 am
Filed under: I've Got Mail,This 'n' That

Many of you are aware that I beat tongue cancer with heavy radiation and chemo back in 1996. The radiation burned out my salivary glands and the lack thereof over these years has led to dental decay with which even the dentist cannot keep up. The upshot is that I have had more root-canals than I can count and 6 more teeth were pulled in August (2 had been pulled in 2008).

The extractions weren’t so bad (done in hospital, under anesthesia) but my ability to heal from oral surgery is compromised due to the radiation I absorbed during the cancer war — it killed more than just the salivary glands — the diagnosis is osteoradionecrosis (dead bones). Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment (HBOT) is the prescription, 2-hours a day, five days a week, starting two weeks before surgery and continuing after for as long as it takes for the ‘wounds’ close up. This little image is not me, but it is the actual chamber you’ll find me in from 7-9 AM, M-F for awhile.

You can’t take anything into the chamber with you, no books, nada. There’s no room to move around, but you can listen to music or watch a dvd through a porthole. My preference is to lie down and listen to music. But sometimes I am not given the lie-down option and have to sit in the back compartment (pictured). In chamber I seem to fare best listening to instrumentals rather than vocals, and orchestral rather than small ensemble, though I did spend two days listening to solo piano from the Live at Maybeck Hall series. Recent listening includes Jim Hall’s Textures and By Arrangement, Bob Brookmeyer’s Get Well Soon, and Quincy Jones’ Big Band Complete 1960 European Concerts.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy works by “force-feeding” pure oxygen to the bloodstream, tissues and cells. Treatments make me feel like DiverDevra (do you remember Diver Dan on TV?) – you are placed in a submarine-like compartment which is then pressurized. The earth’s atmosphere normally exerts approximately 15 pounds per square inch of pressure at sea level. That pressure is defined as one atmosphere absolute (abbreviated as 1 ATA). The chamber gets pressurized to 2 ATA, and by elevating the atmospheric pressure and increasing oxygen intake, oxygen is transferred through the membrane of the red blood cells at a much greater, more effective rate to saturate the bloodstream, tissue and cells.

The hoped-for end result is that the gum tissue will grow to fill in the gaps and cover all exposed bone. But until the bone is buried, you’ll find me popping antibiotics and diving.

Benny Powell, R.I.P.
Tuesday June 29th 2010, 7:55 am
Filed under: Announcements,Jazz Ears,Notables

b. March 1, 1930, d. June 26, 2010

The funeral will be held
July 12, 7 PM
Saint Peter’s Church
619 Lexington Avenue (at 54th Street)
New York, New York 10022-4610

A jazz service is being planned and is likely to include: Randy Weston and African Rhythms, a classical piece on violin played by one of his nieces, and Nextep featuring Frank Wess (Benny’s last group with whom he recorded). There will be New Orleans Brass band to play first and second line.

Condolences may be sent to:
Lisa Dickerson
3128 Westover Drive SE
Washington DC 20020

Instead of flowers the family has setup an education fund for his Grandchildren.
Kyle and Faith Swetnam
CO Evelyn Nolan (Grandmother)
2890 Emerald Spring Dr
Lawrenceville GA 30095

Benny died on the morning of June 26th. He was at Roosevelt Hospital, in New York City, recovering from successful spinal surgery when he died from causes not yet determined. He may have suffered a fatal heart attack, but the official report is not due until later this week.

Benny is survived by his daughter Demitra Powell Clay, his grandchildren Faith and Kyle Swetnam, his sister Elizabeth Powell McCrowey, his nieces, Lisa Dickerson who was in New York with him for the surgery, Terri Dickerson Hawkins, Patrice Dickerson, Laurie Dickerson, Verna Von Holtzclaw, Ann McCrowey Mickle and Bennette Brown; his nephews Bryon Brown, Craig Brown, Gilbert Mc Crowey Michael McCrowey, and Scott McCrowey; Barry K. Cooper, whom he loved as a son, and a host of grand nephews, nieces, cousins, and dear friends.

[info as of 7/1/2010]