I’ve Got Mail: Am I Gullible?

I remember my dad telling me that he once saw a television interview where someone made a disparaging comment about all those wrong notes that Thelonious Monk played. So when I read about Hans Groiner’s recordings (see post below from earlier today), I took it seriously. I have now received two emails regarding this matter. First from Bill Kirchner (the one who told me about it in the first place), who at least admits to some uncertainty (maybe just so I won’t feel too bad):

I can’t say for sure, but I’d bet that the “Hans Groiner” (if there is such a person) recordings are put-ons, and very funny ones at that, a la Paul Weston and Jo Stafford’s legendary “Jonathan and Darlene Edwards” parodies.

And this from Mike Davis across the pond in Shropshire (Mike is co-author of Hampton Hawes: A Bio-Discography):

Think the Hans Groiner ‘Plays Monk’ saga is very funny. Jazz humour isn’t yet dead methinks. Round up the usual suspects. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bill Crow knows the true identity of Herr Groiner.

So Bill Crow, what say you?

Mutations: Exponential Muzak

It always amazes me how some people believe they know more about an event than the people who were actually there. With my own ears I have heard know-it-alls tell a performer how something went down when it was the performer who was there, on the bandstand, in the studio, wherever, doing whatever. The only thing more egregious is when someone professes to understand the intent of a work better than the person who created it, and because they know better, they can perform it better than the creator. Case in point (courtesy of Pat Coil and Bill Kirchner) is this proclamation from Hans Groiner:

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. With my new CD, “Hans Groiner Plays Monk,” I have done just that. I think music fans from all over will agree that this new interpretation brings Monk’s music to a much prettier, much more relaxing place.

Is this guy for real? Maybe Monk didn’t intend for it to sound pretty or feel relaxed. Or maybe he thought it was pretty. More likely, pretty was not his goal. Everyone is entitled to their interpretation, but I bristle at the assertion that his renditions are “better” than Monk’s.

Taps Reprise

It’s Memorial Day, and that explains the momentary explosion of stories about the origin of Taps. Embedded in many of those accounts is the stuff of myths and legends. Here is a reprise of the brief history of taps that I posted last summer:

It is perhaps the most famous of all bugle calls, and is comprised of just 24 notes. I don’t know for sure when I first heard that haunting melody. I keep thinking that it was probably at summer camp signaling ‘lights out’ – the original purpose of the call – or perhaps in an old war movie soundtrack, playing as darkness enveloped the barracks of the good guys. Fond memories aside, my first exposure was most likely while watching television coverage of John F. Kennedy’s funeral – I was barely eight years old. Over the last forty years, the American public has come to know Taps all too well. For many days following 9/11 we heard it several times a day, and now as soldiers and civilians in all corners of the world die at terrorist hands in political and religious wars, I only hope that we never become inured to the sadness that Taps evokes.

Taps, as we know it today, was first sounded in July of 1862 for the Third Brigade, First Division, Fifth Army Corps, Army of the Potomac, under the command of Union General Daniel Butterfield. Its origins are much disputed, and the truth is confounded by verbal accounts that have grown into myth. Master Sgt. Jari A. Villanueva, a longstanding member of the United States Air Force Band and respected bugle historian, traces today’s Taps back to an earlier version of the call Tattoo used “to signal troops to prepare them for bedtime roll call.” In his comprehensive essay that covers the history and the mythology of Taps, Villanueva writes, “In the interest of historical accuracy, it should be noted that it is not General Butterfield who composed Taps, rather that he revised an earlier call into the present day bugle call we know as Taps.”

Other stories of Taps’ origin include a Union Army father finding the musical notes on a slip of paper in the pocket of a dead Confederate soldier…his own son. Villanueva has traced this tall tale back to a Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not” story that was later spread by re-telling in an Ann Landers or Dear Abby column.

Villaneuva also explains the circumstances under which Taps was first used at a military funeral during the Peninsular Campaign in 1862. Captain Tidball, worried that a loud gun volley would alert the enemy nearby, ordered Taps to be played at the burial of a fallen soldier. “The custom, thus originated, was taken up throughout the Army of the Potomac, and finally confirmed by orders.” Taps can be heard as many as thirty times a day at Arlington National Cemetery. Villanueva, himself a bugler, says that this duty “is the military musician’s equivalent of ‘playing Carnegie Hall.’”

“Taps should be played by a lone bugler,” says Colonel Arnald D. Gabriel, Commander and Conductor of the United States Air Force Band from 1964 – 1985. “Some have tried to harmonize it, but it destroys the simplistic beauty of the lone bugler. The most heart tugging time to hear it is at Arlington Cemetery when a veteran is buried and there are no family members present, just the Chaplin, the honor guard and the pallbearers. To hear taps in that setting is gut-wrenching.”

Music is a powerful communicator.

It’s Our Own Fault

In response to yesterday’s Art & Commerce posting, this just in from a regular reader:

I can’t help but think that, in the words of the Pogo cartoon, “We have met the enemy and they is us.” Would we be subjected to this all-pervasive level of advertising if we, as a society/culture, were not so obsessed with consumption? It seems to me a bit like the proliferation of bad television, in that it is, ultimately, driven not only by our acceptance of it, but by the rewards we bestow upon the perpetrators (the more they advertise, the more we consume).

So does this mean I have to give up drinking Starbucks? And just when they’ve made it so convenient by opening a Starbucks stand inside of every Vons supermarket in the extended vicinity.

Art & Commerce

I’m not sure how I feel about Starbucks becoming a major cultural influence, but they are doing some interesting things.

Listening Library, Random House’s children’s audiobook imprint, and Starbucks Hear Music have teamed up to co-release two audiobook titles from the lauded and long-out-of-print Rabbit Ears Collection of celebrity-narrated recordings, which was acquired by Random House/Listening Library earlier this year. The Velveteen Rabbit and The Night Before Christmas, both read by Meryl Streep, and featuring music by George Winston and Mark O’Connor respectively, will each be available for a four-month stretch, exclusively, at Starbucks locations in the U.S. and online at www.starbucks.com/hearmusic. Following the initial exclusive period, the two selections will receive traditional retail distribution. The Velveteen Rabbit will debut in Starbucks outlets on August 29; The Night Before Christmas will hit the coffee giant’s shelves on November 7.

I am glad that these recordings are being re-issued, and I read that Listening Library is planning to re-launch all of the Rabbit Ears titles. Now I wonder if any of that would have come to pass had it not been for the Starbucks deal.

Courtesy of The New York Times I read that commercials have come to Broadway.

No, to answer your question, there is nothing sacred. The advertisement, which is itself advertised as the world’s first live theatrical commercial, is a creation of Visit London, a tourist organization. There have already been performances of the live commercial on stages in Dublin and Hamburg, said Ken Kelling, Visit London’s communications director, and there is to be another on Friday in Pittsburgh. “They’re a captive audience,” Mr. Kelling said. “They can’t switch channels or change over or walk out once the thing is started.”

And they want us to pay $100+ for a ticket? I wonder what Terry Teachout will have to say about this.

Requesting Prayers

Pianist Hilton Ruiz is in a New Orleans hospital in a coma and the jazz grapevine has sent an email message telling people what has happened and asking for everyone’s prayers and healing thoughts.

“He has been in hospital five days now… that would be he went in on Friday, 19 May. He was punched hard in the face, all his face bones were broken, he collapsed, was taken in ambulance to hospital, on route he had cardiac arrest…..Hilton is in a coma, on life support in intensive care unit of a New Orleans hospital. The condition is extremely serious.”

If you are not a religious person and/or if you have never been seriously ill, a request for prayers may seem ridiculous to you. Personally, I do not subscribe to any organized religion, but I do believe that there are forces in the universe greater than us. Ten years ago, doctors told my family that I probably would not survive my cancer – I had a stage-four fast-growing carcinoma in the base of my tongue. Today I am cancer free. To what do I attribute my recovery? Any one or all of the following may have played a major role:

1. aggressive Western medical treatment (chemo and radiation)

2. visualization (as I lay in bed I would imagine little Pac-man-esque gremlins racing through my insides gobbling up cancer cells

3. love and support of family & friends

4. the American Indian medicine bag containing amulets and feathers and pretty stones lovingly made for me by Laura Lee, which hung on my bed throughout the ordeal

5. the prayer circle organized by Alice, my girlfriend in St. Louis

6. the nuns in a San Diego convent, praying for me at the request of Phil’s parents

No one knows for sure, even my doctors don’t take all the credit. What I do know is that I no longer question the power of one’s beliefs, and sending out some good thoughts just might help — it certainly can’t hurt.

For Los Angeles Jazz Lovers

I’ve begun to notice just how many small clubs and restaurants all around the greater Los Angeles area feature local jazz. Cavallino (Huntington Beach), Spaghettini (Seal Beach), Bellavino (Westlake Village), Brussel’s Bistro (Laguna Beach), Phlight (Whittier), and a new one, Cafe 322 (Siera Madre), right in my own backyard.

Jazz is also popping up all over in small and unexpected places, including church, libraries, and museums. Actualy, these venues may no longer be considered new or unusual, but they seem to be gaining in popularity, and that is good news.

On April 30th John and I visited All Saints Church in Pasadena for Jazz Vespers: A Celebration of Life, Spirit & Music featuring John, Jeff and Gerald Clayton with Kevin Kenner on drums. The “service” included a meditation by parish administrator Christina Honchell and a reading of a Langston Hughes piece with flute and bass accompaniment by Jeff and John. The church is lovely, though its high ceiling is not conducive to the best in musical sound. But that didn’t matter; it was about community, and joy, and sharing the music. Happily, the event was well-attended.

The following Sunday, May 7, we headed for the valley to hear Gerald Wiggins. Giannelli Square (19451 Londelius Street, Northridge) is a building devoted to the twin passions of John Giannelli – music and carpentry. One side of the building is is G’s cabinetry shop; the other side a combination recital hall geared for recording, plus three small rehearsal or teaching rooms each with upright piano. Seating is limited but very comfortable (nice upholstered chairs), and reservations are recommended. The $25 cover charge included two sets with an intermission during which free refreshments and snacks were provided. Upcoming next Sunday, May 28th, is Bill Henderson. For reservations call 818-772-1722 or email Giannellisquare@sbcglobal.net.

This past Friday we went to hear Monty Alexander at Mandaloun, a very nice Lebanese restaurant in Glendale that now features jazz. Actually this is not a small room; the dining room is spacious and the stage a decent size for a small group, with attention paid to sound and lights. Upcoming bookings include Harvey Mason. Visit their website to see the music schedule and menu.

Who said libraries were only for reading? Not trombonist Phil Ranelin, whose 8-part series of Jazz Appreciation Workshops funded by a Cultural Affairs grant began a few weeks ago after delays caused by an automobile accident. The remaining four events are as follows:

Saturday, May 27, 2006, 2PM-5PM – WHO IS FREDDIE HUBBARD? — Sylmar Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, 14561 Polk Street, Sylmar, CA 91342, (818) 367-6102

Wednesday, May 31, 2006, 4PM-7PM – WHO IS DEXTER GORDON? — Pacoima Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, 13605 Van Nuys Blvd., Pacoima, CA 91331, (818) 899-5203

Saturday, June 3, 2006, 2PM-5PM- WHO IS HORACE TAPSCOTT? — Sylmar Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, 14561 Polk Street, Sylmar, CA 91342, (818) 367-6102

Saturday, June 10, 2006, 2PM-5PM – WHO IS ERIC DOLPHY? — Sylmar Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, 14561 Polk Street, Sylmar, CA 91342, (818) 367-6102

    In the museum world, Friday Night Jazz (5:30 to 8:30 p.m. — April through December) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (5905 Wilshire Boulevard) is nothing new. Admission is free. Upcoming:

    June 2 — Rickey Woodard Quartet
    June 9 — KKJZ High School Jazz Band Winner
    June 16 — Ron Eschete Trio
    June 23 — SLAMMIN vocal ensemble
    June 30 — Grant Geissman Quintet
    July 7 — Nedra Wheeler Quartet
    and more

    And coming full circle, back to Pasadena, there is Paul Lines and the Pasadena Jazz Institute’s series of concerts at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. In addition to Jazz on the Terrace, a series of theme-based concerts beginning this season with Ellingtonia (Ernie Andrews and Houston Person — three days beginning June 29th), the Solo Sketches piano series is already underway.

Missing In Action…Again

Sorry to have been so inconsistent in posting of late. Today all I have to offer is a bit of miscellanea. Between a quick trip to New York and juggling of multiple projects, I just can’t seem to marshall any coherent thoughts into decent prose.

  1. John’s appearance at the Tribeca Performings Arts Center as part of their Salute to Lost Jazz Shrines went well, and they gave him a very lovely plaque — at this rate he’s going to need a trophy room.
  2. —–

  3. In my May 1st post, I wrote “there must be a reason why immigrants risk life and limb to get here illegally; if the legal alternative was feasible don’t you think they’d prefer it?” In the May 17 issue of The Press Democrat an article, “The Waiting Game,” by Martin Espinoza contains the following information:

    The Census Bureau estimates about 500,000 illegal immigrants enter the country every year, but only about 5,000 visas are available to low-skilled workers. Immigration attorneys said the door is closed to millions of foreign-born nationals with no family or employers in the United States to sponsor them.

    Read the whole article here.

  4. —–

  5. A friend emailed me a copy of “Love will outlast Bush” by Garrison Keillor which ends with:

    Take the day off, dear reader, and ignore the world and let the president play his fiddle. Find the one who means the most to you and make yourselves happy. If that be ignorance, make the most of it.

    You can also read it here and here.

  6. —–

  7. I used to love PBS – masterpiece theatre and the Mystery series were among my favorites, but “they” seem to have lost their taste. You know how I feel about Ramsey Lewis’ so-called jazz program , and now I hear from Terry Teachout that the Nat Cole program was a travesty. How disappointing!
  8. —–

  9. A press release from IDC with the headline “Billion Dollar Opportunity: Internet Video Services Primed for Explosive Growth, According to IDC,” began “FRAMINGHAM, Mass., April 5, 2006 – Internet video services are on the brink of becoming a mainstream phenomenon in the United States…” On the brink? The release mentions hurdles that include licensing and other legal issues, but it seems to me that we are already there.

    Video stories are featured on most major newspaper web sites. CultureGrrl recently noted video clips on the New York Philharmonic web site. She wrote:

    Something new, informative and enjoyable on the NY Philharmonic’s website : video clips of composers, conductors and musicians involved in upcoming performances.

    Most poignant is the clip of the 97-year-old Elliott Carter, explaining that his “Allegro scorrevole” of 1996 was inspired by a bubble in a painting by Chardin, which “symbolizes the fragility of life…finally disappearing into the sky.”

    And I recently became addicted to the amazing assortment of free video clips at VideoGoogle – my most recent discovery there is their archive of American Television Interviews (from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation) with people such as Norman Lear, Julia Child, Ted Turner, Richard Crenna, Carroll O’Connor, Diahann Carroll, Ossie Davis, and Fess Parker to name just a few. As a biographer, interviews fascinate me.

Reminder From the East

My friend Bill Kirchner (radio broadcaster, jazz educator, great guy) wrote to me asking about a press release he read saying that John would bve speaking in New York tomorrow. It’s true and somehow I forgot to tell you all about it. Here’s the press release issued by the the Tribeca Performing Arts Center via Eigo’s jazz news service:

Lost Jazz Shrines Celebrates Café Bohemia

Tribeca Performing Arts Center’s annual “Lost Jazz Shrines” series – a celebration, remembrance and examination of some of the more significant and historic defunct jazz venues in downtown Manhattan – will focus on Café Bohemia.

Located in Greenwich Village at 15 Barrow Street, Café Bohemia featured such great jazz stars of the 1950’s as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, the Adderley Brothers and Charles Mingus. A number of classic jazz albums were recorded live at the club, such as
“Art Blakey: Live at Café Bohemia”, among many others.

Our concerts will honor and illuminate the music of Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, Jimmy Smith and Oscar Pettiford.
Concerts are held every other Friday with Humanities Program and Photo Exhibit.

May 12, 2006:
Humanities Program @ 7pm:
Willard Jenkins interviews NEA Jazz Master and industry giant John Levy. FREE ADMISSION.
Jazz Concert @ 8:30pm:
The concert features Louis Hayes’ Cannonball Legacy Band, celebrating the music of the great Julian “Cannonball” Adderley.

May 26, 2006:
Humanities Program @ 7pm:
Arnold J. Smith interviews 3 musicians who performed at Café Bohemia, Dick Katz, Bill Crow and Junior Mance. FREE ADMISSION.
Jazz Concert @ 8:30pm:
The concert features Hammond B-3 Organ Master Dr. Lonnie Smith with Special Guest Organist Reuben Wilson, honoring the music of NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Smith.

June 9, 2006:
Jazz Concert @ 7pm:
The concert features an All-Star band, performing the music of Café Bohemia’s Original Music Director, the legendary Bassist-Composer Oscar Pettiford. The band includes Eric Gould (Piano/Music Director), Sean Jones (Trumpet), Antonio Hart (Alto Sax), Don Braden (Tenor Sax), Robin Eubanks (Trombone), Leon Lee Dorsey (Bass) and Vincent Ector (Drums). With special guest Ron Carter.

Lost Jazz Shrines Celebration Awards Program @ 9pm:
The evening’s program, which includes a dinner held at Tribeca Grill, will honor Art Blakey, John Levy and Ron Carter for their long lasting contributions to the jazz world and to Café Bohemia.

For tickets to the awards program or for more information, contact Gabriela Poler-Buzali at (212) 220-1459 or email gpoler@tribecapac.org.

We’re not sure yet whether we will be going back again for the awards program, but we sure will be there tomorrow.

Gotta catch a plane. Hope to post some more from New York.

What Shall We Reap?

My friend over at Yarns & Yarns is Just Muttering about me again.

“Devradowrite attributes the problem to journalists’ inexperience and youth. I don’t think that’s it, unless one assumes all inexperienced and/or young people are irresponsible and lazy because I think irresponsibility and laziness are the core problems.”

Sorry to say that my cynicism runs much deeper than that. I don’t think that the majority of today’s youth are lazy, not at all. They work very hard at what they deem to be important. Nor would I describe them as irresponsible; they follow through on their agendas. What I do question are their values (or lack of) and their self-centeredness, traits that our society has encouraged down the wrong path.

With each passing year it seems that the degree to which the marketplace panders to youth grows exponentially; no wonder they think the world revolves around them. I do remember feeling in my twenties that I knew it all, so to some degree maybe nothing is new, but this is different. Feeling cocky or sure of myself was still a long way from disrespecting my elders, even if our slogan was “never trust anyone over thirty.” Dismissing or disregarding everything outside your own world view is disrespectful.

And what lessons do we teach when we hire packagers to help us with our applications and resumes, and when plagiarism and lies become the surefire way to increase your revenues.

A recent article in New York Magazine makes my point, so I am not alone with these thoughts. In Generation Xerox — Youth may not be an excuse for plagiarism. But it is an explanation. Kurt Andersen writes about Kaavya Viswanathan, “author” of How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life:

She is a flagrant example of the hard-charging freaks that our culture grooms and prods so many of its best and brightest children to become, a case study in one sociopathology of the adolescent overclass….

…she had already come to understand that her success so far was not just a matter of talent and discipline but of buying the right connections, cutting deals for behind-the-scenes assistance, cunning. She was hooked up with her packager, Alloy Entertainment, by the agency William Morris (which also represents me), and hooked up with William Morris by her college-application consultant, Katherine Cohen.

Cohen may be worth the $33,000 she charges for her “platinum package.” But there’s something fundamentally untoward about the cynical lessons that such a makeover process teaches the kids who go through it—especially when it seems to work.

I am afraid that as a society we are sowing a lot of bad seeds.