Dance Lessons

“If you learn to dance with people, with life, then nothing wrong can happen to you.” — Hugues de Montalembert

I found this quotation on a Swan Lake Samba Girl‘s blog (by way of About Last Night). I am assuming that the Montalembert in question is the painter who was blinded during a mugging in New York, after which he travelled, wrote books, and became the subject of a doumentary titled Black Sun. (Read a recent interview here and a 2006 review here.)

It’s a nice quotation all by itself, but it dovetails nicely with my recent thoughts about what I believe to be the fundamental problem with our society today — a pervading attitude of individual entitlement and the rest of the world be damned. We’re all dancing alone.

On radio this morning I heard a story about a GOP Nanny contest to determine which republican politician has sinned most in terms of advocating for more government interference in our lifestyles, rather than less — less government intrusion being one of the basic principles of republican thought. Although I am not a republican (not sure that i am a democrat either, but that’s another topic) I am pro freedom and pro the right to make personal decisions for myself. HOWEVER I believe that the right must be moderated by consideration of others. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a thought that not only has receded from our collective consciouness, it’s been replaced by “do unto others before they do you in, and get what you can while you’re at it.”

I’m not a history buff and I’ve never studied law, but I imagine that it is after people get hurt that laws come into being to protect the rest of us from harm. With merger-mania being rampant, big business trampling mom & pop endeavors, corporate greed (perhaps driven by the need to please a few investors) disenfranchising its workers and even its customers, someone has got to draw some lines somewhere. Just a we hope that our children will play nicely, and fair, with one another, at some point a parent has to step in and protect. I’d much prefer self-regulation, but today self-regulation in the grown-up world is interpreted to mean hire a passel of lawyers to find the loopholes.

There once was a time when community worked together, helped one another as a matter of course. Perhaps such activities were fostered and held together by clergy, and maybe that’s what is driving the Christian Right. I have a spiritual side, but I am not, by any stretch of the imagaination, what you would call “a religious person.” I think that organized religions are man-made by power-seekers who, like todays regime, use fear to govern. Yet I do feel for those who seek comfort.

We hear a lot of talk today about saving our environment, reducing emmissions and such. Last night I heard the automotive industry experts opine that there was no point in making cars run more efficiently because we morons would just drive more. The solution, they say, is to drive less. Okay, but now that the majority of workers can no longer afford to live anywhere near where they work, how are they supposed to traverse those 40, 50, 60+ miles to the job. Public transportation may be effective in New York, DC, Boston…but elsewhere….fuggedaboutit.

Some people would really like to help others in need but most either can’t or don’t know how. Some see problems as so big that they can’t conceive of how they, as individuals, could make much of a difference. Some are just one step ahead of the game and struggling to stay afloat themselves. That’s why we all watch Extreme Home Makeover — it makes us feel better to see that someone is getting some help. Of course I gues that’s why Survivor and such shows are also popular…we all want to believe that we can, well, survive.

But getting back to Montalembert’s quotation, I think we would all do well to learn to dance with people. And, to take it literally, I would suggest not just any dancing — I would prescribe folk dancing, square dancing, even line dancing, to foster a sense of community and sharing. Besides it’s fun.

The Prairie – a Lukas Foss Cantata

Laurie, one of my childhood girlfriends (elementary school days) has loved to sing for as long as I can remember. She’s been an active member of The Greenwich Village Singers for many years and on June 28th she will take part in a very exciting and unusual concert. She tells me that it has been decades since there was a New York performance of Lukas Foss’s major cantata, “The Prairie.”

On Thursday, June 28, we will present a revival performance of this significant American work at the Rose Theatre, which is part of Lincoln Center (but located in the Time Warner Center building at Columbus Circle). We will be performing it in the presence of the composer in honor of his 85th birthday. We and the Choral Society of the Hamptons will make up a chorus of over 100 voices, and under the baton of Mark Mangini, we will be accompanied by the Brooklyn Philharmonic, four professional soloists of outstanding talent, and solo concert flautist Carol Wincenc. In its thirty-one year history, The Greenwich Village Singers has never before undertaken a project of this significance and scope.

She also said the piece reminds her a bit of Gershwin, with some Copeland-esque sounds, “but it is not at all derivative–in fact, it’s wholly original and just a very cool piece of music. Very difficult not to like, even for those of you who do not ordinarily listen to choral music.”

To read more about this event — An American Awakening: The Rediscovery of a Choral Masterpiece — visit The Prairie Project website. The text, which was adapted by the composer from Carl Sandburg’s “The Prairie,” is posted there, along with the composer’s commentary a seen in the program from the 1944 premiere and information about the performers. You can order tickets online and for those of you in the press, there’s a link to the media contact as well. [Note: A second performance will take place on Saturday, July 7 at the Channing Sculpture Garden in Bridgehampton.]

Jazz It Up

A few weeks ago someone forwrded to me via email a copy of an open letter to Oprah Winfrey from Greg Thomas, Host/Co-producer of Jazz It Up! I wrote to Thomas and he granted me permission to post the letter here.

An Open Letter to Oprah Winfrey: A Jazz Alternative

After watching your two-part town hall meeting: “After Imus: Now What?” I’m compelled to reach out to you. I’m a native New Yorker with southern black American roots and an abiding devotion to the greatest music produced in the U.S.A—jazz. As a teen in the late ’70s, when hearing the scratching of LPs in the Park Hill section of Staten Island, I scratched my head in puzzlement. Other than the infectious dance beats and a few catchy hooks, I didn’t get caught up with rap since my mind was being blown by the sounds of Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, Benny Carter, John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and so many other great improvisers, vocalists and band leaders of jazz.

Maybe it’s the old soul/old school in me, but to my ears rap sounded like child’s play compared to the mature, sophisticated, earthy and sublime jazz music that I immersed myself in as a teen and since.

As an American concerned about the direction of our culture, and as father of a bright and beautiful 11 year-young daughter, I implore you, Oprah, to add the voices of jazz musicians to the discussion of “Now What?”

There are many articulate, learned and passionate jazz musicians whose views will add dimension and insight to the discourse, and whose music provides an alternative, and even perhaps an antidote to the destructive images and words found in the more popular music of today.

For instance, there’s the splendid bassist Christian McBride, 35, a young giant of jazz who’s played with the elder statesmen of jazz, with artists such as Sting, David Sanborn and Pat Metheny, as well as with DJ Logic and Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson of The Roots (his homeboy from Philadelphia.)
Another example is the superb tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman, 38, who graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, from Harvard University in 1991. Like McBride, Redman has performed and recorded with his jazz elders, as well as artists and groups such as The Dave Matthews Band, MeShell Ndegeocello, Big Daddy Kane, The Rolling Stones, and Stevie Wonder. He was featured in the late Robert Altman’s film, Kansas City.

Of course there’s composer and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, 45, artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, whose latest recording, From the Plantation to the Penitentiary confronts many of the same social and cultural issues discussed in your post-Imus town hall meeting. He’s been vocal about these matters for over 20 years.

Queen Latifah, 37, an extraordinarily talented artist of music and film, would be a wonderful addition to a discussion among these artists, as Dr. Maya Angelou might agree, since she named Ms. Latifah as one of the well-known artists she respects and admires from the hip hop genre. She’s also a very good songstress of jazz and classic R&B, so Ms. Latifah’s point of view should be heard. Her father owned a jazz club in Newark, New Jersey, which in part explains her jazz chops.

These four are the tip of the iceberg of potential guests on a follow-up program to further this urgently needed dialogue, but, in my opinion, as good a group of artists to continue it with as any.

But instead of just talking about the issues, perhaps they could also perform together on the show, demonstrating the power of jazz music to bring together those of differing viewpoints and styles.

Just as Jesus was not accepted in his own town of Nazareth, jazz is shunned by most Americans not exposed to its true glories, yet many in Europe and other places in the world recognize it as a fine art representing the best of America and black American culture.

By doing a show with the likes of those above, my beloved sister, you’d continue to turn the tide, raise awareness of, as Abraham Lincoln once said, the “better angels of our nature,” and bring even more exposure to the cultural excellence from which we as a people spring.

Greg Thomas

Jazz It Up! is an online tv jazz entertainment news series. It’s subscription based, but free. The web site appears to be a single page with an explanatory/welcome video. Looking for more, I clicked on the the Questions & Comments link but it took me to a typically over-designed hard-to-read MySpace page that for me was a turn-off. Still, the guy writes a great letter and his heart is in the right place so I won’t hold that against him. Who knows, maybe he’ll reach some young folks and introduce them to jazz.

Immediately after subscribin I received an email explaining that whenever there’s a new episode I’ll get an email with a link to view it. Or, as my computer is running Windows, I can download a free BrownStoneDigitalTV Desktop Viewer.  An icon will appear near my system clock, and when it blinks it means a new show is available; double click and voila.

A little further invesitgation led me to Brownstone Digital‘s main website where I can see the bigger picture — this is an “independent interactive content production company” with five or more shows so far, each appealing to a clearly identifiable target market. It’s really quite interesting, and no doubt just a small part of this constantly changing entertainment landscape.

Frustration and Relief

Oh joy! No sarcasm. I really am overjoyed that after much frustration over silly technical glitches caused by a cross between my own learning curve and some gremlins, I can finally announce the re-launch I am at least a week behind my self-imposed schedule, but better late than never. And I never would have made it this far if not for the technical expertise of the world’s best neighbor, Robert.

A few weeks ago in a two-part posting (here and here) I explained my exodus from ArtistShare and told you that the new SnapSizzleBop will be reborn with a new tag line: Shop, Look & Listen. The Look & Listen pages feature free access to news, pictures, audio and video clips relating to my current projects — “At the Feet of a Jazz Master,” “Seeking Harmony: The Life and Music of Luther Henderson,” and a series of short pieces titled Neighborhood Narratives. Those who sign up for the email announcement list will be automatically notified when new files are posted. The “shop” part will be an online store where you can buy our books and other items.

One thing that took up some time was adapting the shopping cart module, but it was the multimedia components that took me awhile to work out. I purchased a very affordable suite of flash media players from a company called Lucid Flash. They have created an easy to use group of flash players for audio, video, and images. All you have to do is copy the code they give you into your web page, then fill-in the variables that provide instructions to the player (things like the name of the file(s) to play, and how many files, etc), upload everything to the online server and you’re good to go.

So why did I have problems? Not because of Lucid Flash; in fact they held my hand through repeated attempts to troubleshoot the problems even though the problems were not theirs. My first problem was that I forgot that the online world of code pays attention of upper and lowercase characters, so if XYZ.doc is the filename and you tell it xyz.doc it will not find it. My second problem was that some programs view certain characters as special. I knew that the ampersand character was not to be used in a filename, but I did not know that the programs I was using did not want to see a plus sign as part of the filename either. I took me awhile to stumble onto that little fact. I won’t bore you with the rest of the stumbling blocks, except to say that sometimes when you move files around online they don’t end up intact and the last problem I had seemed to be that the video files somehow got corrupted. Don’t know how—that’s the part I blame on gremlins.

So, is now officially launched and I hope that you’ll visit to hear some music, listen to some interviews, watch some video clips, and flip through our photo albums.

Aimez-vous silly?

I wish I could remember who sent me this very silly video titled Everybody Loves to Dance. There is some really silly stuff on YouTube and other places, some of it truly ridiculous and much not worth watching, but this arrived via email and I find myself watching it more oftwn than I’d care to admit…maybe I’m just desperate for a giggle, or perhaps that should be a gaggle of laughs. It helps if you like animals…. click here to watch