Dorothy Donegan

While visiting recently (Ted Gioia’s piece on Denny Zeitlin piqued my interest), I also came across Scott Albin’s look back at Dorothy Donegan’s career. If you don’t know about her, you’ve got to check her out. I knew her quite well, and my two favorite personal memories of her took place several years apart.

The first was at the home of a friend of hers in New York City on the upper west side. I was living in the same neighborhood at the time. This person was also a friend of Sweets Edison, and it was Sweets who had invited me to join him for dinner. Dorothy was there too, and after dinner, we all went upstairs to the music room. Dorothy said she was just beginning to practice classical pieces as she was slated to appear some months later with a Symphony. She started playing a Chopin Nocturne, this one (no, that’s not her playing):

but she stopped midway in the second section, saying she didn’t remember the rest. I was in my early 20s. My conservatory-trained classical chops were in pretty good shape back then, and as befitting my know-it-all ultra-confident age, I said “move over.” I will always wonder if Sweets might have rolled his eyes, but I wasn’t looking and everyone was quiet; Dorothy gave way. I had just begun studying the Ballades and the Nocturne seemed easy by comparison. It’s not a difficult piece and I acquitted myself quite well. Dorothy was gracious, and then she sat down and played the Nocturne to perfection, and then some.

A handful of years later I ran into Dorothy at a bar. I had since moved to Los Angeles and used to meet Ernie Andrews at Tommy Tucker’s Playroom for drinks in the late afternoon when i got off work from my office gig. The Playroom was catty-corner to the old Parisian Room, a nightclub that used to sit on the south-west corner of La Brea and Washington. One day, Ernie and I were siting at the bar, and Dorothy came in and sat down next to Ernie. They started talking, and talking, and talking. She didn’t say a word to me and I was sure she didn’t even know me. Why should she? Two scotches later, Ernie excused himself for a moment and while he was gone, Dorothy leaned over and said, “So, are you still playing the F minor Nocturne.?” I nearly fell off my barstool and we remained friendly ’til the end.

This story never would have happened if I had ever heard Dorothy play Rachmaninoff’s Prelude In C Sharp Minor back in 1944. Take a listen from an Armed Forces Radio broadcast.

Scott’s reflections also include links to two YouTube videos: one from 1945, and one from 1993 at the White House. She was a show-woman from start to finish.

Multimedia Enhanced Reporting

While I much lament what I feel is the demise of essential elements of journalism – shoe-leather and insightful reporting – I will not lament the loss of physical newspapers, should that eventuality come to pass. I remember my grandfather showing me how to fold The New York Times so as to manage the size and page turns, but I never learned to like the feel of newsprint nor the ink it left on my hands.

What I am enjoying these days is the online incarnation of some newspapers, particularly those that employ multimedia and narrative writing. One of my mentors, Tom French, has done several huge serial reports for the St Petersburg Times*, but the one-off stories such as the March 8th New York Times article Riding The Rails are just as inspiring and more easily consumable when pressed for time. rr_crossing_outside-boulder-co.jpgThis piece is an interesting short-form narrative, well-reported with occasional first-person interjections for that being-there-with-you feel. The multimedia portion includes images of the amazing landscapes seen while rolling across country and short video clips that allow us to meet some fellow travelers. Is it really just coincidental that only a few days ago I spoke of wanting to travel cross country by train?

* Series by Tom include A Cry in the Night and Zoo Story
zoostory.jpg tf_cry.jpg

Of course multimedia need not be reserved only for narratives. It is not surprising that art reviews are greatly enchanced by visuals. I still refer friends to the slides accompanying a review of Calder works at the Whitney — Calder at Play: Finding Whimsy in Simple Wire (October 2008).

More recently a March 5th New York Times article “The Unheralded Pieces in the American Puzzle” caught my attention, perhaps because last weekend I went to The Getty Museum for the first time in eons and found myself wondering how I might manage to visit there much more often (but that rumination is for another blog post). While the slides with this particular article are fewer and less intriguing to me than those of Calder, I did “discover” artists unfamiliar to me. My favorite is slide number 5, a 1911 painting by George Bellows titled “New York” with this description: “crowded with buildings, vehicles and people in the street, it is thought to depict Union Square in the snow, slightly reimagined and looking west toward the Sixth Avenue El.” ny_bellows.jpgApparently Bellows died young (age 42). His wikipedia entry says “Bellows’ urban New York scenes depicted the crudity and chaos of working-class people and neighborhoods, and also satirized the upper classes.” Had he been of our generations, I wonder what his canvases would portray of life today.

DVT Alert – A Spring Awareness Campaign

I received phone call last week from a publicist at Burson-Marsteller. This was unusual on many counts.

  • 1. it was a phone call (I miss that)
  • 2. I don’t have any personal contacts with flacks there
  • 3. she was calling about a medical story, not my usual beat
  • At first I assumed she found me because of my blog, but I noticed when she followed up via email that she had my writer email address, not my blogger address. Hmmm… She led right off with Deep Vein Thrombosis and she sounded surprised that I knew what that was.

    Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolisms can be lethal. I’ve never had one, but I well remember the scare. It was during my cancer war days and I, an in-patient, fainted while seated in a wheelchair enroute to my room following a CT scan. When I came to, moments later, I was on a gurney and already on my way to Intensive Care because the doctors feared that I might have thrown a clot. They kept me there for 48-hours, just in case. In addition to the chemo lines, trachea and gastro tubes, I was now connected to the EKG, pulse, oxygen, and other monitors; tethered in every possible way. Those 48 hours were scarier than the cancer.

    DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in a deep vein, usually in the lower limbs. A complication of DVT, pulmonary embolism, can occur when a fragment of a blood clot breaks loose from the wall of the vein and migrates to the lungs, where it blocks a pulmonary artery or one of its branches.

    Anyway, six years ago, March was proclaimed National DVT Awareness Month and the Coalition to Prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis is on a mission to educate Americans about the dangers. Their National Patient Spokesperson is Melanie Bloom, widow of NBC news correspondent David Bloom who died in Iraq due to complications of DVT, and they’ve recently announced Driving to Reduce the Risks of DVT, a nationwide mobile campaign designed to encourage dialogue between healthcare professionals and patients about this serious but preventable condition.


    The customized recreational vehicle is currently visiting hospitals and local communities. They started off on March 3rd in Washington DC. On Tuesday the 10th they’ll be in the big apple, stopping first at Rockefeller Center for The Today Show and then the Weill Cornell Medical Center. Another highlight will be a stop at the Metrodome for a Minneapolis Twins baseball game on May 12th, but mostly they’ll be visiting hospitals and universities. Other strops include Richmond, Atlanta, Orlando, Dallas, San Antonio, Pheonix, Sacramento, Las Vegas, Denver, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Columbus, ending in Pittsburgh on May 23rd.

    Here are a few more scary facts:

      Complications from DVT kill more people each year in the U.S. than breast cancer and AIDS combined.
      In the United States, DVT affects up to 2 million people annually.
      Approximately 300,000 Americans die each year from a pulmonary embolism, the majority of which result from DVT
      DVT-related pulmonary embolisms are the most common cause of preventable hospital death

    And here is their factsheet.

    Jazz Ladies In March

    February’s Black History Month is over and April’s Jazz Appreciation Month is coming soon, meanwhile March 8th is International Women’s Day and NPR’s Take Five: A Weekly Jazz Sampler is celebrating with It’s A Woman’s World: Six Jazz Trailblazers featuring Mary Lou Williams, Shirley Scott, Marian McPartland, Geri Allen, Regina Carter, and Maria Schneider. Three of these women are good friends of mine, and from conversations with them over the years I know that they don’t particularly care to be singled out for their gender — “you sure play great” looses something when the unspoken end of the sentence is “for a girl” — but the past-publicist in me says any angle that helps to gain exposure is a good angle.

    Birthdays this month include: Carol Sloane, Shirley Scott, Marian McPartland, Eliane Elias, and Sarah Vaughan.

    Computers – a tool for enhancing communication?

    This really cracked me up, especially now that I’m Mac-enamored. I’m not one who usually passes around jokes via email. A few are indeed funny, but most are just so-so. And who among us has enough time to read them all anyway? Anyway, I found this enactment on YouTube awhile back and I’m still enjoying it.

    I can assure you that this is all too plausible. Here’s the script:


    ABBOTT: Super Duper Computer Store. May I help you?

    COSTELLO: Thanks. I’m setting up an office in my den and I’m thinking about buying a computer.

    ABBOTT: Mac?

    COSTELLO: No, the name’s Lou.

    ABBOTT: Your computer?

    COSTELLO: I don’t own a computer. I want to buy one.

    ABBOTT: Mac?

    COSTELLO: I told you, my name’s Lou.

    ABBOTT: What about Windows?

    COSTELLO: Why? Will it get stuffy in here?

    ABBOTT: Do you want a computer with Windows?

    COSTELLO: I don’t know. What will I see when I look in the windows?

    ABBOTT: A desktop and wallpaper.

    COSTELLO: I already have a desk with a large top, so never mind the windows with the computer. I just need a computer and software.

    ABBOTT: Software for Windows?

    COSTELLO: No. For the computer! I need something I can use to write proposals, track expenses and run my business. What have you got?

    ABBOTT: Office.

    COSTELLO: Yeah, for my office. Can you recommend anything?

    ABBOTT: I just did.

    COSTELLO: You just did what?

    ABBOTT: Recommend something.

    COSTELLO: You recommended something?

    ABBOTT: Yes.

    COSTELLO: For my office?

    ABBOTT: Yes.

    COSTELLO: OK, what did you recommend for my office?

    ABBOTT: Office.

    COSTELLO: Yes, for my office!

    ABBOTT: I recommend Office with Windows.

    COSTELLO: I already have an office with windows! OK, let’s just say I’m sitting at my computer and I want to type a proposal. What do I need?

    ABBOTT: Word.

    COSTELLO: What word?

    ABBOTT: The Word in Office.

    COSTELLO: The only word in office is “office”.

    ABBOTT: The Word in Office for Windows.

    COSTELLO: Which word in office for windows? I told you I don’t want windows installed in my computer.

    ABBOTT: The Word you get when you click the blue “W”.

    COSTELLO: I’m going to click your “blue ‘W'” if you don’t  start with some straight answers! OK, forget

    that. Can I watch movies on the internet on this computer?

    ABBOTT: Yes, you’ll want Real One.

    COSTELLO: Maybe a real one, maybe a cartoon. What I watch is none of your business. Just tell me what I need!

    ABBOTT: Real One.

    COSTELLO: If it’s a long movie I also want to see reel 2, 3 & 4. Can I watch them?

    ABBOTT: Of course.

    COSTELLO: Great! With what?

    ABBOTT: Real One.

    COSTELLO: OK, I’m at my computer and I want to watch a movie. What do I do?

    ABBOTT: You click the blue “1”.

    COSTELLO: I click the blue one what?

    ABBOTT: The blue “1”.

    COSTELLO: Is that different from the blue “W”?

    ABBOTT: The blue “1” is Real One and the blue “W” is Word.

    COSTELLO: What word?

    ABBOTT: The Word in Office for Windows.

    COSTELLO: But there are three words in “office for windows”!

    ABBOTT: No, just one. But it’s the most popular Word in the world.

    COSTELLO: It is?

    ABBOTT: Yes, but to be fair, there aren’t many other Words left. It pretty much wiped out all the other Words out there.

    COSTELLO: And that word is “real one”?

    ABBOTT: Real One has nothing to do with Word. Real One isn’t even part of Office.

    COSTELLO: STOP! Don’t start that again. What about financial bookkeeping? You have anything I can track my money with?

    ABBOTT: Money.

    COSTELLO: That’s right. What do you have?

    ABBOTT: Money.

    COSTELLO: I need money to track my money?

    ABBOTT: It comes bundled with your computer.

    COSTELLO: What’s bundled with my computer?

    ABBOTT: Money.

    COSTELLO: Money comes with my computer?

    ABBOTT: Yes. No extra charge.

    COSTELLO: I get a bundle of money with my computer?  How much?

    ABBOTT: One copy.

    COSTELLO: Isn’t it illegal to copy money?

    ABBOTT: Microsoft gave us a license to copy Money.

    COSTELLO: They can give you a license to copy money?

    ABBOTT: Why not? THEY OWN IT!


    ABBOTT: Super Duper Computer Store. May I help you?

    COSTELLO: Your people set up this computer in my den and turned it on, but how do I turn it off?

    ABBOTT: Click on “START.”