Win-Win Is My New Mantra

This morning, over coffee, I was reading an article about Google and Viacom and copyright in New York magazine. Once upon a time (not so long ago) I was a staunch defender of copyright and even thought that it should exist in perpetuity — why shouldn’t I have the right to pass future profits on to my heirs? Why should anyone other than myself and my assigns reap the benefits from my own work? But I’m beginning to change my mind, or perhaps more specifically, my focus.

What is important to me? I’d like to be able to work at my craft and earn an honest wage doing so. I’d even like a little recognition for my efforts. I want to be able to pay my bills, and afford a few luxuries. (Health insurance should not be a luxury, but that’s another discussion). The image of others using my work to turn a profit without compensating me still doesn’t feel fair, but does that really matter? If I have what I need, and maybe a little more, and if am relatively healthy and able to enjoy family and friends, that should be enough. And if someone else also benefits from my work, either monetarily or emotionally, mightn’t that be a good thing?

I’m growing weary of the whole argument and found myself skimming large parts of the article, but one statement stuck with me — the writer described the Google mindset as in favor of win-win situations while Viacom’s game was a strictly “I win/you lose” scenario. I don’t know whether or not the characterization of either company is accurate, but I do believe that the world would be a better place if “we” weren’t so darned greedy. Eating a whole pie alone causes more than indigestion.

Grammys Not In The News

Nancy Wilson won a Grammy last night, not that anyone would know from the media coverage. Had you been in the audience yesterday, during the pre-telecast awards when 96 Grammys were bestowed, you would know that only two of those winners garnered standing ovations: Tony Bennett and Nancy Wilson. No Standing O for Peter Frampton or Bon Jovi or Ludacris, just for Nancy and Tony.I have to believe that means something. The mainstream media has decided that jazz is irrelevant and/or of no interest to it’s readers/viewers. This decision is based, of course, not on any journalistic standards but solely on commercial concerns and advertisers allocations. Tony Bennett, having allied himself with pop, rock, and country performers, has broken through the barrier, and Michael Brecker’s win was mentioned in some reports because his death from a dreadful disease was recent news. Please don’t misunderstand my rant, Michael was most deserving, but I suspect that had he been alive and well his Grammy win would not have been mentioned outside the inner jazz circles. And that is a shame to be sure.

In their quest for young audiences, the gatekeepers have determined that older artists are not of interest, but they are wrong. If I had a dime for every fan letter and email that Nancy receives from fans under the age of 30, I would soon retire. It reminds me too of another recent experience with The Los Angeles Times. My father was making a rare Los Angeles appearance, he hadn’t performed here for a few years, he had recently been named an NEA Jazz Master, composed and performed an orchestral work with the Baltimore Symphony, in short there was lots of unusual and interersting news. The writer we pitched wanted to do an article but the newspaper editor said ‘no,’ the combination of his age and his music, jazz, added up to “no interest.” I wish that editor had been at the concert to the see the room full of high school and college kids.

Its a sad world where the majority doesn’t stand up to the media…and the government. If we don’t voice our demands then maybe we deserve what we get.

Through Their Eyes

A few years ago, while in Washington, DC, I met a young photographer named Shawn Davis at a showing of some of his work shot in Cuba. It was the first time I ever bought a work of art directly from the artist, and, I believe, the first time I ever bought a photographic work of art (posters and museum prints in my younger days don’t count). Periodically I receive an email from Shawn and I am pleased to share with you news of his latest project — Visual Griots of Mali: African Children Tell Their Stories with Cameras. I have seen some of the childrens’ work online and I also bought the Spring 2006 issue of African Arts (published by The James S. Coleman African Studies Center, UCLA International Institute) that has a feature story about the project with wonderful accompanying photos, but this is an exhibit that I wish I could see in person.

(Actually, to be perfectly honest, this is the sort of project with which I wish I could be personally involved. To empower young people to share their stories and viewpoints — well, you can easily see that it’s an ideal quite compatible with my penchant for biography, especially those of the “less than famous.”)

Visual Griots of Mali
is the result of a project in which U.S. and Malian photographers helped the youth of the country create their own photographic documents of their lives. If you are in DC on Saturday, February 24 do yourself a favor and join Shawn at the National Museum of Natural History (Baird Auditorium) where at 12:00 noon he will not only introduce this landmark exhibition, but also screen the short film Malick Sidibé: Portrait of the Artist as a Portraitist (2006, 8 minutes). Here’s an excerpt from Shawn’s email:

This event, free and open to the public, is an opportunity to celebrate the enormous success of the 22 young students in Mali, West Africa …This will be a great chance to hear updates on how the photographs were received in Mali, what the local communities have to say about the project, how local DC area youth have been involved in the project, and what the President of Mali had to say about it all!! I’ll be giving a lecture that I promise will be full of fun photos and video footage. We hope to see you there. Please share this with your friends, family, and colleagues. The lecture hall is right next to the exhibit, so if you haven’t seen the show yet you can do both in one shot.

And if you can’t make the opening event, you have until April 27th to view the exhibit at the Smithsonian — then it’s on to Kansas City.

The exhibit is sponsored by the Academy for Educational Development and NMNH Office of Visitor and School Services.

More Radio

While I’m on the subject of promoting good radio broadcasts, you should tune in to WBGO tomorrow night (Sunday, Nov 12, from 11 p.m. to midnight, Eastern Standard Time) and listen to the music of Bob Brookmeyer. Producer Bill Kirchner writes:

Valve trombonist/pianist/composer/arranger Bob Brookmeyer (b. 1929) has been a major jazz musician for more than a half-century. Only in the past 25 years, though, has he been widely recognized as one of jazz’s finest living composers.

We’ll hear recent recordings of Brookmeyer’s writing for his Europe-based New Art Orchestra. Plus a surprise.

If you are a WBGO regular you’ll recognize that this is part of the “Jazz From the Archives” series that runs every Sunday on WBGO-FM (88.3) presented by the Institute of Jazz Studies.

NOTE: If you live outside the New York City metropolitan area, WBGO also broadcasts online.

Hooray for Edutainment

Well we’re just about half-way through WKCR’s four-day festival broadcast celebrating the musical legacy of Lennie Tristano. It began at noon on Tuesday and ‘airs’ continuously until noon on Saturday November 11th. You can listen to it online (there’s a Live Boadcast link at the bottom of their page). My esteemed blogging collegue Mr. Rifftides noted this event and included some basic Tristano data. I mention it today to applaud the station and bring to your attention the type of work a radio station can do if it so chooses — I know, it’s ‘a college station,’ but in today’s world the freedoms that came with that are dwindling as budgetarians eye all campus entities (radio, sports teams…) as potential cash cows. (Think KJAZ in Southern California…)

Anyway, an article in the Columbia University Record dating back to 1995 gives credit to Phil Schaap, who, at the time of that article, was celebrating his 25th anniversary at WKCR. “…Schaap is largely responsible for WKCR’s historic emphasis on jazz and he has also colored the station’s unique form by inventing the “festival” (events which pre-empt all regular programming to concentrate on one artist or theme)…”

A station press release says that in addition to broadcasting a chronological presentation of Tristano’s entire recorded output (presented uninterrupted throughout the day of Friday, November 10th), you will hear “in-depth features on his compositional techniques and teaching methodology, as well as interviews with the former colleagues and students of Tristano who represent his living legacy.

That’s amazing! I know a lot of dee-jays who are nearly in tears because their bosses, not wanting them to break the musical spell with any talk, won’t even allow them to tell us listeners who’s playing on a particular track let alone mention that the artiust might be appearing in town.

According to WKCR’s web site:
“Roughly 67 hours (about 40%) of WKCR airtime is currently devoted to Jazz music each week and, quite simply, we present American art music that no other radio station plays. We practice a ‘one foot in the past, one foot in the future’ approach. Unlike other ‘jazz’ stations, WKCR is deeply commited to the rich and storied history of jazz music and its numerous genuises, many of whom have been unfortunately neglected in recent decades. Additionally, we feature and interview cutting edge, avant-garde musicians who are seldom heard in more commerically-driven media. ”


Music In Protest

Politics coupled with music is a subject that fascinates me. You may remember my Spoils of War posting back in August. What I did not mention in that post was the civilian use of music as a form of protest against war.

In 1971 Eric Bogle, wrote And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda. “I wanted to write an antiwar song but didn’t want to denigrate the courage of the soldier,” Mr. Bogle recalled in a November 2005 interview for The New York Times. In that same article, Pete Seeger called it “one of the world’s greatest songs,” explaining “In a few lines of poetry he captured one of the great contradictions of the world: the heroism of people doing something, even knowing it was a crazy something. And he showed how the establishment has used music for thousands of years to support its way of thinking.”

In April 2002 a Silicon Valley weekly newspaper ran an article by Jeff Chang with the headline “Is Protest Music Dead?” Chang wrote

“When the United States goes to war, the musicians begin calling for peace. Opposing war hasn’t always been a popular position, but it has created some great music.” Then he listed songs from the Vietnam era, “songs like Edwin Starr’s War, Jimi Hendrix’s cover of All Along the Watchtower, Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain and Wars of Armageddon, Jimmy Cliff’s Vietnam, Country Joe and the Fish’s Fixing to Die Rag, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising and Have You Ever Seen the Rain? and Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On turned defiance into a raging, soaring, brave and melancholic gestures of community….When Bush Senior sent troops to Kuwait in 1991, rappers Ice Cube and Paris trained their verbal guns on the White House in I Wanna Kill Sam and Bush Killa…”

But, he wrote, the muzzle is now on.

“We’ve seen dozens of acts quietly bury their edgier songs. We’ve seen radio playlists rewritten so as not to “offend listeners.” And we’ve seen Republican officials and the entertainment industry – long divided over “traditional values” issues such as violent content and parental advisory stickering – bury the hatchet. White House Senior Adviser Karl Rove has been meeting regularly with entertainment industry officials to discuss how they can help the war on terrorism. The result? Not unlike the network news, there’s been what a media wonk might call a narrowing of content choice.”

Later in the article Chang writes

‘Message music is being pinched off by an increasingly monopolized media industry suddenly eager to please the White House. At least two of the nation’s largest radio networks – Clear Channel and Citadel Communications – removed songs from the air in the wake of the attacks. Songs like Drowning Pool’s “Bodies” and John Lennon’s “Imagine” were confined to MP3 sites and mix tapes. And while pressure to maintain “blacklists” has eased recently, the détente between Capitol Hill, New York and Hollywood – unseen since World War II – has tangible consequences.”

Two+ years later (8-15-04) Chicago Tribune music critic Greg Kot wrote an article titled “Rocking the Boat.” The sub-head was “As a contentious PRESIDENTIAL RACE revs up, musicians from every genre are jumping into the fray with politically charged albums, Web sites and concerts”

So, as Chang wrote, “musicians must do what they do, and the story is not yet over.”

Indeed the story is not over. I have a friend, Margo Guryan, who is a composer and songwriter, and an fabulous poet (sadly unpublished in that last arena). Do you remember Sunday Morning? That was one of her songs. Here’s an excerpt from Margo’s myspace page (you can also hear Sunday Morning from her myspace page.)

Margo Guryan is a rare discovery — a songwriter and arranger with amazing vocal talent who had a brief – but nonetheless significant – impact on pop music. During the highpoint of her career, her songs were recorded by some of pop music’s most important stars: Mama Cass, Bobbie Gentry and Glen Campbell, Astrud Gilberto, Julie London, Jackie DeShannon, Carmen McCrae, The Lennon Sisters, and Claudine Longet. In fact, there were two hit versions of the Margo Guryan-penned “Sunday Morning” released a year apart in the late 1960s — the first by Spanky And Our Gang, and the second by Oliver (who had previous success with “Good Morning Starshine” and “Jean”). Although she preferred writing songs that others could record and perform, in 1968 Margo recorded and released an album entitled “Take a Picture”. Although the success of this record back then was limited, it has since become a much sought-after collector’s item….

She seized 16 Words and put them to music, and then a wonderful video clip was made and posted on YouTube. Here are the sixteen words – do they sound familiar?

The British government has learned
That Sadam Hussein recently sold
significant quantities of uranium from Africa

And here’s what the myspace site says about 16 Words

“Despite misgivings about the accuracy of the 16 words embodied in this song (these words had been previously removed from a Bush speech given in Cincinnati, Ohio in October ’02), the words appeared in Bush’s State of the Union address ’03. The words were among a litany used to gain the support of Congress and the American people for an invasion of Iraq. Fury over Joseph Wilson’s July ’03 NY Times article debunking the truth of the president’s statement resulted in the “outing” of Wilson’s wife by high government officials. The ensuing investigation is ongoing.”

Now click her to see and hear 16 Words for yourself; the animation is great and it’s a wonderfully produced satirical work in protest of the war.

Supposed News That’s Not Fit To Print (or Air)

I have been waiting to hear someone in the media say this:

The reappearance of the JonBenet Ramsey story on the media radar made my heart sink.

Thank you, Joe Carroll (San Francisco Chronicle). Every night my husband and I talk back to the news readers on telelvision…often we yell at the politicians and pundits too. Lately, we just shake our heads at all the JonBenet coverage. I guess the media must believe that a little soft porn in the guise of “breaking news” will raise the ratings. That alone is a shame. Add to that the fact that there are no real facts and certainly no real news in this current flurry of re-hash and you have the making of another journalism travesty. Here’s a graf from Carroll’s column:

Even before the story about the guy who didn’t kill JonBenet Ramsey broke, I had been thinking about people trusting the media, or rather not trusting the media. Of course, sensible people don’t trust politicians either, or large corporations, or advertising — one feature of modern life is how untrustworthy everything is. No wonder we’re crazy; we have no idea what the truth is, and we need at least an approximation of the truth in order to make intelligent decisions.

But how does anyone know to trust anyone else?

Read the whole column here

Monsieur Le Chevalier

It may not be unusual for daughters to think of their fathers as knights (as in shining white armor), but in contemporary times how many of us have fathers who really are Knights? My dad — yes, I’m talking about the world renowned guitarist Jim Hall — has been given an award of great distinction by the French Minister of Culture and Communication. He is now a Chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters), a decoration given to eminent artists and writers who have contributed significantly to furthering the arts in France and throughout the world. It is one of the highest honors the French government can bestow upon a civilian

Word arrived by mail, a letter in French from the Minister and a corresponding letter in English (though not a literal translation) from a Cultural Counselor in the Ambassade de France aux Etats-Unis. Also in the envelope was some background information that I supplemented with a little web searching. Chevaliers are entitled to wear the insignia of the Order, a medal suspended from a colored ribbon of white stripes against a green background, on their left chest. According to a wiki entry:

The badge of the Order is an eight-armed, green-enameled ‘asterisk’ in silver; the obverse central disc has the letters ‘A’ and ‘L’ on a white enameled background surrounded by a golden ring bearing the words “République Française.” The reverse central disc features the head of Marianne on a golden background, surrounded by a golden ring bearing the words “Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.”

You’d think I’d be able to find a good picture of it on the Internet, but this is the best I could find, for now. Alternatively, a more discreet lapel pin might be worn in lieu of the medal. My dad is not the strutting sort, so I can’t quite envision him sporting such a medal, but that decision doesn’t have to be made yet as the medal itself has not yet been conferred. That is likely to happen in January.

He joins a fine cadre of artists, of course. Among his jazz compatriots so honored in the past are Lee Konitz, Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson. Other honorees in recent years include Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, and Beverly Sills.

(Okay, someone is bound to want to answer the rhetorical question I posed in the opening. Such an enterprising person will point out just how many people are knighted by the Queen of England each year, not to mention other governments with similar honors, but please don’t burst my bubble while I’m enjoying the moment imagining I am among the few whose father is a real Knight.)


The Jazz Journalists Association has just bestowed its awards and a few of my friends are among the winners.

I honestly don’t think much of most awards programs as they are usually beset with much organizational baggage, be it personal or political favoritism, a lack of well-thought out criteria on which to judge, or at worst, a complete disregard for the criteria. My lack of enthusiasm for the process is equal whether it be the JJA Awards or the Grammys. Is anyone’s efforts better than another’s in this particular year? Can you really confine your judgements to calendarized boundaries? And how about rewarding those who took giant risks that may have “flopped” but were nonetheless artistic feats?

Nevertheless, all accolades are a good thing, something we all need…and assuming we all “work” at our respective crafts, encouragement is something we all deserve. So in that light I offer my personal congratulations to my friends who are all hard-working, dedicated artists, every day of every year:

Making A Difference

Yesterday I saw an article in The New York Times (Facing Their Scars, and Finding Beauty) about a portrait painter who has done a series of strikingly beautiful pictures of burn victims. Andy Newman wrote:

“The painter, Doug Auld, 52, says that if people have a chance to gaze without voyeuristic guilt at the disfigured, they may be more likely to accept them as fellow human beings, rather than as grotesques to be gawked at or turned away from.”

Admittedly, as Newman points out, the painter is making a living and even gaining some notoriety for this project, but he is also making a difference, not only in the lives of his eleven adolescent and young adult subjects (one of the ten portraits is of two sisters), but potentially in the lives of everyone who views these portraits.

Auld has a website featuring this State of Grace project; here’s an excerpt from his mission statement:

I cannot think of a more difficult time to endure such a tragedy then to be facially burned as a teenager. A time when most normal teens are coming into forming friendships, sexual awareness, and dating. A time when ones self- perception is so fragile. An adolescent scarred by burns would be forced to grow up fast and develop a sense of who they really are at their core.

…I hope to show the inner beauty and courage of these young people. They have endured a hardship that has forced them into a place most of us know nothing about. I want an audience to see this and confront the traditional issues of acceptance and rejection due to surface deformity.

…I am not interested in shock. I am interested in reality and confrontation. These works confront the viewer with our fear and our repulsion of the unknown while simultaneously displaying a unique disarming beauty.

In his project history Auld concludes:

“Science has determined that what we call ‘beauty,’ is determined by angles, measurements and symmetry of features. However, non physical ‘human’ traits such as personality, inner strength, confidence, and character can redefine our perception of who we find to be beautiful.”

After I won my war with cancer ten years ago I thought a lot about doing work that could make a difference. My past careers as a publicist and computer trade book author seemed shallow and unrewarding, albeit lucrative. Post cancer, I did do a few projects for Microsoft Press to pay off the medical bills and keep up with my overhead, but I was still searching, still berating myself for not volunteering at a children’s hospital. When I returned to California I taught computer science, “Education is a valuable service,” I told myself. I taught one year at a local community college and a second year at a state university, but I was greatly disillusioned by the students’ complete lack of interest. It seemed that the students were just marking time, and that reconfirmed my cynical assessment that college is wasted on the young.

During this time I completed the book I had started many years before (my husband’s biography) but I was acutely aware that I had never studied the craft of writing. I had read many books on craft, but I knew enough to know that there was much more to learn. So I went back to school myself, to get another master’s degree in creative nonfiction. During my two years in that program at Goucher College I wrote a book that has yet to find a home with a publisher.

Roots and Wings is an intimate portrait of a group of teachers who trip over their own passions and predilections for the betterment of their students and education as a whole. Every year, these teachers work with their students at a California private school to produce the sixth grade project, always an original and often abstract creation melding music, dance, theatre, art, and technology to express a theme relating to core academic subjects such as social studies, language arts, or science. It is the culminating event prior to graduation. Cathleen, the arts coordinator, is on a mission to integrate the arts with core academic subjects. Not all of the team is onboard, and challenges range from pedagogical differences and personal insecurities, to the amorphous nature of the creative process and a lack of objective measures of accountability and success. Even in a private school the challenges are huge.

Being a proponent of the arts, and one who bemoans the lack of arts education our schools, I thought that this story about a school that integrates arts education with basic core curriculum could make a difference. Naive, perhaps. I am still looking for stories that can make a difference, and hopefully stories that can also sell. The Luther Henderson biography, currently in progress, means a lot to me personally, and I do believe his contributions to music and the stage should be noted and preserved. Interviews have made it clear to me that Luther made a difference in the lives of those he touched, and that is perhaps all that any of us can hope for — to set a good example and be helpful to those we encounter. Meanwhile, still looking for that story that will make A Big Difference with a capital D, I applaud (with a touch of envy) those like painter Doug Auld, and even TV personality Ty Pennington of Extreme Makeover, who have found a way through art and entertainment to make a living while making such a powerful difference in people’s lives.