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.

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.

The Silver Lining

Figurative storm clouds broke overhead when last night a Google Alert linked me to web site where I found posted a copy of the Pasadena Star News article about John. Regular DevraDoWrite readers know that I was disturbed by the errors in this piece (if you didn’t know, read this), so you can imagine that I was none too happy about seeing it proliferate on the Internet. I sent off an email that began with “Much as we enjoy getting press coverage, the article by Ivy Dai, written for The Pasadena Star News/U-Entertainment, contains numerous factual errors and John and I would appreciate it if you would remove it from your web site.” [By the way, in the interest of acuracy, the piece was written for the Celebrations section, not U-Entertainment as cited by the post in question.] Within a couple of hours I received a reply thanking me for making him aware and apologizing for any unintended harm. As I had suspected, this was someone who had wanted only to assist by spreading news that he felt should get more attention, and for that I am very appreciative.

As I told our helpful blogger in a later email:

Sadly, today, The Media does not invest the care it should. Where once we might have been safe in assuming the veracity of items in a newspaper, that is no longer the case. Ivy was not only careless with the facts, she had no understanding of the story and instead tried to paint a personal portrait, one that became increasingly distorted because John would not participate, telling her repeatedly that this or that detail about his personal life was not relevant. She was determined to continue that line of questioning, so John started saying “I don’t remember.” You might think that at 94 John would be forgetful, but with the exception of a few names and dates, John is still very sharp (and he knows very well who gave him his Aires pendant).

As a nonfiction writer, this is one of my pet peeves. I feel rather like an old fogey (I’m 50, not 39) when I blame it, in part, on the youth of today’s workforce; there are fewer older/experienced workers, and those that are there and willing to mentor are marginalized, if not actually disrespected. I guess this is true in all fields.

If this had not happened, I might not have discovered TheJazzCat a/k/a LeRoy Downs online — jazz radio afficiando’s know LeRoy’s on-air work — and that is the silver lining. I spent some time this morning perusing LeRoy’s blog archives, and his enthusiasm and love of the music is palpable. For an example check out his post about his trip to NYC for IAJE — he loved Maria Schneider’s band and took lots of photos, posting one of Maria, Sonny Rollins and Ravi Coltrane. If you want to know about LeRoy the man, check out his web site. LeRoy is out there supporting music that I love and will be checking out his blog regularly.

PS: If you want to re-read my piece about Maria’s Disney Hall concert this past February, go here . My pieces about IAJE are 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Now What?

Thanks, everyone, for all the celebratory greetings and well-wishes on my first anniversary as a blogess/blogette, and special thanks to Mr. Rifftides for doing so publically on his blog — if you are a new visitor sent via Rifftides, welcome. I hope you’ll become a frequent visitor. And if you are one of my regulars and have never been to Rifftides, shame on you and go there now. Today Mr. Rifftides has taken on the not-so-Jazz Fest.

Well April, which was Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), is over, but never over is our love for jazz. My love of jazz, however, has its limits, or rather some definition. I do not include in my embrace anything that smacks of smooth jazz or programs that purport to be jazz while pandering to the lowest common denominator

Sadly, Ramsey Lewis’ television series on PBS falls into both of these categories. According to one of the show’s musical guests, Ben Ratliff’s April 4th review in The New York Times “nailed it.” Ratliff describes the interview questions as “doggedly polite, basic and weirdly resistant to subtlety and insight,” reminds us, parenthetically, that “(Jazz is so cerebral, you know. It scares people.)”, and concludes with this:

In all its mainstreaming and common-denominator sense, the show seems to want to deny that jazz issomething people care deeply about. But jazz is deep. It is about sound and resonance and great passion. There is a reason people become nearly religious about it. You’d hardly know from watching this.

One of the more unusual JAM activities that caught my attention last month was news of a Tavis Smiley radio special to be taped before a live audience at Smithsonian Institution in DC on April 7th. Tavis said he was going to “lead a discussion with jazz artists, scholars and historians about the birth, evolution, support and survival of jazz in America and around the globe.” I haven’t heard it broadcast yet nor have I found mention of it on his web site. If I hear more about it I will let you know.

On April 12th I barely caught the end of a piece on PBS’ NewsHour program and it had something to do with jazz — I think it was an interview with someone from the Smithsonian; …ah, Jazz Appreciation Month, I thought. Unfortunately, the online archives for NewsHour yield no mention, so I can tell you no more and only hope that it wasn’t a figment of my imagination.

I’ll leave you today wih something you can hear for yourself. Over at the ITConversations website you can listen to (or download a podcast) titled The Future of Jazz. It’s a talk by Marty Ashby who, having produced numerous concerts and GRAMMY®-winning albums, as well as being an accomplished musician himself, has a lifetime of experience to share. He sits down to reflect on his past and to offer some insight on the future of jazz, both as a business model and as a vital art form.

Missing In Action

Action being the operative word, it was a very busy week and included my second foray on horseback (more about that next week) and fending off a gazillion phone calls asking if it is true that John and I got together when I was 11 years old — ha ha — no, it is not true.

What could have been a lovely feature story in Friday’s Pasadena Star News was, sadly, full of factual errors, and worse, it was woefully short on substance. Errors included my age — I am 50 years old, 44 years younger than John, not 55 years younger than John which would make me 39 (and no, I don’t wish it were so); and we won’t even mention that there is no jazz musician I know of named Jim Hail. Okay those are two errors that are personal to me and I’m feeling snarky, but there are many others errors and a few misquotes as well. Whether due to shoddy/sloppy journalism practices or lack of experience I can’t say for a fact, but I do have an opinion.

Even though the reporter did request (and receive) a free copy of “Men, Women and Girl Singers,” John’s life story written entirely by yours truly (as John himself told her), I guess she didn’t have time to read it or any of the materials on the web site. However, she did interview John for two hours, consulted twice at length with his publicist, even called me with questions, and there is so much she could have written about.

Yes, he was the first African-American manager of jazz artists, but more importantly he was the first to encourage musicians to retain the publishing rights to their own compositions and he went so far as to set up the publishing companies that were fully owned by his clients. When gigs were not abundant, he produced his own shows at venues such as the Apollo, featuring his clients. He even produced records for his clients. He was a forerunner in his field. His years of success in all of these areas earned him an impeccable reputation in the entertainment industry, where he is both respected and admired by other managers, booking agents, concert promoters, entertainment lawyers and accountants, record company executives, and last but not least, the artists themselves. There a million people from whom she could have gotten a quick quote. He has been a role model for many in the business because of his integrity, business acumen and his unselfish dedication to the world of jazz, and that is why he was given the NEA Jazz Master Award, not because he happened to be the first Black manager in the jazz/pop field.

So what did she write about? She mentions his jewelry (how can someone describe a sapphire pinky ring, plain gold wedding band and zodiac pendant as “bling”), talks about his being home in Brooklyn for only 3 or 4 months out of each year and implies that it caused three divorces (he traveled a lot for a few years between 1949 and 1953 and it had nothing to do with any of his divorces, all of which came later), says he used to smoke but doesn’t anymore and has a drink every so often (is this important?) and can walk for several hours at a time (not true unless you count window shopping in New York City once every couple of years), claims he doesn’t have any aches or pains from old age (maybe in his dreams — she wasn’t paying attention)…need I continue?

Longtime DevraDoWrite readers know that I look up to writers such as Walt Harrington, Gay Talese, and Truman Capote, journalists who bring people to life by using what Harrington calls “intimate details,” but such details should not be gratuitous and must do more than suggest that the writer was there to see them, they are supposed to reveal character within the context of the story being told. (When teaching writing workshops I always use these stellar examples of detail in description.)

They ran a very lovely and extremely large photo of John — too bad they didn’t use some of that space to educate their readers with more substance.

So now that I’ve vented, and hopefully in the process corrected a few facts, do you want to know what else kept me busy this past week? Two pilates workouts with my trainer, two interviews for the Luther Henderson biography, two long distance phone conferences with six people dialing in for each, lunch with a girlfriend at a wonderful dumpling house in Arcadia, coffee with my publicist at my favorite neighborhood bakery, a visit from the Sears repairman, and oh yes, a glorious two and a half hours atop a horse named Flicka, riding down the streets of Altadena and onto the trail that surrounds JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab.) I plan to write more about horses and other things later in the week.
Addendum: I have just found that the online version of the Pasadena Star News article is a little different. It does have a little more information, mostly in the form of lifting quotes from the book, so at least the reporter skimmed through the pages. Unfortunately, more info also brings with it more mistakes. John’s office is not mahogany-lined (maybe she is referring to the hardwood floor, but that’s not mahogany) and he no longer has his old bass, a beautiful full-bodied upright, having given it away decades ago. The bass in the corner gathering dust is a body-less electric bass that I bought for John in a fruitless effort to get him playing again. Some of you may know that years ago I used to be a publicist – “all press is good as long as they spell your name right” – and I couldn’t understand why it was like pulling teeth to get clients to agree to do interviews, especially with smaller publications. Now I get it.

Speak Up For Jazz On TV

Legends of Jazz may be seen in the greater Los Angeles area, but not on The Main PBS station. Apparently it will be aired on KOCE (Channel 50 out of Huntington Beach) Sundays at 11 PM and maybe on KVCR (San Bernardino), Tuesdays at 8 PM, although I cannot find confirmation on KVCR’s web site.

My friend Valerie sent me this email:

“How utterly maddening and embarrassing that KCET has opted not to carry this! And I just received my renewal notice from them. I may have to include a note as well as write a letter and call them! On the other hand, I loved the profile they did the other night on Eugene O’Neill…”

Bottom line is that we have to support public television AND let them know what it is that we want to see. If your station is not carrying this series, you might want to write to them. Here’s Valerie’s letter to KCET:

I want to see LEGENDS OF JAZZ on TV!

I am delighted to hear that jazz is returning to television in the new series, “Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis” (see cover story in April issue of Down Beat magazine). And PBS is the perfect station for it. I’m eager to watch the program and to encourage many friends who are jazz fans to tune in to this weekly program.

But, I am very disappointed to learn that you are not carrying this important series.

As a jazz fan and educator, I’m eager to see more jazz on television. Jazz is an art form that deserves to be better represented on television, and this program perfectly addresses this need for more jazz programming. The popularity of the Ken Burn’s Jazz series proves that there is great interest in this music and the artists who make it. “Legends of Jazz” is the perfect follow-up to that documentary series since it profiles living artists, both legendary and up-and-coming. I ask that you present this important series in a prime slot so it can reach the same audience that tuned in to the Burns series.

Your station is important to me and I tune in to see programming I can’t see anywhere else – a series like this one, for example. “Legends of Jazz” is the first major television series devoted to jazz in 40 years, and I expect my public television station to present this important American music. I cannot imagine why you would not carry this important series, and present it on a day and time when the majority of your viewers can watch it.

Thank you.

Thanks, Valerie.


Wednesday I wanted to scream out right away, to condemn the media for its ineptitude, but I thought I’d best wait a bit, think a little, and see how the facts played out; would that the journalists employed by major media have done the same. In the rush to best the competition, be first on the scene and lead with the latest breaking news, broadcasters magnified the mining debacle by bringing it to us as it was happening without ever checking the facts. This is nothing new – almost daily you can hear me talking back to my television, berating some twit of a reporter, more often an anchor person, for asking the dumbest questions about events when it is clear to any moron that the answers are unknown as yet. Then, to make matters worse, because there are no answers, the talking heads speculate, project, and guess. Of course those who say “I heard it on the news, it must be true” should shoulder some blame, but only a little. I guess the days of fact-checking and requiring corroborating sources are long gone. I mourn for that as well as for the miners who lost their lives to bring us coal, possibly under unsafe conditions that could have been prevented. When are we going to learn that caring for people is more important than money or ratings?

Bravo, Mr. Pinter

“The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.” — Harold Pinter in his Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech; Pinter spoke via video recording from London.

Ban Loud Music

At left is a picture of the tee-shirt that I will NOT be buying. On the right, my edited version of said tee-shirt.

The Music Stand catalog comes in the mail several times a year, and I keep looking at the “Bach later. Offenbach sooner” doormat and Jazz Band Wall Hanging, but I have no appropriate place to put either item. Every once in a while I do order a little something, usually a funny tee-shirt for a gift, or nightshirt for myself.

Other catalogs I get a kick out of and occassionally shop in include Femail Creations and Wacky Planet.

Traffic and Music

A colleague from the other coast is in town for meetings that are taking place on the West Side of Los Angeles. Said colleague, being a connoisseur of good music, decided to take in a concert at Disney Hall, got a pair of tickets to a classical duo guitar performance by Sérgio and Odair Assad, and invited me to join him. We thought to have dinner first, but I warned that rush-hour traffic was likely to make that impossible as his meetings ran until 5 pm — at that hour, the 20-minute drive from the ocean to downtown L.A. was likely to take over an hour… at best. So the plan was to meet at the box office at 7:30. At 7:15 my cell phone rang – traffic was crawling along the #10 Freeway and my friend was barely half way across town. At 7:50, just as I was surmising that we would miss the first half of the show, my intrepid colleague appeared; just after his call, the traffic magically began to move, and so we were able to settle in to our excellent seats just as the lights dimmed.

Brazilian born Sérgio and Odair Assad are brothers, and part of a multigenerational musical family that includes their mandolin-playing father, vocalist mother, sister who also sings and plays guitar, and the brothers’ two daughters. But tonight it’s just the two men, alone on an unadorned stage playing unamplified classical guitars, breathing as one, exhibiting a sympatico between them that belies not only their brotherhood but also the fact that they’ve been playing together for 40 years. The program opened with a piece by Isaac Albéniz that sounded oddly pianistic to me. I was not familiar with this composer, so later, in perusing the program notes by John Henken, when I read that Albéniz was a pianist and that his piano pieces have been transcribed and arranged for guitar, I was pleased that my ears had not deceived me.

The second piece was by Rodrigo, a three-movement composition titled Tonadilla that contains fragments reminiscent of his more famous composition Concierto de Aranjuez. Without comparing the scores, or at least hearing it again, I cannot say whether those fragments were deliberate auditory allusions to Concierto or simply harmonic and rhythmic snippets peculiar to Rodrigo’s sound and style. The program also included pieces by Sérgio, his daughter, Piazzolla, Bittencourt, Gismonti, Dyens, and Brouwer.

The house was not sold out, but the applause was thunderous leading to repeated curtain-calls, and I am happy to say that there were quite a few young people in attendance. The duo reappeared from the wings without their guitars the first two times, but finally gave in and remerged for an encore. Sérgio informed the audience that they grew up poor and had only one guitar, so they would now show us how they played in the beginning. He put down his guitar, stood behind Adair who was seated, and together they played a very intricate and lively piece, four hands, simultaneous, on one guitar. It was amazing! A bravissimo evening to be sure.