Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Turkey’s Bridge to Modernity

When a society decides to embrace modern western secularism, what sort of soundtrack does that produce? Crossing the Bridge: the Sound of Istanbul is a new documentary opening in New York June 9th, captures some of the music of contemporary Turkey, which is providing the backdrop for some of the most dramatic events in current world history.

With tens of thousands of Turkish citizens, outraged by recent Islamic motivated violence, demonstrating for secularism and against the current government, Turkey seems to be making a decisive step. The EU, perhaps worried about losing Turkish labor for jobs “Europeans just won’t do,” is less than thrilled, but that should not deter them. The will of the Turkish people seems clear. They want a government that guarantees a peaceful, secular, and modern society.

Crossing the Bridge, like Turkey, seems to feature artists like Orient Expressions and Baba Zula, that might be influenced by tradition, but are producing a modern sound. Other artists featured in the press kit are quite diverse, including notably a Kurdish singer, and a Canadian-born folk singer, suggesting Turkey is indeed becoming an increasingly tolerant, pluralistic, modern society.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Entrapment Blues

There was bad news last week for Tarik Shah, the jazz bassist facing charges for conspiring to aid al-Qaeda. Although there was no news in his case, or at least none receiving coverage in the media, there was a verdict in a case with some similarities.

Shahawar Matin Siraj was convicted on May 24th of conspiring to blow-up the Herald Square subway station. Siraj’s defense claimed entrapment on the part the government and their confidential informants, as Shah’s defense seems likely to do. Unfortunately, the jury rejected that defense in just two days, coming in with a guilty verdict.

Interestingly, Siraj’s attorney Martin Stolar, though disappointed by the verdict, refused to see any anti-Muslim bias on the part of the jury, telling NY1 News:

“That they did not convict my client merely because he’s a Muslim accused of terrorism, that they convicted him because they believe the evidence did not make out the defensive entrapment and they followed the law, and I’m satisfied as a professional with that.”

If you remove the entrapment card and the Muslim persecution card from their hand, one wonders what Shah’s defense has left to play. Regardless, I continue to argue in these cases, entrapment is not a moral defense. These are not nebbish losers seduced by bombshell undercover vice-cops. Siraj was convicted of plotting mass murder. Shah stands accused of aiding and abetting mass murderers, namely the perpetrators of 9-11, al-Qaeda. To be “entrapped” into doing so requires an evil viciousness in one’s heart, and a murderous disregard for human life. We do not yet know if Shah is guilty as charged, but in the case of Siraj, the jury has spoken.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Congratulations Postcard

Basin Street Record’s Mark Samuels has been outspoken on the subject of the Katrina disaster and plans to rebuild New Orleans. He has been most critical of FEMA, but he was not exactly over-joyed about Mayor Nagin’s re-election. As the president of an independent label, Samuels was less than thrilled with the following quote from Nagin via the AP:

"Business people are predators, and if the economic opportunities are here, they're going to stay. If not, they are going to leave," said Mayor Nagin, in his now-famous vernacular. "I think there's enough interest around the country that we're going to attract top businesses ... God bless them. I hope they stay but if they don't, I'll send them a postcard."

Way to bring people together. Business people like Samuels will be the engine of New Orleans economic recovery. Rather than demonize them, the newly re-elected Mayor should try to create a more conducive environment for economic growth, making it easier for small businesses to hire new employees. Samuels writes to his Mayor: “My children and I hope to be a part of the solution, but please stop making the problems worse.”

Basin Street Records, home of Irvin Mayfield and Henry Butler, is definitely a good thing for New Orleans. Mayor Nagin however, will have to work diligently over the next four years for his redemption in history’s eyes.

The State of Jazz Publishing

Speaking of Nat Hentoff, his latest Jazz Times column discusses the commercial outlook for jazz book publishing. Hentoff points to the successful publicity campaign for Peter Levinson’s biography of Tommy Dorsey. He takes publishers to task for their lack of faith in jazz publishing:

Another alleged fact is that “jazz books don’t sell.” As I can attest, this is an increasing reaction from book editors, including some of those who used to be more welcoming to jazz proposals but now go back to their in-house committees for approval and are told to offer minimal advances if any. My response, out of my own frustrating experiences with some of my published books, is that jazz books indeed don’t sell if they’re not promoted with knowledgeable skill and determination as others of mine have proved.

Having seen the numbers on some jazz books published by our sister companies, I can look at this issue realistically. Sell-throughs are usually not bad, but you never really see large quantities shipped on jazz books. They are often profitable, but only marginally so. Of course, as a vanguard art form, jazz does not have a lot of constituents in publishing companies, to build in-house buzz and to provide insight into the potential audience.

Obviously, I believe jazz is important, so jazz writing in books and magazines is important as well. That’s why I have started reviewing recent jazz books from this year, and I will try to catch up with some from last year. Many thanks to cooperative publishers, because from what I have read, and the look of what I received in the mail, I can report there is much vitality in the current state of jazz writing. One can hope commercial appeal will follow.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Cuba: Jazz Without Freedom

Jazz is synonymous with freedom, but sometimes you find one without the other. As in Cuba. A recent posting of Cuban jazz travelogue on, fails to take that into account. Willard Manus’s “Jazz in Cuba” has some useful tips on clubs to frequent should you visit, but when he does touch on politics, he seems to have bought into Castro’s ever present propaganda. Discussing pianist Roberto Fonseca and alto Roberto Martinez he writes: “Both of these up-and-coming stars studied at the government-sponsored Fine Arts Institute and are proud children of the revolution.”

Of course, they don’t have any choice in how to feel about the revolution. Any critical sentiment can lead to Castro’s prisons, torture, or worse. Nat Hentoff visited Cuba with open eyes, and was disturbed by what he saw:

I was there a couple of years after the Revolution and was impressed by the universal health-care system—and not surprised by Castro's filling of his gulags, including some former supporters who had realized too late that freedom of expression can be a high crime in a dictatorship.

In his Jazz Times column Hentoff wrote of many Cubans who are suffering because they dared to stand up for the freedoms many of us take for granted:

Hector Palacios, an organizer and leader of the Varela Project, has been sentenced to 25 years in prison. A number of the prisoners of conscience suffer from illnesses that are not likely to be treated behind bars. Raúl Rivero, for example, among other ailments, is afflicted with phlebitis. Among the independent librarians put away during the crackdown is Julio Antonio Valdes Guevara, suffering from high blood pressure and renal insufficiency. Amnesty International reports that he "is not receiving any medication." Guevara is in for 20 years.

Hentoff is someone I don’t always agree with, but I respect his consistently principled positions. Both he and I would surely enjoy hearing Fonseca and Martinez play, but the realities of Cuban life would dampen the pleasure of the experience. When jazz and freedom both exist on Cuba, then that will be a tour worth taking.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Q Sees No Evil

Quincy Jones, one-time jazz big band leader, multi-genre producer, film scorer and Democratic Party contributor has been “seduced by China on his first visit,” according to Reuters. “The inspiration of the strong leadership in preparing the 2008 Olympic Games and the theme ‘One world, One dream’ has led me to offer everything I can possibly bring . . . to this fantastic event,” Jones said.

I suppose you could say the Chinese government is known for strong leadership. Iron-fisted the Tibetans might even say. Tiananmen Square is probably quite charming without all those protestors cluttering up. Evidently, Q was also dazzled by “the beautiful women—some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, whoah,” but didn’t see anything amiss on the human right front.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Children’s Book Writer Needs to Grow Up

In what passes for a hot controversy in the publishing industry, Patricia Polacco continues to milk her speaking engagement termination by McGraw-Hill for all the publicity she can muster. One place she posted her statement was, the dubious website that still insists Karl Rove has been indicted, although no other media outlet has been able to confirm (and surely not from a lack of desire). There she modestly brags about her insistence to deliver a partisan speech which she admits McGraw-Hill did not contract her for: “I have to admit that I have a certain amount of pride in taking this stand on your behalf.” A venue that Howard Kurtz finds lacking in credibility is about right for her immature hysterics.

Yes immature is a harsh term, but it is sadly fitting in the case of some of her statements. From her website:

Their official position is: “Patricia Polacco did not fulfill her contract to us, therefore her programs were cancelled” ”the company cancelled Polacco’s speaking engagements only after officials learned that she wasn’t willing to keep her remarks limited to the subjects covered in her contract””Patricia Polacco CHOSE not to honor her contract”


The overly dramatic capitalization and exclamation points would likely embarrass the average pre-teen. Polacco admits she signed a contract for a non-partisan speech she had no intention of giving. She tries to gloss over this unprofessional act with forced “cuteness:”

As far as the SRA/McGraw Hill contract is concerned, obviously I signed it January of 2006. I have never disputed this. I am, however, ashamed to admit that I did not read this contract, nor do I have any memory of ever signing it. Especially in view of the fact that Buchannan and Associates was the ONLY entity that my staff was dealing with concerning the IRA appearance. They assumed, as did I, that Buchannan and Associates represented the IRA.

If this makes me a complete idiot…then I will take the heat on this. I sign a stack of documents every single day. In the interest of saving time, my assistant simply puts the stack of documents, letters, and missives in front of me, leafs through, exposing only the signature pages, points at the signature line, and I simply sign them period. I never see any of these contracts with the exception of only the signature page. I do them so quickly that I pay no attention…I just sign my name. Appearance contracts are usually so straight-forward and uncomplicated that they don’t warrant severe scrutiny…again, if this makes me a blithering, drooling idiot, I take the hit again.

Indeed. Polacco wants to pretend she is the victim of censorship, but as she volubly demonstrates, that clearly is not the case. Censorship involves forcibly suppressing speech. However, the First Amendment no more guarantees her a paid podium to grind her political axe at the expense of McGraw-Hill, than it entitles me to be paid to bore the same audience with a gloriously detailed history of jazz discography.

In truth it seems money is what really motivates Polacco in all this, as she spends a great deal of time in her statement claiming McGraw-Hill owes her $5,000. So much for principles. Whether she collects is a matter for the lawyers. As for her disingenuous claims of censorship, Polacco should just grow up.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Williams’ Me and My Father’s Shadow

Me and My Father’s Shadow
By Dawn Williams
Sunrise House

A career in music can take a toll. Sometimes it is family members who pay it. Recent biographies about Oscar Brown, Jr. and Jackie Paris include notable revelations about love children, the result of life on the road. Dawn Williams’ book Me and My Father’s Shadow: A Daughter’s Quest and Biography of Ted Lewis “the Jazz King” tells a similar story.

Williams has two narratives to tell. One is her personal story culminating with her response to the revelation that her father was actually the early jazz band leader Ted Lewis, best known for his “Me and My Shadow” number. The other is the story of her father, the popular bandleader, who worked steadily from the 1920’s through the early 1960’s, but is largely forgotten today.

Many jazz fans might bridle at the description of Lewis as “the Jazz King,” but Lewis was a much more worthy monarch than the man he dethroned, Original Dixieland Jazz Band leader Nick LaRocca. LaRocca held the distinction as the leader of the first recorded jazz band. Although his music was appropriated from the African-American bands of New Orleans, LaRocca was a virulent racist, who dismissed non-white contributions to music in the crudest of terms. LaRocca’s ODJB had made Reisenweber’s restaurant the top nightspot in Manhattan. Rectors, a competitor, was looking for a jazz band to cut into their action. When Lewis was hired:

“Ted and his new band not only gave Rectors audience the jazz George Rector sought, but also sights and sounds it never heard before. The trombones laughed, clarinets sobbed, and hat-muted instruments, with their ‘wah-wah-wah’s,’ talked to an audience that seemed to understand every word.” (p. 157)

Many swing purists might dismiss Lewis for his comedic effects. Lewis was a dedicated showman more than a musician, famous for his catch-phrase: “is everybody happy?” He did however, have quite an ear when hiring sidemen. Important figures like the Dorseys, Mugsy Spanier, and his apostolic successors to the Jazz King title, Paul Whiteman and Benny Goodman, served early apprenticeships in Lewis’ band. In 1931 Lewis even recorded “I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby” with Fats Waller, in act of musical integration that would prefigure Goodman’s racially integrated quartet with Lionel Hampton and Teddy Wilson.

In Williams’ book, Williams comes off sympathetically. From what she has been able to piece together, it seems Williams tried to do right for the daughter he never met on several occasions. Williams was popular enough to be the subject of two films in the 1920’s and 1930’s, but his music would eventually fall out of popular favor. More than anything, he was an entertainer. Lewis said:

“My shows are always clean and entertaining. What most people want are lyrics that come straight from the heart. People want to see the same show and hear me play the way I’ve always played.” (p. 199)

Shadow performs a valuable service by preserving an important chapter in big band history.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Da Vinci Mythos

After last night’s Da Vinci Code screening, it’s difficult to fully sum up my reaction. Elements of the film I enjoyed quite a bit. The film’s puzzle solving is quite entertaining. You also have to appreciate a film whose characters have passion for history, religion, art, and mathematics. It is beautifully filmed, making a great tourism commercial for the European locations. On the downside, the Hanks and Tautou characters seem wooden on screen. In terms of its biases against the Church, the sins of the film are essentially the original sins of source novel.

I was told the book is actually much more didactic and frequent in its attacks on Christianity’s role in history. In the film, Hanks’ character often provides some skepticism of the anti-Church monologues of Sir Ian McKellan’s Grail enthusiast. Indeed, the villainous “Teacher” as actually played by McKellan is an unhinged anti-Christian bigot (spoiler, by the way).

I haven’t read The Da Vinci Code, but I have read several books in the loose Da Vinci-esque genre for my publishing work. In some of these books there is the reoccurring myth that Pope Pius XII was blackmailed by the National Socialists to ignore the holocaust with the threat of the exposure of a dark secret that would shake Christendom to its foundation. In actuality, Pius worked to save hundreds of thousands from the death camps, as Rabbi David G. Dalin illustrates in his book The Myth of Hitler’s Pope. Unfortunately, this historical libel seems to be accepted as fact by many.

Da Vinci Code and its imitators show how myths are created. The notion of the Church suppressing Mary Magdalene’s role as wife and disciple has probably gained much popular acceptance, through its repetition in the stories we hear and tell. Whether it is The Iliad, the Loch Ness Monster, urban legends, or Joe Wilson’s account of his trip to Niger, some fiction becomes accepted as fact through the power of story-telling. Fortunately, there seem to be no lack of books decoding, debunking, and pouring cold water on the Da Vinci Code to set the historical record straight.

As for the film, it is uneven, but entertaining. I enjoyed it, but ultimately, the sum of its parts might be greater than its whole.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Rebuilding Crescent Cities

The June Jazz Times brings news of an upcoming documentary, New Orleans Music in Exile from filmmaker Robert Mugge, funded by the Starz channel. Mugge has made many jazz and blues films, including Saxophone Colossus, a portrait of the legendary Sonny Rollins. According to Bill Milkowski’s “After the Storm” (currently not available on-line), Mugge filmed in Memphis, Houston, Austin, Lafayette, and wrapped in New Orleans. I’ve talked to many such musical exiles and I know how important it is to tell their stories right.

Mugge obviously has passion for this music, and I’m sure his intentions are good. I look forward to seeing his film, but I am frustrated by one of his quotes in Milkowski’s piece: “If they ever find that they have any money left for restoring New Orleans and the rest of the region, after totally dismantling the nation’s budget through the war in Iraq, maybe there will be some good reasons for optimism. But right now it’s just a mess down there.”

New Orleans was hit by a hurricane, a devastating natural disaster. Iraq, one of the oldest civilizations on Earth, was in effect, hit by a daily hurricane under the Saddam’s oppressive rule. As WATIV reported on in “Baghdad, New Orleans . . . Crescent Cities,” like in New Orleans, music played an enormous role in the region’s cultural history, but most of Iraq’s musicians were forced to take refuge in Egypt. As Katrina cut off power and supplies from New Orleans, Hussein deliberately imposed blackouts and privations on Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, and silenced their music.

Removing Saddam lifted the hurricane from Iraq, but as in New Orleans, the rebuilding will take a long time. The ideals of civilization demand we assist both NOLA and Iraq, for both have contributed greatly to the cultural wealth of our world. Throwaway lines carping about our involvement in Iraq will not help anyone, anywhere.

To help the Jazz Foundation of America bring back the music to New Orleans, go here. If Starz InBlack is part of your cable package, look for New orleans Music in Exile when it debuts tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Home of the Brave Launches

Full disclosure: Home of the Brave: Honoring the Unsung Heroes in the War on Terror is published by the company I work for. It is also a very worthy book in my biased opinion. Co-written by Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, Home profiles heroes from the War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last night Steve Forbes generously hosted a launch party in the Forbes building. Weinberger of course, was a longtime friend and colleague of the Forbes family, and former publisher of Forbes magazine. Also in attendance were four highly decorated genuine heroes, whose stories are told in Home of the Brave: Army National Guard Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester (Silver Star), Air Force Master Sergeant William Markham (Silver Star), Marine Sergeant Marco Martinez (Navy Cross), and Army Lieutenant Colonel Mark Mitchell (Distinguished Service Cross).

When introducing the heroes Mr. Forbes mentioned Sergeant Markham, whose boots were the first on the ground in Afghanistan, had another project worthy of promotion. Every year he hosts the Whomper Stomper Open golf tournament to benefit the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. This organization provides scholarships and educational counseling to the families of Special operations personnel killed in the line of duty. To learn how to support them, visit their website.

All four heroes were gracious, and we were honored by their presence. Hopefully they will enjoy their stay in New York. In conversation with one, I was struck by the optimism tempered by realism I heard expressed for the situation in Iraq. It’s an optimism that the antique media refuses to convey. During his remarks Mr. Forbes made the point that the heroes in the U.S. military will not lose the War on Terror on the battlefield. It’s on the home front where we are most apt to be defeated. Hopefully, in one of his final acts of service, Sec. Weinberger will help steel our resolve.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Happy Birthday, Michael Moore, Bassist

Today is Michael Moore’s birthday. Not the leftwing extremist filmmaker, but the swing-oriented jazz bassist. I have no idea what bassist Moore’s politics are like, but they can’t possibly be any more feverish than his namesake’s. AMG, with perhaps a touch of irony, describes him as a “musical arch-conservative.”

Moore has played with the likes of Dave Brubeck, Marian McPartland, and Bill Charlap. He toured with Woody Herman on behalf of the U.S. State Department. He has led or co-led several sessions of his own. Moore is certainly a talented, in-demand musician.

Michael Moore is hardly an uncommon name, but if bassist Moore’s e-mail address is his name at yahoo or hotmail, I imagine he’s received some bizarre correspondence over recent years. Here’s hoping he has a happy birthday.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Author Baits, Switches, Then Cries “Foul”

Suppose you contracted a speaker to talk about the heroes and real life stories which she finds inspiring. Then you learn she was planning to deliver a partisan harangue directed at the No Child Left Behind policy, for which you publish a line of books. You might understandably say thanks, but no thanks. Would it surprise you if you then found yourself accused of censorship in the columns of PW Daily? That’s exactly what happened to McGraw-Hill after they decided Patricia Polacco’s services were no longer needed.

It’s interesting to see how PW played the story. Under a Friday (5/12) headline “Author Shouts Foul Over Cancelled Appearance,” PW tells their concerned readers: “Patricia Polacco is scared.” The dark specter of fascism looms larger when we read:

Polacco, who told PW that McGraw-Hill lawyers had spoken "aggressively" with a lawyer friend of hers, said the publisher threatened to sue if they lost sales as a result of the potential negative publicity she had had drummed up. This, Polacco, said made her very uneasy. "The problem is, if this went to a lawsuit, they're Goliath and I'm David. Just to defend it, they could wipe me out." Polacco also insisted that, despite appearances, McGraw-Hill was not the bad guy. "It's No Child Left Behind that I'm gunning for," she said.

Scary times we live in. Bush using McGraw-Hill as his puppet, and what-not. However today, in a brief clarification under pieces about the wholesaler AMS, repackaging Agatha Christie books, and titles going on-sale next week, PW adds a note on the Polacco story (keep scrolling, it’s buried deep below the fold):

Clarifying Friday's Daily story about the sparring between children's author Patricia Polacco and SRA/McGraw-Hill (click here to read)—in which the author claimed she was censored by the publisher after she tried to craft a speech, to be given at an event sponsored by McGraw-Hill, railing against the No Child Left Behind policy. The contract Polacco signed, which she told PW she did not read, clearly stated the two topics which she was to address: the "heroes" who've impacted her life and the real life stories that inspired certain titles she wrote.

I guess it’s a mere detail to PW that Polacco seemed to be engaging in a bait and switch. Either she fraudulently accepted the engagement with the intent of delivering an entirely different speech, or at the very least, she runs a very careless organization that does not pay attention to pesky details, like contracts. It’s quite understandable that McGraw-Hill wasn’t inclined to pick up the tab for that.

Update: the original PW Daily story on-line now carries the note of clarification beneath it, effectively undercutting the preceding article. PW's odd editorial choices have clearly played up Polacco's sense of victimhood, however it is hard to share those sentiments after learning the terms of the agreement.

Harlem of the West

Harlem of the West: the San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era
By Elizabeth Pepin and Lewis Watts
Chronicle Books
Tradepaper with extensive photos

The cover alone should convince readers of Harlem of the West: the San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era's contention that an important time and place in the history of jazz was lost and nearly forgotten when city planners gutted the neighborhood. The first three musicians seen pictured from the left are John Handy, Pony Poindexter, and John Coltrane, sufficient evidence the Fillmore jazz scene was for real. Written by Elizabeth Pepin, with assistance from Lewis Watts, Harlem of the West is a well put together illustrated book that recaptures a forgotten chapter in jazz history.

In the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s the Fillmore neighborhood of San Francisco was a thriving home to scores of jazz and blues clubs. Now the Fillmore Auditorium, transformed by Bill Graham into a legendary rock venue, is one of few surviving buildings from that era. Given Graham’s reputation, it might sound like exaggeration when Pepin writes:

“Most people only know about the Fillmore because of its auditorium, made famous by Bill Graham in the late 1960’s. Few are aware of its more important musical period in the decades preceeding.” (p. 13)

Yet, Pepin began her Fillmore research as an employee of Graham. The fact that clubs and establishments which hosted some of the finest jazz and blues entertainers could be so thoroughly removed from the neighborhood, and largely from memory, is a tragedy.

The photos collected in Harlem of the West, many recently discovered, are a time capsule from a different time. It was an era when people dressed up for a night on the town, and music was a major part of their plans. A number of great musicians, like Handy, Poindexter, Teddy Edwards, and Jerome Richardson, gigged in Fillmore clubs early in their careers, and there are wonderful images of them in this book.

There is a villain in Harlem of the West: the faceless bureaucrats who destroyed the neighborhood in the name of urban renewal. This is a book Justice Souter ought to read, as it makes clear the human price for eminent domain run amok.

John Handy told Pepin: “There wasn’t a Fillmore sound per say.” (p. 152) However, a tremendous about of excellent music was performed for appreciative audiences there. Sadly, that music was silenced by urban renewal policies, but Harlem of the West preserves the memories of that vibrant music scene.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Jazz Poems

Jazz Poems
Edited by Kevin Young

Capturing jazz performance in words is a difficult challenge. It often requires poetic expression more than simple descriptive prose. Many such attempts have been collected in Jazz Poems a collection finely edited by Kevin Young in a new Everyman gift edition.

Often jazz poems are elegiac, written on the passing of great artists like Frank O’Hara’s “The Day Lady Died,” in which he recalls:

leaning on the john door in the FIVE SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing.

Some poets are able to capture the ephemeral nature of music, like current NEA Chairman Dana Gioia in “Bix Beiderbecke (1903-1931):”

He dreamed he played the notes so slowly that
they hovered in the air above the crowd
and shimmered like a neon sign.

Certain themes reoccur, like the classless nature of jazz. Langston Hughes’ “Jazz Band in a Parisian Cabaret” exhorts:

Play it for the lords and ladies,
For the dukes and counts,
For the whores and gigolos
For the American millionaires,
And the school teachers
Out for a spree.

Jazz Poems is a consistently rewarding collection. It was a handy volume to refer to while reading Yaffe’s Fascinating Rhythm, since it anthologizes many of the poems that book analyzes. While many of the selected poems are darker than what you might expect to find in a small trim size gift book, it is appropriate. Jazz is a music that demands honesty and integrity in all things, including editorial choice.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Fusion Warriors and the “S” Word

This month’s Downbeat (limited content on-line) features “Fusion Warriors” by Willard Jenkins, a “Behind the Music” style look at Chick Corea’s 1970’s fusion super-group Return to Forever. While Jenkins does discuss the tensions arising from members’ solo projects, as well arguments over money, one subject seems to be missing. The “S” word: Scientology.

Supposedly, the name Return to Forever was inspired by L. Ron Hubbard’s writings. For his part, Corea has been an active proponent and recruiter for Hubbard’s church. According to his Wikipedia entry, one-time RTF band member Joe Farrell told Corea “not to ‘lay that Scientology shit’ on him.” Longtime RTF bassist Stanley Clarke was involved with Scientology as well, but he has reportedly broken with the Church. One can also see RTF concept albums like Romantic Warrior as being precursors to Corea’s recent CDs inspired by Hubbard novels, which feature some excellent music.

“Fusion Warriors” expresses criticism of Corea, particularly for not agreeing to a reunion tour. According to Al DiMeola: “Three years ago we were on the verge of a reunion, but Chick had a change of heart, with no explanation why. It’s so sad to deny a whole new generation—and our past fans the chance to see us one more time.” It just seems like DB is missing part of the story here, regardless of how you feel about Scientology, pro or con.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

al-Jaz Covers Jazz Fest

English al-Jazeera isn’t exactly flooding the zone with jazz coverage. When it does cover jazz, it’s usually to promote an agenda through someone like Gilad Atzmon. On May 1st, they wrote up the first weekend of the New Orleans’ Jazz & Heritage Festival. While briefly noting the presence of great NOLA musicians like Terence Blanchard, the NewBirth Brass Band, Dr. John, and Allen Toussaint, al-Jazeera gave the most ink to a non-jazz musician from New Jersey: Bruce Springsteen. Al-Jazeera reported at one point Springsteen “launched into a song titled How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live? and dedicated the song to ‘President Bystander.”

No word if he made a dedication to “Mayor Hiding in the Bathroom.” Last week musicians like the NewBirth Brass Band, Dr. Michael White, and Henry Butler were shuttling to and from NY and NOLA to play both Jazz Fest and the Jazz Foundation’s benefit concert. While they were looking to bring people together to rebuild their city, evidently Springsteen stuck to the extremist left’s game plan of dividing people. At least he played well on al-Jazeera.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Interesting piece Signal to Noise Magazine (no content on-line), “A Soldier’s Story,” about William A. Thompson IV (WATIV), a New Orleans jazz pianist turned electronic music composer during his recent tour of duty in Iraq. Composed and assembled with “iPod mike, sampler, Apple G4 and 88-weighted-keyboard,” Baghdad Music Journal clearly conveys the turmoil of his wartime experiences. The samples on his myspace page are certainly dark in tone. Of course, most of the electronic music I’ve heard has been dark or moody. Article writer Howard Mandel is only too eager to read political statements into WATIV’s music. Too be fair Thompson did express frustration when his tour was extended, but he seems to take pains to avoid outright political statements, preferring to let the music speak for itself. (Mandel has also written on behalf of Tarik Shah, the jazz bassist accused of conspiring to aid al-Qaeda, calling the government's case "shameful" according to Shah supporter Margaret Davis.)

It sounds like Thompson’s feelings about his service in Iraq are actually somewhat ambiguous. Thompson reported from Iraq for that he “had several students since I’ve been in country. Most recently I have taken on an eager jazz bass student.” While underplaying the impact of his work, it certainly sounds like Thompson was part of the good news from Iraq. In terms of the impact of Iraq on himself, Thompson told Mandel: “this experience was one that very few other artists are going to have. I feel lucky for having it. I felt opposed at having to go, but nobody else can say they’ve done what I’ve done.” Whatever his politics, one has to have gratitude for Thompson’s service, and wish him well as he finishes his studies at the University of New Orleans and helps rebuild the music scene in America’s Crescent City.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Blue Notes on the Silver Screen

It seems like there’s a mini-boom of jazz movies on the horizon. Andy Garcia’s Lost City, featuring a great Afro-Cuban jazz soundtrack is currently playing in select cities. Rumors are swirling about Chet Baker and Miles Davis bio-pics. A film about Duke Ellington’s tour of Iraq on behalf of the U.S. State Dept. is in development at New Line.

On the documentary front, the Oscar Brown Jr. film Music is My Life, Politics is My Mistress screened at the Harlem Film Festival. 'Tis Autumn, a film on vocalist Jackie Paris debuted to great acclaim at Sundance, and This is Gary McFarland, a doc. about the musician-arranger-composer is also starting to make the festival circuit. At an IAJE panel in January, attendees saw a sneak preview of the nearly complete film Trumpetistically Clora Bryant, about the under-recognized bop trumpeter. On the further horizon, a doc on jazz violinist Billy Bang is in the works.

Perhaps the most intriguing film in the works is Crazy, the life story of Hank Garland. One of the top Nashville session men, guitarist Garland stunned the country music world by recording some excellent jazz sessions. Shortly thereafter he suffered an injury in a car crash that derailed his career for years. Presumably, green-lighted to capitalize on the success of Walk the Line, and starring Waylon Payne who played Jerry Lee Lewis in that film, Garland’s life seems like an unlikely choice to dramatize. If nothing else, it will certainly be interesting to see how Hollywood handles Garland’s jazz interlude.

Ironically, these films confirm the artistic advantage of a free market society. Labor of love documentaries would have a difficult time finding support from bureaucrats who control the state film resources under socialism. In our system, dedicated filmmakers, now frequently using digital video, can bring personal stories to audiences without the approval of any governing entity. It is often more costly in terms of time than resources. Free markets and free expression can lead to eccentric visions or crass commercialism. As consumers however, we can be the ultimate arbiters.

For now, I recommend Lost City, and Music is My Life if they happen to screen at a theater near you. From what I saw of the Clora Bryant film, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the finished film. Maybe the near future will bring a minor golden age of jazz on the silver screen.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Lloyd’s Eugene Bullard

Eugene Bullard: Black Expatriate in Jazz-Age Paris
By Craig Lloyd
University of Georgia Press
Tradepaper edition with new preface

At one point in his biography Eugene Bullard: Black Expatriate in Jazz-Age Paris, Craig Lloyd sums up his subject writing: “His had been the rough company of gypsies, sailors, boxers, soldiers, and jazzmen.” (p. 97) In short, our kind of people. Sadly Bullard, recipient of the Croix de Guerre and Legion of Honor Medal, never received proper recognition during his lifetime in the country of his birth.

Born into the tragedy of Southern segregation, Bullard never resigned himself to his circumstances. As teenager, he ran away from home, ultimately stowing away aboard a ship bound for Europe. Once there, he began to thrive in an environment of freedom, finding work as boxer. He would be a friendly colleague of champion in exile Jack Johnson, jazz’s favorite pugilist.

Eventually settling in Paris, Bullard would enlist with the French before America’s entry into WWI. Decorated for valor at Verdun, Bullard would transfer to the French aviation corps, where he would earn the distinction of being the first African-American combat pilot. It was a distinction American officers did not appreciate when the American military, newly engaged in the Great War, absorbed the Yank expatriates fighting for France. Lloyd’s new preface includes further examples of this disgraceful treatment of Bullard.

After the war, the decorated Bullard stayed in his adopted Paris to become a leading figure in the budding night club business of Montmartre, first as a musician. Lloyd describes Bullard “becoming proficient enough as a drummer (he admits several times he was never more than that)” (p. 77) Bullard’s real importance to the French jazz scene was as a club manager and eventually owner. He would befriend and assist legendary musicians like Noble Sissle, Sidney Bechet, and Louis Armstrong. He would even return to Europe with Armstrong in 1952 to translate and assist with logistics on a continental tour.

As National Socialism started to conquer Europe, Bullard once again answered the French call to service, assisting French intelligence collect information on German agents. When France was over-run by the German war machine, Bullard was forced to make a tortuous flight back to his American homeland. Although nearly anonymous as a resident of Harlem, Bullard was still held in high esteem by the French, receiving the Legion of Honor Medal in 1959.

Bullard’s story is fascinating, and at times infuriating. Although his prose is a bit rough at times, Lloyd’s research is solid and his account of Bullard’s life is authoritative. Despite a few clunky passages, it is a biography well worth reading. Like his contemporary James Reese Europe, Bullard’s cinematic life seems to cry out for dramatization on screen.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Great Night in Harlem

The Jazz Foundation of America’s benefit concert was a big success last night. Much needed funds were raised, and some great music was heard. No political statements were made, as Foundation president Jarrett Lillien made the point that when faced with a tragedy like Katrina, it is easy to point the finger of blame, but much more difficult to do something constructive in response.

There was much NOLA flavor heard, from traditional musicians like the New Birth Brass Band and Dr. Michael White Original Liberty Band. James Blood Ulmer performed a spooky solo blues for hurricane survivors, and surprise guest Elvis Costello performed “The River in Reverse,” the title song from his upcoming collaboration with Allen Toussant. Ending with some rousing up-tempo blues, at one point featuring Wendy on harmonica, it was a very successful night. However, the Foundation still has much work ahead. To support their work, go here.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Ellington Ideology

Duke Ellington’s birthday was this weekend, and while there wasn’t the same level of hype as there had been for his 1999 Centennial of somewhat recent memory, the occasion was marked by events here in the City.

Getting a handle on Ellington’s politics is difficult due to his deliberate ambiguity. Once when asked in the 1960’s if he supported the Black Power movement, he replied that he was the composer of “Black Beauty.” Of course, that song had been written for an African American dancer, not as a political statement. As a verbal parry, it was classic Ellington, sounding like a satisfactory answer, yet revealing little.

In the 1940’s Ellington performed at benefit concerts for groups that were identified as Communist front groups. However, it is unclear how much should be read into this. Most were groups whose ostensible purpose was to support the war effort, or sounded deceptively benign, like the Hollywood Democratic Committee. Also, many of these events offered the opportunity to perform at venues which at that time would have been off-limits for African-American performers.

In September 1950, if Duke had ever been a fellow traveler, he clearly broke from the Party. The Daily Worker had falsely claimed Ellington had signed the Stockholm Peace Petition, a Communist sponsored propaganda effort. Ellington repeatedly denied it, and threatened legal actions. Ellington stated: “The only ‘Communism’ I know of is that of Jesus Christ. I don’t know of any other.” (Reminiscing in Tempo p. 280)

Perhaps awakened by this propaganda effort, Ellington became staunchly anti-Communist. He enthusiastically toured non-aligned countries on behalf of the U.S. State Department and performed for American troops during Viet Nam, even though his health was then failing.

The other constant of Ellington’s philosophy was the depth of his Christianity. While most jazz fans would only become aware of the fact in the late sixties with the great Sacred Concerts, his first musical expression of this faith premiered in 1943, as part of the classic Black, Brown and Beige Suite—“Come Sunday.”

In apparent bipartisanship, Ellington’s company would be cultivated by two U.S. Presidents. LBJ invited him to the White House seven times, and would appoint him to the National Council on the Arts.

In 1969, Ellington celebrated his 70th birthday in style, returning to the White House for a gala at which he received the Medal of Freedom. Nixon was reportedly more relaxed that night than he would be any nearly any other formal White House occasion. In addressing the crowd he stated:

“When we think of freedom, we think of many things. But Duke Ellington is one who has carried the message of freedom to all the nations of the world through music, through understanding, understanding that reaches over all national boundaries and over all boundaries of prejudice and over all boundaries of language.”

That night would forge a friendship between the President and the Duke. According to Leonard Garment’s Crazy Rhythm, one of the many tragedies of Watergate was that it derailed plans to intercede on Ellington’s behalf with the IRS, which would have made his final years much more pleasant. The newly exiled President would call Ellington on his deathbed in a gesture that impressed many of Ellington’s Nixon-despising friends.

Ellington Medal of Freedom citation stated: “In the royalty of American music, no man swings more or stands higher than the Duke.” While his politics were ambiguous, his principles were clear and rock solid.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

TR, Lincoln & W.

Those who were unable to attend the TR/Gramercy Park Republican Club Rough Rider Award Ceremony missed a nice night out. Charles and Barbara Drew were gracious recipients and former State Senator Roy Goodman gave a very well received speech which favorably compared wartime Presidents George W. Bush and Abraham Lincoln. While he’s not the first to liken Bush’s leadership during the War on Terror with Lincoln’s leadership during the Civil War, his comparison may have come as a surprise to some who like to consider Sen. Goodman a “Rockefeller Republican.” Goodman has always been a moderate on many issues, particularly social issues, but people forget he is also a “Reagan Republican,” having been appointed by the Gipper to the National Commission of Fine Arts. (Incidentally, he was also a longtime friend of Lionel Hampton, at one point making Hamp Vice-Chair of the Manhattan GOP when he was Chairman.)

Sen. Goodman also expressed his enthusiasm for Rudy Giuliani as a potential presidential nominee. He’s probably right in predicting good things for the NY GOP if the former mayor were to be the nominee in 2008. NY is one blue state where Republicans could use some extra momentum.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Yaffe’s Fascinating Rhythm

Fascinating Rhythm: Reading Jazz in American Writing
By David Yaffe
Princeton University Press

David Yaffe’s Fascinating Rhythm: Reading Jazz in American Writing is written by an academic for academics, but it avoids the excesses of such writing. Despite the close readings of poems by Hart Crane Wallace Stevens, and Frank O’Hara, it is actually quite readable.

Refreshingly, Yaffe is willing to offer criticism of some well known figures of the left. He places radical poet Amiri Baraka in a fever swamp context for his hateful poem “Somebody Blew Up America” for the slanderous contention that: “Israeli forces were somehow complicit in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; knowing ‘the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed’ beforehand and warning ‘4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers/To Stay home that day.’” (p.15). Yaffe laments “It is unfortunate that Baraka is now better known as the conspiracy theorist who wrote those lines than he is as the music critic.” (p.16)

Yaffe also shows little patience with Norman Mailer for being obsessed with the outward trappings of jazz, but completely failing to relate to the inner soul of the music. He skewers Mailer for having “rented a saxophone to play along with Monk’s music despite his complete inability to play the instrument. Indiscriminately honking along with Monk’s music was ‘hip’ to Mailer.” (p.38)

Yaffe’s strength throughout Rhythm is that he clearly writes about great literature and great jazz in a way that suggests both art forms are important to him. This is particularly clear when he argues for a critical reappraisal of Richard Powers’ The Time of Our Singing. On the strength of his advocacy, I’m convinced I should catch up with this novel sometime.

Rhythm is not perfect. Yaffe, a little too offhandedly (albeit in a footnote) tosses off the standard charges of bigotry against T.S. Eliot, in an otherwise interesting discussion of the poet’s influence on Ralph Ellison. Overall, it is a readable, if not exhaustive look at jazz in American literature. Clearly, Yaffe is able to appreciate the music and the literature it inspires much more successfully than the honking Norman Mailer.

Monday, May 01, 2006

$10K Per Screen

The Lost City took in $10,000 per screen this weekend, according to Box Office Mojo. Although its total weekend gross was dwarfed by the big studio vehicles, it had the second highest per screen take, with $18,000 coming from 18 screens. Only Fox Searchlight’s Water had a higher per screen average this weekend with $12,080, but it played on a very limited five screens. By comparison United 93 did $6,465 per screen, RV $4,506 per screen, and Stick It $5,522 per screen. Hopefully the relatively strong per screen numbers will keep City held over on its current 18 screens, as it expands to other cities.

Incidentally, The Lost City and United 93 are currently the highest graded debuts this week, scoring a solid B and B+ respectively from Mojo users. I haven’t seen United 93 yet, but I certainly recommend The Lost City.

Felt or Garment

Reviews are coming in for Mark “Deep Throat” Felt’s A G-Man’s Life, but they are not particularly enthusiastic. Not surprisingly, since Felt himself reportedly no longer remembers the events of his life for which history will associate him with. G-Man is actually Felt’s The FBI Pyramid co-written with Ralph de Toledano, recycled with supplemental material from John O’Connor. According to the WAPost’s review by Richard Gid Powers, the book reads schizophrenically, as Felt’s 1979 passages deny his role as Deep Throat, while O’Connor passages affirms his historic leaks to Woodward.

Powers in his review speculates on the Felt family’s decision to uncloak the elderly G-Man as the most famous leaker in American history. He argues for “pride” in “their father’s signal service to the nation” as motivation. He scoffs at “The uncharitable, of whom there is never any shortage, immediately assumed that financial considerations had been paramount—that the family was, to borrow a phrase from Holbrook’s Deep Throat, following the money.”

Yet there is the inconvenient fact of the first co-writer conservative columnist and jazz critic Ralph de Toledano, who was brought in to make The F.B.I. Pyramid readable in the first place. Just before unveiling Felt’s secret identity, they bought out de Toledano’s share of Pyramid for $5,000. Follow the money indeed. Evidently, de Toledano and the Felts were never close. As he told CNBC (keep scrolling down): “he was not very happy about having somebody come in and say your book stinks. This guy is going to write it for you.” Now Toledano’s words are bizarrely repackaged. Big shock, I’m sympathetic to the conservative jazz writer.

If you want to read about Watergate, I recommend instead Leonard Garment’s Crazy Rhythm. Garment, a one-time member of Woody Herman’s band, was Nixon’s closest associate at Mudge Nixon, when both men were in private practice. Despite being a Democrat, Garment was a member of Nixon’s inner circle. In the White House he organized the 70th Birthday party celebration for Duke Ellington, and served as acting White House Counsel during the darkest days of Watergate. Although Garment was not privy to Deep Throat’s identity, his insights into the Nixon administration’s meltdown are fascinating. If you’re buying books this May Day, De Toledano’s Jazz Frontiers is still available, but for Watergate reading chose Garment over Felt.