Friday, March 31, 2006

Odd Spin 3/31: The Gene Norman Group’s Dylan Jazz

Title: Dylan Jazz
Flute & saxophones: Jim Horn
Guitar: Glenn Campbell
Piano: Al Delory
Bass: Lyle Ritz
Drums: Hal Blaine
Label: GNP Crescendo

The set-up: Gene Norman, proprietor of GNP put together a group to perform jazz arrangements of Dylan songs. Their renditions are range from competent to pleasant, but the group includes some notable names. Yes, that is the Glenn Campbell. Jim Horn would become well known for his studio work and some halfway-smooth jazz recordings. Blaine and Delory were first call musicians for Spector’s Wall of Sound. Lyle Ritz on bass, would later become known as the leading jazz ukulele player. Yes ukulele.

Jazz versions of folk material were not as uncommon as one might think. For instance, there also was Bud Shank’s Folk & Flute. Probably the best jazz Dylan cover was Lou Donaldson’s take on “Blowin’ in the Wind,” from the non-theme album of the same name.

Dylan’s contact with the jazz scene has been limited, but he did have a controversial booking with jazz impresario George Wein. Renown for producing the Newport Jazz Festival, during the 1960’s Wein also produced a Newport Folk Festival for several years. Dylan had just gone electric, and the combination of his new rock sound, and poor amplification system nearly sunk the festival. At Wein’s urging Dylan did toss off a few acoustic tunes to forestall rioting, but the party was over. As Wein wrote in his autobiography Myself Among Others: “Several other artists followed Dylan, but the night had been derailed. Everyone was exhausted. (p. 334)” As a jazz man himself, Wein understood asking him to play the old Dylan was like asking Miles or Trane to revive their past sound rather than playing their current explorations. However the near riot of Dylan’s night at the Folk Fest would take a toll on Festival Productions.

The bottom line: I just paid $10 for my copy, so I don’t want to hear of anyone finding a clean copy for less.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Sounds Like Freedom

The Korea Times reports on the defection of pianist Kim Chul-woong from North to South Korea for the desire to play jazz. It seems from accounts North Korea condemns any music that doesn’t properly lionize Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung as “jazz.” Those involved in the jazz scene can wear such condemnation with pride, but it was actually the music of the not particularly jazzy Richard Clayderman that first opened Kim Chul-woong’s ears to less didactic forms of music.

There is in fact a history of musicians defecting to play the music they love. In Tokyo on August 15, 1964, Russian musicians Boris Midney and Igor Berukshtis made a desperate break from their Soviet vaudeville group, for the American embassy. Their motivation: jazz. Six months later they formed the Russian Jazz Quartet with African-American Grady Tate on drums, and British-born Roger Kellaway on piano. Their lingua franca: jazz. The group was short-lived, but they released an excellent (and unfairly neglected) album Happiness on Impulse Records. Midney would later make his fortune as a key producer-guru of the disco era, in a most American act of self-reinvention.

Now that Kim is free to perform what he wishes, who can say where his experiments might take him. His arrival, and the reported success of Yoduk Story suggests a reinvigoration of the South Korean music scene.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

IAJE Rallies the Troops

PBS is set to air a weekly series devoted to jazz: Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis. However, as IAJE informs its members in an e-mail blast, WNET 13 the local New York PBS affiliate, is scheduled to air it at 12:30 am on Thursdays. I can still catch it then, but it effectively excludes any younger audience unless parents make an effort to Tivo or tape it for later viewing.

They have even sent members a form letter:

Attn: Carmen DiRienzo, Vice President and Managing Director
450 West 33rd Street

New York, NY 10001

Dear Carmen DiRienzo,

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 discouraged to learn that you will be airing the series in a fringe time slot when I will not be able to watch it. Truth be told, I don’t know anyone watching TV on at 12:30am on a Thursday.

It continues by referencing the success of the Ken Burns documentary, arguing for primetime placement. Of course I’m sympathetic to the cause. Finally PBS is producing programming of significant cultural importance. Lately, PBS broadcasts seem to either be Bill Moyers-style left wing propaganda or Suze Orman/Wayne Dyer infomercials. Even if you believe in the mission of PBS, its difficult to advocate funding for this kind of programming. Its time to hold PBS’s feet to the fire. Either they support cultural and artistic programming, or they should lose Uncle Sam as their sugar daddy.

Honoring Sec. Weinberger

Sec. Caspar Weinberger will always be remembered for his service as Pres. Reagan’s Defense Secretary at a critical time in our history. Reagan decided to stand on principle, and fight the spread of evil in the form of Communist totalitarianism. Weinberger was one of his most important lieutenants in the American victory over Soviet expansionism. In that role, Weinberger often made the intellectual case for western democracy, and managed the administrative details of freedom’s democracy with equal skill.

I never met the Secretary, but I thought I was going to. My company is publishing his book Home of the Brave: Honoring the Unsung Heroes in the War on Terror, written in collaboration with Wynton C. Hall. I actually read an earlier manuscript version of these gripping accounts of heroism from Iraq and Afghanistan, and recommend the book highly, despite my obvious conflict of interest.

Sec. Weinberger took a vital role in defense and foreign policy debates through his final days, as Home of the Brave proves. While it is sad when a great American dies, it is often an opportunity to teach younger generations about their accomplishments. It was so with Pres. Reagan’s passing, and hopefully it will be the case with his Defense Secretary as well.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Real Lincoln Center Ambassadors

When Dave Brubeck wrote the musical The Real Ambassadors for Louis Armstrong, many jazz musicians, like Satchmo, were touring non-aligned countries on behalf of the U.S. State Department. Ambassadors asked who was the real ambassador, the cautious State Dept. bureaucrat or the swinging jazz musican?

Jazz proved a particularly potent weapon for cultural outreach during the Cold War, producing many high-profile successes, including jam sessions with Benny Goodman and the King of Thailand. According to Jazz Week (3/27/06) State will soon promote a similar tour of South Africa, reporting:

“The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs will sponsor Jazz at Lincoln Center’s first ever South African cultural exchange program with the Field Band Foundation to produce performances and educational events throughout Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town.”

Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon will lead a seven piece group from J@LC during the May tour. I’ve enjoyed Godon’s playing as leader, and as a longtime member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and Wynton Marsalis’s 1990’s Septet. He’ll definitely bring the swing.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Hawk on the Docket

Counselor Lopez pointed me towards an interesting case that came up in his Pace Law class. In the 1950’s British musicians Unions had created an extremely restrictive environment, which prohibited foreign musicians from playing in the UK without a prearranged foreign engagement for British musicians to offset this supposed loss of work for the local talent.

In reality, UK musicians were hit the hardest, because they were effectively denied the opportunity to hear the latest musical developments from America, then the unquestioned leader in new jazz developments. In his book Jazz in Revolution, Johnny Dankworth writes of what a momentous occasion it was to score a gig in Paris, because it gave him an opportunity to finally hear Charlie Parker live. After all, not too many Americans were clamoring to hear the somewhat dated music of the British scene.

In the 1951 case (Wilcox v. Jeffrey, King’s Bench Division, 1 All E.R. 464) Herbert William Wilcox, a jazz magazine editor was actually convicted of attending an “illegal” concert by Coleman Hawkins, and writing a positive review of the show, in a decision that found Wilcox to have aided and abetted a crime. Hawkins was a giant of the swing ere, who was able to make a successful transition into bebop. Hearing Hawk tackle modern jazz would have been an ear-opening opportunity for any British musician or music lover. However, under Britain’s restrictive, unionized environment, it was literally criminal. Hawk was wisely spared prosecution.

This case is instructive of several points. One being protectionism always hurts those it purports to help. French efforts to protect its film and television industry through GATT and WTO negotiations will have a similar effect. Without the exposure to international (and certainly American) developments, French cinema will become further stultified and insular.

It also illustrates that international law should have absolutely no bearing on the decisions of our judiciary. This was a foolish law and an unjust application. Mr. Wilcox was prosecuted because he went to a concert and wrote a review. I should hope such a case would be thrown out of a U.S. court on First Amendment grounds, even had we passed similarly ignorant protectionist measures.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Box Score

Let’s check the latest box score from Albany’s latest news:

Assemblyman Clarence Norman (D): The assemblyman and Brooklyn Democrat party chair scored a rare legal victory. After two convictions for felony corruption and mishandling campaign donations, Norman was acquitted on charges of grand larceny. He still faces a further trial on charges of selling judgeships. Status: two convictions, one acquittal, one trial pending.

Sen. Ada Smith (D): As seen on Drudge, the Queens State Senator (D) stands accused of physically abusing staff members, including pulling hair and throwing coffee in the face of a former staffer. The Politicker has an amusing piece on the confusion over whether Smith is still in the Democrat leadership or not. The answer seems to be No. Status: investigation pending.

Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D): Has had his Queens office and the offices of the New York Central Labor Council, which he runs, searched by the FBI in conjunction with an ongoing corruption investigation. Status: investigation pending.

Sen. David Patterson (D): Facing questions about his dealing with a lobbyist. Remember how evil lobbyists were a few months ago. After accepting a freebie charter flight up to the state of the state speech, he first refunded the cost of a commercial ticket from his own pocket $176. After mounting criticism, he refunded the balance of the full cost of the flight $4500, from his campaign account, although the purpose of the trip on its face was not campaign related. Status: questionable refunds paid.

Michael Boxley: After serving time for sexual assault, the top aide to Assembly Speaker Silver (D) now has his legal license reinstated. Status: time served.

Now ask which party is best qualified to bring real reform to Albany?

Correction: Ada Smith is the alleged abusive senator. Ada Lee was a vocalist who recorded an album for Atco in the late 1960's.

Friday, March 24, 2006

ECM on the trail at Yale

In this case ECM is not the Euro-jazz label, but Evan Coyne Maloney, an independent investigative filmmaker, and my neighbor. I’m sure this will be buzzing around the blogosphere instantly (I was hipped to it by Instapundit), but I wanted to slap up a link myself.

Maloney has been documenting the heavy-handed indoctrination and regulation of thought which regularly occurs on college campuses. Evidently Yale administrators didn’t roll out the red carpet for him, but I’m glad to see he’s on the trail of the story.

Odd Spin 3/24: James Bond’s James Bond Songbook

Title: The James Bond Songbook
Bass, leader: Jimmy Bond
Tenor: Harold Land
Trumpet: Bobby Bryant
Flute, tenor: Buddy Collette
Drums: John Guerin
Piano: Joe Parnello
Arranger: Dick Grove
Label: Mirwood

The story: James Bond, usually billed as Jimmy, was a reliably talented bass player, but the record label probably only cared about his name for this outing of songs from and inspired by Bond movies. At the time of recording many Bond novels had yet to be filmed, so Bond co-wrote tunes with Warren Baker for those titles. Technically, Jimmy Bond wrote the first "Live and Let Die" for this LP several years before the film and McCartney song.

I’ve taught a class on jazz and film at SCPS, so it’s a topic of great interest for me. Few art forms have done more to shape our perception of “cool” than jazz and film. Yet jazz, with its emphasis on improvisation and virtuoso solos, has never been a natural partner for film production. Still, jazz has had enough hip status to periodically find a place in film.

Jazz biographies like Clint Eastwood’s Bird and Michael Curtiz’s Young Man with a Horn (largely inspired by the life of Bix Biederbecke) are suffused with the music that inspires them. Film noir classics like Odds Against Tomorrow rely on the moody, sultry, and dangerous emotions jazz conjures to provide the audience visceral cues to the films action. Blaxploitation soundtracks have employed funkier soul-jazz artists to convey the musical landscape of their urban environments. Perhaps the greatest integration of jazz and film occurred during the French New Wave. Auteur film-makers truly embraced the jazz aesthetic, often featuring wholly improvised soundtracks, like the Miles Davis score for Elevator to the Gallows.

Jazz also has a long history of drawing inspiration and material from films. Few people remember the Lana Turner film Green Dolphin Street, but the Oscar nominated “On Green Dolphin Street” has become a jazz standard, recorded by Miles Davis and legions of other jazz musicians. Songs like “The Shadow of Your Smile” from the Sandpiper, “More” from Mondo Cane, and “Never on Sunday” from the film of the same name, were widely adopted into jazz repertoires in the 1960’s.

While jazz and film may have both shaped perceptions of American “coolness,” they were never equal partners. Jazz could claim a certain hip status for the elite vanguard, but Hollywood derived its status from its glamour and widespread popularity.

The pay-off: Despite the gimmicky genesis, this is nice little hard-bop session. Dig the line-up, an appearance from Harold Land is always welcome. I haven’t seen this too often, but not too many people are hip to it. Hope to snap it up for $15, but go up to $20-25.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

It Shines For All

New York City is blessed to have two daily newspapers with center-right editorial pages, giving the city some much needed diversity of opinion. The NY Post is well established, and beloved by many for its take-no-prisoners style headlines. The new kid on the block is the NY Sun.

Its start-up years have been difficult, but one hopes they can hang tough. The Sun has already demonstrated a commitment to investigative journalist, breaking some of the early stories in the Air America/Gloria Wise financial scandal. Although the Sun’s website is largely subscriber only, as a public service they collected those Air Enron stories here. The Sun has also given considerable critical attention to jazz in its arts pages. Now Jazz Week (3/20 issue, subscription also req’d) reports the Sun will be the media sponsor for Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Jazz Appreciation Month events. The NY Sun is a welcome addition to the NY cultural and journalistic scene. Let’s hope the Sun indeed continues to shine for the City.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Java & Jazz

The Jakarta International Java Jazz Festival wrapped up March 5, and from on-line accounts, it was a great success and source of pride for Indonesians. Had I been able to jet down for it, I probably would have been more interested in the local musicians playing. Most of the international artists looked to be more smooth-jazzy than my tastes run, but I’d have tried to catch Hiromi, Bob James, and Tony Monaco.

Regardless of the talent line-up, the Java Fest produced good on-line buzz for an Islamic country struggling with its international image. It’s exactly the sort of enterprise we should be supporting through the State Dept. and USIA. Jazz was among the most effective cultural programming produced by those agencies during the Cold War. It’s an art form that speaks directly about personal liberty and free expression. For too many in Islamic countries, the only American culture they are familiar with are the soft-core porn films that play to packed houses in the Mid-East.

In truth, jazz has proven quite compatible with Eastern forms of music. Coltrane’s late groups often featured two bassists to attain a droning effect. Jazzmen like Bud Shank and Paul Horn regularly improvised with Ravi Shankar. There’s no reason to think the average person in the Middle-Eastern street can’t relate to jazz. They just need to be exposed to it. Once exposed, jazz seems to have a life-affirming, but subversively democratizing effect, which is exactly what the region needs.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

It’s Hypocrisy or It’s a Crime

Friday the Times Union published an interesting story about self-styled reformer congressional candidate Kirsten Gillibrand (D) running in the Lake Placid-Saratoga area. Gillibrand has tried to make hay crusading against the evil influence of lobbyists, but what should arrive in the mail, but an invitation to a Gillibrand fundraiser at the lobbying firm Patton Boggs. As the Times Union reports:

“At the bottom of the invitation read a box: ‘Paid for by Gillibrand for Congress.’

"Gillibrand's campaign manager, Bill Hyers, insisted the event hadn't been officially set up by the campaign, and when he caught wind of it, it was promptly canceled.

‘I have no idea what that is; I don't remember even hearing about it,’ Hyers said. ‘I think friends wanted to set it up, and I didn't see it. There was no way we were going to do it.’ Hyers said anyone could make an invitation with ‘Paid for by Gillibrand for Congress’ printed on it, so it doesn't necessarily prove anything.”

If people were fraudulently representing themselves as part of Gillibrand’s campaign, falsely labeling mail as paid for by the campaign, that’s a crime. Since invitations were sent through the mail, federal mail fraud statutes should apply. Patton Boggs and RSVP contact Kate Boyce should be asked to explain their involvement. If no crime was actually committed, than Gillibrand was hypocritically accepting help from the sinister lobbyists she has been campaigning against.

Still Deserving Wider Recognition

The reviews are in for the Johnny Cash jukebox musical Ring of Fire, and by and large they have not been kind. A common refrain has been to wonder how director Richard Maltby, Jr. could go from producing the first great jukebox musical Ain’t Misbehavin,’ based on the songs of Fats Waller, to such a flat presentation that takes the cool out of Cash. Ain’t Misbehavin’ had one great advantage: Luther Henderson.

Henderson was the arranger, musical director and pianist for the original production of Misbehavin.’ His Broadway experience started in 1946 when he worked on Duke Ellington’s Beggars Holiday. In addition to providing classical orchestrations for Duke, Henderson would work great vocalists like Sarah Vaughan and Nancy Wilson, in addition to leading his own big band dates. He frequently lent his skills to Broadway productions, including Jelly’s Last Jam and Play On! the Ellington recasting of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Throughout his career Henderson labored largely in obscurity, toiling so that others could bask in the limelight. Shortly before his death, the Dana Gioia’s NEA selected him as one of the Jazz Masters of 2004, finally giving him the recognition that was long overdue. Clearly, the Bush Administration is hipper than the NY drama critics.

Monday, March 20, 2006

True Stories

Friday we heard Billy Bang play at Sweet Rhythm. He had a film crew there filming for a future documentary. I’m starting to feel like the Zelig of under-distributed docs. You can catch the back of my head in Running in High Heels, and I was also a Vartan’s when donnie betts was filming Oscar Brown: Music is My Life. Since we were pretty close to the bandstand, you might well be able to catch us if they use the footage.

The first two sets we heard were fantastic, so they should have some great footage. At times Bang nearly saws his violin in two. At other times he plucks pizzicato getting Eastern sounds from his instrument.

Bang played several selections from his Vietnam: Reflections and Vietnam: the Aftermath CDs. Bang served in Vietnam, and the experience informs his music. He became politically radicalized on his return, even getting involved with a Black Power paramilitary group. According to Bang, he and the crew were heading to DC to film at the Vietnam Memorial for a week, and then they would be off for five weeks of filming in Vietnam.

When they examine the aftermath in-country, one would hope they remember the whole legacy. Hundreds of thousands of refugees risked their lives on boats and rafts when the North took over. Countless more were interred in re-education camps. Poverty and hopelessness became the way of life for everyone. War can definitely be hellish, but sometimes peace is Hell on Earth.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Arturo Sandoval’s Fruits of Freedom

“That’s the reason I’m here, because in Cuba we don’t have freedom. That’s the main thing, the most important thing a human being can aspire to have. Freedom.”—Arturo Sandoval interviewed on ’98 JVC Jazz Festival Newport, R.I.

Sandoval was once imprisoned by the Castro regime for listening to Willis Conover’s VOA jazz broadcasts. A protégé of Dizzy Gillespie in the UN Big Band, Sandoval would eventually defect to America. Having enjoyed musical and political freedom, Arturo Sandoval will enjoy the fruits of economic freedom with the opening of his new club in Miami, Florida on April 2, according to a recent announcement.

In Sandoval’s club May 1st will be just another day on the calendar, and I don’t like Janet Reno’s chances of getting a table. The music should be great, since Arturo Sandoval is running the show.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Odd Spin 3/17: Jazz Score From Shotgun Slade

The Original Jazz Score from Shotgun Slade
Stanley Wilson and his Orchestra
Musicians uncredited
Composer, Arranger: Gerald Fried
Label: Mercury

The run-down: The jazz P.I. concept worked for Peter Gunn, why not adapt it as a western? The formula worked quite well for Peter Gunn, starring Craig Stevens as the suave detective, who met his clients at Mother’s jazz club and dated a jazz singer played by Lola Albright. Although the plots were simplistic, of necessity at a twenty-four minute running time, the stylish noir look and legitimate jazz performances are still entertaining. Johnny Staccato starring John Cassavetes was a darker, less successful attempt to duplicate the jazz P.I. concept. Shotgun Slade (syndicated 1959-1960) was an attempt to transport the jazz P.I. to the old west, with Scott Brady playing the Denver-based private detective. Hollywood veterans Gerald Fried and Stanley Wilson (who had collaborated with jazz legend Benny Carter) produced a big band crime-jazz soundtrack, totally at odds with the shows old west setting, but that’s not a bad thing.

While they are occasional twangs thrown in for effect, this is respectable LP (not available on CD) of big band crime jazz. The show was less satisfying. One notable episode did feature vocalist Monica Lewis guest starring as a respectable saloon singer, as you could probably guess. In a departure for the show, she sings a rousing rendition of the “Shotgun Slade Theme” over the end credits, which is not included on this LP.

Jazz and country: two styles seemingly poles apart. Jazz began as the musical expression of African-Americans, primarily in urban centers like New Orleans, Chicago, and New York. Country music was the soundtrack of poor rural whites from Appalachia and the Southwest. Still, one of the earliest cross-genre fusions involved country and big band swing.

Fiddlers Bob Wills and Spade Cooley led so-called Western Swing bands, which augmented western style fiddles and guitars with swing oriented big band brass sections. They played swing based arrangements, and at least in public performance, gave respectable solo space to featured musicians.

Interest in western swing bands waned in the 1950’s, as it did for all big bands in general. Western swing’s fortunes were not helped by the notorious and tragic private lives of its best known leaders. Wills and Cooley both battled alcoholism and severe financial troubles when their careers stalled. Cooley was also engaged in a bitter separation from his wife Ella Mae, a former back-up singer in his band. One night Cooley beat his estranged wife to death in front of their teenaged daughter. Cooley spent the rest of his life in prison.

Wills’s career had its ups-and-downs, but he continued to perform into the early 1970’s. Despite his influence on some future jazzmen, very little cross-fertilization would take place between future jazz and country artists during the waning years of his career. Notable attempts included sessions led by Gary Burton, Chet Atkins, and arguably this album.

The Bottom Line: While somewhat scarce, when it does turn up this LP should go for $10 or less.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

NJ Business as Usual

Remember what a terrible threat sleazy lobbyists pose to democracy? It seems the dinosaur media has forgotten. Revelations about Harry Reid’s work on behalf of Abramoff clients just weren’t that much fun to cover, evidently. Now there’s a story across the Hudson that doesn’t seem to be getting much play either, even though it sure seems to have sensational elements.

In what he admits was a mistake, Gov. Corzine (D) loaned lobbyist and former campaign aide Karen Golding $5,000 to post bail on a stalking charge. Golding represents Prudential Financial, which manages a state fund, and is now in an odd financial relationship with the governor. Stalking, financial conflicts of interest. This story seems to have it all. It even has the unusual wrinkle of an elected official sending funny money to the lobbyist, instead of vice versa. Why not more national coverage? Maybe the networks don’t consider corruption in a NJ Democrat administration to be newsworthy. It’s just business as usual.

Not Your Typical Song and Dance

A musical set in a North Korean prison camp? Yoduk Story opening last night, is exactly that, as Reuters reports. Now here is an antidote for all the self-congratulatory political posturing of the Oscars. Sorry Paul Haggis, but making a PC film in a PC town, doesn’t qualify as dissent. However, borrowing money against your kidney to stage a musical critical of a regime thought to be massing troops at the border for a possible future invasion takes real guts.

I would really like to see this imported to the New York stage. After all, the New York Theatre Workshop might still have an opening. Translating musicals is truly challenging, but this seems like a worthy project, and Americans should learn more about both Koreas. Unlike the Palestinian propaganda piece My Name is Rachel Corrie or the next revival of A Chorus Line scheduled for the Fall, this is a show that could really teach the NY theater community something about dissent in the face of tyranny. I don’t know if that’s something they want to learn about, but I’d like an opportunity to see for myself. Besides, I’d like Jung Sung-san to keep his kidney.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A Love Supreme and the Permanent Things

Tonight we’ll be covering John Coltrane's seminal album A Love Supreme in class. Like a true masterpiece, it continues to unfold rich new nuances. It was a deeply earnest expression of spiritual faith, and a pivotal record in Coltrane’s discography. It was in effect, a summing up of all his previous experiments, and signal of his impending defection to the Free Jazz movement.

The record would undeniably inspire many avant-garde artists who would affiliate with the Black Power movement, and even in some cases, explicit Marxism. Yet as an artistic statement I would suggest A Love Supreme is in close kindred with the American conservative movement. A Love Supreme is deeply rooted in religious values. It is part and parcel of Coltrane’s musical quest for God. In many ways, it is also an avant-garde album, with Coltrane’s classic Quartet perfecting many innovative techniques on that session. Ultimately it would lead to the Free Jazz of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

The great resolved contradiction of American Conservatism is its embrace of both tradition and innovation. The great resolved tension of American Liberalism is its rejection of both. American Conservatism defends what Russell Kirk calls the Permanent Things—tradition—religion, while embracing commerce and free inquiry. The American Left caters to a Luddite rejection of capitalism and technology, as well as a moral relativism that rejects absolutes.

Coltrane however, spent his career striving for absolutes. Trane had reverence for that which came before, but he was also an innovator. His all too brief life radically altered the landscape of American music. A Love Supreme is certainly a permanent thing.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

What’s the “J” stand for?

Jazz Week (regis. req'd) reports Time Warner is morphing BET On Jazz into BET J, which in addition to the random jazz program, will also feature a wide array of music. As laid out in a corporate statement: “Jazz today is seen, heard, and felt in a number of related genres, including blues, soul, R&B, Caribbean, and Neo-Soul music.” Of course R&B and soul had been so hard to find on the original BET. I can’t help suspecting they blinked too soon. If congress allows a la carte cable purchasing, niche channels with a low monthly fee, presumably like BET On Jazz, would benefit tremendously. Now instead of the having the jazz niche pretty well sown up, their competing with the other Caribbean and R&B outlets, including the original BET.

If truth be told, BET On Jazz never effectively catered to the jazz audience. Instead of documenting fresh players on the scene today like Greg Osby and E.S.T., too often they gave viewers “Najee Live in the Caribbean,” at a time when smooth jazz radio is on life support. It was hard for a jazz die-hard like me to get too excited about BET On Jazz, when we can pick-up DVDs of John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and Cannonball Adderley live on Ralph Gleason’s Jazz Casual for less than the cost of a month of Manhattan cable.

Still, it is disappointing to see TW further marginalize jazz. I have to give Chairman Dick Parson great credit for his support of the Jazz Foundation of America. Parsons has also been mentioned as a potential Republican successor to Mike Bloomberg, which I could certainly get behind. I suppose business is business. In an a la carte universe, real jazz could have been a real alternative. Would you pay a buck twenty-nine a month to hear something you’ve never heard before every night? What will you be willing to pay for BET J?

Monday, March 13, 2006

Jazz Man of Letters

Nat Hentoff has another worthy column in the latest issue of Jazz Times, starting with new Polish developments in jazz, and segue-waying into a historical discussion of Polish Klezmer music. As a fan of many Polish jazz artists, like Tomasz Stanko and Adam Mackowicz, I appreciate his coverage of the Polish scene.

Hentoff was the first non-musician to be awarded the title of NEA Jazz Master. While generally considered liberal when writing about politics for the Village Voice, Hentoff is actually difficult to pigeon-hole. He is steadfastly critical of the Castro-regime, going so far as to disavow his ALA Immroth Award for Intellectual Freedom, after the Library Association refused to approve a resolution critical of Cuban censorship, writing: "To me, it is no longer an honor." Hentoff was also a contrary voice in The Voice when writing on the Terry Schiavo case. He has even written favorably on Fox News, as one of the few media outlets regularly covering civil liberties issues. Hentoff is a true advocate of civil liberties, not a political partisan.

Hentoff also wrote a fantastic YA novel titled Jazz Country. Written during the 1960’s, Hentoff’s story of an aspiring jazz musician’s coming-of-age, deftly handles Civil Rights issues and what were then current jazz controversies. It’s a very satisfying read, one I wish I had found years before I started listening to jazz. It should still be in-print. At least Hentoff’s “Final Chorus” column is still available every month in Jazz Times.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Chicago and All That Jazz

A few days after seeing Chicago on Broadway, a thought occurred to me. Robin Givens is currently playing Roxie Hart (the Renee Zellweger role), which entails her being married to the very white Mr. Cellophane in the 1920’s Chicago. Wisely though, there has been nearly no rewriting to reflect racial differences (although in this production, Fred Casely, the lover Hart murders is also African-American). Thankfully there hasn’t been any PC tut-tutting that the Ambassador Theater production does not accurately reflect historical racial attitudes. Nor have there been any complaints based in prejudice, at least none that have received publicity. One can’t help notice the dog isn’t barking, and it shouldn’t. After all, Roxie Hart is plum role, and Robin Givens is probably happy to have the opportunity (she acquits herself quite well in it, actually).

Chicago, as staged on Broadway, is not about verisimilitude. Essentially, it’s a series of musical productions, inspired by the original Bob Fosse choreography, strung together by a spare Damon Runyonesque narrative. There are very few sets to give a sense of time and place either, while the bandstand placed front and center on-stage certainly appeals to my jazz aesthetic. Historical accuracy isn’t important. It’s all about the mythical Chicago, a town intoxicated by scandal. While we know the historical Chicago was far from color-blind, we should be able to cast Chicago: the Musical without regard to such considerations.

As a result, I’ve also been listening to Lee Konitz’s jazz version of Chicago recently. Surprisingly, there is no rendition of “All That Jazz.” Perhaps, Konitz thought a jazz version of “All That Jazz” would have been too easy, too clichéd. That would fit Konitz’s non-comformist nature. It’s a strong album though, as is the original score, well worth seeing with the current Broadway cast.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Sec. Gail Norton to Resign

I’m sorry to hear reports of Interior Secretary Gail Norton’s imminent resignation. In her five years on the cabinet, she has been one of its most effective members, quietly and largely successfully implementing the Presidents policies. I met her in passing a few times when I was involved in CO campaigns, and I always found her friendly and gracious, even though I was volunteering for other Republican candidates. She would be a fantastic governor for CO. Say doesn’t that position open up in 2006?

Sec. Norton was recently in NY to announce ambitious plans to convert the recently discovered African Burial Ground in Lower Manhattan into a full-scale national park. It should be a fascinating addition to NY’s cultural landscape.

Of course, Sec. Norton’s greatest contribution was in charting a more rational course of policy with regards to wise land use. She pursued an administrative vision in which people live in harmony with the environment, in contrast to secular-religious jihad of the Green movement, which would have man enslaved to his environment. I hope the nation’s loss will be CO’s gain.

Odd Spin 3/10: Sounds of Synanon

Title: Sounds of Synanon
Leader: None credited
Trumpet: Dave Allan
Baritone horn: Greg Dykes
Piano: Arnold Ross
Guitar: Joe Pass
Bass: Ronald Clark
Drums: Bill Crawford
Bongos: Candy Latson
Label: Pacific Jazz
Recorded: July 1, 1962

The Straight Dope: Synanon was widely reported on during the 1950’s and 1960’s for its unconventional “tough love” drug addiction treatment. It was the only drug treatment center to spawn three LPs*. This was the first. The second was the Neal Hefti soundtrack to film it inspired. There would later be a jazz-rock-choir aggregation affiliated with Synanon, which also recorded an LP for Epic. This would be the Synanon record to get. Synanon would later be discredited in 1980 as a cult-like organization. An investigation by a local small town paper ultimately led to the founder pleading no-contest to an attempted murder charge. Tough love, indeed.

This session assembled largely unknown jazz musicians who were currently in residence. Pianist Arnold Ross, the ostensible leader, would turn up on other records from time to time, but guitarist Joe Pass was a real discovery. This session initiated a long relationship between Pacific Jazz and one of jazz’s greatest guitarists. The cover reproduces an extract from a Down Beat article and drug addiction: “Jazz and narcotics are unfairly linked in the public mind. Addiction is rare among jazzmen and, reportedly, actually runs lower than in the medical profession.” Right. Don’t protest too much. Just enjoy the Sounds of Synanon, and be glad Pass got out there when he did.

The Bottom Line: Although this session is now available as a Japanese import CD, demand remains for this LP, due to Pass’s playing. Well worth picking up in either format, but expect to pay $20-25 for the record.

(*Not counting Camarillo State Hospital. Charlie Parker wrote Relaxin’ at Camarillo while he was in treatment there. The tune went on to be a jazz standard and the title track for several jazz albums. Bird however, was not there of his own volition, and its doubtful he meant it to be a tribute to Camarillo’s treatment. In his case it clearly had not worked.)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Theater of the Absurd

Backstage magazine reports plans to import the British one-woman show My Name is Rachel Corrie to Off-Broadway have been postponed. Corrie was the 23-year old “peace activist,” meaning Palestinian partisan, who was killed when she was, let’s say strongly encouraged to kneel before an advancing Israeli bulldozer attempting to clear houses along well known weapons smuggling routes.

According to the report, the theater became concerned they might be entering into a thorny debate about recent events in Gaza which they weren’t prepared to navigate. It’s a reasonable concern, but of course celebrity director Alan Rickman is upset with the decision, charging censorship. Co-creator Katherine Viner sniffed: “I think they're misjudging the New York audience. It's a piece of art, not a piece of agitprop.”

That certainly raises a series of questions. If not for her Palestinian activism, why should anyone be interested in her high school diary entries? Once you put her life in its political context, you have to look at the consequences. What has happened since Israel pulled out of Gaza? Worse than anarchy. Palestinians attacked Egyptian border guards, in what was arguably an act of war. Kidnappings are commonplace, including an attempt to abduct Craig and Cindy Corrie, the parents of Rachel (Scotsman report). To top it off, an overtly terrorist organization was elected to head the government. The story is much more tragic and complex than just the sad death of Ms. Corrie.

Since the New York Theatre Workshop may have an opening for another production, I would like to see a revival of To Live Another Summer, To Pass Another Winter. Featuring some stirring flag-waving numbers, To Live was the first Israeli produced musical to play Broadway. The original cast album (not yet on CD) would also be the final recording for jazz musician-arranger-composer Gary McFarland, who was supervising and conducting as work for hire with his new label Buddah Records. Shortly after the session, Gary McFarland visited a bar with a musician friend, consuming a drink mysteriously laced with liquid methadone. According to reports he died immediately of a massive heart attack. Another tragic loss of life, but McFarland left behind a thoughtful musical legacy. Doug Payne’s site has a full McFarland discography.

To Live would be a much more life-affirming choice, than absurdist agitprop. Given the climate in Off-Broadway theater, I’m not holding my breath.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Happy Birthday, Gabor Szabo

Having lived under both Communism and Scientology Gabor Szabo (3/8/36-2/26/82) truly understood the nature of totalitarianism. Just kidding, please don’t sue me.

Szabo discovered jazz in his native Hungary through Willis Conover’s V.O.A. program. He was soon playing in local clubs on a crudely constructed guitar. It was the only possession Szabo brought with him when forced to exit Hungary during the 1956 revolution.

Eventually Szabo made his way to America, and found his initial fame with Chico Hamilton’s distinctive quintet. Szabo’s music fused jazz with traditional Indian and Gypsy music, but also took inspiration from contemporary pop tunes. An entrepreneur as well as an artist, Szabo joined with musicians Gary McFarland and Cal Tjader to form Skye Records, as a vehicle for their pop-jazz experiments.

In the late 1970’s Szabo sought treatment for his heroin addiction at a Scientology-affiliated drug treatment center, and became deeply involved in the religion. In 1980, he broke from the Church, unsuccessfully filing suit for alleged financial mismanagement.

In 1981 Szabo moved back to Hungary in effort to kick the habit, but his body would soon give out. Szabo came full circle, leaving behind an extremely eclectic discography, which you can investigate courtesy of Doug Payne.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

About that Invasion, No Hard Feelings?

In a little reported development, Russia came closer to offering a formal apology for the 1968 invasion of then Czechoslovakia, acknowledging their “moral responsibility” last Wed. Czechs have long sought a formal apology, and I doubt this will fully satisfy them.

Even though the invasion took place nearly thirty-eight years ago, you can still feel its effects on the streets of Prague. Communism’s legacy is everywhere and nowhere. New Czech realities are papering over Communist-era buildings that are literally falling apart. The former secret-police headquarters is now a low rent casino.

The Invasion certainly took its toll. At least 120 were killed. Families were separated. Political liberalism ended. The reform minded Alexander Dubček was purged, replaced by Moscow’s puppet, the hard-line socialist Gustáv Husák.

The flowering of Prague Spring culture was also strangled in its crib. American jazz drummer Bill Moody, now a mystery novelist, was performing as a guest soloist with the Gustav Brom big band, when the Soviet Tanks rolled into Wenceslas Square. Moody was able to return to the U.S., but the burgeoning Czech music scene would stagnate. Czech visual artists were also forced to work in furtive isolation. It was not until 1987 that like-minded artists were able to come together as the “12/15 Better Late Than Never” Group.

As a result, Anti-Communism is the foreign policy of the Czech Republic. When I was last in Prague, Czech Senator Karel Schwarzenberg was expelled from Cuba for attempting to meet with dissidents. This led the Czechs to redouble their efforts in the EU to reinstate sanctions against Cuba. Condemning the soft-line on Castro, Foreign Ministry spokeman Vit Kolar bluntly stated: “It is now apparent that this road leads nowhere.” (Prague Post May 25-31, 2005, no longer archived on-line)

The final word on Czech Communism comes from the Museum of Communism. A fascinating place, filled with Marxist memorabilia and statuary saved from the dustbin of history, the Museum of Communism celebrates the Velvet Revolution and commemorates the victims of Communist rule. Its brochures declare, “We’re above McDonald’s, next to the casino.” That pretty much says it all.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Cinematic Compromises, Moral and Musical

Watching the Academy Awards was a dreary chore this year, with so many films to root against. The film I least wanted to see walk off with a little gold statuette was Stephen Spielberg’s Munich, which did indeed end the night empty-handed. When first released, The NY Sun via Powerline raised some excellent issues about the film’s historical omissions, such as Germany’s decision to voluntarily release the Black September terrorists in a cowardly act of appeasement.

Spielberg will always deserve credit for Schindler’s List, but of late it seems as if he has lost his way. His last “serious” drama, The Terminal also made unfortunate compromises, at least from the perspective of a jazz fanatic like myself.

Any film which features Art Kane’s A Great Day in Harlem photo as a major plot point, and showcases Benny Golson’s Quartet performing Killer Joe, albeit briefly, will be welcomed as a force for good by jazz enthusiasts and supporters. Unfortunately, many of those same people were disappointed by the film, particularly in its soundtrack.

In The Terminal (2004), Tom Hanks plays protagonist Viktor Navorski, a citizen of Krakozhia, a vaguely Balkan, fictional Eastern European country, who through a set of extraordinary diplomatic circumstances, finds himself confined to the international terminal of JFK International Airport. Navorski is not merely a tourist—he left for New York on a mission. As a boy Navorski’s father was inspired by Art Kane’s famous photo of fifty-seven jazz greats posed in front of a Harlem brownstone, to write each musician pictured, asking for an autograph. Over the years, responses came back to the senior Navorski, until at the time of his death, only one was outstanding—Benny Golson. As a tribute to his late father, Navorski intends to find Golson in New York to complete his set.

By relegating jazz to a brief walk-on role towards the film’s end, it makes it difficult to fully appreciate Navorski’s motivations. Incidentally, Spielberg’s film seems to miss the full significance of the Navorskis’ dedication to jazz. On the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, jazz was condemned as decadent American music. Listening to jazz on V.O.A. was an act of rebellion that could lead to prison, or worse.

There is much to praise in The Terminal. It is an original dramatic situation, well acted by all its players. Oddly, Spielberg shows little faith in jazz, or perhaps in general audiences’ ability to accept it in large doses, severely compromising its screen time. Instead The Terminal mostly features a blandly forgettable orchestral score by John Williams, a frequent collaborator. Ultimately, a full jazz soundtrack may have sacrificed verisimilitude, but it would have served character development. Indeed, Williams’s soothing orchestral themes are as out of place in an airport terminal as the swinging sounds of Golson’s group would have been.

Golson, who figures prominently in the storyline, composed many jazz standards like “Killer Joe” and “I Remember Clifford.” Having spent many years working as a Hollywood studio musician, he is most familiar with the demands of film soundtracks. While we can only speculate as to what could have been had he been commissioned to compose The Terminal’s soundtrack, we can have a potential sense of it by listening to Terminal 1 (Concord Records) a set of originals and standards performed by Golson’s group, inspired by the film he briefly appears in.

The press efforts for The Terminal frequently made the claim that Spielberg was a jazz enthusiast, but he hardly went to bat for the music he reportedly loves. Now with Munich, Spielberg has bent over backward to appear even-handed, but in doing so, obscures the real moral question. Should the civilized world stand up for its values, when terrorists murder innocent Israeli athletes in cold blood? While the Spielberg of Munich makes a show of agonizing over moral compromises, his recent filmography is rife with compromises.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Mr. Kicks, Oscar Brown, Jr.

Oscar Brown, Jr. once ran for a seat in the Illinois State legislature as Communist, running on Henry Wallace’s ticket. The next year he ran for Congress as a Republican. Don’t get excited, this was no Whitaker Chambers-like apostasy from the God That Failed. More like an illustration of how sad the local GOP was at that time.

Brown’s politics essentially never changed throughout his life, although he was purged from the Communist Party for reasons that he never divulged. Yet as a jazz-inspired vocalist, his wit and flair for drama forgive many politically extreme positions and incendiary rhetoric, at least for me personally. (Conversely an over-rated cabaret singer like Streisand shouldn’t even sing, just shut up).

The 2006 Harlem Film Festival at Aaron Davis Hall screened Music is My Life, Politics My Mistress: The Story of Oscar Brown, Jr. a new documentary on Brown’s life yesterday, and I hope it will eventually find wider distribution. Filmmaker donnie l. betts (no caps) does capture Brown’s humor and dramatic flair. There is much in the film that will be of interest to casual fans of Oscar Brown, Jr. and jazz in general.

In one interview Brown relates a case of political correctness that has resonance in today’s climate. For his 1962 Between Heaven and Hell album Brown set the Gwendolyn Brooks poem “Plain Black Boy” to music, with her approval. Columbia was so impressed with the standout track, they released it as a single. However, they withdrew the 45 from the marketplace when they NAACP protested that “Black Boy” was a derogatory term, much to the surprise of Brown and Brooks.

Brown’s “Elegy (Plain Black Boy)” was one of his finest recordings. I actually heard him perform it live at Vartan’s, a Denver jazz club which has since joined Slugs, Fat Tuesday’s, and all the other great jazz clubs in the sky. It was a knockout performance in person, and definitely turned me onto Brown’s music. Filmmaker betts was also at that Vartan’s set with his cameras, and you can see the power of Brown’s performance in the film, if you can find it on the film festival circuit.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Legal Questions for Power Brokers

NY1 reports brewing legal trouble for Democrat Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin, and the NYC Central Labor Council, the labor federation which he also leads. According to NY1:

“Queens Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin could be in trouble with the law, after federal agents on Thursday raided and seized files from the Manhattan headquarters of the New York City Central Labor Council, which he runs, and searched his Assembly office.”

Of course, McLaughlin’s woes are not the only image problem for NY unions. The TWU Local 100 is still on the hook for $3,000,000 in fines for their illegal transit strike in December. The union has also been named in a lawsuit by firefighter Matthew Long for injuries suffered as a result of that criminal action, and union president still may face jail time, himself.

The illegal transit strike may be a turning point in City politics. New Yorkers, ordinarily politically correct, were not supportive of the strike. People were heard to wax nostalgic for Ronald Reagan’s handling of the Patco strike. While the union pointed to polls showing public opinion split over who to blame for the illegal strike, that’s hardly covering the spread in a town that’s seven to one Democrat.

It’s time to ask NY politicians who have received generous contributions from unions some tough questions. Did they support the illegal transit strike? Should the $3,00,000 fine against TWU 100 be upheld? Do they support the Long family’s suit against the TWU? Would they consider returning donations received from TWU 100 or offer them to help offset Matthew Long’s Medical bills?

There is some real money to talk about. The state board of elections has a searchable database of donations dating back to July 1999. You can look up TWU 100 and the NYC Central Labor Council. Here are some totals from notable local pols:

A-G Elliott Spitzer $7,750 from TWU and $1000 from CLC
State Sen. David Patterson $20,050 from TWU and $750 from CLC
Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin $9,700 from TWU and $9,400 from CLC
State Sen. Liz Kruger $5,300 from TWU
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver $3,000 from TWU and $1,000 from CLC

It's also a good time to the practice of confiscating non-citizen workers' dues, and illegally converting them into campaign contributions. More background in a previous post.

Odd Spin 3/3: Empire Jazz

Empire Jazz
Leader: None credited, arranged and produced by Ron Carter
Trumpet, Flugelhorn: Jon Faddis, Joe Shepley
Trombone: Eddie Bert
Tenor, Soprano Sax: Frank Wess
Flute: Hubert Laws
Piano: Bob James
Guitar: Jay Berliner
Drums: Billy Cobham
Bass: Ron Carter
Percussion: Ralph McDonald
Label: RSO (1980)

The skinny: Veterans like Ron Carter, Frank Wess, Jon Faddis, and Hubert Laws swing John Williams themes. Not as crazy as it might sound, considering Williams performed early in his career as a jazz pianist, but he was not the John Williams who recorded a trio session for Emarcy. Although no musician is singled out as leader, Ron Carter might be given the de facto honor, as he is credited on the front cover in small type as arranger and producer.

Indeed, jazz had long been appropriate music for space travel, as the Alfred & Fisher song “Destination Moon” had become an established swing standard, performed by the likes of Illinois Jacquet and Nat King Cole. With the advent of bebop, jazz became self-consciously modern and deliberately experimental. Many boppers eschewed the term “jazz,” in favor of “modern music.” But no musician was more explicit staking his claim on the future than Ornette Coleman, with revolutionary forward-looking albums like: Tomorrow is the Question, The Shape of Jazz to Come, Change of the Century and later Science Fiction.

Science fiction has inspired several jazz albums. Fusion big band leader David Matthews recorded an album inspired by Frank Herbert’s Dune. Australian John Sangster took his inspiration from fantasy, producing an epic four volume Lord of the Rings cycle, which ought to be available in the U.S., given the recent Tolkien craze. Chick Corea has produced work inspired by the fiction of his Scientology mentor L. Ron Hubbard. Well, more on that later.

However, nobody would ever challenge Sun Ra’s place at the pinnacle of jazz futurism. Actually born Herman Blount in Birmingham, Alabama, Ra claimed to be from the planet Saturn. He led an avant-garde big band, the Arkestra, which mixed cosmic and ancient Egyptian imagery in their costumes and set pieces. Arkestra sets covered the gamut from Ellington to collective free improvisations. Sun Ra created an elaborate cosmology that his devotees are still interpreting.

In his blaxploitation film Space is the Place, Sun Ra returns to Earth to battle a pimped-out Satan for the “fate of the black race on Earth.” No artist could compete with Sun Ra for science fiction myth making, but there were strange inspirations to be drawn from sci-fi.

The bottom line: Worth a spin, if you can pick it up for under $10.00. You might actually return to this LP more often than you might think.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

A Tale of Two Radio Networks

Brian Maloney, the Radio Equalizer does incredible investigative reporting on the financial shenanigans of Air America. In response, to his latest report that George Soros and Peter B. Lewis have decided to throw good money after bad, and bailout the left-wing radio network, the network released a statement riddled with inaccuracies which Maloney thoroughly fisks here. One glaring misstatement is the claim Voice of America syndicates Air America. You can see V.O.A.’s schedule, don’t see Al Franken anywhere, do you?

It was nice to see there is still jazz programming on the weekends. During the Cold War, the most popular V.O.A. show was Willis Conover’s Music USA, which featured jazz of all styles, and American popular song (Irving Berlin, the Gershwins). At the height of V.O.A.’s reach, it was estimated Conover had between 10 and 20 million listeners. Reportedly, his show was so popular, a bustling black market trade for tapes of his show developed. Conover worked in the cramped V.O.A. office in Washington D.C., and though he mc’ed concerts, like the Newport Jazz Festivals which were simulcast on V.O.A., he was nearly completely unknown in America. Due to Congressional mandate, V.O.A. programming may not be broadcast domestically.

In a 1959 trip Poland, the normally reserved Conover was received like a rock star and conquering hero, and was nearly moved to tears by the experience. When Conover did travel abroad with government sponsored jazz tours, he was always amazed by similar outpourings of emotion directed towards him specifically and jazz in general.

Conover’s success was in large measure due to his willingness to let the music speak for itself. Jazz is part and parcel the music of freedom. It’s no coincidence the Communists, National Socialists, and Apartheid-era South Africa all prohibited jazz at one time or another. Although V.O.A. is nowhere near the operation it was during it's Cold War heyday, it is still a far cry from Air America, where host Randi Rhodes harangues include jokes about assassinating the President. Perhaps if Air America emulated V.O.A. and produced an entertaining show, they wouldn’t need a Soros financed bailout.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Filling Vacancies

Watching the the Deanna Hanna debacle from afar, I somehat hope she holds on to limp into the next election. That's because in CO legislature vacancies are filled by small committees formed by the vacating incumbents party. If Sen. Hanna resigns in disgrace, party insiders can annoint a new Senator who can run as an incumbent for a full term in the next election.

Here in NY we hold special elections in theory, but in practice, party bosses still fill the vacancies, at least in Manhattan. The County designated Democrat Linda Rosenthal overwhelmed her competiton, including the better qualified Republican Emily Csendes. Emily came in third, in a four candidate field, and ran a spirited race in a difficult district.

Happy Birthday Glenn Miller

Glenn Miller’s big band hits, like “Moonlight Serenade” and “In the Mood” were heard by millions, but Miller would never be heard from again, after his Army Air transport was lost crossing the Channel to France on December, 15, 1944. He was scheduled to travel on to Paris for a Christmas broadcast, as part of his tireless efforts to entertain and boost the morale of the American troops.

Miller didn’t have to be on that fateful flight. He had volunteered for service at 38, well past draft age, and had trouble finding a taker for his services, until the Army put him in charge of the Army Air Force Band. Although Miller’s music is considered too sweet and staid for most contemporary jazz enthusiasts, the Army Air Corp Band is still respected for the caliber of the musicians Miller was able to draw from the service.

Maj. Miller’s Bronze Star Citation reads in part: “for meritorious service in connection with military operations as Commander of the Army Air Force Band (Special) from 9 July 1944 to 15 December 1944. Major Miller, through excellent judgment and professional skill, conspicuously blended the abilities of the outstanding musicians, comprising the group, into a harmonious orchestra whose noteworthy contribution to the morale of the armed forces has been little less than sensational (from the Arlington National Cemetery website).

In many ways, the National Socialists were literally at war with jazz. While they oppressed jazz artists in Germany and occupied Europe (like Svend Asmussen), American swing bands, Glenn Miller in particular, provided the soundtrack for the heroic Allied War Effort.