My music teacher sent me some amazing photos of the German airship SS Hindenburg that I’d never seen before: the year was 1937, and this was before we went to war with Germany. Germany had no access to helium, so had to use the much more flammable and dangerous hydrogen in its elegant, bauhaus-inspired airships. The Hindenburg was one of the biggest and grandest of the German fleet. The huge airship went down down in Lakehurst, New Jersey May 6, 1937, 75 years ago to the day. My music teacher’s dad was there and watched the tragedy unfold.
I remember back, many years ago, when my father called me into the living room and said, “Don’t miss this!!!”. The old reel from the 1937 disaster showed a newscaster in the process from professionalism to breakdown. He just fell apart:
I still find this fascinating, 75 years after the tragedy.
I heard today on the news that England is about to issue a five-pound note with the famous photo engraved on it. It was that jowly face that signified the Prime Minister’s bulldog determination to defend England from the Nazis.
Here is the story behind that photo, which I learned from reading Herman Leonard’s fabulous photo book, Jazz Giants and Journeys. Leonard was apprenticing in Ottawa, Canada, with the great portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh, famous for his portraits of Hemingway, Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, Andy Warhol, and so many other famous people.
Churchill was in Ottawa for a conference in the early 1940s. He went to Karsh’s studio to be photographed. Herman A young Herman Leonard was there learning Karsh’s trade secrets. The prime minister was in a foul mood, which could be intimidating to all around him; his barbs could be crippling. He walked into the famous photographer’s studio smoking a cigar, and Karsh said he had to take the cigar out of his mouth; no smoking in the studio. Churchill ignored the request. Read More →
The Hopi nation of native Americans is outraged about a recent sale of Hopi masks whose sale was approved by a French court and sold at auction for $1.2 million. The Hopis consider these masks sacred, unlike the art world which considers them mere cultural artifacts which can be bought and sold. Read More →
I’m reading Robert Hughes’ masterful art history book, The Shock of theNew. It’s a dense, heavy, and amazing book. Reading about Gaughin’s Edenic paintings of Tahiti–which reminded me of French photographer Lucien Gauthier’s book Tahiti 1904-1921–I was made sober by Hughes relating that Tahiti had already been ruined by alcoholism and venereal disease by the time the French painter arrived at the end of the 19th century. Read More →
Having recently undergone shoulder surgery, on pain meds and having to take ambien because I’m forced to wear a brace and sleep sitting up on my back, I am watching tv more. After finding nothing else on, bored and finding it difficult to hold a book in one hand with my brace on, I turn to local stations for the tabloid news, and out it comes: more guns, murders, mayhem.
The gun debate flared up after New Town and again with Christopher Dorner. Now we have a 20 year-old kid from an upscale neighborhood near Laguna Hills go on a murder spree, killing both in his own home while his parents slept upstairs unawares; yesterday ‘words were exchanged’ between an aspiring hip hop artist and some gangsters in a darkened-window Range Rover kill him in his Lamborghini, taking a few other innocents with them. An Anaheim 7-11 is robbed and the poor clerk is shot and pistol-whipped by some thug in a hoodie and facemask.
When will it stop? Why is America so addicted to guns? The 20 year old was a loner addicted to violent video games…..gee, where have we heard that before? Aurora? New Town? Read More →
Zhuang Zedong, the Chinese ping pong champion, has just died. He sought out and met his American counterpart, Glenn Cowan during a visit to America in 1971. Zedong was an important private diplomat for Mao’s China, and after this meeting the U.S. Team, including Cowan, was invited to compete in China. This was unprecedented as there had been no diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China since Mao took over in 1949. And of course the Korean War severely exacerbated the already tense relations between the two superpowers.
The U.S. lost the Beijing matches but the seed was sewn. A year later, Nixon went to China, and slowly the rapprochement began. Philip Glass even wrote an opera about it. Read More →
North Korea just launched another missile, claiming self-defense. The young new leader, Kim Jong-Un has declared that the U.S. is his biggest enemy and has pledged to attack us—in self-defense. This brought to mind something I read a long time ago and last pondered in the early 1980s when Brezhnev and Reagan were facing off in the last stages of the Cold War that gave us the jitters back in the 1950s. As the French say, “la plus que ça change, la plus c’est la même chose” (the more things change, the more they just stay the same). Read More →
There is a huge manhunt for Christopher Dorner going on right now. He has already murdered three people, and is doubly dangerous because of his military training as well his LAPD training. It is a cop’s nightmare to deal with a skilled marksman who has snapped, gone on a rampage and wants to go out in flames.
As I watched TV last night, it occurred to me that the weirdest thing is that he has a million dollar smile in every photo. He looks like the sweetest guy in the world.
You can’t tell a book by its cover, the old saying goes. You don’t know what is lurking in the mind of the nicest looking person standing next to you. My heart breaks for the beautiful young couple, recently engaged, that he murdered over the weekend. And for the family of the LAPD cop he killed this morning Who knows how it will end, but it certainly will not be pretty.
A friend of mine, Pat Darrin, whose famous car-designer father, Howard “Dutch” Darrin designed the iconic and long-lived Citroën Traction Avant (1934-1957)–made famous by the film Diva--recently loaned me a cool book called “La Grande Histoire de l’Automobile–Les Jours de Gloire 1950-1959. Some of my favorite cars came out during that period, including some beauties my dad owned–Ferraris, Maseratis, a Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing, which my mother hated because it was so hard getting in and out of it. They say the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, and I’m a car nut too. I’ve also had some great cars–a 1963 Citroën DS 19 (DS 19-23 were produced 1955-1975) immortalized in Roland Barthes’ brilliant little book Mythologies, a 1959 Jaguar XK-150S among others. My older brother Larry is indifferent about cars, though he did manage to strafe the gears of my old man’s Ferrari 250 GT as a teenager. I had less fun: I had to clean and wax all of them, including the Borrani wire wheels. I do remember, however, the thrill of riding in those fast cars when my father put the pedal to the metal and I felt the torque plus the whine of those great engines. My twin sister doesn’t even drive and like my brother has no interest in such things.
So–in this French book there is a picture of the young, androgynous Françoise Sagan, already famous for her precocious novel Bonjour Tristesse, published in 1954 when she was only 17. Successful writers are crowned superstars in France, and Sagan was no exception. She also loved driving fast, exotic cars, and almost died when she crashed her Aston Martin DB 2. Read More →
I am a lover of cats and I always have been. There was always a cat in the Schnabel household. All of us are kitty nuts. I’ve written on my Rhythm Planet blog of Scarlatti’s Cat Sonata, watch “Too Cute” on Animal Planet, and so on. I’m a sucker for felines.
When you acquire a dog or a cat, however, you sign a Faustian bargain. All the love and companionship over the years with your favorite furry creature must come to an end someday, and that day will be sad. So will the emptiness that follows. I suppose that’s why some prefer parrots or tortoises or even koi, which usually outlive us.
Mr. T, my favorite cat, died yesterday of gastrointestinal lymphoma. He was an alley rescue, a ginger tabby. More precisely, he’d been living in a home across the alley that was more of a boarding house filled with dubious types, so when I added onto my home and built a detached office, yard, and pool, he moved up from a one-star hotel into a five-star hotel. Most people choose their pets; my cat chose me, quite an honor.
Mr. T loved butter and peanut butter, sunbathing in the garden, drinking water from the jacuzzi, and sitting on any available lap. He loved sitting in the production room on top of the studio equipment with the Focusrite compressor on top, which heated up his perch. He wasn’t picky about laps or food, though I always fed him the best. He was also a superb guard cat. Once, after the sound of a gunshot outside, he went to the door and growled, doing his duty to keep us safe. He was extremely affectionate and sociable, often participating in the music salons. Read More →
I’m happy to live this time in history. When somebody tells me they’d like to live in some past era, say after watching a romantic movie with castles, aristocrats, and beautiful clothing, I tell them they’re nuts. Ditto for Paris in the 1930s. I am just now recovering from a bout of diverticulitis. I wouldn’t wish this malady on my worst enemy. It’s antibiotics that are helping me escape from it. We didn’t have these meds back when Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Breton and Tzara were creating art and literature back then. Ditto for visiting the dentist, which used to be pretty frightening. No wonder people preferred just letting their teeth fall out rather than visiting the dentists. No Hollywood smiles back then. And god forbid having to have an operation. Read More →
I meant to publish this a long time ago. Jamie is an outstanding bass player who I think teaches in Florida. On this recent album he does a duet on the classic American song “Shenandoah” with a Japanese singer named Nanami Morakawa that will stop you dead in your tracks. He does an arco bass solo and she vocalises over it. His tone is big and his intonation is spot-on. There are also some straight ahead songs. Highly recommended. To comment, click Read More →
Freespace is an absolutely fabulous new jazz record. These cats are total virtuosos in top form. I also love Michael Wolff’s album Joe’s Strut. Like Steve Allee, he’s a great pianist, incredibly creative, with power and finesse in his playing. To comment on this post, click Read More →
A friend of mine told me he was picking up a the new Tesla sedan today, the S model no less. Then I saw another one parked in the underground parking in my building this morning. It is a sleek beauty. I read about Jay’s Leno checking it out with the Tesla’s chief designer:
Today I was lucky to go for a ride in the new one. It is one gorgeous car, the trim, door handles, the interior design is ultramodern and everything has been thought out…from a clean sheet of paper. It is a paradigm of auto design.
I got a love of cars from my Dad, who had a few beauties: Ferrari 250 GT, 275 GTB, 308 GT, 300 SL Gullwing, Maserati 3500 GT, as well as some Park Ward and Mulliner Rolls and Bentleys. I am a car nut and I’ve had a Jaguar XK 150S, a Citroën DS 19, and a few Porsches, mostly purchased used. I poured a ton of money on the Jag but wound up giving it away for $1000 in 1971. Now it’s worth a bundle. Oh well. I’ll bet that in experiencing this amazing new vehicle and studying its parameters, other designers are scratching their heads and planning to come up with their own all-electric designs. Read More →
It’s common knowledge that the Philippines have long been dominated by foreign powers. The Spanish, then the Americans, then the dictators the U.S. propped up (Ferdinand Marcos and his ridiculous first lady Imelda, who squandered tens if not hundreds of thousand dollars on shoe blitzes in New York City). America did this because we needed our big military bases back in the Vietnam days.
Then there was Cardinal Sin (couldn’t have made that one up) who told his vast flock that God wanted them to make as many babies as possible. Every time I saw images of children picking through landfills I thought of him.
And now, despite the Catholic Bishops’ conference warning that “contraception corrupts the soul”, the Philippine Congress approved contraceptive legislation that would make birth control available to all in the Philippines. Read More →
My close friend Jasmin and I have been cogitating about Malala Yousufzai lately, praying for her safety and complete recovery from the Taliban’s dastardly murder attempt on the young teenager’s life. We each wrote these two posts on the subject, something that people around the world have been following with their hopes and prayers as well.
You see, the Islamic Republic of Iran never expected that its mandate of providing access to higher education to both men and women, it would be women who would be flocking to universities. As the number of women attending universities in Iran surpassed those of male students, the country was suddenly faced with a highly educated, career-minded, and politically aware female population, the likes of which were never imagined by the government. Read More →
While in college I read an influential book by Joseph Campbell called The Hero with a Thousand Faces. It was his first and still his most popular and influential book. In it he told of how we mythologize heroes in our daily lives, and these heros represent the cultural mass and mores. One famous quote is as follows: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won, the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. George Lucas, for instance, was influenced by Campbell’s “monomyths” in the making of Star Wars. But I don’t think Campbell was thinking about our current crop of action films and the heroes they present to us.
I recently went out searching for a new living room rug. I eventually found one that cost significantly more than I planned on spending. I bargained and got the price down, which helped me rationalize the somewhat expensive purchase. Then I spent the rest of the week beating myself up about spending so much. Read More →
I love cars. I’ve owned a Jaguar XK 150S, the model predating the E-Type, a Citroën DS 19, an Alfa Romeo 2000 Spider, etc. I loved them all, especially the Citroën. One time David Byrne arrived late at the studio and had to park illegally. I offered to park his car. He told me nobody knew how to drive his car. I asked what kind it was, he said a Citroën with Citromatic and the button brake, and I said “just give me the keys”. Read More →
In 1973, fresh out of grad school and after an unhappy spell in law school, unable to find a job teaching in American community colleges, I found two job postings on a UCLA international job bulletin board. One was to teach English at a brand new university in Constantine, Algeria. The other was a teaching post at a University in Shiraz, Iran.
What grabbed me about the University of Constantine was the gorgeous futurist architecture of the great Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, who has recently celebrated his 104th birthday. He once beautifully stated:
“I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves……the curves that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of a beloved woman.”
Who could resist this? Plus, I’d lived in Paris before and spoke French. So I applied. Read More →
The world has watched the Olympics in London, now continuing. It’s interesting to go back a ways and see an Olympics from an earlier time, Tokyo 1964. It was the first big international event held in that country since the war ended. You see Olympian runners who weren’t sponsored by international corporations, just regular guys and gals: plumbers, teachers, and so on. Swimming styles were different, track shoes were just regular old Adidas, and the East African marathoners didn’t even wear shoes anyway. The cold war was in full swing, with the Soviet Union and the USA vying for dominance. America was in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement. It was just four years before Tommy Smith raised his fist in protest in Mexico City, wearing his gold medal. It’s a fascinating documentary and although a time capsule, it is timeless.
Sergio Pininfarina headed the Turin design studio that created the most beautiful sports cars in the world. Alfa Romeos, Lancia, but especially Ferraris. The elegance of Pininfarina’s designs reminds us that Italian design harkens back to the Renaissance, the timelessless of Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Da Vinci.
True, there were other Italian designers: Touring of Milan did graceful Aston Martins, Alfa Romeo’s and Maseratis. Bertone did IMHO some ugly designs of the 1970s-1980s. Scaglietti designed some bold and beautiful cars, like the 612 Ferrari and the 353 MM. But Pininfarina was the biggest and the greatest of them all. Read More →
The other night I read–well, actually just perused—Malinowski’s Kiriwina: Fieldwork Photography 1915-1918–an amazing book about the Polish-born father of modern cultural anthropology’s stay in Papua and the Trobiand Islands. He went to New Guinea and studied the inhabitants there with unprecedented rigor. I also listened to an Argentine pianist named Bruno Leonardo Gelber play Beethoven’s magnificent sonata #14, the Moonlight Sonata. Then I turned to French photographer Robert Doisneau, looking at images he took of Les Halles, the famous French outdoor marketplace that dated back to the 14th century, only to be torn down in 1971 by President Pompidou to build the much-reviled Centre Pompidou / Beaubourg. Some called it an oil refinery posing as a cultural center, and many Parisians lamented the loss of the famous market. Read More →
The other night we hosted a dinner party. One of our guests worked at JPL. I brought out my copy of the box set Murmurs of Earth, published by Time Warner about 20 years ago. It’s one of the box sets I saved when moving and downsizing last summer, because it’s rare and amazing.
The Voyager Spacecraft has fascinated me, not because I have a scientific mind, but because there are so many interesting things about it. Among them are the fact that President Jimmy Carter wrote a letter, put on the time capsule aboard the spacecraft, that implied an awareness that otherworldly civilizations might be out there. Second, that there was a music soundtrack on the time capsule, put together by Carl Sagan and Alan Lomax, that included classical music, jazz, blues, and world music. Third, that Voyager is still out there, 40 million+ miles away, still pinging earth from deep space after 35 years.
Jimmy Carter once saw what he thought was a UFO. Read More →
I lived in Paris for several years in the 1970s. Things were cheaper then, five francs to the dollar, but gourmet dining in fine restaurants still was $$$ and out of my reach. I usually ate at North African restaurants, or enjoyed the humble, bland faire at the Cité Universitaire. I nevertheless had vicarious methods of enjoying la haute cuisine Française.
I once read an article about food writer Craig Claiborn winning a sweepstakes. The grand prize was $4000 to dine with one guest at any restaurant in the world. The restaurant chosen was Chez Denis, in the upper-crust right bank area, not far from the Champs-Elysées
I remembered this article so when I had to move out of a friend’s flat where I’d been crashing on the couch, I moved into the Hotel Flaubert, right across the street from Chez Denis both because its proximity as well as the fact that I loved reading Flaubert. Read More →
I once saw a bumper sticker that read “Stupidity Should be Painful”. This was years ago and I still remember it. And agree with it too.
I don’t want to sound like an overeducated snob. But I believe that an electorate that turns solely to Fox News and Rush Limbaugh instead of reading and listening to a variety of news sources and books will be a dumb and irresponsible public. The fact that we live in times where access to information is at its best, there is no excuse to resort to the basest and lowest common denominator, one geared to generating ratings and advertising dollars rather than educating and enlightening it’s viewing and listening audience.
I subscribe to the New Yorker, even though like many people, I don’t have the time to read every issue. Shortly after this week’s Super Tuesday, this issue arrived in the mail. I didn’t quite know what to make of the cover, then I found Gail Collins’ very funny piece–in her New York Times column– on Seamus the Irish Setter and the Romney family road trip to Canada in 1983. It is very funny, and helps you understand the cover of the current issue. Read More →
Tonight I’ll do my sixth and final session in a music salon series that began in January. The subject is “Music that Amazes”. There’s everything from stone-age pygmy chants from the Ituri Rainforest in Northeastern Congo 1952, to a great solo by Coltrane in Stockholm in 1960, Astor Piazzolla, powerful Moorish blues from Mauretania, an exquisitely beautiful etude by Russian composer Alexander Scriabin.
But there were many amazing albums that have always entranced me that I can’t include because the tracks are too long in include in a two-hour session. I wanted to mention a few here. For me this is music that will always be an elixir, a balm for the spirit. Read More →
The Grammy Awards will be given out tonight. The TV broadcast, watched by millions, will feature the largest categories and biggest, most well-known stars. But there are hundreds of other musical acts you’ll never hear there. And then the 31 roots categories that NARAS eliminated from this year’s voting. Read More →
I went to San Diego Museum of Modern Art yesterday to see the Phenomenal show, part of the current stupendous Pacific Standard Time concurrent exhibitions around Southern California. The show Phenomenal is about how California artists used California light, space, and new materials in their constructions. Works by James Turrell, Robert Irwin, and others are there. But the work that stopped me dead in my tracks was a 1978 sculpture by De Wain Valentine, Diamond Column. Read More →
I was a literature major in college, also a French major, so I could read Samuel Beckett’s novels and plays in both French and English. His plays used a literary device called “stichomythia”, which had characters speaking short lines back and forth, so it was easy to read in French. Beckett, like Joseph Conrad or Vladimir Nabokov, wrote in another language than his mother tongue; Beckett was Irish even though he’s more associated with French literature. After all, his 1953 play En Attendant Godot –Waiting for Godot–catapulted him to French fame. Read More →
George Whitman just died at the ripe old age of 98. He took over the famous Left Bank bookstore, Shakespeare & Co., after the the original owner, Sylvia Beach, left it at the onset of World War II. She ran it as a publishing company that famously published James Joyce’s revolutionary novel Ulysses in 1922. The book was banned in the U.S., no American publisher would publish it. It was considered obscene. But what is considered obscene in America is often considered great literature or art in Paris. George Whitman took over the book store part after she left and ran it pretty much until he was in his 90s and infirm; his daughter then took over.
I got to know George Whitman while in Paris in 1970 and a student at the Sorbonne. Read More →
A few years ago while I was consulting for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, I proposed a memorial show to celebrate the music of Moacir Santos. Moacir who? The Brazilian composer had died a few months earlier. He had lived in LA for 40 years yet most people never knew who he was.
It’s doubtful that the show would have sold that many tickets, and Disney Hall is a big venue, with over 2000 seats. Read More →
In writing a recent blog, inspired by Gustavo Dudamel’s orchestral version of a popular Puerto Rican band’s hit song, I began to muse on the subject of music education: in Venezuela and the U.S..
There are a million kids enrolled in Venezuela’s music system, called El Sistema. Some of them, like Gustavo Dudamel, rise to the top. Then there was the at-risk kid, Edicson Ruiz, who got off Caracas’ dangerous streets and joined El Sistema. He learned the bass from scratch and won an audition for the Berlin Philharmonic. No small feat. Watching Dudamel conduct the huge Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra is truly inspiring. Classical music isn’t boring when played with that kind of energy and passion. And by kids no less, which makes it even better. And many of these kids were rescued from a life of crime and gang warfare. Sounds like a good idea for U.S. cities. Read More →
In writing a recent blog, inspired by Gustavo Dudamel’s orchestral version of a popular Puerto Rican band’s hit song, I began to muse on the subject of music education: in Venezuela and the U.S. What happened to it here in the U.S.? Why are the arts always the first to be cut during financial squeezes? Read More →
I recently received a couple of emails from an music aficionado friend with some links to a popular Puerto Rican group that had its hit song “Latinoamerica” (=Latin America) performed by an orchestra at the Latin Grammy Awards Ceremony. It’s not surprising the conductor was Gustavo Dudamel, Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
It’s not surprising that “The Dude” would conduct a hit song with an orchestra….this was the Latin Grammies, after all. But I couldn’t imagine another conductor, say, Lukas Foss or Rafael Frubeck de Burgos, conducting this song.
The song, by the Puerto Rican group Calle 13, is listed as reggaeton, the new style ubiquitous in the Caribbean, but it’s actually more akin to nueva cancion, the movement in Latin America during the sixties that promulgated human rights and dignity, the same human elements that were being stripped away by dictators like Pinochet in Argentina and Somoza in Nicaragua.
Dudamel didn’t go to Juilliard or some classical conservatory to learn music. Read More →
Keith Jarrett has yet another solo album out, called Rio. As the title would suggest, it was recorded in Rio de Janeiro. On it we hear the now familiar musical mood swings: from angular vertical runs, acrid harmonies, to unbearably lovely encores. The audience once again goes wild at the end. It’s a two disc set, probably covering most of the concert that night in April, 2011. I wondered as I unpeeled the shrink wrap and label–with a tried and true technique Kurt Elling taught me—how the cariocas–as the residents of Rio de Janeiro are called–would greet a solo piano concert. Brazilian music is often very upbeat, but there is always saudade lurking in the background. As it turned out, Jarrett supplied both in the concert. I particularly love the three encores that close the second cd—the audience goes wild at the end, typical of Jarrett’s fans, although this was, I believe, his first concert in Brazil. He seemed to really be enjoying it. There’s even a photo of him smiling, while sipping a demitasse cup of espresso.
Of course as a solo Keith Jarrett sprung to fame with his Köln Concert of 1977, a record that sold preposterously well for a jazz album. Read More →
I love David Byrne and Barry White, and I love cars too. I have all my favorites. 1953 Packard Caribbean convertible. Henri Chapron Citroën DS 23 Pallas, 1956 Buick Roadmaster, Ferrari 365 GTB, Maserati 3500 GT…..all cars I can ill afford to own let alone properly maintain. When David Byrne once visited me at KCRW during a nightly show I briefly did, he ran in all agitated, saying he parked his car outside in a no-parking area. School was in and parking was always scarce. I told him I’d move his car. He told me “no, you won’t know how to drive this car!”. Read More →
Ever since I became entranced by Coltrane’s song “India” in my bedroom when I was sixteen, living at home, I’ve been aware of the power of music to affect the heart, soul, and spirit. Music has always exerted a powerful force on me, even before I could really put its magic powers into words.
It’s what moves the Sufis, enables fire walkers in Morocco to avoid getting burned, and is used in ritual trance ceremonies in Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, the Philippines, and many parts of Africa. Music is a hypnotic agent and healing elixir, and it has been for a long time.
In preparation for a class I was about to teach a few months back, I did a lot of reading on music and the brain. Read More →
It’s gray and foggy where I live in Southern California, cold too. I helps sink in the fact that summer is gone and fall is here. I never liked the fall, though it’s been easier over the past few years. The holidays from Halloween until Valentine’s Day can either be a source of joy and togetherness or a sinkhole of dread and sadness, depending on each person. I may have been influenced by my late father, who always darkly observed, as fall was approaching, that “the shadows are getting longer”. It sounded like a portent of death to me.
I associate the music of the Portland, Oregon band Oregon with fall. There’s a fall feeling in their music, which they’ve been making and recording since the 1970s. The group has changed little except for the drummer/percussionist. The original drummer, Colin Walcott, died in a car accident in Germany, and a succession of drummers, including Trilok Gurtu and Mark Walker, have followed. Otherwise the group Oregon consists of Paul McCandless on double reeds and soprano sax, Glen Moore on bass, and Ralph Towner on guitars. They’ve made about a dozen cd’s over the years, maybe more. Read More →
I have loved African music for over thirty years. I discovered it through Olatunji’s seminal Columbia lp Drums of Passion and the great Congolese mass Missa Luba years ago. I first heard Afro pop while living in Paris in the 1970s. Congolese rumba was especially sweet and intoxicating. Later came the great Afro-Cuban grooves of bands like Guinea’s Bembeya Jazz and Orchestra Baobab from Dakar, Senegal. This is truly joyful noise.
Yet when I read in the newspapers about the Lord’s Resistance Army, hear the Refugee All-Stars (a Sierra Leone group of survivors of the war there), the Congolese murders or Rwandan genocide, it’s hard to square the violence with the sweet soulfulness of the music. Read More →
The other day I was reading the latest issue of Absolute Sound, an audiophile publication that recently published a piece about Henry Rollins called “Henry Rollins: I Am an Audiophile!” I wrote a blogpost about that on my KCRW Rhythm Planet column (http://blogs.kcrw.com/rhythmplanet/henry-rollins-i-am-an-audiophile/). In the new ish there was an article about classic lp’s that have never been reissued/need to get reissued. One of those lp’s was an album by one of my favorite jazz pianists, Paul Bley: it was issued on the Dutch label Fontana Records in 1966 and was titled “Blood”. Now I was sure, as I approached the “B” section of my vinyl library, that I didn’t have this lp or if I did it must have been sold, loaned out, or otherwise gone. (I sold my vinyl collection in 1976 to Rhino Records to help pay for long distance phone bills occasioned by my breakup with my French girlfriend. What a waste!). Read More →
I wanted to alert you to a nice articule in today’s LA Times, “Bhutan Rejoices as King Marries Student”. I’m sending this because last Sunday we featured on my show an interview with Lisa Napoli on her wonderful book Radio Shangri-La: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Place on Earth.
Brazilian composer, arranger, and guitarist Dori Caymmi has a stunning new album out. It’s called “Poesia Musicada”, which roughly means “Poetry Set to Music”. Dori, along with siblings Nana and Danilo, comes from Brazilian musical royalty: their father, Dorival Caymmi, was the patriarch who paved the way for Jobim, Joao Gilberto, Caetano Veloso and all who followed him. Dorival also introduced Carmen Miranda in 1939 when she was still unknown. The debut song was called “O Que é Que a Baiana Tem” (“What is it about Bahian Women”) and was a big hit. By 1945 she was the highest-paid woman in the world. Read More →
Catalina Bar and Grill, one of the few jazz clubs left in LA, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Longevity isn’t something associated with jazz clubs; there were many of them in the 70s and 80s: Donte’s, Carmelos, Concerts By The Sea, Hop Singh’s, Chadney’s, Marla’s Memory Lane, to name just a few. They’re all gone now, which makes the continuing existence of Catalina’s even more valuable.
Catalina Bar and Grill is named after Catalina Popescu, who came here from Rumania 35 years ago. Perhaps it’s because she survived the brutal Ceaucescu regime that she is persistant, stubborn, and steely, and it is these traits that have helped her establishment survive.
I have many wonderful memories of Catalina’s. Read More →
There was an article about Bacardi Rum in yesterday’s LA Times Food Section that caught my eye. I’m not a mixologist but I appreciate good rum. In Cuba they put it in regular glasses and you drink it straight at room temperature. Which doesn’t rule out going to La Bogedita del Medio to get a strong, fragrant mojito that will kick your ass. But it won’t be with Bacardi. It will be Havana Club, the closest things the Cubans get get to the original Bacardi formula.
Why is that? Because the Bacardi family escaped from Cuba before the January 1st, 1959 Cuban revolution, taking the famous and secret yeast formula with them. That’s what the LA Times article was all about.
It struck a bell with me because I’m fortunate to have a famous photograph that the great Cuban photographer Raul Corrales–whom even the more famous Cuban photographer Korda called the best photographer in Cuba—of a militia returning from liberating and requisitioning the Bacardi factory. They got everything but the yeast: The most important thing. Read More →
Tinariwen, the Tuareg group, is back on tour in the U.S. They perform here in LA as part of the Ooh La La Festival organized by the French government. The show is Friday night at the El Rey, and they perform alongside Nouvelle Vague and Etienne de Crecy. Guests on Tinariwen’s set include members of TV on the Radio.
Besides the fact that Tinariwen—the name means “desert”–has become so familiar both here and in Europe, besides the fact that they’ve been touring since 2001, that Robert Plant loves them, and that they’ve done Coachella, KCRW’s World Festival at the HOllywood Bowl among other things–is that the blues mode is familiar to most of us. Rather than moving through a series of chords, what you get is one base key and everything moving in relation to that “home plate” key. This is the hallmark of all the great Mississippi Delta blues that we know and love. Read More →
A wonderful series of West African reissue compilations have recently been released: Afro-Latin Via Dakar (Senegal), Kinshasha (Congo), Conakry (La Guinée), and most recently, Via Cotonou (Benin, formerlyDahomey). All cd’s show the pervasive infatuation newly-independent West African nations had for Cuban music during the 1960s: not only did the African musicians and bands recognize the African elements in Cuban music, but they loved the innovations and freshness of the Cuban style as well as the socio-political inspiration the Cuban revolution of 1959 gave them. Cuba was not only a musical model but also inspiring on all fronts.
I’m to do a piece on the excellent program, PRI’s The World tomorrow. It will be on Afro-Latin via Cotonou. Read More →
A great new album has just arrived, one that truly fuses the Africa-Cuba divide. Sure, there have been earlier efforts: The group Africando put out some great albums of Senegalese musicians working with top Puerto Rican artists. Orchestra Baobab is a super Senegalese band that embraces Cuban music. Actually there has never really been much of a divide between the two musics since Cuban music has always been a fusion, a synergy if you will, of Spanish and African music. Add some Moorish and Jewish influence to this musical stew—they were expelled from Spain in 1492 and many went to Cuba—add to this a dash of Spanish decima poetry, and you have the magnificent mélange that makes Cuban music so special. Read More →
Cage influenced people who don’t even know who he is. And then there are folks like Brian Eno and Ryuichi Sakamoto, both of whom owe huge debts to Cage’s thinking on music and sound. And music sampling, cannibalism, noise effects, and silence: these are all sonic and conceptual territories explored by the late composer. Read More →