Sunday, April 13, 2014
Saturday, April 12, 2014
The traditional opening anthem for Palm Sunday services, as performed at King's College, Cambridge, last year. The tune is "St. Theodulph" by Melchior Teschner (1584-1635), arranged by William Henry Monk (1823-1889). The words are by St. Theodulph (Theodulph of Orleans) (ca. 750-821) himself, translated by John Mason Neale (1818-1866).
This rendition is more stately than those to which I'm accustomed; I like it.
Tuesday, April 08, 2014
My first exposure to Steve Martin as a banjo player was at a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band concert at Carnegie Hall in (I think) 1975. He joined the band on stage, was introduced, and I thought, "That's the comedian guy; didn't know he could play." I decided he could play right well.
Now I've found this video of him playing "Crow," which he composed, with perhaps the two greatest living banjo masters. I first knew of Tony Trischka (scroll down and play his "A Day in the Life" video) as part of Country Cooking, whose album 14 Bluegrass Instrumentals I acquired some thirty years or so ago. (I now have its CD successor, 26 Bluegrass Instrumentals.)
Here's Tony, backing up fiddler Tashina Clarridge (note her appreciative laughs at 3:08 and 3:14), along with guitarist Michael Daves and bassist Skip Ward (more about these two later), doing "Sally Goodin" at the 2011 Joe Val Bluegrass Festival in Framingham, Massachusetts.
I learned of Béla Fleck later. At first, I thought him a bit weird. As I developed more of an appreciation of jazz, which his style seemed to edge into, and saw the synergy between it and bluegrass, I came to like him very much.
"Big Country" has Béla playing with a decidedly non-bluegrass backing band, having some woodwinds, including a bassoon, as well as a keyboard and steel drums.
The fiddler on "Crow" is Brittany Haas. Here she is in duet with Lauren Rioux doing a medley of "Grey Owl" and "Red, White, Blue and Gold"; on the latter she shows her talent on the banjo and, along with Lauren, as a vocalist:
Guitar on "Crow" is by Michael Daves, who is in his eighth year of residency at our local Rockwood Music Hall. Here he is doing "Mule Skinner Blues" at the Rockwood in December of 2010:
The bassist on "Crow" is Skip Ward.
On "Crow." he plays acoustic bass. In the above clip of "Clean" by the Darren Lyons Group, he plays electric bass in a fusion piece, performed at B.B. King's Blues Club in 2011.
To close, here's Steve Martin doing a song he wrote called "The Great Remember (for Nancy)" at a club in L.A. in 2011.
Monday, April 07, 2014
Ms Shaw's (photo above) art is based on a simple premise that yields a plenitude of results. The premise is: assign to each letter of the Roman alphabet its ordinal number, A=1 through Z=26. For any word, sum up the numbers of the letters. Find other words having letters that yield the same sum. This can lead to interesting relationships that may be used as the basis for a work of art. For example:
At the time she developed her numerological system, Ms Shaw wasn't aware of its kinship to the Jewish mystical practice called Gematria, but was delighted to learn of it.
Monday, March 31, 2014
At the treaty of Kilmainham Parnell threw it all away,But not necessarily a bad one, either.
It was the turning point in his career and he turned the wrong way,
And the revolution missed its chance with victory in its sight,
And fell down like a house of cards collapsing overnight.
As I watched the top of the ninth in the Mets' opener against the Nationals this afternoon, the words from Andy Irvine's and Patrick Street's "Forgotten Hero" were going through my head as, indeed, Bobby (not Charles Stewart) Parnell failed to get a third strike that would have ended the inning with a Mets 5-4 victory. He then allowed a tying run that segued into a Mets batting drought in the bottom of the ninth, a bullpen fiasco that gave up four runs in the top of the tenth, and a bottom of the tenth partially redeemed by a David Wright homer that also brought in Juan Lagares, whose solo dinger in the eighth had broken a tie, making the final 9-7 instead of 9-5.
No, I don't think Parnell's blown save was "the turning point in his career." At least, I hope not. The TV announcers were talking about his recovery from surgery, saying it wasn't complete, despite Parnell's claims. I did see some encouraging signs. Mets' bats got to Nats ace Strasburg early, and Dillon Gee pitched well in his start. Despite some control problems, fireballer Jeurys Familia, who was tagged with the loss, showed promise as a potential table setter. The Mets were charged with just one defensive error: the passed ball by d'Arnaud that led to the go-ahead run in the tenth.
So, what do the tea leaves say now? The 1969 world champion Mets lost their season opener 11-10 to the Expos, and ended April with a 9-11 record. The 1973 Mets, who won the NL pennant but lost the Series to the A's, won their opener from the Phils 3-0. The world champion 1986 Mets won their opener from the Pirates 4-2. The 2000 NL champion Mets, losers to the Yanks in the Series marked by the Clemens-Piazza bat incident, lost their opener to the Marlins 6-2. No oracle here. But, as someone once said, a loss early in the season counts just as much as one near or at the end.
Update: you know the old saying, "Cheer up; things could be worse?" I cheered up and, sure enough, they got worse. I'm putting Parnell's elbow on the prayer list.
Monday, March 24, 2014
Ken Radnofsky and Damien Francouer-Krzyzek play the third movement, "Christopher Street," of David Amram's Greenwich Village Portraits.
I've been fortunate to know David Amram since my Bells of Hell and Lion's Head days. Last month he presented a performance of his recent works at Le Poisson Rouge, a performance venue that occupies the space once belonging to Art d'Lugoff's Village Gate. My wife and I attended, along with a good number of other Lion's Head alums. One of the compositions on the program was Greenwich Village Portraits, with three movements dedicated, respectively, to Arthur Miller, Odetta, and Frank McCourt. The last of these, titled "Christopher Street," evokes the memory of the Lion's Head, which was Frank's favorite bar. It was performed by saxophonist Ken Radnofsky and by Damien Francouer-Krzyzek on piano. I made the video above from our table, some distance from the stage, which explains the people walking past and the unfortunate clattering of flatware. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised that the sound came through as well as it did.
The movement begins with a sprightly Irish jig tune, the name of which escapes me (perhaps a reader can help) announced on piano, then developed in variations on sax. At 2:40, the piano announces the second theme, based on "Wild Mountain Thyme (Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go?)," picked up by the sax at 3:50. At 4:59, Radnofsky begins a variation at turns happy and mournful, but at 6:00 this gives way to a lively development that resolves back briefly to "Wild Mountain Thyme" at 7:50 before ending joyously.
"Wild Mountain Thyme" was a traditional closing song at the Lion's Head. The video above is of David playing it, and assembled Lion's Head veterans joining in voice, at the Cornelia Street Cafe two years ago.
Addendum: David offers the following news about future events:
They are presenting an evening of my chamber music, performed by members of the New York Philharmonic, The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Amram often collaborated with for the past half century.. Woody Guthrie's daughter , Nora Guthrie will also be there to speak about the formal release of my new CD THIS LAND: Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie, which I conducted with the Colorado Symphony, based on her father's iconic song, and the evening will be dedicated in memory of Pete Seeger, with whomThe opening event will be Amram:The First 80 Years".with a screening of Lawrence Kraman's new documentary film "Davidfollowing the Q.and A. after the screening, there will be an urban hike through the Upper West Side, where I will revisit many of the places where I have collaborated musically over the last 60 years with a great variety of gifted peopleWe'll begin our hike by visiting The Lincoln Center itself, where Leonard Bernstein appointed me as the New York Philharmonic's first-ever composer -in-residence, and go the the park outside near the fountains where i did concerts of every variety for years.We'll go to the old site where Birdland once stood, as the final remaining landmark from the golden days of 52nd street, where i played with the jazz greats during the 1950s.We will see some of the Broadway theaters where I composed incidental music for fifteen dramatic productionsWe will walk by Thelonious Monk's old dwelling (which now is landmarked by the city), where he took me under his wing and mentored me in the early 50s, when i was playing with Charles Mingus at night and studying composition at Manhattan school of /music during the day.We will take a stroll to the old site where Shakespeare in the Park had their first season, before the Delecourt Theater was built, where Joseph Papp had me as the festival's first composer and musical director for 12 seasons, where i composed scores for 30+ productions,We will visit the Lincoln Center Repertory Theater where i worked with Arthur Miller and Elia Kazan as their first composer for three years, while the building was being completed and many other venues in the neighborhood where i conducted free out of doors Symphony concerts, played jazz.folk and world music concerts, performed for peace gatherings, political campaigns, jazz/poetry readings and all kinds of events.Programs, photographs, articles and videos of all of these endeavors are now documented in my archive which the Lincoln Center Library has acquired.I hope these activities and viewing of the archive itself will be of value to young people who may come to any of the events this April and then check out the archive.Hopefully it will make them feel that everyone of us can have a great life if we work hard, stay the course, refuse to accept career councilor's advice (which is usually to give up pursuing your path before you are even sure what that path is) and just go out start all over every day with renewed energy, share what blessings we have with others, show respect for every person who crosses our path, try to always do better than is expected and ENJOY life!!
Monday, March 17, 2014
Color: very dark brown.
Head: ample and long lasting.
Aroma: malty, with hint of floral.
Taste: black coffee with a hint of caramel; some hop bitterness in the finish.
Brooklyn Dry Irish
Color: dark brown, a slight shade lighter than Guinness.
Head: small, brownish white; collapsed quickly (see photo at top, taken shortly after the Brooklyn stout was poured; the Guinness had been poured earlier). According to the brewery's website, this stout differs from Guinness and other widely marketed Irish stouts in that no nitrogen is added to enhance the head.
Aroma: floral, with a hint of berries.
Taste: initially tart and fruity; no strong coffee or chocolate taste (my wife, trying it without having had Guinness first, said she tasted chocolate; perhaps my palate was skewed by having just tasted Guinness). A pleasant but subdued hop bitterness at the finish.
The verdict: not a real contest, as these are very different beers. I like them both, and they went equally well with our corned beef repast. Brooklyn Brewery also makes a Black Chocolate Stout that might make for a better head to head (as it were) comparison to Guinness.
Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh!
Saturday, March 15, 2014
Addendum: this tradition seems to have started in Paris, where the Pont des Arts has become endangered by the weight of the locks. A reader says it has spread to Germany. Lots of European tourists take the walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, which may explain how it got started here.
Thursday, March 13, 2014
This morning, I thought I heard a DJ on WQXR say, "Today is the birthday of Aaron Copland." Either he was misinformed, or I misheard, as two sources have told me he was born on November 14. Anyway, since I'm a great Copland fan, I decided to go ahead and post something of his. I found the clip above of a portion of his Clarinet Concerto, performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, with Copland conducting, and with solo by the greatest jazz clarinetist ever, Benny Goodman. It ends abruptly, but what it gets is good.
Saturday, March 08, 2014
Today is International Women's Day, and I'm marking it by posting a video of a song done by a bunch of guys. The lyrics were written by a man, Woody Guthrie, in 1945, and were set to music by English singer-songwriter Billy Bragg along with Jeff Tweedy and the late Jay Bennett of the Chicago based rock band Wilco. This was done as part of a project called Mermaid Avenue, organized by Guthrie's daughter, Nora.
In an interview for the web site DVD Talk, Nora Guthrie described how work on her father's archives had led to finding a trove of lyrics that had not, to anyone's knowledge, ever been set to music.
[T]here were just so many lyrics that I had never heard of and my family hadn't heard of. And don't ask me why they were never recorded, because I can only suppose why. I wasn't there so I don't know the real answer to that one. But anyway, I just started finding these great lyrics and they sounded, I mean just as a piece of written word poetry, I just loved them. And I started tacking them up on my tack board here. I thought "Hmm, someday I want to do something with this stuff." And then cut to the chase, I found Billy Bragg and asked him if he wanted to work on it. He kindly said, "Yes."The project was called "Mermaid Avenue" because the lyrics were written when Woody Guthrie and his wife lived on Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island, actually a peninsula projecting from, and part of, Brooklyn. (My immediately previous post is about Coney Island Brewing Company's "Mermaid Pilsner.") It resulted in three albums; "She Came Along to Me" is on the first, the cover (with photo of the house where the Guthries lived) of which is shown on the video above.
Pilsner (or Pilsener) is a style of lager--a lager being any beer made with bottom fermenting yeast--that originated in the city of Pilsen, or Plzeň, in what is now the Czech Republic. What distinguishes Pilsner from other lagers is that it is made with lighter colored malts, resulting in a golden, as opposed to a deep amber or brown, color. It usually also has a more pronounced hop flavor than other lagers. Most mass market American beers are made in the Pilsner style. Some, like Budweiser, have a forward hop flavor while others, like Coors, have a more subdued one.
For a food pairing I decided on something less spicy than the bánh mì I had with "Seas the Day." I chose a "Smokin' Henry" from our local deli, Lassen & Hennigs. It's made with smoked turkey, Black Forest ham, cheddar, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and Russian dressing. For a bit of spice, I had some of Trader Joe's cheddar and horseradish flavored chips on the side.
The beer has a rich golden color, a shade darker than most American Pilsners, but similar to that of Pilsner Urquell, the original Pilsner from Plzeň. The head was moderate, creamy, and fairly long-lasting. The aroma was hoppy, with slight malt undertones and jasmine-like overtones. The flavor was a well balanced blend of hop bitterness and malt warmth, with a suggestion of spice and a pleasant, melon like finish. The beer worked well with the flavorful food, but would also be enjoyable on its own.
Unlike Czech or German Pilsners, which adhere to a purity law that allows only the use of barley malt, Mermaid Pilsner, like "Seas the Day," is made with a combination of malts. There is regular two-row barley malt, the staple of most fine beers, along with Cargill's "EuroPils," also made from two-row barley, but with a distinctive "grassy" flavor. There are also two non-barley malts: rye and wheat. It's the rye that imparts the hint of spiciness.
Mermaid Pilsner takes its name from Mermaid Avenue, one of Coney Island's main thoroughfares, and from the Mermaid Parade, an annual Coney Island event.
This is a well made and thoroughly enjoyable beer, equal to most and better than many imports and American craft-brewed Pilsners.
Sunday, March 02, 2014
Monday, February 24, 2014
I'm no great Picasso fan, but I'm glad his threatened curtain at the Seagram Building got a reprieve.
Here [in 21st century New York], art is never spoken of in moral terms, and most aspects of everyday life--food and drink and bathroom fixtures--are mostly spoken of in aesthetic terms.
--Gerald Marzorati, former Editor, The New York Times Magazine
Pablo Picasso never got called an asshole;
Not in New York.
I have not been a great fan of Picasso. Maybe it's just my contrarian streak reacting to his conventional status as the preeminent painter of the past century. Maybe it's my overexposure to his "Bust of Sylvette", in an enlarged version executed by the Norwegian sculptor Carl Nesjär, that eyed me balefully (see photo above) on my regular Sunday transits of the Silver Towers courtyard going to and from brunch at the Prince Street Bar in SoHo when I was living in Greenwich Village. Mostly, though, it's that I never did get cubism. I can appreciate painters like Mondrian or Pollock (to name two whose styles seem, to me, as different as conceivable), who went the non-representational* whole hog, or like Bonnard who, while taking some liberties with perspective, scale, and other "naturalistic" qualities, produced images that were recognizable as real world objects. Cubism, which purported to portray objects from several perspectives simultaneously, seemed to me an uninformative and unnecessary, even annoying, exercise. I used to feel defensive about this, thinking that my failure to appreciate what Jed Perl, an art critic whose writing I enjoy and whose views I respect, calls an "epochal shattering of Renaissance space"** might be a symptom of some deficiency in my aesthetic sensibilities.
Then I found an ally in my wife, whose art background is considerably more extensive than mine. We were touring the Portland [Maine] Museum of Art and, as I started to move into another gallery, she--not knowing of my opinion--said, "Don't bother; it's all Picasso." Perhaps then my view, though at odds with that prevailing, could be justified on grounds less shaky than de gustibus non est disputandum.
“Le Tricorne,” which translates to “the three-cornered hat,” was painted over three weeks in 1919, in a studio in Covent Garden, in London. It was commissioned by Serge Diaghilev, the impresario of the Ballets Russes, a traveling company based in Paris. The Russian scene painter Vladimir Polunin, who helped paint the curtain, wrote that Picasso wore slippers so he could stand on the canvas as he worked. His tools, according to the critic Sacheverell Sitwell, who visited the studio, included a toothbrush.The Times piece also notes that what hangs at the Four Seasons is not the complete work. When Diaghilev needed to raise money, he had the center section cut out and sold, although the remaining two sections appear to have been joined seamlessly. So, we have a Picasso that was made as a stage prop, in collaboration with another artist, in a style other than the one for which Picasso is best known, and which is incomplete. Terry Teachout, in his Wall Street Journal piece, reports that Aby Rosen, head of RFR Holding, the company that last year acquired full ownership the Seagram Building, was heard to describe Le Tricorne as a "schmatte" (rag).
RFR says Le Tricorne must be removed because of the condition of the wall on which it hangs, which is leaking steam. The architect Belmont Freeman disputes that assessment, saying there is nothing in the wall that could cause such leakage. Freeman was engaged by the owners of the Four Seasons to supervise its restoration. The restaurant was designed by Philip Johnson, so the Seagram Building as a whole, inside and outside, is a collaboration between two of the greatest architects of the past century. As Paul Goldberger notes in his Vanity Fair article, Johnson left the wall unfinished because "[h]e expected that the Picasso would cover it forever." Goldberger goes on to observe:
If the curtain is removed, it would be an act of destruction to Philip Johnson’s conception of the Four Seasons. “Le Tricorne” is, after all, a de facto part of the architecture, and so it would constitute a major alteration to one of the city’s most admired landmarks. It might also seriously damage the curtain itself, according to conservators hired by the Landmarks Conservancy. Even with the care the conservancy has given to the curtain, it is painted on fabric that is 95 years old, and it is brittle. The conservators say that the best way to protect it is to leave it alone.Despite being "a de facto part of the architecture," Le Tricorne could not be included in the Seagram Building's landmark designation because, for purposes of such designation, it isn't considered part of the architecture. Nevertheless, its removal, and possible replacement with something else, would change the landmarked building in a recognizable way. The Picasso can be seen from outside the restaurant; in Goldberger's words, "it is part of the experience of anyone entering the building."
Is there something wrong with changing that experience? According to Goldberger, Rosen "reportedly will replace [Le Tricorne] with works he owns, perhaps rotating them as he has done successfully on the ground floor of Lever House across the street, which RFR also owns." I don't doubt there are some people, perhaps a significant number, who would prefer to see works by Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons--two artists that both Goldberger and Teachout mention as favorites of Rosen's--to La Tricorne. I'm not one of them, but that's just me.***
Nevertheless, I think there are valid arguments, other than my preference, for keeping Le Tricorne in place. One compelling reason is the possibility of irreparable damage to the curtain if it is removed. In Daniel Slotnick's Times story about the court order not to remove the Picasso pending further proceedings on March 11, a lawyer for RFR is quoted as making the incredibly crass statement, "If we break it, we buy it."
Moreover, I agree with Goldberger's argument that, despite the technicalities of the landmarks law, the curtain really is part of the architecture that should be protected. I'm not one of those who reflexively opposes change, and I believe there have been instances in which landmarks requirements have been applied in ways that are unnecessarily oppressive to property owners; usually, I think, because of the fear--which I consider in most instances to be excessive--of setting a bad precedent. Nevertheless, I'm troubled by what I see as a lionization of change for change's sake, and of "change agents," in contemporary culture. Yes, sometimes change is necessary. Organizations become sclerotic and need to be shaken up. Providing affordable housing without generating sprawl may necessitate construction of more high rise buildings. But unless occasioned by emergency, including by a manifest injustice, change should be considered carefully before it is implemented. It almost always has downsides as well as upsides, and it may have unintended consequences. In this respect, I suppose, I'm something of a Burkean.
If Le Tricorne goes, it will be the second loss by New York City of something by a major figure in twentieth century art within a year's time. I hope it doesn't happen.
*I prefer "non-representational" to the more frequently used "abstract." All visual art, including photography, "photo-realist" painting, and sculpture is, of necessity, abstract.
**Perl, Jed, "The Abstract Imperfect", The New Republic. November 3, 2011 ( a review of De Kooning: a Retrospectve at the Museum of Modern Art).
***For an account of my naive groping toward a standard of aesthetic judgment, see this post.
I poured, and was rewarded with a full, foamy head. The color (photo above) was a golden amber. I took a whiff: the aroma was powerfully hoppy, with some floral notes. My first sip made my taste buds confirm the evidence of my nose. The hops have it! A few bites of the sandwich convinced me it was a good pairing. Still, I thought, while this beer goes well with spicy, flavorful food, is it something I'd want to drink by itself?
After a few minutes, though, the beer started to open up. I began to get some of the "[b]ig citrus and passion fruit aromas" promised on the label and on the brewer's website. The flavor also became more rounded, with fruit overtones softening the hoppy edge. I realized that I should have taken the beer out of the fridge and poured it a few minutes before tasting.
I checked the ingredients on the website. Five kinds of hops are used: Galena, Warrior, and Simcoe, all of which are considered "bittering" hops; Cascade, which is moderately bitter and gives a floral aroma; and Citra, a fairly new variety that has quickly become popular (with some dissenters) and that accounts for the notes of passion fruit. There are four malts: two row barley (commonly used in the best beers and ales), malted wheat, oats, and biscuit malt (I had to look that up). The last three would, I believe, tone down the flavor of the two row barley, and, set against the assertiveness of the hops, explains the beer's lack of any noticeable malt flavor or aroma.
On balance, this is a good beer. It would go very well with spicy food like bánh mì, Hunan or Szechuan cuisine, and the more picante of Mexican dishes. At a moderate 4.8 percent alcohol by volume, it shouldn't get you in trouble too quickly. My preference continues to be for IPAs that balance the hops with malt. Still, I would drink this again, maybe with my next takeout vindaloo curry.
So, what about this Coney Island Brewing Company? Is the beer made on Coney Island? No, it's brewed upstate, in Clifton Park, just south of Saratoga Springs. Coney Island Brewing is owned by Alchemy & Science, a "craft beer incubator" that is , in turn, owned by Boston Brewing Company, makers of the Sam Adams line of brews.
Next on my beer tasting agenda is Coney Island Brewing's Mermaid Pilsner. I'll be reporting on it soon.
Note: I've updated the post to reflect the fact that Coney Island Brewing is now owned by Alchemy & Science.
Friday, February 14, 2014
Sunday, February 02, 2014
I've been doing these for a while: see here for my most recent example. What follows is a log I made of what I was listening to and seeing this past Monday on my last walk of my (fortunately) brief period of unemployment. On previous walks that I've logged, I've taken one photo for each piece of music I heard, but I would strive to find something scenic, or at least something that seemed an interesting composition, while the piece was playing. This time, I decided to stick to a strict rule. Whenever a new song started, I would snap a photo. I might allow a very quick look around, especially if I knew something interesting was off to a side. Usually, though, I just shot whatever was in front of me. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy the photos and the music, to which I've provided links wherever available. As before, with a few exceptions I've let the photos speak for themselves.
Hear it here.
Hear "Honey Hush" here. Raise your hand if you know the origin of "Hi Yo Silver!" If you don't, you're probably younger than me, and there's always Google.
Hear it here.
Hear it here.
Hear it here.
Eagle Warehouse Building (Frank Freeman, 1894; now apartments). As I reached this spot I heard Renee Rosnes on piano playing "Blues Connotation." I first heard Rosnes at Bradley's, a great--and unfortunately long gone, like its owner, Bradley Cunningham--jazz bistro on University Place between 10th and 11th streets, just a block from where I last lived in the Village before moving to Brooklyn. This version of an Ornette Coleman composition is from Renee's album Art & Soul, on which she's accompanied by Scott Colley on bass and Billy Drummond on drums. Hear a sample here.
Live performance video here.
earlier log. As I wrote there: "from his first, eponymous album, a frenetic blues and one of his earlier original compositions." Hear it here.
The Blues Project, one of my favorite bands from the 1960s. Before switching to electric guitar he was active in the Greenwich Village acoustic folk music scene, for a time as a member of Dave Van Ronk's group The Ragtime Jug Stompers--Van Ronk is the inspiration for the title character in the Coen Brothers' movie Inside Llewen Davis, which I saw yesterday afternoon and recommend enthusiastically. He recorded this instrumental version of a classic blues song sometime in the early 1960s, and it was released on a Prestige Records anthology album, The Folk Singers, and much later included in Starbucks' anthology CD Town and Country Blues. Play a sample here.
Hear it here.
The Harder They Come soundtrack. One of my go-to songs when I'm feeling down. Live performance video here.
Hear it here.
Francis Morrone) of the Heights Casino (Boring & Tilton, 1905), as I listened to The Lion, "I Am Going to Buy a Bungalow," a classic Calypso. "That is why I must have a pretty Jane, but she must be Dorothy by name...." Why Dorothy? This is a song about aspiring to middle class trappings, and I guess Dorothy was considered a middle class name in late 1930s Trinidad. Hear it here..
Saturday, February 01, 2014
Once again, Eliot Wagner of Now I've Heard Everything comes through with a great video, this one courtesy of Connie Lynchitz, of Lou Reed and Brooklyn's own Sharon Jones doing the Velvet Underground classic "Sweet Jane" in Sydney. This isn't a live action video; what you get is excellent live in concert audio and still photos of Lou (up for the first half of the song) and Sharon. Lou starts the song, but then Sharon takes over the lead vocal in a stunning performance. Thank you Eliot!
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Pete Seeger, who died yesterday at 94, was an inspiration to the generation of folksingers who were popular during my high school and college years. While I was in college, I got his album How Can I Keep From Singing, and was particularly fond of the title song, as well as his musical setting of Idris Davies' poem "The Bells of Rhymney," and the Spanish Civil War song Viva la Quince Brigada. I also love his "Garden Song" (video above).
My erstwhile Lion's Head companion David Amram, who was a close friend of Pete's, has written a beautiful eulogy, part of which I've quoted below:
I first heard Pete 65 years ago when my mother took me to a Henry Wallace rally in 1948 when I was about to turn 18.
All the hundreds of times I have played with him over the years since then have always been a joy as well as an honor,
Ever since he chose his path, he has stayed on it and walked the walk he talked and inspired generations to raise our voices in song, to always think of others, to respect ourselves and all who cross our paths and to share whatever blessings we have with others.
He shared his incredible gifts as an artist with anybody and everybody and set an example to all musicians of what our job is all about...to make a contribution while we are here, to honor young people and to show love and exercise responsibility to our blessed planet earth.
I'll close this with the words of another Lion's Head alum, Mary Breasted Smyth: "Tonight we will look up at the stars and imagine Orion is holding a banjo."
Monday, January 27, 2014
This post is about two New York City institutions--although the first is principally a New Haven institution and my first contact with it was in Cambridge, Massachusetts--that have recently disappeared, although in the instance of the first one the disappearance may be temporary, and in the instance of the second it is fortunately not complete. That I'm sorry to see them both go reflects two disparate--some might say incoherent--sides of my personality.
My first contact with the clothier J. Press was in the late spring of 1970. I was about to graduate from law school, and needed a suit. Press had a store on Mount Auburn Street in Cambridge, and I'd gotten word that they sold good clothes. I showed up the day after a big Harvard Square anti-war riot, and found that all of the store's windows had been broken and covered with plywood. I was about to turn back, but saw a hand lettered sign by the door: "We're open, please come in."
It was a bit gloomy inside, but before long I found a suit I liked, one that spoke to my characteristic desire to achieve two incompatible goals: to be at once conventional and daring. It was a traditional natural shoulder center vented three button with plain fronted trousers in charcoal gray, but with a subtle electric blue windowpane check. As I was trying on the jacket, I said to the salesman, "It looks like you bore the brunt of the attack yesterday." "Oh, yes sir," he said, "I was here through the whole thing. These people, sir, they were the very scum of the earth. You could tell by the way they were dressed."
After I graduated and started work at a New York law firm, my suit caught the disapproving eye of a partner who was the firm's unofficial sartorial enforcer. That electric blue check didn't please him. He suggested I try Brooks Brothers. I did; they had a branch conveniently located downtown near my firm's offices. On my first visit there, another man asked a clerk if they had what were then called "permanent press" shirts. "Oh, no sir," the clerk said witheringly, "We are an all cotton store." I bought some sufficiently conservative togs there, though I later managed to push the envelope a bit by getting a dark brown suit with maroon chalk stripes.
I also found J. Press's New York store, on 44th Street between Madison and Fifth avenues, just around the corner from Brooks's main store at 346 Madison. I shopped at Press on occasion, although I don't have a clear recollection of what I bought. Vaguely, I can summon from memory a mustard yellow blazer--or was it a blue blazer and mustard yellow slacks? They also had good ties. As years went by, I became more of a Brooks loyalist; I don't recall the last time I went into J. Press, but it was certainly over twenty years ago. A few years ago, I was walking along 44th and saw their storefront was vacant. My heart sank a bit. Though I hadn't shopped there in years, I still cherished the memory of my first encounter with Press in Cambridge. Moreover, I liked their commitment to the classic three button jacket style, as in the photo above, and their willingness to do things a little bit daring, like putting the jacket over a tennis (or cricket) sweater, or like the windowpane check on my suit. I was relieved to learn that they had just moved their store to a new location at Madison and 47th Street.
Now I've learned, through the good offices of Francis Morrone, that the store at Madison and 47th has closed because the landlord is renovating the building, although my further research shows that the owners may reopen the store at a different New York location, perhaps in 2015. If they do, I will go there and buy something, even if it's only a tie.
And now, as the Pythons were wont to say, for something completely different:
Walking east toward Sixth, I find only interlopers: sushi bars and designer hair salons; sterile boutique windows lit by laser-tight pins of light; card shops touting ribbons and balloons, any kind of trifle; coffee chains and sandwich franchises, the commerce and character of Village streets having become nearly indistinguishable from any in Cleveland or Wilmington or Naperville.I remember reading somewhere that Lou Reed liked to get his "mystery tubesteaks" at Gray's. Perhaps it's fitting that the Village Gray's died shortly after its perhaps most famous regular customer. At least the Gray's at Broadway and 72nd Street survives for now. Someday soon I'll make the trip to the Upper Left Side.
*According to Gothamist, in 2008 Gray's raised the price of the "Recession Special" to $4.45, after previous increases in 2002 and 2006. The article quotes Mr. Gray: "It's always very traumatic for me as well as the customers."
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Monday, January 20, 2014
In the video above he conducts the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in a performance of the adagietto movement from Mahler's Fifth Symphony. As was his custom, he conducted from memory. He took pride in his knowledge of the music he was to direct.
Sunday, January 19, 2014
A week ago I attended a "Free the Slaves" concert at Plymouth Church. The headline act was The Impressions, and they opened their set with "We're a Winner." The clip linked above was made using video from TV and audio synced from the recording as released. At the time "We're a Winner" was made, 1967, the Impressions consisted of Sam Gooden (at left in the video), Curtis Mayfield (center), and Fred Cash. Mayfield left to pursue a solo career in 1970, but for some time continued to write songs for the group and produce their recordings, He died in 1999.
At last week's concert, Gooden, a founding member from 1958 and Cash, a member since 1960, were on stage and singing. Mayfield's place as lead singer was taken by Reggie Torrian. Many would argue that the Impressions without Mayfield, a monumental figure in the history of rhythm 'n' blues and soul music, can be nothing but an inadquate imitation of what they were in the 1960s. I think that Torrian is a superb lead singer, and has a great talent for emcee-ing the group's show between songs. Is he as good as, or better than, Mayfield? No, but with him the Impressions are still very much an act worth hearing and seeing.
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
My favorite of Sargent's major works is not a posed portrait but El Jaleo (image above; for an enlargement see here), painted after the artist had visited Spain and seen a Gypsy dance performance. The dancer's white skirt could adorn a fashionable woman such as one of the Wyndham sisters, but her black feather boa, leaning backward posture and extended, slightly raised left arm, with her right arm thrust downward, hand extended outward holding a white handkerchief, is not a configuration in which an elegant nineteenth century woman would likely be found. Her left hand is in what Texans would know as the "Hook 'em Horns" position, and her index finger points toward a woman at the right edge of the painting, wearing a red-orange dress. She has both arms raised high and is smiling. Next to her is another woman, head tilted back, with her right arm flung in front of her neck. On the painting's left, behind the dancer, is a row of musicians. Most of these have heads bowed, intent on their instruments, but the one nearest the dancer, evidently a singer, has his head thrust back and his mouth agape. El Jaleo is part of the small but exquisite collection of my wife's favorite small art museum, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, in Boston.
Last summer I saw an exhibit of Sargent's watercolors at the Brooklyn Museum. In my "New Year's remembrances, thank-yous, and resolutions" I noted that i'd meant to post about it (as well as about the Hopper Drawing exhibit at the Whitney), and regretted that I'd procrastinated. Although the exhibit is no more, the Museum still has an excellent web page about it, so I'm using that page and its links to make up for my tardiness.
John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925). Santa Maria della Salute, 1904. Translucent and opaque watercolor and graphite with graphite underdrawing, 18 3/16 x 23 in. (46.2 x 58.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by Special Subscription, 09.838Sargent was a prolific watercolorist. A few of his works in that medium proved to be studies for later oil paintings, but most were a kind of travelogue, much like snapshots taken by a tourist today. That's not to say they were quickly dashed off: note the careful detailing of the church building in the Venetian scene above. According to the Museum's notes (click on the image of the painting at the right on the web page to see the notes), Sargent began with a careful graphite underdrawing of the church's structural features. The gondolas and canal in the foreground are done in a much more fluid style.
John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925). In a Medici Villa, 1906. Translucent watercolor and touches of opaque watercolor with graphite underdrawing, 21 3/16 x 14 3/8 in. (53.8 x 36.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by Special Subscription, 09.826This painting of a fountain in the garden of a villa near Florence is not as precisely detailed as that of the church in the previous painting. According to the notes, Sargent
summarily cropped away the two battling bronze figures at its top and nearly erased the smaller bronze boys perched on the edge of the lower basin. He directed his eye to transcribe only the bleached outlines and tinted shadows of the wide basins and decorative stone carvings in the raking glare.While Sargent didn't take the liberties with perspective and scale that, for example, Pierre Bonnard did, this painting shows a willingness to depart from a strict realism.
John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925). Gourds, 1908. Opaque and translucent watercolor with graphite underdrawing, 14 x 22 in. (35.6 x 55.9 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by Special Subscription, 09.822
John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925). A Tramp, circa 1904–6. Translucent watercolor and touches of opaque watercolor, 20 x 14 in. (50.8 x 35.6 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by Special Subscription, 09.810
The work is a good example of [Sargent's] frequent use of wet subtraction to lift and remove color, seen in the strong diagonal wiping marks at the lower left and, more subtly, in the man’s sleeve, his left ear, the hairline of his forehead, and the tip of his nose.
John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925). White Ships, circa 1908. Translucent and opaque watercolor and wax resist with graphite underdrawing, 14 x 19 3/8 in. (35.6 x 49.2 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by Special Subscription, 09.846If, before I saw it in the exhibit, you had shown me this painting without attribution and asked me who painted it, I would have said, "Winslow Homer." As I'm a ship buff, it caught my eye in the gallery. In this painting, according to the notes, instead of removing paint "Sargent used a small amount of clear wax on the right side of the larger boat in order to repel the blue washes and create highlights."
On the Museum's web page for the exhibit, there's a link to an informative thirty second video by senior conservator Toni Owen, followed by readers' questions and M. Owen's answers. Well worth a look.
Friday, January 10, 2014
Even back in the early 1970s, when I eagerly collected John Denver albums, I found the group America insufferably boring. Their first hit, "A Horse With No Name," seemed a lame attempt to mimic the understated passion of Neil Young, and their second, "Sister Goldenhair," mere syrupy glop. So, what happens to that gloppy song when it's performed by Kathleen Edwards, with backing vocals by Toronto's Good Lovelies? Watch the video above and decide for yourself, but my caption expresses my opinion. Is it still glop? Yeah, but it's really good glop.*
Thanks once again to Eliot Wagner, and to tanjatiziana for the video.
*Discerning readers may recognize this as a paraphrase of the last sentence in the "Hawaiian Sellout" segment of Firesign Theater's Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers.
Thursday, January 09, 2014
Wednesday, January 08, 2014
WHY, WHEN THE CREEDENCE CLEARWTER PUT OUT WITH THEIR "TRAVELIN' BAND" EVERYBODY SAY WHEEE-OO BUT I KNOW IT CAUSE THEY ONLY DOING "LONG TALL SALLY" JUST LIKE THE BEATLES ANDTHESTONESANDTOMJONESANDELVIS....--Little Richard, on the Dick Cavett show, sometime in the early 1970s, quoted in Greil Marcus, Mystery Train (5th Ed., Plume, 2008).
Today is the King's birthday. In the video above, taken from the movie King Creole (1958), he does his version of "Long Tall Sally."
Tuesday, January 07, 2014
Bob Dylan's 1970 album Self Portrait seemed, almost as much as Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, to be a raised middle finger to his audience and his critics. Now, as part of his "Bootleg Series," Dylan has released Another Self Portrait, made of tracks recorded for the original album, without the later addition of horns, strings, or background vocals, but adding some songs that were not included in the 1970 album. One of these is the folk ballad "Pretty Saro" (video above). My friend Michael Simmons, in his review of the new album (Michael also wrote one of the two sets of liner notes for Another Self Portrait; the other was written by Greil Marcus) has this to say:
Pretty Saro is a knock-out: a swooping tenor that leaps tall octaves in a single bound. Why it was left off Self Portrait is puzzling, maddening, but The Bard works in mysterious ways."[A] swooping tenor that leaps tall octaves in a single bound"? Yes, this is Dylan.
Monday, January 06, 2014
'I saw the new moon late yestreen Wi' the auld moon in her arm; And if we gang to sea, master, I fear we'll come to harm.'--"Sir Patrick Spens" (Scottish ballad, Anon.). From Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. 1919. The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250–1900, via Bartleby.com.
The photo was taken from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. The omen proved true, as the weather turned bad later.
Sunday, January 05, 2014
Others whose passing I've noted here are (in chronological order): Stan Musial and Earl Weaver, who died on the same day and are commemorated in the same post; George Jones; J.J. Cale; Seamus Heaney; Lou Reed; Arthur Danto; Nelson Mandela; and Yusef Lateef. Some I didn't post, but should have, include Joan Fontaine, Annette Funicello, Al Goldstein, Frank Lautenberg, Elmore Leonard, and Doris Lessing. Dave Coles and I both mourned the death of Greenwich Village as a Bohemian community. An interior designed by Frank Lloyd Wright was demolished. And there was the Boston Marathon bombing. Addendum: I just received the latest Harvard Law Bulletin, from which I get the sad news of the death in 2013 of one of my favorite professors, Detlev Vagts.
There were also reasons for celebration. Grand Central Terminal had its 100th anniversary, later commemorated by a parade of trains. My wife and I had our 22nd. Thanks to friends, we enjoyed a long weekend on Cape Cod that included tastings at Truro Vineyards and the Cape Cod Brewery. After a bout with cancer, Sharon Jones is back performing. The Mets finished third, not fourth in the NL East and the Red Sox (my second favorite AL team, after the Rays, and my wife's favorite, period) won the World Series. In Zagat's fifty state sandwich survey both beef on weck and the Connecticut lobster roll got their deserved recognition. Bill de Blasio was elected Mayor.
Google analytics tell me that "Grace Slick at Seventy" remains my most popular post of all time, so I must again thank Michael Simmons for supplying the photograph, and for being a continuing source of interesting bits of news and observations, many of which have inspired me to post. In second place, but in first place over the past year or so and therefore gaining fast, is "Lady Day: Henry Ossawa Tanner's Annunciation," for which another repeated thank-you goes to The Rev. Stephen Muncie, Rector of Grace Church, who first showed an image of the painting to me.
Enjoying third place on my all-time post hit parade is "Pierre Bonnard, 'Late Interiors,' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." As I note near the beginning of the linked post, I was inspired to see the Bonnard exhibit by the interest shown in that artist by my friend and neighbor, the painter Mark Crawford. A year ago I promised to do another post about Mark's more recent artwork, and I'm sorry to say that I haven't done it yet, but I resolve to do it in 2014. Meanwhile, you can see his work on his website.
Eliot Wagner and his blog Now I've Heard Everything have been a continuing source of inspiration. He provided the video for one of my most popular posts this year, Puss n Boots doing Neil Young's "Down by the River". Thanks also to Marshall Chapman for returning to New York after seven years and giving a great performance, which Eliot also attended, and which I memorialized, with two videos, in this post.
A post from 2012 that has enjoyed steady popularity is "Divine Dvořák; scintillating Shostakovich," for which I must thank the New York Philharmonic, and especially James M. Keller, whose notes I quoted to good effect.
Thanks to my Lion's Head friend Tania Grossinger for the opportunity to review her autobiography, Memoir of an Independent Woman. Thanks also to Dermot McEvoy for keeping me, and many others, up to date concerning alimni/ae of "Lion's Head University." Dermot has a new historical novel in the works, The 13th Apostle, which I will be reviewing here. It has a Facebook page which, if you're on Facebook, I encourage you to visit and, if you choose, to "like." Another good read this year was friend Adam Haslett's Union Atlantic. Adam, who has written for the Financial Times as well as other periodicals, wrote a gripping tale of financial and sexual intrigue. Addendum: His comment on Facebook reminds me that I should also thank Francis Morrone, both for the help he gave me in identifying the provenance of vault paintings in the Graybar Passage at Grand Central, and for the usefulness of his An Architectural Guidebook to Brooklyn as a reference.
As always, thanks to "Homer Fink," publisher of the Brooklyn Heights Blog and The Brooklyn Bugle for allowing me another outlet for my writing mania, and kudos to my BHB colleagues Karl Junkersfeld for his videos and Heather Quinlan for her award-winning documentary about New York speech, If These Knishes Could Talk.
Thank-yous to immediate family are customary, but I have a considerable debt to my wife, not just for her patience, but for providing me with ideas, especially from her regular perusals of the Archivist of the U.S.'s blog, and for sharing my work with others. Thanks also to my daughter for her support, and for turning me on to Hyperbole and a Half, John Mulaney, and The Violent Femmes.
Resolutions? This summer I saw two great art shows, Sargent Watercolors at the Brooklyn Museum and Hopper Drawing at the Whitney, both long gone, and about both of which I meant to post, but kept putting it off. I resolve not to let such opportunities pass again.
The plaque in the photo at the top of this post is on a row house across the street from where I live. You can hear the first stanza of New Year Letter here.