Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Ella Fitzgerald's Centenary

Today, April 25, would have been Ella Fitzgerald's 100th birthday (I'm getting in very late, now), and I must remember her as one of the greatest jazz and pop singers of all time. Not only that, but someone who is remembered by many who worked with her as unpretentious, low maintenance; indeed, sweet. Just like her music. In the clip below, she sings "Mack the Knife," by Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weill, and in it gives credit to two singers who did it before: Louis Armstrong and Bobby Darin. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

J. Geils, 1946-2017

I first knew of the J. Geils Band some time after my arrival in Cambridge for law school. Looking through one of the local "what's happening" papers, I saw they were the featured act at a nearby venue, probably the Boston Tea Party. My law school routine that year was such that I didn't get out to sample the music scene, which was splendid at the time. I missed J.Geils, as well as folk icons like Joni Mitchell and Tom Rush, who were regulars at Cambridge spots like Club 47.

The first time I heard J. Geils was sometime in the early 1970s, while I was in the Army. I was visiting a friend, and he played the album, the cover of which is shown above. I'm not sure why "live" is in scare quotes, as it was recorded live in concert at Detroit's Cinderella Ballroom on April 21 and 22, 1972. It includes some able and lively R&B - Smokey Robinson's "First I Look at the Purse" - and blues -  Otis Rush's "Homework" and John Lee Hooker's "Serves You Right to Suffer." The first song that really grabbed my attention was "Hard Drivin' Man,"written by Geils and the band's lead vocalist Peter Wolf. It's straight-ahead, over-the-top, hit-the-road rock. Introducing the song, Wolf got the crowd worked up with, "You've heard of the Boston Funky? [Yeah!] You've heard of the Philly Freeze? [Yeah!] We've got the Detroit Demolition now! [Pandemonium]."

The piece de resistance for me, though, was the final cut, a segue of "Juke Joint Jimmy's" (a pseudonym used by members of the band for joint compositions) "Cruisin' for Love" and "Looking for a Love" (a cover of a Valentinos hit from 1962) the latter of which breaks into pure frenzy. The clip above shows the band doing "Looking for a Love" at the Oakland Coliseum on March 22, 1980. Wolf, in the striped shirt, demonstrates his acrobatic as well as his vocal talent. Geils plays what appears to be a Gibson Flying "V" (or perhaps a Jackson King or ESP) guitar.

J. Geils was found dead in his house in Groton, Massachusetts last Tuesday. According to his Boston Globe obit he was found by police on a "well being check," indicating he may have been in poor health for some time, and lived alone. He separated from his wife, Kris, in 1999, but they remained friends. He was born in New York City in 1946 (also the year of my birth) and raised in New Jersey, where his father was an engineer at Bell Labs, and a jazz and blues enthusiast. It was while Geils was a student at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute - evidently he considered following his father's career path - that he met bassist Danny Klein and harmonicist Richard "Magic Dick" Salwitz, who shared his father's love of the blues and who, along with him, formed the nucleus of what became the J. Geils Band.

The band quickly became a staple of the Boston music scene in the late 1960s and '70s, but didn't achieve national fame until the early 1980s with a hit single, "Love Stinks," followed by a hit album, Freeze Frame, featuring their only chart-topping release, "Centerfold." The band broke up in the mid 1980s, but reunited on several occasions, mostly for benefit concerts. Later in life, Geils returned to hhis jazz and blues roots. In 1994 he and Salwitz formed a group called Bluestime that covered works by great Chicago blues artists that had inspired both of them. Geils' last venture into recording was about 2005, when, as Jay Geils, he and Gerry Beaudoin performed as the "Kings of Strings," doing jazz guitar pieces in the style of greats like Charlie Christian, whom Geils had long admired.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Mets in first place in NL East!

Of course, they're sharing this lofty position with the Nationals and the Phillies, who also won their season openers today. The Mets beat their erstwhile nemeses, the Braves, by 6-0. Despite giving up five hits, Syndergaard was dominant, striking out seven and pitching his way out of trouble until he was pulled after the sixth with a finger blister on his pitching hand. He got no support from the offense. The game was 0-0 at the end of the sixth, as the Braves' Julio Terehan was doing his usual flummoxing of Mets batters. But he was also taken out after the sixth. Mets reliever Robles kept Atlanta's bats silent through the top of the seventh, and in the bottom a succession of three Braves relievers allowed six New York runs to score, handing Robles the win. The first run in was Wilmer Flores (photo), who ran from second to home on a single to center and was initially called out by the home plate umpire. Mets manager Terry Collins challenged the call, and it was overturned on review,

There was no scoring in the eighth, and the Mets went to the top of the ninth appearing ready to cruise to an easy shutout. There was a bit of last minute drama. Gsellman, brought to the mound to close, allowed two hits, placing runners on second and third with no outs. I remembered a game back seventeen or so years ago when the Mets went into the ninth trailing Atlanta by seven runs, but jumped on the Braves' closer--I'm pretty sure it was the loathsome John Rocker, and several other arms brought in to try to stop the damage, to clinch an 8-7 victory. Could this be payback time? Then Gsellman struck out the next batter. The one after hit a little chopper that Gsellman fielded and threw to first for the out. Duda, at first, checked home, then noticed that the runner at second was way off base, and tossed for the pickoff. That ended the game.

Is there a dark lining to this silver cloud? Of course. These are the Mets, and there always must be injury problems, especially to pitchers. Syndergaard's blister isn't a serious matter, but in an abundance of caution Collins has moved his next start, against the Marlins, from Saturday to Sunday. The big worries are projected starters Lugo and Matz, who are sidelined indefinitely by elbow problems.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Chuck Berry: 1926-2017

Chuck Berry, who, in my opinion. did as much or more than anyone to make rock 'n' roll what it is, and whose inspiration was essential to the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones as well as important to the Beatles, died today at the age of ninety. He continued performing well into his eighties. I once posted a clip of him singing one of his early hits, "Sweet Little Sixteen," at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958. The Jazz Festival crowd seemed to be much more receptive to Berry than was the Folk Festival crowd to Dylan a few years later.

So, what song to remember him by? My choice is the one that made Number Two on my all time rock and pop hits list, "The Promised Land." It's a driving rocker in the best Berry tradition, and also includes some subtle racial commentary, as did some other of Berry's songs. It didn't take much imagination in 1964 to know that "downtown Birmingham" was a bad place for a young Black man to be "stranded" because a bus broke down. Fortunately, he has enough saved up to get a train ticket out, fast. When he gets to New Orleans, though, he's out of money, but "somebody" helps him to get to Houston, where some "people who care a little 'bout me," evidently prosperous extended family, get him a suit, luggage, and airfare to Los Angeles. The overarching narrative is that of escaping the South (Tidewater Virginia) for the supposedly more welcoming West Coast.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A "Celtic Appalachian Celebration."

On Saturday evening, March 11, my wife and I attended a concert billed as "A Celtic Appalachian Celebration" at Symphony Space on the Upper West Side. It was sponsored by the Irish Arts Center and featured Mick Moloney (photo) as master of ceremonies, as well as being one of the musicians. Mick has been the recipient of a National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Presidential Distinguished Service Award from the President of Ireland. I had the pleasure of meeting Mick, and hearing him play and sing, at the Brooklyn Historical Society several years ago.

The headline act for the event was Green Fields of America, a group, named for a song, that Mick Moloney formed in 1978 "to present and tour some of Irish America's finest musicians and dancers" (Wikipedia). Over the years, the membership of the group has changed. The clip above shows them playing an unidentified, very spirited Irish tune. The group at the time this video was made included at least three musicians that were part of the group that played on Saturday: Mick Moloney on guitar; Athena Tergis on fiddle, whose background includes being in the cast of Riverdance and touring with the late Clarence Clemons; and Billy McComiskey on accordion. Others who were with the group on Saturday were: Brendan Dolan on piano; Brian Fleming on drums; Liz Hanley on fiddle and vocals; Jerry O'Sullivan on pipes and whistle; and the immensely talented fourteen year old Haley Richardson on fiddle.

As mentioned above, Mick intended to showcase Irish American dance along with music. The clip above shows two members of City Stompers, Nicole Ball and Sara Rowbottom, dancing to the music of the Melody Allegra Band. The first minute and thirty seconds of the clip is all music, then the dancers take the floor. The City Stompers, led by their director and choreographer Megan Downes, took the floor often during Friday's concert. Their style is "Appalachian Flatfoot," which is characteristic of the Ulster Scots, or "Scotch Irish," who settled Appalachia during the late eighteenth century. They were descendants of the Protestant Scots who were "planted" in northern Ireland by James I during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries in an effort to subdue the Catholic Irish. As Mick Moloney noted, the term "Hillbilly" comes from the popularity of the name William among the Presbyterian Scotch Irish.

Two other dancers, who doubled as musicians, also appeared on stage, sometimes with the women of City Stompers and sometimes by themselves. Jake James is a dancer and multi-instrumentalist who has performed with many groups, including one of my favorites, Black 47. Niall O'Leary is a polymath: dancer, musician, businessman, and architect.


Anna and Elizabeth are Anna Roberts-Gevalt (at right in the clip above) and Elizabeth LaPrelle. Elizabeth is a Virginia native who grew up in the Southern Appalachian musical tradition, of which "Little Black Train," the song they do in the video, is exemplary. Anna grew up in Vermont, which is also part of Appalachia. (Geologists will tell you it goes all the way to Maine and southern Canada.) During the concert, Anna and Elizabeth performed a couple of songs that Anna learned from older singers in Vermont, thus giving us a taste of a lesser known Northern Appalachian tradition.

Another taste of the southern Appalachian tradition was provided by the wife and husband duo Erynn Marshall and Carl Jones. "Tune Tramp," which they do in the clip above, was one of the songs they performed at the concert. They also did "Decatur Stomp," a tune Erynn composed that combines the old time Appalachian and Ragtime styles. You can hear it here.

The concert ended with all the musicians and dancers on stage doing a stirring medley of Irish and Appalachian music and dance. It was a fine warm up for the feast of St. Patrick.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Another remembrance I missed: Mose Allison (1927-2016).

I first heard of Mose Allison during my college years. I had a copy of Johnny Rivers' album Meanwhile Back at the Whiskey à Go Go, which led off with the Willie Dixon song "Seventh Son," which I loved. I later heard a version by Mose that I liked even better. For a time, I assumed he had written the song. I was thereby led to seek more by him, and acquired some albums, which gave me a sense of the breadth of his talent. It encompassed jazz, blues, and R&B. Not bad for a self described "middle class white boy" from Mississippi.

In 1981 I went with some friends to a sailboat race in Annapolis. I saw in a local paper that Mose was playing at a venue there, and I convinced my friends, none of whom had heard of him, that we should go that evening. He ended his set with this:
At the end of the show, my friends were all fans.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Baseball is back! Mets win spring training opener from Red Sox.

The Mets opened their Grapefruit League pre-season with a 3-2 win over the Red Sox today. This makes me happy, but my wife, most of her relatives, Twiffer, and some other friends less than so. Most of them would shrug and say, "Spring training results are meaningless; especially ones early in spring training." They'd be right, of course. Still, I can't help making what I can from Seth Lugo's pitching two scoreless innings, homers by Michael Comforto and Gavin Cecchini, and two hits by Travis D'Arnaud, who had problems at the plate last year.

Tomorrow they face the Washington Nationals, who won the NL East last year, leaving the Mets to fight for a wild card spot they failed to capture. The outcome won't matter much, but again I'll make what I can of it.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Remembrances--an addendum: John Glenn

When I had finished my Remembrances post, I had a feeling that I'd left out someone very significant. I had noted the death of John Glenn on Facebook, and had meant to post about him here, but got caught up in pre-Christmas madness along with my paying work.

John Glenn was a hero to me long before he rode Friendship 7 into orbit, circled the earth three times, and piloted the capsule to a safe landing in the Pacific. As an Air Force brat, during my childhood I read everything I could about jet pilot heroics. I knew of him as the pilot who first flew across the continental U.S. at an average speed above Mach I. I also learned of his exploits as a fighter pilot in World War II and the Korean War.

Permanently engraved on my memory is the morning of February 20, 1962. I was in tenth grade, and in Mr. Bonar's biology class at Robinson High School, in Tampa. We were excused from class and went outside--February 20 in Tampa was clear and just a bit crisp--and, looking to the east, saw the rising vapor trail that eventually curved slightly away. As the school day progressed, we got occasional updates, including the frightening news that his capsule's heat shield might have broken away. We cheered at the report of his safe splashdown.

At the age of 77, he returned to space as a member of a space shuttle crew, thereby becoming the oldest person to go beyond earth's atmosphere. I'll turn 71 one month from today. Maybe I have something to look forward to.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Al Jarreau, 1940-2017

Al Jarreau, whose syncretic style bridged jazz, mainstream pop, and rhythm 'n' blues, died today at 76. In the clip below, he does a vocal cover of Dave Brubeck's "Take Five", in which he demonstrates skill at scat singing, which I once was bold (or crazy) enough to compare to abstract expressionism.

Photo:Stig Ove Voll, licensed under Creative Commons.

Remembrances, 2016

Back in January I posted my "Look Back" at 2016. I noted that past New Year's posts had included remembrances of those friends and significant people in my life who had died during the previous year, and promised that I would post my remembrances for 2016 soon. It's now almost mid-February, and I'm getting around to it

I also noted that 2016 had taken a heavy toll, both of those close to me and those who had served as cultural icons. I'll start with four lovely women whose friendship graced my life.

Dorothy Pilch (photo, by Martha Foley) was the senior parishioner of Grace Church, and a steadfast member, along with my wife, of the church's cooking crew. With a degree from Rutgers in economics and a background in banking, she devoted many hours of her later years to helping fellow seniors with financial advice. She frequently joined us for Sunday dinner. Her birthday was two days before mine, so for some years Steve Muncie, former Rector of Grace, would host her (and me incidentally) for a celebratory dinner at the Heights Cafe.

Martha and I had the misfortune of losing our next door neighbors on both sides early this year. Dorothy Azouni and her husband, Adel, greeted me when I moved into my apartment in 1983. She was a Brooklyn native, and Jewish; he was a Palestinian Arab. They met in Paris in the time shortly after World War Two, when she was working for a United Nations agency providing relief to people in war-ravaged Europe. She and Adel were together many years, until he died several years ago. Dorothy stayed in their apartment, visited regularly by members of a nearby synagogue who would bring her pastries and other baked goods that she insisted on sharing with us. She loved Liz and our cats.

The other neighbor we lost was Lillie DeBevoise. She moved in about ten years ago, and we immediately struck up a warm friendship. She was a retired teacher, widowed, with two grown daughters, a son, and several grandchildren, all of whom were regular guests at her apartment, as were Martha, Liz, and I. Lillie would often invite us, along with some other neighbors, for cocktails on a Friday evening. She was also my "date" for the New England Society's black tie fall dinner when Martha was out of town that evening one year. Her daughter Jane, also a widow, who lives a block away on Remsen Street, owns a lovely country house in the Catskills to which Lillie took us for a couple of delightful weekends. You can read about them here and here. During our second visit, Lillie introduced us to the Dai Bosatsu Zendo.

Another woman I miss is my Lion's Head companion of some years past, with whom I remained friends following the Head's sad demise, Alice Denham. A Jacksonville native, she was an early Playboy playmate, a founder of the National Organization of Women ("NOW"), and a published novelist. Photo and more about her here.

Henrik Krogius, who died in October, was a man of many talents and accomplishments: historian, journalist, photographer, and NBC news producer. I met him once, briefly, but for many years, until his retirement at the end of 2012 from the Brooklyn Eagle and its local Brooklyn Heights Press, for which I later became an occasional free-lance contributor, I was a regular and eager reader of his columns. From them, and from his books, I learned much about the rich history of our neighborhood.

Last year saw the passing of many musicians I admired. Ones I noted here are Natalie Cole (whose death on New Year's Eve wasn't reported until New Year's Day); David Bowie; Glenn Frey; Dan Hicks; Sir George Martin (although known as a producer, I'm sure he was also a musician; besides, I think being able to handle a mixing board is a kind of musicianship); Merle Haggard; Guy Clark; and Leonard Cohen. Others--Prince, George Michael, Leon Russell--I should have noted.

One death that hit me hard was that of Sharon Jones, a fellow Brooklynite whom I heard in performance at several venues. I first posted about her in 2010. She performed with Lou Reed in 2013, but was also diagnosed with cancer that year. She continued to preform whenever she could through her courses of chemotherapy, but finally succumbed in November. A brave and very talented woman.

A non-musician I mourned is Bob Elliott, of the radio comedy team Bob and Ray. Another was physicist Tom Kibble, whose work laid the foundation for some important discoveries, including the Higgs Boson.

On a happier note, we celebrated some birthdays: Antoine "Fats" Domino (88); Ringo Starr (76); Tony Bennett (90); and Van Morrison (71).

Monday, January 16, 2017

Morehouse College Glee Club: "We Shall Overcome"

The video clip below is of the Morehouse College Glee Club singing "We Shall Overcome" (arranged by Wendell P. Whalum) at the 2009 Candle on the Bluff Awards Ceremony in Memphis.

Morehouse College, in Atlanta, is the alma mater of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose memory we honor today.


Photo: Nobel Prize Organization, via Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Monday, January 09, 2017

2016: a look back.

Marsh, Orleans (Cape Cod) Massachusetts, January 1, 2017

For some years I've posted (with a few days' delay) a "New Year's Remembrances and Shout -Outs": the remembrances being of people I loved, knew, or respected who had died during the previous year; the shout-outs being to those who I thought had been helpful to me in my blogging effort (here's last year's version.)

This year is different, for two reasons. First, I have suffered so many losses, both of friends and of cultural icons, that I'm going to do a separate "Remembrances" post, which may take me another week or so to put together. Second, the way that I've related to my blog, and my sources of inspiration, have changed.

In 2016 I posted 43 times on Self-Absorbed Boomer. This compares to 107 times in 2015, 78 times in 2014, 97 in 2013, and 120 in 2011. The declining numbers (the bump in 2015 reflects my having instituted the "TBT" meme to force myself to post an old, favorite piece of music each week; I gave this up in 2016) reflect a couple of things. One is the Brooklyn Heights Blog, for which I've had to take on greatly increased responsibility since the sudden and unexpected death in 2015 of its founder, John "Homer Fink" Loscalzo. Fortunately, there are three very capable journalists helping me in this effort: SongBird NYC, Mary Kim, and Teresa Genaro. The other is Facebook. In the early days of the blog, before I got onto Facebook, I posted a lot of short things, like quick quotes from media with a brief observation, or photos, which I now put on Facebook instead of the blog. I also now put links to all my blog posts on Facebook, so I now get almost all comments on my blog posts on Facebook, not Blogger.

Anyway, I'd better get around to giving credit where it's due. In terms of volume of traffic on my blog, the award has to go to Russia. For reasons I don't know, my blog got thousands of hits from there late in 2016. They weren't directed at any particular post. My blog wasn't heavy on political content; this past year it's been music and baseball. I don't know what drew the attention. Whatever it was, I hope you all (I asume it was more than one of you) enjoyed it.

One friend I need to acknowledge is Michael Simmons. He's been a constant source of inspiration for the several years since we reconnected our friendship that began years ago in the Lion's Head. Back in September Michael sent me a link to an extract of a piece he'd written in MOJO about my favorite rock band of all time: the Byrds; read it here. It focuses on the song "Eight Miles High", an old favorite of mine, so here's the song: