Sunday, December 24, 2017

Boston Camerata, Joel Cohen conducting, "Jesus, the Light of the World."

According to Joel Cohen's notes accompanying the Erato CD, the source of this delightful song is "The Finest of the Wheat: Hymns New and Old for Missionary and Revival Meetings and Sabbath-Schools (Chicago 1890), Geo. D. Elderkin, arr." This is an example of "the revival hymns, with their simple, keyboard-derived harmonies and rollicking refrains" that "displaced many a genuine folksong." Cohen goes on to note:
The opening phrase of this one, published in 1890, bears an uncanny resemblance to the Going Home theme of Dvořák's New World Symphony, composed circa 1893. It is tempting to see the similarity as more than coincidental: was Dvořák in fact familiar with this song? Could he have been reluctant to acknowledge his debt to such a lowbrow source as this?
Anyway, here's the song:

"Lowbrow" or not, I love it.  For comparison, here's the second, largo, movement of Dvořák's Ninth Symphony, From the New World, as performed by the Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert Von Karajan conducting. The Going Home theme begins at about 0:40 with the solo English horn:

My first exposure to this exquisite piece of music was on the Boston Pops/Arthur Fiedler LP  album Classical Music for People Who Hate Classical Music, which my parents bought when I was about nine. As I recall, the liner notes claimed that the Going Home theme was based on a "Negro spiritual." In fact, it isn't. As American Music Preservation tells the story, a "spiritual" with the title Goin' Home, was written by Dvořák's student, William Arms Fisher, and set to the tune of Dvořák's theme. Here's a rendition by the incomparable Paul Robeson:

Getting back to the question: was Dvořák influenced by "Jesus, the Light of the World"? To my ear, there's a similarity, but not a convincing one. Perhaps Dvořák heard the song and the progression of notes stuck in his memory without  a reference to its source. As likely as not, though, as the American Music Preservation piece linked above suggests, it was based on some half-remembered folk theme from Dvořák's native Bohemia. Perhaps, too, he simply made it up.

Monday, November 20, 2017

RIP Mel Tillis

Mel Tillis, who died today at 85 was a talented singer and prolific songwriter (over 1,000 songs written). He is one of ten country musicians to have been awarded the National Medal of Arts -- the photo shows him accepting it from President Obama -- and so joins Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, Eddy Arnold, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Ralph Stanley.
The clip above shows Mel singing "Coca Cola Cowboy," a song that was featured in the movie Every Which Way But Loose, as performed at the Grand Ole Opry in 2009.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Astros rule!

The Houston Astros have won their first World Series championship, prevailing at the end of a thrill packed seven game marathon. I began the Series with no particular rooting interest. If my Mets aren't involved, as they certainly weren't this year, my default has usually been to root for the National League team. This is partly because the Mets are NL, and mostly because of my dislike of the designated hitter rule. I make exceptions for two American League teams: the Red Sox, out of spousal loyalty, and the Rays, out of loyalty to my old home city, even though I left it long before they existed (of course, I wouldn't root for either of these over the Mets; when the Red Sox and Mets play I keep very quiet at home).

This year, presented with the Dodgers vs. the Astros, I chose the Astros. Part of it is that I've never quite forgiven the Dodgers, who were my first love in baseball, even though I lived far from Brooklyn at the time, for leaving the borough that has been my home for longer than anywhere else in my peripatetic life. Part of it is also my memory of the Dodgers derailing the Mets' shot, in 1988, at a second NL pennant in three years; especially the memory of Davey Lopes loping around the bases with his right index finger pointed up.

As for the Astros: well, they were an NL team within recent memory. They had never won a Series championship, thereby appealing to my underdog fetish. More importantly, having visited there several times, I came to like Houston. It's a lively, very diverse city with an active arts scene, and the source of some great blues and R&B (remember Archie Bell and the Drells?) And, as a friend and Red Sox fan put it after the 'Stros beat the Sox in the ALDS, "Houston needs something this year." Also, for reasons stated in a footnote here, which I'll repeat here:
I love Texas. Yes, I love it in spite of its perhaps greater than average quotient of jingoistic and ultra-fundamentalist nutjobs. I love it for the likes of Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, and Molly Ivins, as well as for having gotten drunk a few times with Kinky Friedman (who could sometimes be an asshole, but was always interesting) and Jim Hightower (who was always a gentleman, but never dull), and for having (at a fundraiser for Jim at the old Lone Star Cafe on 5th Avenue, when he was running for Chair of the Texas Railroad Commission) danced the "Cotton-Eyed Joe" with Cissy Farenthold and twenty or so other of her nearest and dearest friends. I love it for Terry Allen, Archie Bell and the Drells, Asleep at the Wheel, the Austin Lounge Lizards, the Big Bopper, Guy Clark, Alvin Crow and the Pleasant Valley Boys, Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, Freddy Fender, Nanci Griffith, Carolyn Hester, Adolph Hofner, Buddy Holly, Lightnin' Hopkins, Flaco Jimenez, Janis Joplin, the Light Crust Doughboys (especially John "Knocky" Parker), Augie Meyer, Mouse and the Traps, Doug Sahm, Joe Tex, the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Townes Van Zandt, Willie and Waylon and Jerry Jeff, and Bob Wills. I love it for Larry McMurtry. I love it for having spent a couple of formative years in San Antonio when my dad was stationed there in the Air Force, where my Pennsylvania bred mom learned to buy fresh tamales, wrapped in cornhusks, and serve them to us for dinner once a week, and where my fourth birthday present was a Billy the Kid outfit from Joske's.
Yes, I love Texas; not that I don't love California, where I have ancestral roots. That's another story, though.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Adieu, Antoine! Fats Domino, 1928-2017

Antoine Dominique Domino Jr., best known as Fats Domino, died today at the age of 89. Of African and Creole ancestry, he was born and raised in New Orleans' predominantly Black Ninth Ward, but his speech, and singing, showed a trace of the "Irish Channel" sound brought to the Crescent City in the nineteenth century by immigrants from Dublin, whose compatriots imparted similar sounds to Brooklynese.

If asked to name an Ur-source for rock 'n' roll, I'd go for New Orleans. Fats and friends took the street chants of the Mardi Gras "Indian Tribes" indoors to bars, adding piano and sometimes horns, and created a new kind of music with a driving beat. The sound migrated west, where it influenced Texas blues artists like Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, and north to Memphis, where it mixed with Texas and Delta blues and Appalachian ballads and, as they say, the rest became history.

The clip above is of "The Fat Man," Fats' first hit, which charted in 1950. It was the start of something very big.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Dvořák's bird and train.

Two weeks ago my wife and I attended a concert presented by the Brooklyn Chamber Music Society, featuring performances of string quartets by Haydn (C major, Op. 20, No. 2), Beethoven (F major, Op. 59, No, 1, "Razumovsky"), and Dvořák (image at left) (F major, Op. 96 "American"). The musicians were David McCarroll and Carmit Zori on violin, Dimitri Murrath on viola, and Julia Lichten on cello. Their performance of each quartet was superb.

I had heard the Beethoven before, and probably the Haydn, but the Dvořák was new to me. Ms. Zorit's introduction to the piece tweaked my interest, as she said the last two movements contain references to two fascinations I share: birds (a fairly new one) and trains (perhaps my most ancient, for the reason explained in my brief bio in the right hand column). Here's the third movement, which Ms. Zorit said begins with the strings imitating the song of the scarlet tanager (if you follow the link and click on "Sound" you can hear a recording of the bird's song, and decide if you think Dvořák captured it):

The clip above is by Seraphina, at the 2007 Bowdoin International Music Festival. It's from the YouTube library of Seraphina member Caeli Smith.

Here's the fourth movement; I think the train reference is obvious:

This performance is by the Zemlinsky Quartet.

The "American" quartet is a product of Dvořák's residence during the summer of 1893 in the Czech-American community of Spillville, Iowa.  He didn't compose what is perhaps his best known piece, his Ninth Symphony, "From the New World," while there, but it was inspired by what he heard during his time in the U.S. Its Second, Largo Movement, played below by the Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan conducting, is one of the first pieces of classical music I heard, and one I have cherished ever since:

Image: Classical Net.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Should I keep on hating the Yankees?

If anyone asks me what pro sports teams I root for, I'll say I back all New York teams whose names end in "ets" or "ders" or "ty." (Soccer fans: I'm sorry. My loyalty there, such as it is, lies with London's Arsenal.) My Mets fandom is explained here. My Jets enthusiasm goes back to Super Bowl III, which happened during my second year of law school. I watched it in the room of a neighbor, Mike, who had the only TV on my dorm floor. The moment the final buzzer sounded, Mike shut the TV off. Asked why, he said, "I can't stand to hear Howard Cosell say, 'Broadway Joe Namath, the New York Jets, and the American Football League all came of age today.'" As for the Nets and Islanders, I'm not a great basketball or hockey fan, but they both play in Brooklyn, my home borough. The Liberty, so far as I know, are the only women's pro basketball team in town.

One thread that runs through all these loyalties is that they are, with the exception of the Liberty, to teams that are less established than their in-town rivals. Starting with the Brooklyn Dodgers, I've consistently backed underdog teams. This is, I think in large part, because growing up as an Air Force brat who had to relocate several times in childhood, I came to see myself as an outsider, always trying to find a way in. Of course my Dodgers won in 1955, though they lost to the Yanks in '56, a series marked by Yankee pitcher Don Larsen's perfect game. My Mets won in '86, but have yet to win a Series since, and lost to their only one with the Yanks in 2000.

While I root for New York's underdog teams, though, I don't actively despise any of the "establishment" teams -- the Giants, the Knicks, or the Rangers -- except for the Yankees. Why?  My disdain for the Yankees -- which I hasten to add doesn't extend to individual players -- didn't begin until George Steinbrenner took charge. From my father, I inherited an extreme distaste for, as he put it, "people with over-inflated egos." George fit that description almost as well as the current occupant of the White House.

George is gone, and his inheritors seem much less offensive. I still smart from the fact that the New York Times always gives the Yanks top billing and can't seem to do a story about the Mets that doesn't emphasize something negative. Still, I think it may be time to stop hating the Yanks. Having just checked the score, I see they lost Game Seven, and so will not get the pennant nor go to the World Series this year. I'll root for the Astros in the Series (I lost any residual loyalty to the Dodgers many years ago) because, as a friend who is a Red Sox fan put it when the Astros beat the Sox in the ALDS, "Houston needs something this year."

Of course, I will keep on being a suffering Mets fan.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Mets finished fourth in division.

At the beginning of this season I facetiously posted here that the Mets were in first place in their division. This was after one game , when all teams were either 1-0 (the Mets, along with the Nationals, who would go on to win the NL East, and the Phillies, who would be the last place division finishers) or 0-1. The Mets would finish the season in fourth place in the East, the worst they've done in several years. Two years ago they won the National League Pennant, but lost the World Series to the Royals. In 2016 they tied with the Giants for the wild card, but lost the one game playoff.

Going into this season, the consensus was that the Mets were serious contenders, along with the Nats. What happened? In a word, injuries. All of the vaunted starting rotation except de Grom went onto the DL at one time or another, along with important relievers. Pitching took the worst of it, but hitting, fielding, and catching were also affected.

Why? I've ventured a reply here. Is it true that injuries had a greater effect on the Mets than on other teams? According to this site they were more affected by injuries than any other MLB team during the 2017 season. Can they do better next year? They'll have a new manager, some new players, and maybe some of their present starters, both on the mound and the field, will be gone. Others may return to top form and manage to avoid injury. There are too many unknowns to try to make a prediction.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Tom Petty, 1950-2017.

The worlds of jazz, country, and rock music have lost many great performers this year -- in chronological order I've noted here the deaths of Al Jarreau, Chuck Berry, J. Geils, Gregg Allman, and Glen Campbell -- but I've yet to see an outpouring of grief on Facebook as tsunami-like as that following the death yesterday of Tom Petty. This, I think, is testimony to Petty's musical charisma as well as his adaptability over many years, not to changing fashions in rock but to new styles he created. It's also, sadly, testimony to his death at the age of 66, when he was still near the peak of his game.

I first heard him sometime in the late 1970s on WNEW-FM, the then AOR station that ended and began most of my days. I'm pretty sure the first song of his I heard -- at least the first I remember -- was "Listen to Her Heart":

I love the song for its triumphantly defiant lyrics and for its Byrds-like jangling guitars. The clip above is from a concert in Tom's home town, Gainesville, Florida, in 2006. Despite the passage of almost thirty years and some band personnel changes, the song is done just as it was recorded.

Tom had a long and fruitful musical association with Stevie Nicks, as exemplified by the clip below, from the same 2006 tour, of them doing "Stop Dragging My Heart Around":

I remember reading, years ago, that when Stevie met Tom's then wife Jane and asked her how they had met, Jane said, "I met Tom at the age of seventeen." Stevie mistook Jane's North Florida Cracker rendition of "age" for "edge," and it inspired this song:

So long, Tom, and thanks for all the songs.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Happy 72nd, Van Morrison!

I almost missed it. Indeed, from the point of view of Van's hometown, Belfast, I did. It's already September 1 there. Anyway, thanks for so many years of splendid music, which, for me, started at the beginning of September, 1967, in a little lunch spot called Hazen's in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I'd just arrived to start law school, when someone played "Brown Eyed Girl" on the jukebox. Thanks also to my friend Adrian Rice (not to be confused with a poet by the same name who, like Van, was born in Belfast) for alerting me to what I almost missed.

The clip below is a recent one, of Van singing "Transformation," a song from his latest album, Roll with the Punches. I love the way Van can't resist playing orchestra conductor before he takes the mike.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Glen Campbell, 1936-2017

Glen Campbell died yesterday at 81, after many years' struggle with Alzheimer's. He had a fine, clear tenor voice, but his greatest talent was as a guitarist. Before going solo, he was part of the Wrecking Crew, a group of exceptional L.A. studio musicians whose contributions can be heard on many hits from the 1960s.

A favorite of mine will always be his rendition of John Hartford's "Gentle On My Mind"; in the clip below he shows his skill as a picker as well as a singer:

Another is "Less Of Me,"a song he recorded with Bobbie Gentry. I couldn't find a live video of him singing it with her, but I did find one with another great woman singer, Jackie DeShannon:

You may (if you're as old as I am) recall that when Brian Wilson took ill during a Beach Boys tour, Glen filled in for him on bass (not his usual instrument) and high vocals (higher than his normal), to surprisingly good effect. Glen later couldn't resist adding a Beach Boys medley to his repertoire. In the clip below, please feel free to slide across his (I think) pedestrian covers of "Good Vibrations" and "California Girls" to get to 4:12, where the "Fun! Fun! Fun!" begins, and doesn't stop until the end.

The backing band in the Beach Boys clip above is the Jeff Dayton Band, and the concert was at -- would you believe? -- the North Phoenix Baptist Church, in 1998.

 Glen Campbell photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Gregg Allman, 1947-2017

In April of 1969 I was in my second year of law school, and visited my parents in Tampa during spring break. Paging through the Tampa Tribune I saw a review of a concert at a local venue. The headline act was a prominent Motown group, but the reviewer wrote that the loudest cheers came for the warm-up group, "the Allman Brothers, whom no one had heard of."

I likely would have forgotten this, but back in Cambridge in May I heard a local DJ announce a forthcoming Velvet Underground concert "with the Allman Brothers." Not long after that I began to hear their early recordings on "underground" or "AOR" stations like WBCN in Boston and WNEW in New York, to which I moved after graduation. I missed their great concert at Fillmore East in March of 1971, At the time I was more into the folk-into-country of the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and their progeny, especially Gram Parsons and Neil Young.

The death of Duane Allman late in 1971 sent the group into a less hard-edged blues, more country influenced direction, led by by Dickey Betts. My first Allmans album was Brothers and Sisters, and my favorite song "Ramblin' Man," a Betts composition with a hook for me in the line, "I was born in the back seat of a Greyhound bus rollin' down Highway 41." That road was the umbilical cord connecting Tampa to Atlanta, and ultimately to Detroit, which is why, entering Tampa on 41 from the north, one of the first things you would see was the Detroiter Motel.

Gregg was largely responsible for the breakup of the group in the late 1970s, caused in part by his distraction into Hollywood glitz following his marriage to Cher, and in large part by the Scooter Herring case. Still, he was instrumental in reuniting the group on several occasions, and did some very good work solo and in other groups.

I'm closing with a video, from Gregg's channel, of a live performance he did on January 14, 2014 in Macon, Georgia, where the Allmans had made their home in the early 1970s. The song is "Ain't Wastin' Time No More," written by Gregg, which was the opening track on Eat a Peach, the Allmans' first album following Duane's death. Gregg's performance is augmented by splendid solos on sax by Jay Collins, and on guitar by Scott Sharrard.

Photo of Gregg by Patricia O'Driscoll from Keeping the Blues Alive.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

They also served, and many died: remembering the merchant mariners.

This weekend we remember the men and women whose lives were lost in defense of our nation and its allies. Among these have been many merchant mariners, whose service was essential in delivering ammunition, fuel, equipment, food, and medical supplies to our troops, and those of our allies, fighting overseas. It is estimated that, in World War II, as many as 9,300 died at sea or later succumbed to wounds inflicted when their ships were attacked by enemy submarines or aircraft, or struck mines.

The photo above is of the American Merchant Mariners' Memorial, by the sculptor Marisol. I took it while walking around Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan, and posted it here on November 1, 2006.
American Victory (photo above) is one of the few surviving "emergency" cargo ships from World War II. She has been preserved in my old home city, Tampa, by the American Victory Ship Mariners Memorial Museum. Her dock is at 705 Channelside Drive, near the Florida Aquarium. I visited her there several years ago. Paul Schiffman, a retired Merchant Marine master who tended bar at the Lion's Head, for many years my favorite Greenwich Village saloon, served as a mate on her maiden voyage in 1945, delivering supplies to U.S. forces in the Pacific. At a memorial gathering for Paul, who died in 2011, I learned that Mike Wholey, another Lion's Head regular, had served as a mate on American Victory's last voyage in service, delivering supplies to our troops in Vietnam.

In 1988, pursuant to a court order, merchant mariners who served during World War II were granted veteran status, allowing them to receive discharge papers and medical benefits.

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 Rockpalast in 1979.

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: