Great Irish Pianists, Redux

I’ve expanded on yesterday’s St. Patrick’s Day post with a few small improvements and the addition of two more modern Irish jazz pianists I’d overlooked, McCoy Tyner, and Joanne Brackeen, suggested by one of the many enjoyable comments left. I’ve also included a joke which demonstrates the difference between “lace-curtain” and “thatched-roof” Irish, so readers may want to revisit yesterday’s post. Or not.

Dressing Down for Winter

I recently became the proud owner of a deluxe, almost-new down parka, replete with all the snazzy requisite features: a luxurious hood trimmed in genuine fake-fur, numerous handy inside and outside pockets (including the all-important diagonal slits on the sides which allow you to bury your hands snugly while walking elbows akimbo), and storm cuffs to keep out blizzards and other animals. And it's in a manly shade of black with a quilted grey interior; nothing too Champs Élyseés here, no sir. Doing up the zipper's a bit hit-and-miss - what else is new? - but otherwise it's all you could ask for in a winter coat. The way I came by it makes for a funny story, at least I think so. I have a much younger friend who I'll call S - his first initial - to save him the embarrassment of having it publicly revealed that he's friends with somebody so much older. He came by several of these parkas while working on The Hometown Hockey show for several years, which involved visiting a different, usually very cold, Canadian city every winter weekend. Knowing that I was turning 60 this past August and thinking a couple of seasons ahead, S walked through our back gate one sweltering morning this past summer carrying three of these bulky coats. Quite large and Chilean, he looked like a very lost Nanook of the North, by way of South America. He said, "Here, man, try these on. If one of them fits, it's yours." So there I was on my back deck trying on these toasty, mammoth parkas on one of more [...]

Snow Business

"They call my home the land of snow" - Robbie Robertson, "Acadian Driftwood". Without a doubt, snow can be a pain: shoveling it, driving in it, schlepping and trudging through it. But it can also be so pretty, not just pretty awful. Snow is the decorative element of winter: without it, the season would be long, cold, dismal and grey; snow makes it long, cold, dismal and white. It's important to stay positive. The beauty of snow is most comfortably appreciated from the snug warmth of the great indoors, as I did on the Sunday before Christmas. While waiting for the coffee to brew, I looked out the kitchen window to behold eight or ten inches of it covering everything in sight. It was folded in dunes all over the back deck, looking like a miniature Alps. It covered the roofs of garages and sheds, making these otherwise pedestrian structures look jaunty and picturesque. There were tiny pyramids of it on top of fence posts, and it lay on shrubs and in the crevices of tree branches like stray meringue. And the perfectly even, fluffy layer of it covering the round deck-table resembled the bottom storey of a wedding cake, which made me shudder a little. It was a bright day, and the shifting sunlight kept playing against all this, making the scene shimmer and glisten. Like many beautiful things, it was fleeting and absolutely free. Along with clouds, water, and eyes, snow must be exceedingly difficult to paint. For starters, it's white, and so is the canvas. And technically, white more [...]

Dimentia Internetus

Multinational Jazz Corporations For whatever reason, my friend Ted O'Reilly sent out a number of YouTube clips to the Old Farts this morning. They were a series of warm-and-fuzzy Christmas ads for a chain of UK department stores known as "John Lewis". I've included the first one here, which is quite amusing, as English ads often tend to be. The other clips were variations of it along political/satirical lines which I haven't included because I'm not sure I approve - suddenly, politics don't seem very funny to me these days. Although I've traveled in Britain extensively a number of times and like to think I'm up on its culture as much as most, I'd never heard of the John Lewis chain. Harrod's, yes. Marks & Sparks - as they call it - you betcha. Tesco's, absolutely. But as soon as I saw "John Lewis" in Ted's message, I expected someone had created some ads for a UK department store chain with soundtracks using music by the composer/pianist and musical director of the MJQ, who is a great favourite of mine. I just assumed they would have used his arrangement of "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen", also known as "England's Carol", it would be a natural. (Obviously, there's a reason Madison Avenue has not been beating a path to my door all these years.) Here's a favourite version of it by the MJQ. John Lewis is the one wearing Bermuda shorts, seemingly jotting down a grocery list: "The Queen's Fancy", "Little David's Fugue", and "The Golden Striker" are some other Lewis more [...]

Back When Tattoos Cost A Nickel and Steam Was King

The historic, drought-busting nature of this year’s World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians has even my old friend Mike Maehle - not generally a sports fan - uncharacteristically interested. The last time I heard him talk about baseball was.... well, never. But, as a knowledgeable student of history he was talking about it today and we got to kidding around about how unimaginably long ago 1908 was, and how vastly different the world was when the Cubs last won a championship that very year. As a friend of Mike's once put it about the distant past, "Tattoos were only a nickel and steam was still king!." Teddy Roosevelt was President, though in the last year of his second term. Keeping a promise not to seek a third term that November, Roosevelt persuaded the Republicans to nominate William Howard Taft, while William Jennings Bryan was the Democratic candidate for the third straight time that autumn. Yes, that’s right - it was so long ago, the Bible-thumpers were Democrats instead of Republicans, and Presidential candidates had desirable qualities like integrity, dignity and a grasp of the English language. Not to mention statesmanship, considerable oratorical skill, manners, and other refinements. It was clearly another planet, though some things remained the same - as recently, there was trouble in Serbia, Herzegovina and Macedonia. But World War One was still six years away and nobody had a clue who the hell Archduke Franz Ferdinand was yet, more [...]

How Are These with Guacamole?

We've just experienced our first heatwave, that sudden annual transition from "it could be warmer" to "man, can you believe how friggin' hot it is already!?" The last thing anyone wants to do in this heat is cook, yet we still have to eat, even if a little lighter. What's needed is some refreshing, satisfying food that doesn't require an oven. Salads and chilled soups like gazpacho are good, but one of the best summer snacks is guacamole, it's very fresh-tasting and quite filling. And, not to spoil it or anything, but it's actually good for you, provided you don't eat the whole bag of tortilla chips once the velvety green dip is gone. Obviously, the key to making good guacamole is having avocados at a perfect stage of soft ripeness, but the timing of this can be tricky. I usually buy the mesh bags with five or six rather than the individual ones, it's cheaper that way. They're often hard as rocks in the store, so you leave them on the counter for a few days to ripen. If you squeeze them and they give and a small dimple is left, they're ready. The trouble is, sometimes they're ready when you don't have time to make the guac and you end up leaving them too long and they get all black and mushy inside. My sister-in-law recently showed me a simple way around this: once the avocados are ripe, put them in the fridge. This stops the ripening process and has the added advantage of chilling the avocados, making the finished product even more refreshing. I've been tinkering with more [...]

Leicester Leaps In

I never write about soccer, or as the English call it, football. In fact, I don't even follow it, not really. If I write about sports at all in these pages it will likely be about baseball, which isn't really a sport, but life itself played out on a perfect diamond-shaped patch of green. However, a piece on soccer is in order, because yesterday the Leicester City Foxes of the English Premier League achieved the most improbable and astounding victory in the history of sports since David slew Goliath with a stone propelled from his slingshot. The Foxes won the championship of perhaps the best league in all of soccer, defying both belief and description. Impossible. Shocking. The long-shot of long-shots. Incredible. Gob-smacking. A paper clip propelled by an elastic band, landing on the moon. That the Foxes did so without even taking the field only adds to the jaw-dropping improbability of the story. Second-place Tottenham Hotspur, whose symbol is some sort of fowl (get it? - foxes against hens!) needed a victory yesterday against Chelsea to keep alive their hopes of overtaking Leicester for the championship. Many consider the Spurs the better team, as they've scored more goals and allowed fewer than the Foxes. And Chelsea, a perennial power and last year's champion, have slid to tenth in the league, so the task seemed an easy one for the Spurs. Tottenham went up 2-0 in the early going, but Chelsea scored a goal in close off a free kick. Then late in the game, Chelsea's striker more [...]

Oopsie!

The post just issued (“Ernie Watts, Brad Goode & Stylistic Diversity”) may have seemed more rambling than usual, and much shorter, not to mention incomplete, all for good reason. I was working on the article, got distracted and clicked on the ‘publish’ button, located just below the ‘save’ button, sending it out to the airwaves accidentally, long before it was finished. It’s a good thing I don’t work in the field of geopolitics or securities trading.

For those of you wondering what any of this abortive ‘post’ has to do with Ernie Watts or Brad Goode, well, you’ll have to wait until the rest of the article comes out. Not on this site, mind you, but in the next issue of WholeNote magazine. Yes, I’m afraid this is what may be called an “unintentional preview”, a pitfall of a butterfingers like me working in a digital, Internet medium such as this. I’m surprised I haven’t done something like this before and I’ll try to be more careful not to repeat it in the future…….but don’t hold your breath.

Mea Culpa and Cheers.

 

 

Atypic-Lee

Lee Konitz will (hopefully) turn 89 this year and, as his career enters its seventh decade, all of it spent in the vanguard of the music, he has long moved past the point were there can be any doubts about his bona fides as a jazz master. One either likes his playing or one doesn't, take it or leave it. That being said, his highly personal and uncompromising approach to improvising has left Konitz open to criticism through the years on either side of the jazz median-line, from traditionalists and non-traditionalists alike. The former, those who like their jazz a little more straight-ahead and red-blooded, have called into question his intonation (a tendency to be sharp), his time (he sometimes lags behind the beat and doesn't swing aggressively enough for some) and his choice to often eschew playing the melody of the songs he uses as a basis for improvisation. A few on the other side of the fence have occasionally bemoaned Lee's decision to generally stop short of the total abstraction of free improvisation, his preference to strive for freedom of expression within the song form, with a tempo and tonality in play. Some see his retention of the song form as clinging to a musical security blanket, but I would argue the very opposite is true: by improvising so freely within a defined structure, Konitz invites the possibility of failure within finite borders and real time, in effect eliminating any safety net. Like Stravinsky, Konitz believes that improvisation needs a context more [...]

Lucky Tuesday – Appendix

I added these paragraphs about Lucky Thompson and his aptly-named "Beautiful Tuesday" to yesterday's post so it would be all of one piece. I'm offering it separately here for those who have already read the older one, to save the bother of going back to it. Shortly after this post was published, another of “The Old Farts”, Ron Gaskin, left a comment with another Tuesday track – Lucky Thompson’s “Beautiful Tuesday”, so I’ve added this commentary and clip after the fact. Thank you Ron, this really caused the other shoe to drop, this was the track that had been vaguely rolling around in the cobwebs of my memory, just out of reach. I definitely should have thought of it for several reasons: I’m a huge Lucky Thompson fan and the album that it’s from – LORD, LORD, AM I EVER GONNA KNOW? is one of my very favourites by him, it stands as a testament to his art as much as any other record he made. It was done in Paris during the spring of 1961 and eventually issued on Candid. By that point, Thompson had been living in France since 1956 and would return stateside shortly after recording this. He had used his time in Paris to great effect: mastering the soprano saxophone to add to his already formidable tenor and writing dozens of highly original compositions, it was an extremely productive period for him. Given this, I’ve never quite understood his decision to return to America, particularly the timing of it, which would eventually prove disastrous for him. Thompson more [...]

Auld Clang Syne – Redux

I’ve added a couple of stories to my last post, both of which came to me later amid all the NYE gig memories. One of them is about Rob McConnell and has nothing to do with NYE except that it was prompted by the joke about the pianist who knows only three tunes. The other is a cherished NYE memory of Alice Allair, one of many I have about that dear and now much-missed lady. Sorry for the late inclusions, but I feel both stories are worth the rereading and as usual. there’s no admission fee.

Again, Flappy Glue Near.

 

More Gremlims

In very timely fashion, a couple of readers informed me of a problem with the link to today's post "Tricotism", which didn't seem to be taking people to the bulk of the piece after the initial teaser. I wasn't sure at first what they meant, the problem being that I don't receive the posts, so I don't know what the whole process looks like. At any rate, I think I figured it out and fixed it. I somehow "mis-published" - after clicking on "publish", which sends out the notice, I inadvertently closed something I shouldn't have, which somehow disabled the link. People tell me it seems to be working now and I've checked, it is. You would think after posting well over a hundred of these pieces, I would have the whole thing down by now, but no........there are still probably dozens of cyber-goofs I haven't stumbled upon to date, including some that haven't even been dreamed up yet. I'd like to say it won't happen again, but leave it to me.... Anyway, sorry for the inconvenience and thanks for your continued readership and support. P.S. In today's comments, the wonderful drummer Morgan Freeman asked, "The name though! What or who or where is a Tricotism?" I wondered the same thing when writing about it, and tried looking up the word in several authoritative dictionaries, but apparently it doesn't exist, it was a product of Oscar Pettiford's imagination, a made-up big word. Unlike Thelonious Monk's piece "Epistrophy", which is actually named after a word with two meanings. A more [...]

Sorry About That, Folks!

Recently a couple of readers pointed out to me by email that they have been unable to leave comments on this site as per usual, apparently it has been mysteriously asking for some sort of password and/or log-in, which seems both heavy-handed and sinister. I'm grateful to them for letting me know, I had no idea this was going on - as you may have gathered, I'm at a sub-Luddite level of techno-peasantry. Or to put it more bluntly, I just write this shit, I haven't the faintest idea about how to actually administer or maintain the nuts and bolts of the site itself. Not that I would ever compare myself to Willie Mays in any way, shape or form - even I'm not that crazy - but, as the Say Hey Kid once said when asked to compare several of his more mammoth home runs, "I don't compares 'em, I just hits 'em". Well said, Willie. I have no idea how or why this happened, or when for that matter; probably sometime in April. It certainly wasn't anything I did, or would want to, even if I knew how. It could have just been one of those cryptic "gremlins" that randomly play havoc with our techno-lives, or maybe it was the result of the automatic Word Press upgrades that happen periodically. I sincerely hope no one was offended or jumped to the conclusion I'd suddenly developed an exclusive, snooty attitude, or had simply tired of the comments, nothing could be further from the truth. I love getting comments, they're really the best perk of writing a blog - along with the stratospheric more [...]

Before It Disappears Altogether, “Merry Christmas”

  The other day, a friend told me of a cartoon she saw recently which showed a man standing in front of his house with another guy, pointing at all the Christmas lights and other decorations he'd put up. In the middle of these was the lit-up message "Have A Nice Day". The caption read, "I didn't want to offend anybody". And this from another friend, in an email response to an impromptu Christmas gathering of musicians last week: "It was wonderful to see you all. Thanks Mike. I guess you didn't know you were throwing a party but don't all of the best parties happen that way, when you least expect them. Merry Christmas everyone, and as Tiny Tim would say, 'God bless us, everyone!' Or, if you prefer not to keep Christmas, or celebrate anything for that matter, because you wouldn't want to exclude anyone, or if Christmas is just too fucking cheerful for you .... Then ... um ... well, just be." These are both examples of a push-back I've noticed this year against the banishment of the phrase "Merry Christmas" in favour of the safer "Season's Greetings", "Happy Holidays" or whatever. And other signs of the general whitewashing (no pun intended) of Christmas in the interests of being politically correct. I must confess it's been driving me crazy this year, because the mealy-mouthed phrases have been spinning off into other mind-numbing ones. To wit, companies now have "Festive Winter Socials" instead of Christmas parties. People now gather to sing "seasonal favourites", more [...]

Blogus Disappearus & The Cyber Attack Jim-Jams

More than once I've observed that in our post-9/11 digital age, paranoia is no longer a mental disorder so much as a normal condition of everyday life. A lot of this has to do with a loss of privacy, both voluntary (with our computers) and involuntary (with sweeping new laws.) The tragic events of 9/11 themselves induced an understandably palpable fear and paranoia, worsened by increased surveillance in the interests of heightened security. Some welcome the resulting loss of privacy as the price of safety, others do not, but, either way, this loss is real and here to stay for the foreseeable future. The increasing interconnectivity of the internet and social media has also contributed to this; the more connected everything is, the easier it becomes for someone to watch us, to "get us". We've all likely seen people take a big fall because something they did or said with the presumption of privacy was captured by some form of digital technology and blown up, spreading like wildfire along "the grid". The old gag that "just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you" has taken on a new and less funny edge. I mention all this because just the other day my paranoia du jour rocketed from the glancing-over-the-shoulder, garden variety level to a full-frontal, conspiracy-theory red- alert, precipitated by the following: On December 23rd, I posted a blog titled Before It Disappears Altogether, "Merry Christmas" and those who subscribe received it. It dealt more [...]

Why We Live Indoors

The other day I got into a spontaneous conversation with two ladies I work with here at the library, about the dubious joys of camping and enjoying the great outdoors. It proved to be amusing and thought-provoking enough that I thought I'd write about it. My brother and I get along great and have lots in common, including a whacked-out sense of humour and a generally easygoing attitude about most things. But sometimes it’s hard to believe we share the same DNA and parents. Unlike me, he isn't overtly musical and isn’t much of a reader, but on the other hand, he’s really practical and handy. So even though he’s two years younger than me, I want to be just like him when I grow up. He’s always been a good saver and an early-to-bed type, can build or fix anything – he even has tools for God’s sake – and he’s loved camping for as long as I can remember. Everything about it - the freeze-dried food, the Coleman stoves and lamps, the bug-spray, tents, sleeping bags, canoeing, portaging, the whole schmeer. I like canoeing and maybe taking a hike to watch some birds, but otherwise, my idea of a wilderness experience is being in a bar where they don’t know how to make a martini. Anyway, without further ado, the TOP TEN REASONS WHY I HATE CAMPING:  Packing the gear. Once you’ve made the ill-advised decision to leave civilization, you have to assemble all the gear you’ll need and pack it in, or attach it to, your car. This means finding the junk wherever more [...]

Brazilian Players Blame Rout on Using Wrong Hairspray

The following jokes about yesterday’s unbelievable 7-1 drubbing of Brazil by Germany in the World Cup semi-final were rolling around in my head when I woke up this morning. I’m not sure they’re that funny, but I am pretty sure this means I need help.

Q: How do you make a Brazilian soccer player stand tall?

A : Give him feet.

Q : How do you make a Brazilian soccer player run?

A : Turn his countrymen loose on him.

Q : Why was Brazil’s keeper Julio Cesar so often out of position yesterday?

A : He was busy doing an interview with Jian Ghomeshi.

Q : Why did Germany score so much in yesterday’s game?

A : They’ve always been a very goal-oriented people.

Yesterday’s match was not even Kroos, Brazil looked like a Lahm being led to slaughter. They scored one late goal, but got no Klose. 

By the time it was 2-0, you Khedira pin drop in the stadium, it was Ozil quiet.

Of manager Phil Scolari, Brazilian supporters were heard to Mertesacker him. But Germany’s manager had to Loew the result.

Schurrle this spells the end of any Brazilian notions of football supremacy.

Abject apologies and Go Netherlands!

Bird Math

It seems that everything that was supposed to go right for the Blue Jays last year, but didn't  - a deep, potent batting lineup, good defense, a strong starting rotation, a weakened A.L. East ripe for the taking - has come together this year, as though it just took a year for everything to settle. Jays' management could have been forgiven for simply backing up the truck after last year's Murphy's Law-disaster and getting rid of almost everybody, but took a more measured approach, shedding obvious deadwood - Bonifacio, Josh Johnson, Arencibia - while keeping most everybody else, reasoning that this team wasn't just built for one season. At this point last year, I was asking myself if they were just a bad ball club, or a good team playing badly, and at what point did one decide which? Their recent hot stretch and startling zoom into first place has a lot of us reciting the cautionary mantra of "It's still early, it's still early", while wondering if these guys are really this good, still understandably a little gun-shy after last year's dance of death. After their win against the Tigers Wednesday night, the Jays' record stood at 36-24 after 60 games, a conveniently math-friendly and tidy winning-percentage of .600. It's maybe a little early to project ahead this far, but the Jays will likely need to win about 96 games to either take the division or a wild card spot. This means they need to win 60 of their remaining 102 games, a clip of .600 - in other words, they need more [...]

Phew….

It's been a while since my last posting and I'd like to explain.....It's not that I've become lazy of late, or developed a sudden case of writer's block or anything like that, although......For the past few days, I've been unable to log on to the site itself, which is where I do the actual writing. Whenever I tried to get in, I was greeted with the same scary message that the website was temporarily unavailable, due to a "brute force attack" it was undergoing. That was the actual phrase in the displayed message and the creepy, military/sci-fi tone of it filled me with no small dread. It seems that some individual or robotic cyber-virus was infecting or trying to hack into either WordPress or my site, which boggled the mind a little. I mean, who would want to hack into my site, what could possibly be gained by doing so? The stuff I write is of little general interest and even less commercial value; little kids have earned more by selling lemonade for half an hour and I'm not bitching about this, nobody's forcing me to write. I have to tell you though, I didn't fully realize how addicted I've become to writing until this outlet was taken away for a few days. It nearly drove me crazy, admittedly a short trip in my case. Of course, I could have written elsewhere - in Word Perfect or email - then copied the text to the blog, once - and if - the problem was corrected. This occurred to me, and a couple of friends may have noticed they got emails from me that were a little longer more [...]

No Good Seed Goes Un-Pun-ished

As some of you may know, I support my jazz habit by working days at a splendid old law library called The Great Library. Among other things, this makes it easier for people who've heard me play bass to say "Don't quit your day job." The library dates back to the 1840s, when people actually used words like "great" to mean "big" - we've tried to get the name changed to "The Awesome Library", but no luck. One of the more impressive rooms in the library is The American Room, so-called because for years it housed a huge collection of American law reports, before most of them were replaced by digitized on-line versions. (After all, who needs books in a library?) Now it holds a mixture of the American reports we've kept and all of the British law reports. It's an odd combination that gets me to thinking the room would be great for staging re-enactments of American Revolutionary War battles - "hurry lads, man the catwalk, Washington's crossing University Avenue!" - but so far my employers have resisted this idea. The room is sometimes used for movie and photo shoots, as it just screams "big old law library room from the last century". It has a sixty-foot-high ceiling with a massive stained-glass skylight, plaster mouldings, carved wooden arches and eight hanging bronze chandeliers, each with five lights. There's a wrought iron spiral staircase leading to the catwalk and the second tier of bookshelves. The ground floor has carved, recessed wooden bookshelves all around the walls more [...]

Don’t Burn the Garlic

My last post was about making chili and while I don't intend to make this a food site, this one is about cooking too. It's just that I've become something of a foodie in recent years, because I'm fortunately surrounded by people who either love good food or who are great cooks. Or both, they tend to go hand in hand. I also really enjoy cooking when I have time and seem to do more of this in the winter, when things are slower and there's less to do outside and you don't worry about heating up the kitchen too much as during summer. Italian cuisine is surely one of the world's greatest and having a partner like Anna and getting to know her family has given me something of an insider's view of Italian cooking. Or at least an aspect of it, namely the cuisines of Sicily and southern Italy. That's the thing about Italian food, it's so diverse and regional, there's an almost endless variety of dishes and ingredients and flavours, rivalled perhaps only by Chinese food. You can go high-end and it's fabulous, or you can go low-end and it's great too. Anna's people are from Sicily (on her father's side) and Brindisi - the heel of Italy's boot - on her mother's. Because these are among the poorer areas of Italy, the food from these regions tends to be very simple and basic, more rustico, less fancy. Vegetables like zucchini, eggplant and peppers, onion and garlic, grains in the form of pasta or bread, lemon, olives, cheese, fish. Not a lot of red meat, because it generally wasn't available. more [...]

My Kick-Ass Chili

I wanted to post this a few days ago, but the web server for this site went down and then I was off to Mexico for a few days......... Given the Ice Station Zebra conditions outside, I think it's time for something to warm us up, in this case my recipe for chili. I wish the name sounded a little less like chilly but trust me, a bowl of this will heat your innards and stick to your ribs, ward off the cold. I've been fooling around with making chili for 20 or 30 years now and my good friend John Sumner is another enthusiast, we've been swapping tips and ideas for years now; it was John who first introduced me to the idea of making bacon a base and using several kinds of beans. Chili is to cooking what the blues or I Got Rhythm are to jazz, a simple form you can work on for years, adding new things and taking others away as your ideas and expectations evolve. This is not an exact or scientific recipe; the amounts, ratios and ingredients may change a little each time depending on my mood and what's available. The basic method and elements are here though, I've developed it to the point where it's fairly consistent. As I see it, chili is jazz food and I'm a jazz cook, so I want it to be a little different each time, life is too short for assembly line thinking. Despite its name my chili isn't particularly spicy; although there is some heat, it's kick-ass in other ways. It's rich and meaty, has a lot of flavour and body; it's not for the faint of heart, the diet-conscious more [...]

Laughter Travels Well Too

As part of the last post about The Wind Journeys I planned to write about a second great road film I watched recently, but got off on a music tangent and decided enough was enough. Don't worry, I'm not setting myself up as some sort of faux film critic, I won't make a habit of these little movie reviews. It's just that I really love movies and have been watching a lot of them recently and happened to bump into a couple of special ones, that's all. A couple of nights after seeing The Wind Journeys, TCM came through again, although at a more reasonable hour this time. My wife Anna and I were watching something that ended at 11 o'clock and flicked over to TCM, arriving in the middle of an old black and white movie. As soon as I recognized Joel McCrea dressed as a hobo riding in a boxcar, I realized it was Sullivan's Travels, one of the greatest movies by that unique master of film comedy, Preston Sturges. I'd seen it once many years ago and didn't remember much about it, or whether I really got it the first time. Sturges is much admired and celebrated as a giant of comedy film-directing and screen-writing, but it's almost rare to see his movies these days. He had a thirty-year career in Hollywood but most of his famous movies were made in a furious burst of creative energy between 1939 and 1944. He developed a kind of Midas touch in film comedy during this peak, ruling the roost as the fair-haired boy of Paramount. He made eight films during this incredible run, seven more [...]

The Wind Journeys and Other Musical Travels

As a big movie fan, I don't know what I'd do without Turner Classic Movies, though I'd no doubt be better-rested without it. With so many more channels on TV now showing so little worth watching (and with so many ads), TCM is like an oasis of civilization. I often land in this cinematic Shangri-La at an hour when more reasonable people are sleeping though and the next thing I know I'm down a half-bottle of red and it's 2 a.m. To paraphrase an old W.C. Fields movie title, it's like "The Fatal Glass of Film." The other night was a case in point. I thought I'd be a good boy for a change and try to go to sleep at what I call an early hour, around midnight. But first, I tuned in to good old TCM, you know, just in case the peaceful mantle of Morpheus wouldn't come easily. My timing was perfect, host Robert Osborne was just introducing a guest programmer, who chose a Spanish-language film called The Wind Journeys that Osborne had never heard of - no small accomplishment - and revealed he'd never heard of it either until recently. He introduced it with a few comments, saying it was as visually stunning as Avatar, only without using any special effects, CGI or arty camera work. It was made in 2009 by a Colombian writer-director named Ciro Guerra, a joint productiion of Colombia, Argentina, Germany and the Netherlands. He also said that it might be better named "The Devil's Accordion", because it's about an old musician with a very special accordion with two cattle horns pointing more [...]

Three Pitchers Who Bucked the Odds

  The following is a companion piece to "Shake Hands With the D.L.", which examines injuries to pitchers down through the years. This piece takes a closer look at three pitchers from the distant past - Babe Adams, Eppa Rixey and Dazzy Vance - who overcame serious injuries and went on to have long, interesting, productive careers. In fact, Rixey and Vance are in the Hall of Fame and many think Adams should be.  1. Babe Adams.  He was born Charles Adams in 1882, to an Indiana farming family so dirt-poor they couldn't feed all their children, so Charlie was sent to work and live on a farm in Missouri. There was a lot of baseball played in the area and Adams got interested in pitching as a youth; in his first organized game he was beaten pretty badly. The shortstop from the opposing team befriended Charlie and taught him how to throw a curveball, which would prove to be a turning point in his baseball life. The young Adams practiced throwing it against the side of a barn for a year, shades of Bob Feller, 35 years later. In his first pro game in 1905, Adams threw a one-hit shutout, attracting the attention of scouts and the St. Louis Cardinals promptly bought him. After one game with the Cards in 1906 didn't go so well, they sold him back to the minor leagues and the Pittsburgh Pirates picked him up. His three starts with them in 1907 didn't turn any heads either, so the Pirates sent him down for seasoning, which worked. He pitched well in the minors 1907-8 and more [...]

Say It Ain’t So, Joe….

I want to make it abundantly clear that, while I have a fairly active imagination, I'm not one of those nutters given to conspiracy theories...I repeat, I'm not a conspiracy theory guy. But the baseball played by the Cardinals in the early innings of last night's World Series opener was so surpassingly strange, so surreal, that it brought eerie echoes to me of the curious doings in the 1919 Series. Yes, that one, the Black Sox one, the thrown one. I'm not actually suggesting the fix is in here of course, just that the self-destruction of the Cards was so utter and blatant that it almost resembled fixed baseball, they couldn't have played much worse the first couple of innings if they'd tried to. In the first inning of Game One in 1919, the Chicago conspirators (pitchers Cicotte and Williams, fielders Risberg, Gandil, Felsch, Weaver, Jackson and McMullin) were to give a sign to the gamblers that the fix was in. It could have been a fat, hanging pitch, a dropped flyball in the outfield, or a botched double-play, but those might have happened legitimately and naturally, Rothstein and his cabal of gamblers wanted something surer, more deliberate and discernible; the sign was to be Cicotte hitting Cincinnati's lead-off hitter with a pitch in the first inning. Cicotte dutifully plunked Morrie Roth, the high-rollers laid their money down and the rest is history; black, life-ruining, soul-destroying history. The Cardinal implosion was partly bad play, partly bad luck more [...]

I Hear A Sym-Phony

I'm never sure how far these posts travel or who sees them, so I want to avoid any misunderstanding by clarifying a couple of things in advance. In the following, I poke fun mostly at symphony musicians and eventually the French, a little bit. This is all in the spirit of parody as in my last two posts, which took the piss out of my own, namely jazz bands. I have the utmost respect for symphonic musicians, in fact my grandfather Tom Burry played tympani with the T.S.O. for about 40 years. Besides, having been around orchestral players many times, I know their sense of humour about themselves and their profession may be even more pointed and satirical than mine. As for the French....well, who can resist taking them down a notch or two once in a while?                                                        *** A friend of mine (who shall remain nameless to ensure his continued safety, not to mention survival) suggested that at the rate I was going with the funny-name bands, I would soon have an entire Symphony Orchestra on my hands. "What a horribly delicious idea," I thought, while also noting that some things are best left buried. Deeply. In the end though, I couldn't resist the challenge, thinking, "How hard could it be to come up with 95 cringe-worthy, groan-inducing musical pun-names?" Well, three days later, with the completely unexpected help of my long-suffering wife Anna (who I thought would put the kibosh more [...]

Wilbur, Beware

As the heat-wave continues, and just to show that yesterday's otomatopoeic big band was (unfortunately) no mere passing fancy, no random accident, here's a progressive-bop unit from the late-40s. The band is fronted by a wild singer named Frieda Bagg, who would later go on to influence Betty Carter. Because it's a ten-piece outfit, she calls it Frieda Bagg and The Decadents. Here's the personnel: Trumpet - Bendt Valver (He's Swedish of course and suffers from severe diabetes, otherwise known as Stockholm Sweetnin' Syndrome.) Trombone - Woody Slidemore Alto Sax - Kent Zwing Tenor Sax - Randy Changes Baritone Sax - Roland Thunder (Roland is in high demand, so occasionally Fillmore Cork subs in for him.) Vibes - Otis Mantle Piano - Thelonious Galintown (Very interesting girl pianist, but she suffers from a bad case of halitosis. When the smell gets to be too much, the band sends for Wiley Komper.) Guitar - Al Woodshed (Sometimes, his brother Otto guests.) Bass - Happy Walker (Once in a while, Wilbur B. Ware replaces him.) Drums - Hy Hatchik (When Hy gets too high, the expatriate German drummer Ole Baumdropper "fills in" for him.) They play an interesting book of charts written by such way-out arrangers as Izzy Deff, Tony Scribbler, Les Meeter and Wilbur Nout. Their manager/payroll secretary is Lotta Graaft and the infrequently used roadie is Howie Schlepps. Arturo Versees handles their European bookings, which are understandably rare. As boppers, a lot of them are more [...]

Staff Meeting

  This old music joke was reprinted in an English jazz mag I subscribe to, I read it with my coffee this morning and I thought you all might get a laugh out of it. It mostly works because 'a fifth' is an old-school jazz musician's term for a 40-ouncer of booze. Eddie Condon, the guitarist and dispenser of trenchant jazz wit once said the following to explain the difference between modern jazz and his preferred brand of trad-jazz - "We don't flat our fifths, we drink 'em."  Anyway, here's the joke:   C, E-flat and G go into a bar. The bartender says, "Sorry, but we don't serve minors." So E-flat leaves, and C and G have an open fifth between them. After a few drinks, the fifth is diminished, and G is out flat. F comes in and tries to augment the situation, but isn't sharp enough. D enters and heads straight for the loo, saying, "Excuse me, I'll just be a second." Then A comes in, but the bartender is not convinced that this relative of C is not a minor. The bartender notices B-flat hiding at the end of the bar and says, "Get out! You're the seventh minor I've found in this bar tonight." D-flat arrives looking quite handsome and the bartender decides he's not the best-looking guy he's ever seen, but a close second. E-flat comes back later in a three-piece suit with nicely shined shoes. The bartender says, "You're looking sharp tonight. Come on in, this could be a major development." Sure enough, E-flat soon takes off his suit and everything else and is au natural. Eventually more [...]

Burrowing Teeny-Bopper Ear-Worms

   On Saturday night after an all-day visit, my wife Anna and I dropped our daughter-in-law Sarah and one-year old grandson Charlie off at their place in the west end. We were tired but in a great mood, they're just so much fun to hang out with and Charlie has all kinds of new stuff going on. He's walking now (kinda like Frankenstein sometimes) and has a lot of funny faces, some new laughs and games. He's saying a few words, but seems to understand everything that's said, which is a little scary. The other night Anna said "Granna has to put on her shoes" and Charlie went over, got them and brought them to her, I swear to God. On the way back home, my mistress of schlock Anna had an AM oldies station on in the car and an old tune came on that got our attention right away because it started with just drums, playing the basic rock-beat that every guy I knew in Grade 6 tried to play, either on the drums or in the air. You know the one : Boom Ksshhh, de-Boom Boom Ksshhh.  Boom-Boom Ksshhh, de-Booma-Loom Ksshhh. The rest of the band came in, a cheesy Farfisa organ sound in the mix - don't get me wrong, used properly like this, cheesy Farfisa organ sounds are perfectly fine with me. The boy singer entered : "I went to a da-aannce the o-otherrr night, I saw a girl the-ere who looked outta sight." OK, OK, not exactly Wordsworth I admit, but hey - boy or girl - when you were 13 or 14, going to a dance and seeing somebody who looked outta sight was pretty much what life was more [...]

My Friend Flicker

I just had my first "Annual April Flicker Sighting" while at my smoking haunt on the grounds of Osgoode Hall.  For about two weeks every April the past five or six years, a flicker shows up here and hangs out on the far side of the lawn near the gardener's ramp eating ants out of the ground - poke, poke, poke with his beak - then scurries back into the cover of the shrubs lest he be seen.  It's a yearly rite of passage, a sure sign that spring is here and all is (mostly) right with the world. Flickers are my favourite bird for a number of reasons, having to do with their muted but splendid appearance, their unusual, shy behaviour and the memory they bring of my father, who was a big birder.  I even like the name - flicker - as in, "You brought her, you flick her." It's funny that they're so timid, because they're a good size (bigger than a robin) and are so well turned out.  I always think of them as being designed by an English tailor, maybe Saville Row.  Their back looks like a tweed jacket - sandy brown with dark cross-bars - sort of a herringbone. The breast is an off-white polka-dot shirt with black speckles and they have that black crescent around the neck that looks for all the world like an ascot. (As my father used to say whenever he saw anyone wearing one, "That poor fella has his ass caught around his neck." His favourite line from The Bible was when somebody-or-other "tied his ass to a tree and walked into Bethlehem."  Man, what a card he was, I never even more [...]

Wherefore Art Thou, Global Warming?

So, what have we done to deserve this miserable dreck outside?  I mean, could God just FOAD with the snow and ice already?  Last night I watched the compressed replay of the Jays' afternoon game in Detroit and you could see the player's breath, the umpires and coaches were wearing mittens and toques for Chrissakes. Are we trapped in some kind of Ingmar Bergman movie here?  Like maybe "The Seventh Snow", "Frozen Wild Strawberries" or "The Virgin Ice-Spring"?  I feel like getting up a game of chess out on the street with a homeless guy wearing a cowl and holding a shovel, just for the comic relief. It's enough to make you write bad poetry, as in: Ice, falling from the sky onto my head Nice, but only if we were dead Lice, would be better than this dread, of Rice, tossed at a wedding held instead Of in a church, in an Arctic snow-bed.                                                **** Or maybe I could listen to some Jan Garbarek records just to cheer myself up, but fortunately I don't have any. (For those lucky enough to be unfamiliar with Garbarek, he's a tenor and soprano saxophonist from that fun-filled place called Norway.  He's known for his extremely stark, razor's-edge, plaintive tone and relentlessly bleak and suicidal musical outlook.  He's kind of the Bergman of the saxophone and he would probably love this weather, the arsehole.  His music has been described as "fiordic jazz" and is about more [...]

Steve’s Tomato-Meat Sauce

Yes friends, I'm stooping to the vanity-project gesture of including a recipe here, but, what the hell, maybe something with a practical application for a change on this site is not such a bad thing. This is basically a variation on a Bolognese sauce that I've been fooling around with for years and it turned out so well last night I decided to post it here.  It's quick, easy and relatively cheap to make; the main difference from a traditional Bolognese is that I add capers and green olives for a little tang and texture and I use ground pork instead of ground beef.  Except for burgers, I've been using either ground pork or turkey in place of beef in many recipes because I find they are lighter, less greasy, have better taste and texture and take on the flavours around them more. Ingredients 1 tbsp. olive oil 1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced 5 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced I lb. lean ground pork and 1 package mild Italian sausage meat 2 28-oz. tins of crushed tomatoes (I use canned Utopia Organic crushed tomatoes, from Leamington, Ontario.  They're more expensive than any other brand, but well worth it - they have great taste, colour and texture.  If you want to be a real Gustavo Gourmet, you can go to all the trouble of buying fresh Roma tomatoes - that is, if you can find any decent ones - then blanching them, letting them cool, peeling them and making a sauce from scratch with them.  But honestly, I work everyday and many nights, so more [...]

Viva Edmonton, Part Two – Bravo BiBO

As discussed in part one, Edmonton has a rich arts and culture scene, maybe surprising to some for a city of its middling size and northern isolation.  This is amply demonstrated by the versatile and classy Citadel Theatre and in Edmonton's long-standing main jazz club, the "Yardbird Suite." As its Charlie Parker-inspired name signifies, the club is operated by people who know and love their jazz, namely the Edmonton Jazz Society.  Imagine that, a jazz club run collectively by people who actually like and understand jazz, with some public funding help; we should be so lucky in Toronto.  I've played there many times over the years and it's unique - it combines a concert space with a club feeling and has everything needed for the presentation of the music without being overly deluxe.  A good-sized stage properly located, not one but two grand pianos, a good sound system, a house bass, drum kit and amplifiers.  Why haven't we thought of stuff like this in Hogtown? Last summer I played at Yardbird during the jazz festival and noticed the place had been given a smart facelift, courtesy of an infusion of cash from, I believe, the Alberta Heritage Fund.  A swank new entrance and foyer, with a photo gallery and nice new washrooms.  Fortunately, they left the funky old, graffiti-covered band room intact; some things shouldn't be changed and hey, at least there is a band room.  It's fun to sit back there and look at all the scrawled musings and images on the walls from more [...]

Cavett Emptor

                                                           Last Friday, my wife and I were flicking around on the tube and came across a Dick Cavett - Mel Brooks "sit-down" show where they just talked and told stories, bouncing things off each other.  It had us on the floor and Cavett told a couple of really funny stories that surprised us with their risque-ness and ripe language, he was always so dry and suave on his old talk show, a gentleman. One of them was about Talullah Bankhead and Chico Marx.  Talullah Bankhead had taken New York by storm overnight in the 1920s with her sensational Broadway performances.  She was an outrageous personality, her favourite things were sex (with both men and women), cocaine (of which she said "Cocaine is not habit-forming - I should know, I've been taking it for years") and swearing.  This was in stark contrast to her background and early public image as a grand, aristocratic Southern belle, she was from a rich and powerful old Alabama family, a real lady. The Marx Brothers were famous for their sexual promiscuity and oddly, Chico was the most prolific (I would have thought Groucho, but never mind.)  Chico was a real wolf, a quick and crude worker in his approach to propositioning the ladies, he didn't believe in "beating around the bush."  The brothers were at a cocktail party for Talullah and Chico was warned to be on his best behaviour around such an elegant, grand more [...]