A Broken Record…Broken Record….Broken Record…….

Have you noticed how often all-time baseball records are being broken, equalled, or seriously challenged this year? Almost on a weekly basis, if not daily. It’s partly because we’re living in a historic period in terms of home runs and strikeouts, not to mention the vast quality and quantity of elite young talent in the game. Abetting it all is the unfettered access to instant information –  the minute somebody does something remotely unprecedented, the baseball mainframe whirrs into …

Yogi Berra and the Catcher’s Burden

A while back I had occasion to look over Yogi Berra’s career stats and noticed something for the first time which shocked me a little: in his long and storied career, he never led his league in a single offensive category. That’s not to take anything away from him, but I just assumed a player so great would have led in something – maybe doubles or sac flies or walks – at least once.

Because he looked and talked …

Not Trotsky, TROSKY

The words to Dave Frishberg’s great baseball song Van Lingle Mungo are all old ballplayers’ names and the name Hal Trosky appears at the end of the third system, which repeats later in the song. Trosky is now shrouded in obscurity, so a mention in such a hip, insider song is what passes for his moment in the sun these days. It has maybe kept his name alive somewhat and may have led a few jazz/baseball fans – hi, …

Dodgers-Phillies Dillies

The Dodgers and Phillies recently split an eventful and combative four-game series in Philly which featured a fair amount of back-and-forth animosity. The two teams don’t have the same kind of arch rivalry as the Dodgers and Giants or the Yankees and Red Sox, but going back a ways, they do have some serious history: in 1950 and again in ’51 the Phillies and Dodgers played dramatic showdown games on the last day of each season with the National …

Rub-A-Dub, My Dears, Rub-A-Dub

Down through the years, especially in the distant past, scores of comic, off-beat or novelty songs were written and recorded, taking their place alongside more conventional Tin Pan Alley or Broadway show tunes. Some of them achieved mass appeal, while others had more of an underground cult status. Some were quite harmless but the many about sex were intended to titillate and the raunchier ones are fairly shocking for their day. Those by Slim Gaillard and Slam Stewart were …

Mel Ott: What Does It Take For a Guy To Win An MVP Award Around Here?

To me, the most surprising fact in baseball history – and that’s saying something – is that Mel Ott never won an MVP Award, not one. He led the National League over 20 times in various categories such as home runs (6 times), RBI (once), runs scored (twice), walks (6 times), on-base percentage (4 times), and slugging (once). Yet, not only did he not win an MVP Award, he never even finished as high as second in the voting, …

Thanks, and One More Ed Story For the Road

Hello, everybody. I don’t usually do this sort of thing, but I wanted to thank all of you for reading my remembrance of Ed Bickert and for the very positive and widespread response which has been a little overwhelming, but in a nice way. I’m a bit naive, but I guess this reaction was to be expected under the circumstances. It says more about Ed than my writing and as I’ve learned over the years, in terms of reader …

So Long, Ed: A Remembrance

By now we’ve all heard that Ed Bickert passed away on Thursday, February 28 at the age of 86. Our hearts go out to his family, especially his daughter Lindsey, his sons Jeff and Tim, and his grandchildren. Written tributes have poured in and will continue to, both in Canada and “south of the border, down America way”, as Ed made an indelible mark internationally. I’ve wanted to write something about him sooner than this but just couldn’t, not …

Mickey, Mike Trout & The Mantle of Greatness

The parallels between Mickey Mantle and Mike Trout as great ballplayers are clear-cut; comparisons of the two continue to be drawn and won’t stop anytime soon. Simply put, Mantle was a dominant centerfielder with a rare combination of blazing speed, enormous power and the ability to reach base extremely often, and so is Mike Trout.

Comparing even such similar players as Mantle and Trout from vastly different eras is never easy, or perhaps wholly advisable. This article certainly won’t …

A Portrait of Bill Kirchner, Part One

Introduction

Bill Kirchner has been mentioned fairly regularly in my jazz pieces ever since he and I first became friends in August of 2014. This began and has continued mostly in cyberspace as Bill left a couple of comments on my site then followed these up by emailing me personally. He introduced himself, saying he knew of my work with the Boss Brass and commenting that he enjoyed my blogs and admired my writing, which, coming from such an …

HOF Huff – Danger, May Contain Larry Walker Rant

I gather most of the baseball fans out there have heard about the four Hall of Fame inductees elected yesterday, all of them no-brainers – Chipper Jones, Jim Thome (both on their first ballot), Vlad Guerrero (his second) and Trevor (yawn) Hoffman (third ballot.) I’m a little surprised that Chipper did so well (about 95% of the vote) and that he did better than Thome (about 89%.) I knew Jones was good, I didn’t think he was THAT good. …

A Little Winter Music

I’d hoped to write some sort of Christmas post – a Yule blog, if you will – as in the past few years but a lot of time was taken up with, well…….. Christmas, so I didn’t get to it. At any rate, I hope everyone had a nice one, as I did.

Most of northern North America is caught in a deep cold snap and there’s been plenty of snow to boot – actually, to shovel* – …

Autumn Nocturne

To paraphrase a song about another season, it seemed for a while that fall would be a little late this year. But it’s now here in earnest, and then some, and seeing the leaves turn colour and drop off the trees always takes me to autumn songs. There are many of these, but I want to touch on one in particular that has long enchanted me: the lovely old ballad “Autumn Nocturne”.

It’s utterly distinctive even though it shares …

The Doerr Closes

Hard on the heels of Roy Halladay’s death last week, baseball endured another significant loss when Hall of Fame second baseman Bobby Doerr died Monday in Junction City, Oregon. The news broke today, but unlike Halladay’s case there was absolutely nothing tragic about Doerr’s passing: he was 99 and had been the oldest living ex-major league player. He also had a Blue Jays connection in common with Halladay, though a much smaller one: Doerr was the team’s first hitting …

Death Takes A Halladay

I was on Reference Desk duty yesterday afternoon when the tragic news came with an eerie, stealthy quietness, but a sledgehammer’s impact. Two emails, one from a library colleague, the other from a baseball/jazz friend, arrived in my inbox 15 seconds apart, each bearing an identical, blunt message: “Roy Halladay died in a plane crash today.” <end>

“What?” Whaaatt?….. oh, no” came out of my mouth. And then I just sat there in stunned silence for a few seconds, …

Maybe I’m Not So Jaded After All

Turning 61 recently, I seem to have entered the early phase of my dotage. Some, such as Mrs. W., would argue it’s not that early, but quite advanced. This comes equipped with a certain amount of woolly forgetfulness and nostalgia, but even when not feeling the effects of these I’m noticing lately that treasured tracks from my long-lost youth have been coming back to me randomly. And at a furious pace, often abetted by free-associating YouTube clips exchanged in …

Trumpet Tales

A while back my good friend Bill Kirchner emailed me an article called “Lead Player”, written by William Whitworth and published in the December 10, 1969 issue of The New Yorker. It was both highly entertaining and very informative in considering trumpet playing generally while also serving as an in-depth profile of one of the greatest lead-trumpeters ever, Bernie Glow.

Whitworth begins by pointing out the physical toll that playing the trumpet can exact, citing instances of lead players …

Joey Gallo, Master of the Accidental Single

Every once in a long while a ballplayer will come along and have a season that mixes batting highs and lows of such extremes that statistical norms are warped and long-held baseball principles go out the window. Joey Gallo, the hulking third baseman/first baseman of the Texas Rangers, is having just such a season and in a very real sense has become the poster boy for this season in which both home runs and strikeouts are way up. If …

The Ghost of Harvey Haddix Checks In

Baseball is forever offering up reminders of what a hard, unforgiving game it can be, with countless instances where a player does everything absolutely right and still comes up on the short end of the stick. However, not all of these tough lessons are created equal, some are passing while others are painful on an epic, historic scale and come equipped with exclamation marks, asterisks, or bold underlines in red.

It was that way yesterday when Dodger lefthander Rich …

Blue and Sedimental

An account of surely the strangest, funniest and shortest jam session I’ve ever taken part in……..

Anyone who has attended a symphony concert knows the riotous and bewildering cacophony of a full orchestra warming up on stage. It’s noise rather than music because there’s no design or cooperation and nobody is listening to anybody else. While each musician onstage is an expert on their chosen instrument and fully capable of producing a beautiful tone, it’s everyone for themselves during …

Geri Allen

Some light went out of the jazz world on June 27 with the sad and stunning news that pianist and educator Geri Allen died at 60, from cancer. Seemingly she wanted to keep her illness quiet, making the loss all the more shocking to her many fans and musical colleagues. That she was so young makes her passing hard to believe, and even harder to accept. How in the world can such a vibrant jazz voice be suddenly and …

Vin

The 2017 baseball season is barely underway and already it feels different than any in recent memory. For one thing, the Chicago Cubs begin the season as World Series champs, something that couldn’t be said for the past 108 years. Even if you’re not a Cubs fan, or a baseball fan for that matter, when an albatross this heavy is finally lifted it puts a spring in your step and brightens the world, if only a little.

And for …

Patti Bown – Overcoming In Triplicate

International Women’s Day was March 8 and three days later I played an evening of songs with lyrics by the great Dorothy Fields, the first woman to break into the all-male world of big-time songwriting. Both got me to thinking about the subject of women in jazz and the struggles they’ve faced over the years establishing careers in the music, other than as singers. 

Being a jazz musician is tough: this is not a complaint, but a statement of

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.…

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from the Great Irish Pianists

OH MY GOD!! Here it is St. Paddy’s already and I’ve completely forgotten to prepare a post for the green day, as I’ve done for the last two years. And me of Irish descent…..I should be ashamed of myself (and trust me, I am, I am……).

I blame Trumpomania, the Adventures of Dolt 45 for my forgetfulness. It’s so distracting and lazy-making – why bother to dream up something imaginative when you can just turn on the TV?

Anyway, …

The Shorter Porter

Since the beginning of January, singer John Alcorn has been presenting a weekly songbook series on Saturday nights at the 120 Diner. The relatively new venue is so-named because it’s located at 120 Church Street, just below Richmond and immediately south of McVeigh’s Irish Pub, a fixture on that corner for as long as I’d care to remember, and maybe even longer than that. As the name and outward appearance would suggest, 120 Diner is a casual venue, but

Horace Parlan, R.I.P.

“Whatever you think can’t be done, somebody will come along and do it. A genius is the one most like himself.” – Thelonious Monk

The unique and wonderful jazz pianist Horace Parlan died in his sleep on February 23 in the Danish nursing home he had been living in for several years; he was 86 and had been in poor health for some time. Perhaps it’s just as well he went this way, as much that he loved …

Take Me Out, Coach

With almost incredible suddenness, spring training is upon us once more, and not a moment too soon – hallelujah! This is comfort enough even for those who don’t follow baseball much, a sure sign that spring is coming despite the fact that many of us are still a mite chilly. There’s a palpable sense that the players enjoy it almost as much as the fans; many of them seem genuinely glad to renew old friendships and shake off the …

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

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 …

Music Is the Reason ‘Tis the Season

This is a slightly expanded version of an article I wrote for the Dec./Jan. issue of WholeNote last year. Where possible, I’ve included samples of some of the harder-to-find and lesser-known music.

Music is an essential part of Christmas and with that time of year upon us, I thought I’d offer a look at some records that might enhance our enjoyment of the season. These are all personal favourites and most, but not all, are jazz-oriented. Hopefully there’s something …

So Long, Mose

“Ever since the world ended, I don’t go out as much.” – Mose Allison.

Mose Allison won’t be going out as much as his world ended on Nov.15 at his Hilton Head, S.C. home, just four days past his 89th birthday. I don’t mean to strike a facetious tone or make light of his death with the above quote. While not unexpected – he’d slowed down considerably in the past few years – his passing came as a personal …

Remembering Bob Cranshaw

This year in which so many notable musicians have died continued with a rough patch lately. Leon Russell and Leonard Cohen, and in the jazz world, bassist Bob Cranshaw and more recently, Mose Allison. As pop stars, a lot has already been written about Russell and Cohen, to which I can’t add much except to say that the band Leon Russell assembled on short notice for Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” tour is still a model of what …

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 …

Barney Kessel, Redux

After issuing my last post about the Jim Hall-Barney Kessel duo and Barney’s amazing “I Took A Trip On A Train” solo offering, I got to remembering some other good stories about him I wish I had included. I’ve added them to the first post so that it’s all of a piece, but for those who already read that one, I’m issuing them separately here.

When Barney was giving his little train-salon solo concert, I had no way of …