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 …

Barney Kessel: I Took A Trip On A Train

The other day, a friend sent me a remarkable YouTube clip of Jim Hall and Barney Kessel in duo, taking “You Stepped Out Of A Dream” apart. I hadn’t heard it before, or even about it. And it’s not something I would have ever searched for or even imagined, because, while their paths certainly must have crossed often enough in Los Angeles after Hall’s arrival there in 1955, they’re not two guitarists one would naturally throw together.

Nonetheless, it’s …

A Halloween Story

My apologies for posting this story a few days late, but Halloween and the days leading up to it were very busy, plus there was an ‘exceeded bandwidth’ issue on this site which made access to it impossible, even for me. This was not as serious as it looked, and my site administrator Citizen X had it fixed within five minutes of being notified. X told me that congratulations were in order because I’d gone from “Basic” to “Gold”

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 …

Stop the Insanity!

I promise to return to jazz matters soon, but first a few thoughts on the currently nutso baseball schedule……….

For years now, the major-league baseball season has been a 162-game marathon, almost twice as many games as hockey or basketball teams play. Part of the reasoning behind this is that, as baseball is (mostly) a non-contact sport, the players can weather playing so much. And fans love the almost non-stop daily flow of action throughout the spring, summer and …

The Hank Aaron of Third Base

Third baseman Adrian Beltre turned 37 this past April and is playing his nineteenth season in the big leagues. This puts him in the home stretch of his career, but he has shown no signs of slowing down whatsoever. He’s hitting .292, a few points higher than his career average, and clubbed his 25th home run the other day (his ninth season with at least that many.) He also knocked in his 89th run, so it seems likely he …

Wrap Your Troubles in Bombs

A Notice/Warning. When I first caught the writing bug about eight years ago, long before this blog site existed, I wrote a lot of pieces about baseball and circulated them by e-mail to a growing list of baseball-fan friends, many of them fellow musicians. All in all, I wrote over 100 of these and kept them archived in a file on a computer at home. I’ve decided to revisit some of the better ones, make some changes and edits

Ichiro: A Baseball Artist Reaches 3,000

At 42, Ichiro Suzuki is just a few hits shy of becoming the 30th player to reach the 3,000-hit milestone. He could get there as early as this weekend and, in his sixteenth big-league season he will become the second fastest to achieve this, behind only career hits leader Pete Rose. When he does crank out hit number 3,000, he will join Hall-of-Famers Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins and Paul Molitor as the only players with at least …

Taken, Given

Two important musicians – pianist Don Friedman and trumpeter Erich Traugott – died in late June. I was late in hearing about both because I was unconnected for a few days, off playing at the Rochester Jazz Festival. It’s often said that bad news comes in threes, but in this case these two losses were counteracted about a week later by some good news: major donations of jazz material to the Sound and Moving Images Library and the Clara