Saturday, January 31, 2009

New York Writing Careers Examiner

I've joined the Examiner team, as the New York Writing Careers Examiner. This means I'll be posting nuggets of advice on writing issues several times a week. I'll be hitting everything from amusing and trenchant anecdotes to practical advice on all aspects of writing to "workshop" tips on plotting, character, metaphor, line breaks -- the gamut. The entries will also include my own illustrations.

I'll be a good source for links about writing. As time goes on, I'll be adding podcasts, video, etc. -- your full service writing source.

Check it out here.

Feeling it in B-Flat

Sent to me by fellow jazz aficionado Larry the Fluff:

From Wynton Marsalis' new book, "Moving To Higher Ground":

Some time ago, the tenor saxophonist Frank Foster was playing a street concert from the Jazzmobile in Harlem. He called for a blues in B-flat. A young tenor player began to play "out" from the first chorus, playing sounds that had no relationship to the harmonic progression or rhythmic setting.

Foster stopped him.

"What are you doing?"

"Just playing what I feel."

"Well, feel something in B-flat, motherfucker."
And a jazz link for a winter day: Jazz on the Tube. You can subscribe to get a new jazz video in your mailbox each day, or you can just browse their collection.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Battle of the Decades

The inauguration. It alreadyn seems a long time ago, doesn't it? We're solidly into the Obama regime, and yeah, things feel different. But we danced in the streets, with Martha and the Vandellas, and Martha danced away with it.

Martha 7
4 Non Blondes 3

No votes for Santana, after I defected. But I'm not sorry.

On songs recycling through again -- I say let 'em. They're up against different competition, and as Mike says, it would be nice to get a second chance to vote for Santana. And for those of us not so familiar with 4 Non Blondes, we welcomed a second chance to make their acquaintance, even if we mostly didn't vote for them. That's OK, I think they won last time out with the whippersnapper vote. And maybe like Jim Rice, if they come back often enough they'll win everyone over. I think we're doing it again -- I'm fairly certain we had "Linda" before. I think she even got Jon's vote.

40S ON 4
Buddy Clark o/Ray Noble

50S ON 5
The Five Satins
In the Still of the Night

60S ON 6
Percy Sledge
When A Man Loves A Woman ('66)

70S ON 7
4 Seasons
Who Loves You ('75)

80S ON 8
Greg Kihn Band
Jeopardy ('83)

90S ON 9
Shawn Colvin
Sunny Came Home

Greg Kihn -- not bad, just boring. Not to be confused with Weird Al Yankovic's (I Lost on) Jeopardy --

I never liked the Four Seasons even with their best material, even if they were Jersey Boys (apologies to Jerseyans).

Linda's a lovely tune, but she falls victim to my next axe. Maybe next time. I'll keep waiting...she's still walking.

I love Shawn Colvin. If this were her version of "Viva Las Vegas" ( -- it doesn't come on right at the beginning) she'd have me. She and Emmylou are playing UPAC in Kingston in February, but I won't be able to spring the price of a ticket.

Again, a crowded field at the top -- and I'd put Linda and Shawn very near the top. "When a Man Loves a Woman" is one of the most purely romantic songs ever recorded. It would melt the heart of Hard Hearted Hannah. But I gotta go with my first love -- the classic R&B/DooWop era. And there aren't many better songs from that era better than "In the Still of the Night," here presented as by "Fred Parris and the Satins," and sure enough there are only four Satins. I can't figure out what this is from -- a 50s rocksploitation movie, but where's Allen Freed?'s Sweet Beat (1959) -- "An aspiring singer wins a trip to London and is promised a record deal, but when she gets there an underhanded American record producer spirits her off to New York and away from her boyfriend." The rat! But it features the Satins, the Mello Kings, Lee Allen, and Jeri Lee as Herself (stripper).

And a BOTD extra -- if you know the Chuck Miller version of "House of Blue Lights," or the Asleep at the Wheel version, or the George Thorogood version, or the Manhattan Transfer (not so good) check out the original by Ella Mae Morse -- -- which is also the first use I've ever heard of "Homey."

And finally, your BOTD Question of the Week: Which fictional Hot Spot would you rather spend an evening in?

(a) The House of Blue Lights
(b) The House of the Rising Sun
(c) Hernando's Hideaway
(d) I Like it Like That

Monday, January 26, 2009

Banks of the Hudson

A tribute to the Hudson River, it's history and culture, that I wrote with John Hall, now a Congressman from our Hudson Valley. It was on the website of John's music publishing company, now taken down, I assume, to avoid conflicts of interest.

But it's still a good song, so I'll give it exposure here.

Banks of the Hudson

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Persona Workshop

I guess it's OK to blow one's own horn sometimes, and I do feel good about this. I taught a workshop in persona at the Solstice Creative Writing program at Pine Manor College in Boston.

I try make sure, when I'm asked to do something like this, that I actually bring something new to the table, and I guess I succeeded here. A note from Meg Kearney, the wonderful director of the program:

I have NEVER seen students RAVE about a guest's
class as they raved about yours. Not only did the students rave, two of
the students whom I really respect told me (separately), "You have to
have him back." This came from one student, Richard, who just graduated!
He said not only should I have you back, but I should encourage all
students to attend, as the class speaks to all genres, AND that I should
schedule you for earlier in the week so people have time to absorb and
start applying what you taught them while they are still here. Richard
-- who attended virtually every class offered at each residency for the
last two years -- also said that what he learned from you he hadn't
learned from anyone else OR even contemplated before.

Charlie Parker

More on The Poem

The text, the video, a roundup of blog responses, and Edward Byrne's own thoughtful response at Byrne's One Poet's Notes blog.

Inauguration Poem

A bit of a letdown. I think if I were choosing an inaugural poet, I'd choose a formalist. When you're delivering a poem to a mass audience like that, there's nothing like rhyme and meter to really send the message that this is a poem. Otherwise, unless you have a real perfect-pitch sense of language, it's going to sound like rhetoric, like a speech -- and Obama before her, and Lowery after, were better rhetoricians.

Who? How about two inaugural poets -- Richard Wilbur and a rapper?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Battle of the Decades

Jessie Hill the last battle's big winner with seven. And I won't stop trying till I create a disturbance in your mind. I have The Hustle with two, but I have a feeling it got three, and I've lost one. The Gin Blossoms tied with Hall and Oates with one vote, which doesn't seem right. Doesn't seem right that the Gin Blossoms only got one, and it doesn't seem right that Hall and Oates got any. But hey, I just record the votes (what am I saying? I record the votes and cast acerbic judgments).

Here's the new batch.

Wayne King

Danny & The Juniors
Rock N Roll Is Here To Stay

Martha and the Vandellas
Dancing in the Streets

Black Magic Woman


Four Non Blondes
What's Up

We can cheerfully relegate Wayne King, the Waltz King, to the bottom of the heap. I don't really recommend giving this one a listen at all. unless you want to just how bad music by white people can be when they put their minds to it.

After that, it gets harder. Heart's won one ot these before, if I remember right, and this is one of their best. They're young and tough and sexy.

And I was tempted to put them up above Four Non Blondes on the basis of being sexier, but Four Non Blondes are great, and they're grungier, and Linda Perry is some kind of amazing singer, as well as being a superstar producer and songwriter.

In fact, there's no reason for me to put Danny and the Juniors ahead of either of these groups, because they really weren't very good. But they were classics in their own way, so I'm voting them for third place -- it was meant to be that way, though I don't know why. Besides, who can resist this gran video que me da cuenta cuan original se era en aquellos tiempo, es impactante como se paran de sus asientos y chasquean sus dedos al compas de la cancion

Then it gets totally unfair. How am I supposed to choose? Martha and the Vandellas, the toughest, most streetwise Motown group-which I know is a little like saying the most liberal member of the Bush administration, but Martha and the gals really did take it to the streets. Santana - guitarist extraordinaire, evolved spirit. Jelly Roll Morton said that all jazz needs to have a Latin tinge, and Santana brought that Latin tinge brilliantly to 60s rock. I know he was better, but how can I vote against Martha?

I can't. It's Inauguration Day. Time for dancing in the streets. It's Martha.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Opus 40 from the air

These amazing photos were taken by Tim Bookhout of New York Aerial Photography (you can see more of his beautiful work here.

Tim has generously donated these to Opus 40. I'll be posting them on my website, and we hope to have a poster available soon.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Played with Bird, Part 5

You always forget the obvious one, don't you? In this case, it's Sonny Rollins.

But I went over a Parker discography, and found two more unlikely names.

A surprise, but not really unlikely -- Annie Ross. The Charlie Parker Quartet With Gil Evans Orchestra - 1953 - featured the Dave Lambert singers, including Annie.

And really unlikely -- a session recorded in Montreal in either 1949 or 1953, Paul Bley on piano. It's been released as Charlie Parker -- Montreal 1953, and you can listen to it at Rolling Stone's website, although I may be the first to have actually done so. At any rate, if you see "Average User Rating -- 4 Stars," the average user is me. I was the first one to rate it. He's on three tracks -- "Cool Blues," "Don't Blame Me," and "Wahoo." Does a very nice solo on "Cool Blues."

Curiously, these three tracks are also listed in Bird's discograpjy as appearing on the Jazz Showcase album Bird on the Road, which came out in 1949 -- four years before the actual recording date? That's listed on the discography as CBC-TV Studios, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, February 5, 1953

Seems unlikely. I followed the scent to Paul Bley's website, and found this:

Bley gave violin recitals at age five. By age seven he was studying piano. He went through numerous classical teachers - including one Frenchman that had him play, balancing filled water glasses on the tops of his hands. At age 11 he graduated from the McGill Conservatory - having taken on their musical curriculum in addition to his public school education. Bley, who was known as "Buzzy" in his early adolescence, formed a band and played clubs and summer hotel jobs in the Laurentian Mountains at age 13. Four years later he replaced Oscar Peterson at the Alberta Lounge. Bley founded the Montreal Jazz Workshop and brought Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Brew Moore and Alan Eager to Montreal inorder to perform with them.

And by 1950, Bley had left Montreal. So it seems likely the session was in fact 1949, when Bley was 17. But then again, there's the discography page of Bley's website. It doesn't actually include a discography -- that's a 204-page book, which you have to order -- but the site says it "includes more than 120 recording sessions from 1952 to 1994," which would put us back to 1953, and Bley back to 21.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Played with Bird, Part 4

Here's an unlikely one, from Peter. Mitch Miller -- still alive, at 97 -- played oboe on Charlie Parker With Strings, and he's still alive at 97.

Played with Bird, Part 3

Here are the first two parts.

Peter Ind
, still alive, still active in jazz, though not as a musician.

As a musician, mostly involved with Lennie Tristano, but in a review of Ind's book on Tristano, John Robert Brown gives us this.

In 1950, on another of his trips, and having already taken lessons with Lennie Tristano, Ind was invited to play the first set with the pianist's sextet at Birdland. New York was so alluring that in 1951 Ind, taking three double basses, went to live there. Soon he was playing alongside Elvin Jones, Duke Jordan and Lennie Tristano, and rehearsing with Gerry Mulligan and Neal Hefti.

Lessons with Tristano are described. The blind pianist had an exceptional ear, a powerful memory and interpersonal directness. His students were required to memorise famous jazz solos, sing them, then write them down. Extensive work on scales and arpeggios was required. There was an emphasis on learning melodies. Tristano comes across as a dominant figure, though paradoxically 'needing' his students, in a psychological sense.

Along with many others in the New York community of the time, Tristano was influenced by the psychologist Wilhelm Reich. Ind spends several pages describing Tristano's respect for Reich's writing, and how Ind would read aloud to Tristano from Reich's books. In 1947, following a series of articles in The New Republic and Harpers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began an investigation into Reich's claims, winning an injunction against the promotion of his orgone therapy as a medical treatment. Charged with contempt of court for violating the injunction, Reich conducted his own defence. This involved sending the judge all his books to read! In 1956 Reich was sentenced to two years' imprisonment, and died while serving his sentence. Frustratingly, Ind spends several pages on Reich, but only gives us part of the fascinating and instructive story. I have since discovered (not from Ind's book) that Kate Bush's song Cloudbusting is based on a book by Reich's son, Peter.

Ind never met Reich. He met and played with Bird, but Ind, as an immigrant, 'felt wary of becoming too involved with anyone associated with narcotics, knowing that I risked deportation should I find myself so accused.' The bassist also accompanied Billie Holiday, but tells us nothing about the experience. He worked with Buddy Rich. Apart from remarking that Rich was 'the proverbial pain in the arse,' nothing is revealed.

I once interviewed Russian emigre jazz musician Valery Ponomarev about his first trip to NYC. I asked him what surprised him most. He said well, he knew about the jazz greats like Art Blakey and Horace Silver, but he was totally unprepared for the number of incredibly gifted jazz musicians who played in obscurity. So here's to Peter Ind, and all the others we didn't hear of, who made jazz what it is.

A Hole in the Head

I had a mole removed from my head (biopsied, benign) in October, and it scabbed over, but the scab never went away -- until this weekend, when I was up in Boston, and woke up with no scab, just a bleeding open wound the size of an Eisenhower silver dollar. So I went to the doctor today, and he referred me to the Open Wound Center at Kingston Hospital.

I called, and apparently it's not easy to get a referral to the Open Wound Center -- but before I could start the process, I had to give them my insurance info (which Pat has). I told them I'd get it, but my insurance through the college was just about to run out as soon as the Spring semester starts, and then I'd be using Medicare.

"It's too bad you don't have Medicare now, because it's a lot simpler with Medicare."

"I do have Medicare now."

"That won't help."

"Why not?"

"Because you already told me you have another plan."

"But I haven't told you who I am. So I could just call back this afternoon, and start over from scratch."

"Well, that would work if you don't get me."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Barbara Fite and Tom Penning

An old polaroid photo, recently discovered, of the great sculptor (and Opus 40 neighbor) Tomas Penning and my mother, Barbara Fite -- Harvey Fite's wife and the creator of the Opus 40 organization.

Battle of the Decades

Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson and “Body and Soul” the clear winner last time, with 8 votes – one for LL Cool J and one for Edison Lighthouse.

This time, a higher level of mediocrity at the very least, and for some of us one or another will rise from the pack. One does for me, certainly.

40S ON 4

Larry Clinton v/Peggy Mann

Because Of You

50S ON 5

Gary "U.S." Bonds

Quarter to Three

60S ON 6

Jessie Hill

Ooh Poo Pah Doo ('60)

70S ON 7

Van McCoy & The Soul City Symphony

The Hustle ('75)

80S ON 8

Daryl Hall & John Oates

Out of Touch

90S ON 9

Gin Blossoms

Alison Road

I don’t remember Larry Clinton or Peggy Mann – Larry apparently a Tommy Dorsey alum who had a moderately successful band of his own, and Peggy had a nice smile and could sing standing still. Or so I gather from this video – not of “Because of You.” because I couldn’t find that one, but a song that’ll give you sense of the Clinton/Mann sound. “Because of You” is s good song, no “Body and Soul,” but it did lend itself to a tour de force performance by Sammy Davis Jr. --

Then what? I never loved Hall and Oates, but they were professional, as was Gary US Bonds – I remember liking this song better than I liked it playing it back/ Of this mid-level grouping, I almost like “The Hustle” best – at least it has that appalling but curiously appealing dancing-by-the-numbers video.

The Gin Blossoms had a good beat; you could dance to them. I’ll give them an 84.

New Orleans went through some doldrums years in the 60s and 70s, when jazz had left, and great rock and roll on Specialty and Imperial had passed its prime. Bumps Blackwell, Specialty’s chief producer-talent scout, left the label to go with Sam Cooke, and he had been replaced by Sonny Bono, which should tell you all you need to know. Imperial had shifted its focus from New Orleans and Fats Domino to Hollywood and Ricky Nelson. A lot of great musicians left New Orleans for LA, basically not to return until Jazzfest revived its great musical tradition. But some awfully good records still got made in Cosimo Matassa’s recording studio, often with Allen Toussaint producing, and “Ooh Poo Pa Doo” was one of them. My pick for this round.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Bass Masters

I hadn't seen anything of champion bass fisherman Tad Richards on Google in a while, and I wondered if he'd retired. But in today's Google Alerts, I'm directed to the US Anglers Choice website, where I find that last July, he caught 5 bass, including a 5.05-pounder, to win $1075 at Highway 107. Way to go, Tad!

What If the Blues Never Happened?

Consider this...

Friday, January 02, 2009

Donald Justice

Poet of the Month at the East Hampton Public Library website.

Poetry at Salt River Review

As Sookie's amanuensis, I'm chronicling her adventures again with two poems in the current Salt River Review --