Ingrid wants you all to watch the commencement speech Rachel Maddow gave at Smith College this weekend. I concur.
"Be intellectually and morally rigorous in your own decision-making, and expect that the important people in your life do the same, if they want to stay important to you." I'ma get that shit embroidered on a sampler.
Tonight (Wednesday, Jan 27), Secret Society will be appearing on WHYY-TV's awesome music show On Canvas. If you are in the Philadelphia area, you can tune in on your teevee machine at 8 PM. Everyone else will be able to watch a stream from WHYY's website beginning Thursday. (UPDATE: Watch the full episode here.)
Previous episodes of On Canvas have featured performances by Terence Blanchard, Rufus Wainwright, Andrew Bird, and Lionel Loueke, so we are super-excited about being included. This show, part of the estimable Ars Nova Workshop, was taped on June 5 of last year at Philadelphia's International House, a few days after our return from our first-ever European Tour, so the Society is in fine fighting shape. I myself was sick like the dog, with a bad case of what may or may not have been H1N1 -- I narrowly avoided passing out at more than one point during the show -- but that doesn't seemed to have interfered with the band's performance at all.
I had no idea that Clark Terry and Wayne Shorter had ever played together. I had even less of an idea that Clark sat in with Wayne's quartet at Newport. In 1986. Or that video of this encounter exists. And is on YouTube.
Internets, sometimes you bring me down, but how can I stay mad?
The peerless Self-Styled Siren has a wonderful post up about one of my favorite films, Alexander Mackendrick's Sweet Smell of Success, starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. The one bit she neglects to mention is one of the movie's hippest and most authentic details: Marty Milner's character plays a jazz guitarist in the 1957 Chico Hamilton Quintet -- who appear in the film as themselves! This was a very unusual and innovative group for the time, with the leader on drums, Paul Horn on woodwinds, Fred Katz on cello(!), Carson Smith on bass, and Marty Milner standing in for Jim Hall. Here is the fantastic jazz club scene from the film:
Happy Canada Day. Here's some Gil Evans -- with a searing French horn solo from John Clark -- seriously, people need to give it up for John Clark -- and Billy Cobham laying it down on, like, a 29-piece drum kit.
It's hard to watch Recount without becoming completely enraged and dispirited all over again -- if anything, our national media is even worse today when they were in 2000, when they opted to pretend like the blatant theft of a presidential election was simply business as usual. It's true they failed us horribly during the leadup to the Iraq war, but for that, they invoke the post-9/11 "patriotic fever" as their excuse for not exercising more skepticism. In 2000, they had no such excuse.
What is staggering to me, though, is that this year's class of incoming college freshman were ten years old when this all went down. To me, the scars of the stolen election in 2000 and all the tragedy that flowed from that are still a gaping, open wound, to the point where I can barely think about that stuff without wanting to punch through a wall, and I can barely get through this docudrama about the recount without weeping tears of rage. But these kids graduating high school next month, starting college in the fall -- they were too young to remember much of anything about the recount. George W. Bush is effectively the only president they have known. Maybe they dimly recall something about Bill Clinton's presidency, but they would have been, like, eight years old when the Lewinsky scandal broke. George W. Bush is their normal.
That is horrifying. (Also: I feel extremely old.)
If you know an 18-year old who's excited about casting their first vote this November -- I must insist that you get them to watch Recount. (Don't worry -- if they don't have HBO, they will know how to access the video by other means.)
If you've been reading this blog even semi-regularly, you know one of my persisent obsessions is "rhythmic authority," a term I stole from Ethan Iverson and have been plowing into the ground ever since. But it's an incredibly useful concept to refer to when talking about the disconnect that too often exists between even very highly skilled conservatory-trained musicians and, well... basically every other skilled musician on the planet. It's a disconnect that a lot of classical players do not perceive, partly because they have spent many years intensely focused on the development of a very sophisticated and deep emotional connection to pitch. But not only have many of them not invested the long hours of work required to develop an equally sophisticated emotional connection to rhythm, often they are not even aware that they don't have one, or that they might need one. They -- rightly -- consider themselves among the most highly-trained musicians in the world, so it can be very humbling to realize that they still have a lot to learn about something as fundamental as rhythm.
This disconnect leads to a lot of frustration when musicians from a nonclassical background try to collaborate with classical musicians, since the latter are not generally used to (and worse, do not generally respect) putting such a premium on rhythm. This is slowly changing, as the minimalist and post-minimalist works of the past 30 years are not playable by musicians who lack rhythmic authority. But, unsurprisingly, the slowest organism to adapt is the symphony orchestra.
I have to say, as a listener, I find this intensely frustrating. It's not just recent works that would benefit from being played by orchestras where everyone has solid time and can lock in together. There are lots of passages in the standard rep that would be greatly invigorated if orchestras and conductors made an investment in rhythmic authority. How great would it be to hear a rhythmically authoritative Rite? Or imagine if every orchestra played Bartók's rhythms as convincingly as the players in the Hungarian State Symphony.
But I have more or less given up attending orchestral performances, even though I love much of the repertoire -- partly because decent seats for the NY Phil are prohibitively expensive, but also because I find their lack of rhythmic authority kills the experience for me.
Some people don't believe it's even possible for a large orchestra to achieve the kind of rhythmic authority I'm talking about. Steve Reich gave up writing for orchestra in 1987 because he was convinced they were just fundamentally incapable of playing with the requisite rhythmic clarity. But it can be done -- watch:
That's the Simón Bolívar National Youth Orchestra, who are basically ambassadors for Venezuela's El Sistema, a national music program that for 30 years has been providing free instruments and music education to kids we've taken to euphemistically calling "at risk."
At just 12, Legner Lacosta was on the streets. Leaving school, his
mother and stepbrothers, he started hanging out in Pinto Salinas, a
notorious Caracas barrio where bullet-ridden shacks pile on top of each
other in a ravine nestled beside the motorway.
By 13, Legner had a crack habit and a .38 calibre gun and a regular
role as a drug-dealer and thief. "I got trapped by money," he says,
"when I was high, I felt as if I were somewhere else; you clear
everything out of your mind and start to invent your own world." By 15,
the police caught and beat him, and he was sent to a young offenders'
institute in Los Chorros, east Caracas, among 150 glue-sniffers and
abandoned or abused children.
Forced to go cold turkey, Legner withdrew into himself. "I was bored
and didn't want to do anything," he says. But one day, the Youth
Orchestras Project turned up and he had his first meeting with a
clarinet. "When the instruments arrived, the director told me there was
a clarinet left. I didn't know what it was. I was fascinated when I saw
it. He taught me the first four notes. I played those four notes all
By 17, Legner was back at the detention centre, but this time in a
smart polo shirt and trendy thick-rimmed glasses, there to teach
clarinet. "Music saved my life," he says. "It helped me let out a lot
of the anger inside. If music had not arrived, I wouldn't be here
today." He has now moved to Germany to continue his studies.
The conductor is the 26 year-old Gustavo Dudamel, himself a product of El Sistema. He made a big splash earlier in the year when he was appointed the next music director of the LA Phil, beginning in 2009. He and the Simón Bolivar NYO are currently allovertheclassicalmusicblogosphere, with the general consensus being that they pwned every other orchestra at this year's Proms.
American orchestras, feeling the crunch of reduced ticket sales and an aging audience, have been wracking their brains trying to figure out how to turn things around, but many of the proposed changes are of the "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic" variety. It seems to me that when you are getting your asses handed to you by a bunch of Venezuelan street kids, it's time for everyone involved to take a long hard look in the mirror. And then maybe reach for that tambor mina and start shedding.
This thread over at Norbizness's prompted me to ask a question that's been on my mind a lot these past few years: when did odd meter indie rock become cool? Seems like everyone's doing it now. Here's a good one I hadn't heard before:
This is seemingly without any critical rehabilitation of your Yes, your Rush, your Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. (The exception is King Crimson, which has always been the prog band it's okay to like.) For a very long time, doing any odd-meter stuff at all meant you were automatically lumped in with those bombastic seventies show-offs. But fairly recently, it's become cool for bands who wouldn't be caught dead listening to "Jacob's Ladder" to play in tricksy time sigs that used to be the exclusive province of the Neil Peart fan club.
Of course, this is all old hat for jazz players -- non-4/4 meters are ubiquitous in current jazz, and have been since at least the mid-1990's. (Not everyone is happy about this.) But I wonder what has changed, so that people are suddenly willing to embrace odd-meter grooves even on otherwise straightforward indie rock songs?
I'm off to Boston for the weekend, but let me leave you with some fine, fine P-Funk, circa 1976:
That's Glen Goins bringing in the Mothership, in one of the greatest vocal performances I've ever seen captured on film. (Be patient -- he's only really allowed enough room to work in the last four minutes of the clip.) Goins died of Hodgkin's Lymphoma less than two years after this was filmed. He was 23.
I don't know why everyone's so excited about The Police getting back together again. I mean, not only does their own drummer think they suck, but who wants to listen to retreads of hoary old chestnuts like "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" and "Synchronicity II" when Sting has so many gems like this in his solo repertoire?
Look, I thought we were all agreed that you, the readers of this blog, would tell me about stuff like this. Thomas Dolby -- who was the best thing about last night's Ethel Fair -- has a blog. In fact, he's had it for almost a year now. His most recent post folds in Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Marvin Gaye, the Grammys, and YouTube, and you need to go read it right now.
Score one more for the internets -- the closing number from the Miller Theatre Zappa Composer Portrait I reviewed not long ago is now up on YouTube. Here's the Fireworks Ensemble doing "G-Spot Tornado":
Y'all probably already saw this over at Do The Math, but it's too badass not to repost: possibly the best version of "Rhythm-a-Ning" ever, from 1961, with Monk, Charlie Rouse, John Ore, and the seriously underrated Frankie Dunlop, doing a "live in the studio" thing for a TV audience. When it comes to rare jazz clips, YouTube is an embarrassment of riches, but this is really something. (What happened to Monk's hat, I wonder?)
After repeated viewings, I still can't decide if this clip of Stephin Merritt performing and being interviewed on Fox's Atlanta affiliate about his songs for the Lemony Snicket books is brilliant guerilla subversion of the medium, or just unwatchably awkward.
Thanks to all who came out for last night's Secret Society hit at the Bowery Poetry Club. I'll have the audio and incriminating evidence up soon, but in the meanwhile, you are all invited to watch me run my mouth off in this video over at NewMusicBox. It's a piece on contemporary big band writing, featuring Sherisse Rogers and Charles Waters of Gold Sparkle Band, plus yours truly. The video includes some nice clips from my hit last month with the Cologne Contemporary Jazz Orchestra. There's also a transcript of my full interview with Molly Sheridan over here.
Sherisse is a buddy -- I had the immense pleasure of co-producing her debut CD, and sometimes she even lets me conduct her band while she takes over the bass chair. I've heard Charles's muscular playing and writing in Gold Sparkle Band, but I haven't had the opportunity to check out his music for larger forces. (That will change tomorrow night, when I make the Anti-Social Music hit at Issue Project Room.) It's a honor to be in such company.
Thanks to the NMBX power trio of Molly Sheridan, Randy Nordschow, and Frank J. Oteri for putting this together.