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Showing posts from June, 2009

A Certain Caliber of Pianist

Duke Ellington was. Count Basie wasn’t.

Diana Krall is. Marian McPartland isn’t.

Allen Toussaint is. Fats Domino isn’t.

Billy Joel is. Elton John isn’t.

Shirley Horn was. Mary Lou Williams wasn’t.

Cy Coleman, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers and Irving Berlin all made the cut. Hoagy Carmichael, Erroll Garner, Fats Waller, Scott Joplin and Johnny Mercer didn’t.

Ahmad Jamal, Keith Jarrett, Marcus Roberts and David Benoit are. Joe Sample, Bob James and Herbie Hancock, no go.

Harry Connick, Jr., yes. Ellis Marsalis, yes.

Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, no.

Stevie Wonder, no.

Freddie Cole, yes. His brother, Nat King Cole? No.

And it appears Ray Charles never was.

I’m talking about Steinway artists: Pianists who are or were considered among the best in the world and therefore worthy to represent the Steinway piano company and play Steinways almost exclusively in performance.

Anybody who ever took piano lessons for any length of time knows that Steinway, or rather, Steinway and Sons, is touted as the gol…

Man (Or Woman) In The Mirror: Make That Change

I just happened to be home Thursday when the news came across CNN that Michael Jackson died.

I was stunned. Still am. Can't find the words.

You see, he was so much a part of my childhood. The Jackson 5's music was music that kids and their parents could dance to. And I did, with my mom, of course. I think she liked the cautionary tale of "The Love You Save" as well as the fact that a 10 year-old boy could sing like a seasoned old pro when he asked the musical question, "Who's Lovin' You?" That song, I tell you, it's like jazz -- if you're a singer and you don't know what you're doing, don't mess with it. Michael nailed that song as a child, and few, if any, can sing it as well as he did, adult or child.

Little did I know when I was young how sad Michael's childhood was at the same time as his music was the soundtrack for my happy childhood. I look at videos showing him singing as a child and I look for signs of joy. I don't …

Ain't That A Shame?

I was lying on my love seat this Sunday, recuperating from setting up a veggie garden for my mother-in-law and other sundry family errands, and I saw a PBS special on Antoine “Fats” Domino and his performance at Tipitina’s, post-Hurricane Katrina. Commentators, including New Orleans musical greats Allen Toussaint and Irma Thomas, talked about how devastated he was by and after Katrina, to the point that he couldn’t bring himself to perform at the first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival after Katrina. This from a man who decided he was no longer going to tour and leave the city he loved so dearly. When he took the stage at Tipitina’s, it shook me out of my afternoon malaise to the point that I was not only rooting for Fats, I got up and did the dance my mom, SWIE, used to do whenever a Fats Domino song came on – the stroll. Or at least my version of it.

My mom loved her some Fats Domino. Hmmm, hmmm, hmmm!

After he performed “Blueberry Hill” and “Walking,” I believe, I was at a …

Give Your Single Parent Mom A Father's Day Card

Father's Day is coming, and it just isn't as big a deal in terms of media attention as Mother's Day.

Gee, wonder why?

If you are the child of a single parent mom who, for whatever reason, had to be mother AND father to you, do that woman a favor: Give her a Father's Day card. Some flowers would be nice, too.

Single parent moms pull double parental duty, and they should be acknowledged for it.

Happy Father's Day, y'all.

To Every Thing There Is A Season

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under Heaven . . . .
Ecclesiastes 3:1

I’m no Bible scholar. I only know of this verse because of the Byrd’s song, “Turn, Turn, Turn.” It’s a reminder that the things we wish for don’t necessarily happen when we want, but in their season.

My friend Sheila in Denver is a living example of this verse. Whenever something doesn’t go her way or she doesn’t get something she longs for, she simply says, “It isn’t my season” and moves on. That’s it. No whining, no complaining, nothing. She surrenders to God’s plan for her and gets on with life. I wish I were more like her.

I’ve done something I never do on this blog: Included a photo. This is a photo from my garden of one of the rose bushes I brought with me to my new home from my previous rental. I had my doubts they would bloom, even after one of the groundspeople where I work told last winter to cut them back severely. “Are you sure?”, I said, with trepidation. “Yes.” …

Stop Hatin'

We say this nowadays to mean "don't be jealous" -- "stop hatin'." But it looks like traditional hatin' is spreading faster than VD in a bordello. First, Dr. George Tiller, then Stephen Johns, both gunned down in the most unexpected of places for no reason other than hate.

Since when did taking up arms and shooting people you hate based on race, religion, or political beliefs become acceptable? What made Richard Pryor's "Saturday Night Live" song, "I'm Gonna Get Me A Gun And Kill All the Whities I See" so humorous at the time was that it was so absurd. Blanket hatred was so unacceptable that anyone who would foment it was considered some kind of weird eccentric worth laughing at, a caricature of sorts.
I think it's time that we make people uncomfortable in their prejudices. It's so easy for prejudices and stereotypes to creep in unchallenged as seemingly minor slights against a particular group unrepresented in the…

What Older Sisters -- Or Siblings -- Do

I watched the families of Laura Ling and Euna Lee appear on “The Larry King Show” last week and could not help but see the profound sadness in Lisa Ling’s eyes. Although she maintained a calm and slightly smiling visage, you could see the fear in her eyes that belies the hope of which she spoke, hope that her sister and Euna Lee would be released by the North Korean government.

I knew then that Lisa was the older sister of the two. You could tell.

I’m the youngest of my mom’s four daughters and my dad’s five, and the youngest of my mom and dad’s children. As the youngest, you enjoy the blissful position of not having to be responsible for anyone younger than you, or anyone else for that matter. You are free of having to account for any harm that befalls a sibling. You don’t have that “You are in charge of your younger siblings” thing seared onto your brain as my mom’s oldest daughter does, as do all of my older siblings. As the youngest, you don’t get punished for the actions of o…

The Courage Of, And For, Billions

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, when the Chinese government began cracking down on thousands of students protesting for freedom. What I remember most is the photo that came to epitomize the protest: A lone man standing down a column of Chinese tanks. I remember the hope I had felt prior to the crackdown for those students who, like myself at the time, were naïve enough to think they could change their country and possibly the world. I remember thinking when I saw that photo, “Dang, that man’s got courage. I hope they don’t run him down.” I remember naively assuring myself that no government would run tanks over its own people, students no less. I was wrong. Young, naïve and wrong.

I’ve heard on NPR that the Chinese government has blacked out some Chinese bloggers’ sites and purposely scheduled student exams on this day to discourage remembrances and protests. Now, I’m as bad as your average American citizen when it comes to China. I shop at Wal…

Until I Freakin' Die - A Spite Pension

Welcome to my mid-life crisis. I have weeks like this one when I question whether I want to continue doing what I do for a living, especially for the entity I do it for – the State of California. Given the 5% pay cut I’m facing next fiscal year in addition to the 9.4% pay cut/unpaid furloughs I’m already experiencing, I’m tempted to continue working for the State of California just until my pension vests, in about a year, just to piss off the top dogs in State bureaucracy and make the actuaries at CalPERS work harder to figure out how much I and my fellow Baby Boomers are going to cost.

See, I’m part of the big pension funding problem the State is going to have to deal with in about 20 years or less. Worse, I’m on the end of the Baby Boom generation. Even worse, my pension, should I stay long enough to vest, will be higher than your average state worker pension because my salary is higher than the average state worker and my pension is, I’m told, calculated under the older, more re…

Sometimes All You Can Do Is Pray

A doctor who performs late-term abortions is gunned down. In a church. While ushering.

A plane with over 200 passengers literally “falls off the radar screen” and disappears without little more than a signal regarding an electrical system failure.

What a way to start the week.

Dr. George Tiller was gunned down in the vestibule of his church. He performed late-term abortions. Mind you, my views on abortion are complex. I believe in the legal right to choose, but I pray that no woman makes that choice or has to make that choice, and I would not make that choice for myself although I have supported others who have. But no one should be able to shoot someone because they believe otherwise. I believe torture is illegal, but you don’t see me packing weapons and heading off to Tricky Dick Cheney’s house.

I think of my last remaining biological uncle on my mom’s side, the last of my mom’s siblings still living, and the fact that, more often than not, he and my aunt can be found at the entrance of…