Tuesday, June 30, 2009
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 gold standard among pianos. Whether you’re talking about a baby grand, parlor grand, or one of their massive concert grands that cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars up to millions for special editions, a Steinway is always going to sound better than most any piano out there. I go into piano stores just to play them. Well, play a few keys, since I’ve been out of practice for more than twenty years. I always ask permission first, though.
It was during my most recent trip to a Sherman Clay piano store that I found out about Steinway artists. A wonderful salesman ran off the list of all the wonderful artists who are Steinway artists.
“Is Fats Domino a Steinway artist?” I asked.
“Noooooo,” he assured me. “You know, you have to be a certain caliber of pianist to be a Steinway artist.” He then reeled off many notables on the list, including, of all people, Diana Krall and Billy Joel.
A certain caliber of pianist? I told him how Domino owned two Steinways, both of which were ruined in Hurricane Katrina. That when he finally returned to performing after Hurricane Katrina at Tipitina’s, he played a Steinway.
It seemed to me that many of the artists who are currently Steinway artists, such as Krall and Joel, are among the best, no doubt. But, unlike Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, or Fats Domino, they didn’t change music. They didn’t innovate. Isn’t there something to be said for those pianists who actually changed how we hear the piano, like stride pianists such as Errol Garner and Fats Waller, who influenced the likes of Diana Krall, and Ray Charles, who influenced Billy Joel so much that his daughter Alexa’s middle name is Ray?
Or Fats Domino?
The salesman then proceeded to show me some of the special edition Steinways built to honor certain people, including a Steinway built to honor the last Steinway family member to lead the company.
“There should be a special edition Steinway built to honor Fats Domino,” I piped up. “It should have a New Orleans Mardi Gras theme . . .” Off I went on my little tangent, describing how I would design a Fats Domino commemorative Steinway.
The salesman smiled politely, like he was indulging a schizophrenic.
Maybe it's because it’s so close in time to Michael Jackson’s death that I’m sensitized to issue of artists who actually changed music receiving the unqualified recognition they’re due.
So, when I’m done writing this, I’m going to print it, send it to the kind folks at Steinway and Sons in Long Island, and, just to show how much I’m willing to work with them, I’m even willing to provide them my vision and tagline for a series of Steinway ads, free of charge:
Imagine black and white poster-sized photos of great pianists playing passionately on brightly lit stages: Ray Charles at the Montreux Jazz Festival; Count Basie at The Apollo Theater; Fats Domino at Tipitina’s. Nat King Cole wherever he damned well pleased.
Here’s the caption at the bottom:
Great piano moments only happen on great pianos.
Steinway and Sons: Know the difference.
They don’t have to thank me. They just need to make Fats Domino a Steinway artist. oh, and send him two brand spankin' new Steinway baby grands to replace the ones he lost in the hurricane. One black, one white.
For more information on Steinway artists, visit
Sunday, June 28, 2009
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 see them. It makes me all the more sad to know how much of his own childhood he lost and continued to chase fruitlessly into adulthood.
He was the only boy I ever fought over. Yes, indeed. With my sister, the Writing Diva. I think we came to blows over who was going to marry Michael. She insisted that I, the younger sister, stick to Jacksons closer to my age, to wit, Randy. Even as a 5 year-old, I had a thing for older men, still do. I insisted that I could marry whoever I wanted, and I wanted Michael, and she could have Randy.
I bumped and bopped to "Workin' Day and Night" -- I can't tell you how many high school cheerleading squads did routines to that song when I was in high school, including my high school's squad. I did the rock to "Rock With You." Whenever I need a push to embark on a difficult project, "Startin' Somethin'" is what I hear in my head. I thought Michael was at his most handsome on the album cover for "Off the Wall." Clearly he didn't. How sad.
However, I was always a bigger fan of the more emotionally wrought songs he sang, with or without his brothers. Songs like "I'll Be There," "Maybe Tomorrow," and "Never Can Say Goodbye," "She's Out of My Life," and "Remember the Time" get me because of the sheer emotion in them. He reportedly once said, "If I don't feel it, I don't sing it." Indeed.
And, of course, there's "Thriller." Who else but Michael Jackson could get John Landis to direct a music video and get horror movie divo Vincent Price, of all people, to rap for it? I was a foreign student in Spain from September of '84 to March of '85, and everything -- and I mean everything -- on or about the "Thriller" album was still popular, down to the red leather jackets with multitudes of zippers. Being one of the few black people in the college town where I lived, I was often asked if I knew Michael Jackson. I smiled at their ignorance, but it showed how much he had fans all around the world who hoped for some connection to him, no matter how far fetched.
On Friday, as I drove in to work, one of my favorite Jackson 5 songs, "I'll Be There," came on the radio, and I cried. Mind you, I don't consider myself a sappy sentimentalist who drops a tear whenever an ASPCA commercial comes on. I'm one of the first to tell someone, "Snap out of it." But there I was, driving to work, tears streaming down my face. I was sad not just for the loss, but for his kids and what his death means for them.
I imagined that if you are Michael Jackson's daughter, when you get married, your dad would sing "I'll Be There" at your wedding to let your intended know that, no matter what, your dad would be there to pick up the pieces if your intended let you down. "I'll be there to protect you, with an unselfish love that respects you . . . . " Paris Jackson won't have that experience.
I imagined that, if your father is Michael Jackson, he often sang to you part of the chorus from "Maybe Tomorrow" every morning to tell you:
You are the book that I read each day
You are the song that I sing
You are the four seasons of my life . . . .
I hope he was able to tell his children this, as I hope to tell the children I adopt the same.
I think of all the lifetime events that a proud, involved dad should be there for -- ballet recitals, Little League games, Sweet Sixteen parties, graduations, weddings -- and the fact that, because Michael gave so much of himself to the public, he won't be there for those events for his kids.
Even more sad, I understand that he was embarking on this last concert tour to get his financial affairs in order for his children and to show them what "dad does for a living."
So, you can imagine where this is heading. When I'm at a loss for words, I act. If you are a Michael Jackson fan, you can do for him what he can't do for his children: Put his financial affairs in order. One of the greatest gifts you can ever give a parent is to do for their children what he or she can't do for them.
I believe that if each of us Michael Jackson fans looks at the man (or woman) in the mirror, and decides that, to thank Michael for sharing his gift with the entire world, we will buy as much of his music as necessary to retire his debts and put his financial affairs in order, we can "make that change." If we shun free downloads of his music and buy only that which will benefit his estate, retire his debts, and puts his financial affairs in order for his children, we can achieve this.
So, go to your local record store or Amazon or whatever, and buy anything from the Michael Jackson catalog that shows him as a singer, songwriter, producer -- anything that will lead to a revenue stream to his estate.
And, in his words, "Don't Stop 'Till You Get Enough."
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
My mom loved her some Fats Domino. Hmmm, hmmm, hmmm!
After he performed “Blueberry Hill” and “Walking,” I believe, I was at a loss as to what else he had to perform. Little did I know that, prior to Lennon and McCartney and other songwriting duos of the 60’s, Domino and his writing partner, David Bartholomew, were the most successful songwriting duo in the U.S. I pulled out my BlackBerry and Googled Fats Domino. When I saw his song catalog, I thought, “Well, damn! If I had that many hits, I wouldn’t tour any more either.”
It got me thinking about New Orleans, or, as my college classmates from the area called it, “N’awlins.” I visited once over 11 years ago for a weekend to attend a conference. To this day, I have never eaten as well as I did there. I can’t even tell you what I saw or where I ate, but I remember I ate real good, back-to-back meals mind you, so much so that I ditched the conference in search of the next good meal. I literally ate my way through New Orleans. I could have starred in my own movie: The Thing from California That Ate New Orleans.
If you eat a bad meal in New Orleans, you’re either a fool or just stupid. There’s just no excuse for bad food in New Orleans when just about everybody there can throw down in the kitchen.
When I started thinking about New Orleans and all that it has given us – jazz, zydeco, Mahalia Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, the Marsalis family, Harry Connick, Jr., the Neville Brothers, beignets, Café du Monde, Galatoire’s, Dooky Chase, po’ boys and more – I thought: Where is New Orleans’ bailout?
I mean really. I have never owned a GM or Chrysler car. I have never banked at Goldman Sachs and the like. I have never bought insurance from AIG. If these corporate behemoths survive, I won’t know the difference.
But I have savored the sights, sounds, and tastes of New Orleans. If New Orleans were swept off the map, that WOULD matter to me. If I had a vote as to where my federal tax dollars would be going, they would be going to New Orleans. And not just to rebuild it, but to protect it. This city existed before this country was even a country. It deserves to be respected and protected.
I remember watching a “60 Minutes” broadcast in which the rebuilding of New Orleans was discussed. They examined another city that lies below sea level, Rotterdam, and the technology used to protect it – a surge protection barrier that closes off the city and, I’ve read, is strong enough to withstand a 1 in 10,000 chance surge, a high level of protection. Why can’t we do that with New Orleans?
We could, if we had the will.
To borrow from a Fats Domino song, ain’t that a shame?
Friday, June 19, 2009
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.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
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.” He reminded me that they will come back like gangbusters, in their season.
And they did.
I was reminded that “to every thing there is a season” yesterday when I happened to be home and saw a commentary by Roland Martin on TV 1 regarding Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. He bemoaned the fact that African American women judges weren’t considered for the nomination and suggested that we hold President Obama accountable for his future choices for the Court.
I just shook my head and thought, “It’s not our season.”
Mind you, I’d love to see a sistah judge on the highest court in our land. But what would it have said about President Obama and African Americans in general if, at our first turn at governing the nation, we looked out only for our own interests and not the interests of all the other groups who helped bring President Obama to the White House? African Americans are no longer the largest minority in the U.S., and we need to get with that new reality. We need to forge alliances across racial, ethnic, and other lines to be able to secure our interests down the line with the support of others. We already have an African American justice on the Court (for what he’s worth – and don’t forget, there were black folks who actually supported Justice Thomas’ nomination), and he’s the second African American to have occupied a place on the court. What we need are women of all races sitting on the Court, not just women of two races – black and white. I have faith that, when the proper opportunity arises, President Obama will appoint an African American woman to the Court. However, I want to see all marginalized groups represented on the highest bench in the land, not just my own people.
Plus, the “black for black’s sake” argument doesn’t resonate with me given how conservatives have been teeing up Judge Janice Rogers Brown to be the first African American female justice on the Supreme Court. A former justice on the California Supreme Court who opposed racial set-asides and race-conscious relief in general, Brown was appointed by President George W. Bush to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which is well known as a feeder circuit for the U.S. Supreme Court. This was the same court Justice Thomas was appointed to for a little more than a year before ascending to the Supreme Court. In the words of my former judge, “He wasn’t there [the D.C. Circuit] long enough to write his name on a paycheck, much less author any significant opinions.” If Roland Martin were to go shopping just for black female judges qualified for the U.S. Supreme Court, Brown is more qualified than Thomas was when he was nominated. But I wouldn’t want her on the Supreme Court.
Just as the roses bloomed in my garden in their season, I believe we African American women will have our season, too, when it comes to nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court. It just isn’t now.
Friday, June 12, 2009
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 conversation. Maybe we all need to "smoke out" hate by calling ourselves and others on these unchallenged prejudices and stereotypes, even at the risk of being called "PC." Lord knows we could all be called worse. And if it means giving hatred no place to fester and grow free from exposure, so be it.
Stop hatin'. The traditional kind, that is.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
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 others in the family because you’re not responsible for anyone else.
I doubt my mom’s oldest daughter would be as composed as Lisa Ling were she on Larry King seeking my release. As my mother got older, a lot of mother-type activities got farmed out to her and my mom’s second oldest daughter – Girl Scout stuff and the like my mom didn’t have time for. Even as old as I am, my mom’s oldest daughter refers to me as “Bad Baby” when I act out of line or say or do something of which my late mother would not approve. She just slowly shakes her head and says in a low, disapproving voice, “Now, c’mon, Bad Baby. You know better.” We’re ten years apart, and she still feels responsible for me, to the point of making sure that my birthday is observed with a cake as my late mother always did (BTW, she baked me a slammin’ carrot cake with cream cheese frosting for my last birthday. I still can’t button some of my pants because of it.). I would imagine that were I detained by a despotic government, she would feel responsible for seeking my release. She would probably feel responsible for my being detained in the first place. Responsibility for her five younger siblings has been drummed into her, against her will, for her entire life. I don’t think she knows anything else, despite the fact that she never really wanted to be responsible for us. As she told my mom when I was in utero, “I don’t want another brother or sister. I want a puppy.” A fifth younger sibling, and the responsibility that came with it, wasn’t what my oldest sister wanted.
I could see that sense of older sister responsibility in Lisa Ling’s eyes. I sensed that she, too, felt responsible for her younger sister’s situation, as illogical as that seems, and powerless to extricate her sister from it, as she was probably programmed to do since childhood. I would imagine that, in the world of older sisters, that is the worst condition to be in, especially when responsibility for your baby sister has been your “normal” all your life and the consequences of harm to her had always been placed on your shoulders.
To her credit, Ms. Ling held it together, gave a cogent and seemingly non-propagandist account of how this all happened, to the best of her knowledge, and stated the fact that her family was seeking a humanitarian release of her sister and Ms. Lee. She apologized more than once for “the girls,” stating that it was never their intention when they left the U.S. to stray into North Korea. As the older sister, however, I would imagine she would say or do just about anything to get her baby sister back. I know my older sisters would, even my oldest brother.
I hope for the return of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, not just for themselves, but for their families. I hope to see the sadness in Lisa Ling’s eyes disappear and be replaced with joy and relief because of the return of her baby sister. And if Lisa is anything like my oldest sister, I would imagine that, upon Laura’s return, there would definitely be an "older sister lecture" coming, somewhat like, “Now, Bad Baby, what in the HELL were YOU thinking? Don’t you ever worry me and our parents like that again!
I hope Lisa Ling gets the chance to give her "older sister lecture." Keep Laura Ling and Euna Lee in your prayers, y’all.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
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-Mart and I watched some of the Beijing Olympics. I don’t stand as resolutely behind my principles as that lone man did. But no matter how China endeavors to erase the minds of billions, I won’t be among them. I will never forget.
I wonder whether that lone man, who would become known as “Tank Man,” is alive today. Some say he was executed, others say he lives in Taiwan. Regardless, no one should forget what they saw on the news that day and the following days. Never forget what governments are capable of.
It’s easy to forget in America that most of the world’s population does not live in freedom. It’s easy to forget that the rights we take for granted – speech, protest, having children, equality, religious observance -- or not – are rights that most of the world does not share. And if Beijing had its way, we’d forget what happened on this day twenty years ago in Tiananmen Square.
Not me. I won’t forget. I won’t forget that lone man who had the courage of, and for, billions.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
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 remunerative Tier 1 formula. My understanding is that if I put in 20 years and retire no earlier than 50 (as if!) I get lifetime health care benefits, too. The pension won’t amount to much, but because it’s a pension, I would be entitled to it and the health care benefits until I freakin’ die.
That should be enough to make the State’s big financial dogs tremble – paying pension and health care benefits to a whole bunch of healthy, elderly and, in my case, hypochondriac Baby Boomers until they decide to shove off the planet. Hell, you can’t get Baby Boomers off the stage, much less off the planet, to wit: Bill Clinton. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the State hire mercenaries from Blackwater to start taking out retired California state workers. It would be cheaper than paying health care benefits and pensions until they freakin’ die. And I'm sure Blackwater wouldn't get caught.
Call mine a "spite pension."
Mind you, there are days when I don’t like practicing law. Even in an advisory capacity, I often feel like I’m at war, constantly having to defend my legal opinions and proposed decisions to other lawyers and my superiors. I constantly allow the perfect to get in the way of the good, as do most lawyers, because you feel there’s little if any room for error in the advice you give. Someone’s going to be making plans based on that advice, so it better be correct. The quest for perfection is tiring at my age. Even a stripper is allowed a little imperfection in her work, a little cellulite without getting booed off the stage. Lawyers, not so much. Added to that is the flaming hatred most Californians have for state civil service employees. I don't remember things being so rabid when my parents worked for the State. It wears on your spirit to be hated just for having the job you have, regardless of whether you do it well.
With the State laying off employees and looking to cut salaries for employees of general fund agencies, which I am (Don’t get it twisted – state employees of the University of California, the California State University system, some special fund agencies, and agencies headed by constitutionally-elected officials have not faced unpaid furloughs), and given my ennui about law practice these days, it’s easy for me to consider laying the foundation for my immediate exit from state service (Any literary agents out there?) so I don't experience any loss of income in the short run. There's no loyalty between the State and its employees these days, and for folks like me, it's like playing financial chicken to see how long you can hold out without getting laid off. But assuming I can avoid being laid off until I vest, I will probably stay with the State for no other reason than to have a source of income, no matter how small, until I freakin’ die. Or at least the claim to one. Oh, and just to piss the State of California off.
In the meantime, I’m gonna try to get really healthy, take dietary supplements, and get in shape so I can live long to enjoy that pension when I’m old. Until I freakin’ die. Just to piss the State off.
Monday, June 1, 2009
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 their church on Sundays, smiling, ushering, welcoming others to worship, praise and/or discover God in all his goodness. I think of my friend whose views on abortion, gay rights and the like are so diametrically opposed to mine, yet she, too, spends most Sundays at the entrance of her church as head of her usher board, smiling and welcoming others to fellowship, praise, and just know God.
No one expects to be shot while ushering. What kind of demon would shoot someone in a house of worship? If I had my way, there would be special circumstances enhancements for crimes committed in houses of worship. But that probably violates the Constitution . . . .
When I think of those 228 souls lost somewhere in the Atlantic, I wonder: Were they ever told that there are portions of the Atlantic where there is no radar coverage? Would they have agreed to take THAT flight on THAT route if they had known? I flew from the U.S. to Spain and back while in college, and I doubt my parents would have agreed had they known that, for some portion of the trip, my plane would not have been visible on a radar screen. And that was in 1984.
If Google Earth can zero in on my house, why is there any part of the Earth where we can’t keep track of an airplane? You mean we can get to the moon, but we can’t track planes everywhere in the world? That just doesn’t make sense to me.
Then again, so much doesn’t make sense to me these days. I now realize the wisdom of the elders who, when faced with disturbing circumstances, say, “Well, sometimes, all you can do is pray.”