Thursday, November 23, 2006

Jazz Singer Anita O'Day (1919-2006)

Renowned jazz singer Anita O'Day dies

By ALLISON HOFFMAN, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 55 minutes ago

Anita O'Day, whose sassy renditions of "Honeysuckle Rose," "Sweet Georgia Brown" and other song standards that made her one of the most respected jazz vocalists of the 1940s and '50s, has died. She was 87.

O'Day died in her sleep early Thursday morning at a convalescent hospital in Los Angeles where she was recovering from a bout with pneumonia, said her manager Robbie Cavolina.

"On Tuesday night, she said to me, get me out of here," Cavolina said. "But it didn't happen."

Once known as the "Jezebel of Jazz" for her reckless, drug-induced lifestyle, O'Day lived to sing and she did so from her teen years until this year when she released "Indestructible!"

"All I ever wanted to do is perform," she said in a June 1999 interview with The Associated Press. "When I'm singing, I'm happy. I'm doing what I can do and this is my contribution to life."

Cavolina recently completed a feature film about O'Day and accompanied her to shows and on tours.

"She got to see how many people really loved her at the shows we did, in New York, in London," Cavolina said. "She had come back after all of this time. She really lived a very full and exciting life."

O'Day was born in Chicago, Ill. She left home at age 12 and often bragged about being "self-made" and never having a singing lesson.

She began her career in her teens and later recorded hits with Stan Kenton and Gene Krupa. Her highly stylized performance of songs like "And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine," "Let Me Off Uptown," "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Sweet Georgia Brown" made her famous the world over.

In her prime, O'Day was described as a scat singer and a natural improviser whose unique interpretations energized the most familiar songs. She inspired many singers, including June Christy and Chris Connor.

Her fame came at a price.

She suffered from a 16-year heroin addiction and an even longer alcohol problem. Wild, drug-related behavior and occasional stints in jail on drug charges earned her the nickname "Jezebel of Jazz," a term she hated.

"I tried everything," she once said. "Curiosity will make you go your own way."

She overdosed many times and on one occasion in the late 1940s, it was almost fatal.

The experience shocked her into giving up drugs, but she continued to drink.

Her 1981 memoir "High Times Hard Times" tells of her long struggle with drug addiction and her romance with drummer John Poole.

In late 1996, O'Day fell down the stairs of her Hemet, Calif., home after a drinking binge. She was admitted to a hospital with a broken arm but ended up with severe food poisoning and pneumonia.

She survived the ordeal but her recovery — both physical and emotional — was painful. She left the hospital in a wheelchair and didn't walk for nearly a year. Her right hand was paralyzed but worst of all, she said, she had lost her singing voice.

Although she blamed the complications on poor hospital care, the near-death experience convinced O'Day to give up alcohol.

It took nearly a year to get her voice back and start singing again. But once she did, she was right back on stage.

She received a lifetime achievement award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1997.

For the last years of her life, O'Day performed at various Los Angeles night spots.

O'Day had no children and no immediate family, Cavolina said.

M&C note: She was born Anita Belle Colton in Chicago on October 18, 1919.
Visit her webpage while it is up: [that is the source of these wonderful album cover photos.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Blues guitarist Robert Lockwood Jr. (1915-2006)

Robert Lockwood Jr.; Disciple Of Blues Legend Robert Johnson

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 23, 2006; B06

Robert Lockwood Jr., 91, a Delta blues guitarist who became the torchbearer of Robert Johnson's guitar legacy and a revered musician in his own right, died Nov. 21 at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. He had a brain aneurysm and a stroke.

Few guitarists had the enduring mystique of Johnson, a hard-living, hard-loving musician who created soulful blues landmarks before his death at 27 from poisoned whiskey.

Growing up in rural Arkansas, Mr. Lockwood learned guitar fundamentals from Johnson, who also functioned as an occasional stepfather although there was only a four-year age difference.

A professional musician at 15, Mr. Lockwood reached wider audiences through radio work in the early 1940s from a station in Helena, Ark. One listener, B.B. King, became Mr. Lockwood's pupil, and years later Mr. Lockwood advised the addition of horns to King's band to disguise his imperfect sense of keeping time.

Mr. Lockwood, who also sang and composed songs, was a well-disciplined musician -- some called him the least-known elder statesman in music. In the past few decades, he almost exclusively played the 12-string guitar.

In Chicago, he became a fixture of blues and jazz recording sessions for Chess and other record labels. He played with nearly every blues giant who passed through the city in the 1940s and 1950s, including guitarist Muddy Waters; singer Howlin' Wolf; pianists Roosevelt Sykes, Curtis Jones, Sunnyland Slim and Eddie Boyd; and harmonica player Little Walter.

Long settled in Cleveland, he began recording as a soloist in the 1970s after appearances at the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival. He continued playing at clubs, college campuses and festivals around the world and received prestigious awards and blues hall of fame inductions.

Mr. Lockwood was born March 27, 1915, on a farm in Turkey Scratch, Ark., about 25 miles from Helena. His parents separated when he was young, and he learned guitar from two of his cousins. The grandson of a preacher, he also enjoyed playing the blues on the organ.

When he was 11, Johnson showed up on his doorstep. "He followed my momma home," Mr. Lockwood told the publication Living Blues. "And she couldn't get rid of him. He wouldn't leave. He hung around there and hung around there. And he and my momma stayed together off and on for 10 years."

After Johnson's death in 1938, Mr. Lockwood went to Chicago and made his first recordings, backing singer Doctor Clayton. His experiments on the electric guitar gained wide notice on the "King Biscuit Time," a 15-minute radio program broadcast during the noon hour from Helena. He later switched to an all-jazz format for a competing show sponsored by Mother's Best Flour that had national reach.

In 1950, he became a session guitarist for Chess Records, the premier blues label. During that boom period in postwar urban blues, he was particularly adept at blending in with classically educated musicians and those with little formal training.

"Most of the blues singers were kinda uneducated, so maybe they didn't know when they were being shorted," he said in 1994 of the notoriously bad bookkeeping at most record labels. "The Chess brothers were a little afraid of me because I was outspoken.

"One time, Little Walter got shot," he said. "When they took him to the hospital, the police pried open his fist, and he had three sticks of marijuana. They chained Little Walter to the bed, so I told Leonard Chess what happened.

"He said, 'That [expletive] Walter's gonna give me a heart attack, yet.' I told him, 'I don't know about that, but I do know that he made you a millionaire, so what you gonna do?' Chess called out there, and they took the chains off of Little Walter, just like that."

An old friend, harmonica player Sonny Boy Williamson II (also called "Rice" Miller), lured him to Cleveland in 1960. He stayed, figuring he had less competition than in Chicago.

He worked as a chauffeur and nightclub manager and made an impressive guitar-piano duet with Otis Spann, who had been Muddy Waters's pianist. Their "Otis Spann Is the Blues" (1960) featured a rollicking version of what became Mr. Lockwood's unofficial theme song, "Little Boy Blue."

Mr. Lockwood began his solo career in the 1970s, and his records combined fierce Delta-style picking with horn-backed swing blues. The Rounder label paired him with fellow Johnson disciple Johnny Shines on the albums "Hangin' On" (1979) and "Mr. Blues Is Back to Stay" (1980).

His 1998 release "I've Got to Find Me a Woman," including a guitar duet with B.B. King, received a Grammy Award nomination for traditional blues album. "Delta Crossroads" (2000), released on the Telarc label, received a second nomination.

Mr. Lockwood received two W.C. Handy Awards, the highest honor in blues music. Then-first lady Hillary Clinton presented him in 1995 with the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship award.

Until his health failed in recent weeks, he performed weekly at a Cleveland club. With a typically profane flourish, he once told a reporter that the secret to his vitality was buying meat from the Amish.

"People are putting that dumb [expletive] in the food to make the [expletive] cows grow," he said. "That's why you see so many tall children. You buy that [expletive] in the stores? It's bad news. I'm sorry."

His first wife, Annie Roberts Lockwood, died in 1997. Survivors include his wife, Mary Smith Lockwood of Cleveland; four stepchildren from the first marriage; and four stepchildren from the second marriage.

Plagiarism Past and Present: Dead Plagiarists Society

Dead Plagiarists Society
Will Google Book Search uncover long-buried literary crimes?
By Paul Collins
Posted Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2006, at 12:22 PM ET

Amir Aczel knew just whom to blame. "It seems," the science author complained last month in an irate letter to the Washington Post, "that [Charles] Seife has submitted every sentence in my book to a Google search." Days earlier in a Post book review, Seife exposed what appeared to be embarrassing plagiarisms in Aczel's new book, The Artist and the Mathematician. But if Seife's discovery that Aczel lifted text from the Guggenheim Museum's Web site was instructive, so was the assumption behind Aczel's response. For any plagiarist living in an age of search engines, waving a loaded book in front of reviewers has become the literary equivalent of suicide by cop.

As it turns out, even authors not living in this online age are in trouble. My fellow literary sleuth Alex MacBride recently revealed to me that he'd uncovered an old crime in a new way. MacBride, a linguist employed by Google, idly ran a phrase from England Howlett's 1899 essay Sacrificial Foundations through Google Book Search, his employer's massive digitization of millions of volumes from university libraries. The search had nothing to do with his job—like the rest of us, sometimes Alex just kills time by plugging stuff into Google—and rather than go to the trouble of digging out Howlett's book by name, he'd decided to call it up with a phrase. To his surprise, he got more back than just Howlett: The search also revealed a suspiciously similar passage in Sabine Baring-Gould's 1892 book Strange Survivals. A lot of suspiciously similar passages.

Perhaps it's not too shocking that a small-time amateur like Howlett swiped from Baring-Gould, a frenetically prolific folklore scholar who published hundreds of books and articles. But, the search results revealed, this was not quite the end of the story. "Charmingly," MacBride e-mails, "Baring-Gould seems to have had sticky fingers himself." The wronged author, you see, had in turn used the unattributed quotation from a still earlier work: Benjamin Thorpe's 1851 study Northern Mythology.

We're talking about forgotten writers here: I don't think there will be too many England Howlett fan clubs grappling with disillusionment today. But MacBride's discovery is the first rumble in what may become a literary earthquake. Given the popularity of plagiarism-seeking software services for academics, it may be only a matter of time before some enterprising scholar yokes Google Book Search and plagiarism-detection software together into a massive literary dragnet, scooping out hundreds of years' worth of plagiarists—giants and forgotten hacks alike—who have all escaped detection until now.

But wait, you might ask, don't people accidentally repeat each other's sentences all the time? It seems to me that this should not be unusual. Yet try plugging that last sentence word by word into Google Book Search, and watch what happens.

It: Rejected—too many hits to count
It seems: 11,160,000 matches
It seems to: 3,050,000
It seems to me: 1,580,000
It seems to me that: 844,000
It seems to me that this: 29,700
It seems to me that this should: 237
It seems to me that this should not: 20
It seems to me that this should not be: 9
It seems to me that this should not be unusual: 0

It seems to me that this should not be unusual is itself ... unusual.

Google Book Search contains hundreds of millions of printed pages, and yet after just a few words, the likelihood of the sentence's replication scales down dramatically. And even before our sentence implodes into utter improbability, there's another telling phenomenon at work. The nine books that contain the penultimate It seems to me that this should not be are from a grab bag of subjects: a 2001 study of Freud, an 1874 collection of Methodist camp sermons, minutes from a 1973 hearing of the Senate subcommittee on transportation. So, if replicating the same sentence alone is suspicious behavior, then to also replicate it on the same subject warrants dialing 911.

Conveniently enough, a few literary greats have already had their mug shots taken. It's long been known that Poe plagiarized his first book, a hack project titled The Conchologist's First Book, and that Herman Melville swiped many technical passages of Moby Dick whole from maritime authors like Henry Cheever. Even more inventively, Lawrence Sterne's immortal diatribe against plagiarism in Tristram Shandy was itself ... plagiarized from Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy. There have always been a dizzying array of ways that authors can rip each other off, even in reverse: Literary critic Terry Eagleton has written entertainingly of "anti-plagiarism," a 19th-century literary wheeze favored by Irish critics, who pounced on poets or novelists for plagiarizing or surreptitiously translating some little-known domestic or foreign work and presenting it under their name. The trick was that the "original" work presented by the prosecuting critic was itself a forgery, written after a new work's publication to frame an enemy.

The most intriguing result of a digital dragnet would be if any deeply idiosyncratic last-person-you'd-guess authors get fingered—Emily Dickinson, anyone? Ben Franklin, perhaps? I'd bet that in the next decade at least one major literary work gets busted. Such thefts don't necessarily end a literary reputation: After all, what Melville did with ordinary maritime literature amounted to an act of lead-to-gold alchemy. But it's invigorating to think that some forgotten authors, long buried and with the dirt tamped down over them by their ruthless rivals, will now get their due. Plagiarism, it seems, will out.
Paul Collins teaches nonfiction at Portland State University. His latest book is The Trouble With Tom: The Strange Afterlife and Times of Thomas Paine.

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Rock of Ages: the AARP and Rock Music

New York Times
November 21, 2006
Rock of Ages

Note: This article will appear in the November 26 issue of Arts and Leisure.

AT 52, Martha Stinson is not quite sure where to turn when it comes to new music. The local Tower Records in Nashville, where Mrs. Stinson is an owner a general contracting company, is going out of business, and she never did figure out how to load music onto the digital-music player she bought a couple of years ago.

But she may soon receive an overture from a source not known for its musical savvy: AARP. She is the kind of consumer that the association is targeting with a sweeping marketing campaign that it hopes will entice millions of new members, as the first kids weaned on rock ’n’ roll turn gray.

And if Mrs. Stinson is any indication, the group faces an uphill battle. She has repeatedly thrown out AARP membership solicitations, after all. “It’s going to be tough,” to market to those like her, she said. “Our generation has always been a little revolutionary. We feel like we’re in middle age. Were out bike riding, running businesses. Our kids are fully grown, and we’re kind of footloose and fancy free.”

Older consumers (along with children) represent one of the few reliable markets in the music business these days, and AARP, the organization for older Americans, is keen to capitalize on that. On Tuesday the group announced that for the first time it will sponsor a national concert tour, by Tony Bennett. And that’s just a start. Other sponsorships will follow, and from those, AARP hopes, many new members. With plans in the works for an alliance with a major retail chain, a Web-based music recommendation service with Pandora and even a music blog, AARP is looking to graduate from advocate of the shuffleboard set to the ranks of cultural concierge.

“I hope that we make this thing so relevant and so cool,” said Tena Clark, a music consultant helping to devise the group’s marketing strategy. “I would hope that one day in the future that my 20-year-old daughter would want to borrow my AARP card to get into a concert just like she tries to borrow her sister’s I.D.”

Consumers like Ms. Stinson may not be the only skeptics however. For musicians, a deal with AARP is a different matter than a deal with a hip coffee house or a fashion retailer. No matter how hard the group may try to change its image — even with the likes of Paul McCartney and Susan Sarandon on the cover of its magazine — some people still associate it with the Saturday-night-bingo set. And many musicians may want to keep their distance, even if it means sacrificing enormous sales.

“The problem is going to be getting the artists to allow, next to their name, those four feared initials,” said Jonny Podell, the longtime talent agent who books appearances for artists including the Allman Brothers Band, Alice Cooper and Peter Gabriel. “I’m the agent for half a dozen acts they’re going to want,” Mr. Podell said, and “short of saying, ‘In addition to your normal fee we’re giving you $1 million in cash,’ I don’t think they’d have one taker.” For the artists, he said, “It’s about not admitting they’re old.” For his part Mr. Podell, who is 60, said he has been receiving AARP entreaties for years, and each time “I drop it like a hot potato.”

Jan Reisen, who along with her partner Peter Kooiker runs the Web site, said she plans to join AARP at some point to take advantage of financial benefits like discounts on insurance, rental cars and hotels. But as for recommending albums, “If I want to know about cool music, I’ll ask my 22-year-old.”

Whether AARP succeeds in its new venture, it’s on to something significant. Like Madison Avenue it is responding to the marketing challenge posed by the huge but fickle post-war generation, which for the last 60 years has driven cultural trends from hula hoops to the S.U.V. Consumers over 50 used to make marketers’ eyes glaze over. The assumption was that older buyers’ spending habits had solidified and their earning power had peaked. No longer.

Now they control too much disposable income — and live too long — to be ignored. And nowhere is the shift in attitudes more pronounced than in the beleaguered pop music business, which desperately needs their money (who do you think is buying all those $750 Barbra Streisand tickets?) and shares their aversion to illicit music downloads.

The graying of the music market crept up on America. Even during the ascent of Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys in the late 1990s, when teen sensations were getting all the attention, consumers 45 and older were the industry’s biggest market, according to survey data compiled by the Recording Industry Association of America. The gap has only widened since then. Last year fans 45 and older accounted for 25.5 percent of sales, while older teenagers (a group more prone to music piracy) represented less than 12 percent. So it’s little wonder that Rod Stewart’s raspy remakes of pop standards emerged as a franchise, or that Bob Dylan in September captured the No. 1 spot on the Billboard chart for the first time in 30 years.

The trick is that conventional marketing techniques don’t always work with this group (if they work with anyone anymore). Older listeners don’t have much interest in traditional commercial radio, which targets children and young adults, as do TV channels like VH1 and MTV. And they don’t spend much time in traditional record stores.

So labels, publicists and marketers have had to learn new tricks to reach them. Older acts show up not on MTV’s “TRL” (Total Request Live) but on morning shows like “Today,” and hawk their wares in infomercials and TV mail-order ads. Instead of seeking Top 40 radio airplay, they look to National Public Radio and satellite radio. And to entice more casual consumers, artists now regularly guarantee exclusive recordings to mass retailers like Target or high-end chains that cater to grown-ups.

While Starbucks is the most prominent example, other chains are finding their own niche. James Taylor struck platinum with a CD that was initially sold only in Hallmark stores. Nordstrom has introduced music to its offerings, starting with a previously out-of-print Marvin Gaye release and an exclusive CD from the jazz-tinged singer-songwriter Jamie Cullum.

But perhaps the most surprising results have been online, where the over-50 set accounted for almost 24 percent of the industry’s Internet sales, according to NPD Group, a market-research company.

While these consumers didn’t grow up with the Internet, they have grown comfortable with using it, at least to order CDs if not download music in digital form. All of that helps account for why’s recent Top 10 included Mr. Bennett’s hit “Duets: An American Classic” CD, the new collaboration from J. J. Cale and Eric Clapton, and holiday albums from James Taylor and Bette Midler, while over at iTunes, the best sellers were rap hits from the Game, Akon and the pop-punk band Plus-44.

Overall, marketers say, older consumers need to be made comfortable. So House of Blues, the concert promoter, found that it could boost ticket sales for older artists by offering pre-show dinners or wine tastings. Sometimes they added seating in clubs that had required fans to stand.

AARP is heeding such lessons by developing the machinery of modern tastemaking. That means bulking up its Web site with music offerings, licensing the Pandora online radio and recommendation service, and negotiating for shelf space at a major retail chain, which would carry exclusive versions of certain CDs with discounts to AARP members. And of course it will advertise at Mr. Bennett’s concerts and perhaps sign up new members there too.

Thanks in part to Target and Starbucks, his “Duets” album has racked up the biggest sales of his career (almost 650,000 copies in its first seven weeks). Mr. Bennett’s son and manager, Danny Bennett, said the album is succeeding because it appeals not to older buyers specifically, but to a wide swatch of the audience. And that multi-generational appeal, the younger Mr. Bennett said, is what makes his father a perfect ally for AARP. “It’s not a matter of ‘I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.’ It’s ‘Let’s stay healthy so we can rock.’ Tony’s the poster child for AARP. He’s 80 years old. He’s young at heart.”

AARP seems intent on a more generation-specific approach, putting its stamp on albums individually chosen for older consumers.

As for the wary artists, in an era when record labels are cutting back on marketing expenses, AARP, with about 37 million members, could be a great, rich friend to have. The message is not lost on the labels. Jay Krugman, senior vice president for marketing at Columbia Records (which released Mr. Bennett’s CD) calls the group “like the golden chalice.”

Elton John performed at the association’s “Life @50+” convention in Anaheim, Calif., last month; officials said they have booked Rod Stewart and Earth, Wind & Fire for next year. James Taylor played two years ago, and the group’s magazine has named him as one of the hottest people over 50. (He was listed under the “babelicious baldies” category.)

His manager, Gary Borman, acknowledges that for artists who still compete for radio airplay and television exposure, “their reputation could be somewhat tainted” by an AARP affiliation. “On the other hand, for many, many of these artists, they’re no longer playing that radio and record game and they just want to serve their fans and keep them coming back.”

“Our generation,” he concluded, “as much as we were once intuitive discoverers of music, we have lost that intuition. And now we need to be spoon fed.”

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Zappa on Varese (1971)

Please visit the website of the original, which includes a photos link:

Edgard Varese: The Idol of My Youth
By Frank Zappa

I have been asked to write about Edgard Varese. I am in no way qualified to. I can't even pronounce his name right. The only reason I have agreed to is because I love his music very much, and if by some chance this article can influence more people to hear his works, it will have been worthwhile.

I was about thirteen when I read an article in Look about Sam Goody's Record Store in New York. My memory is not too clear on the details, but I recall it was praising the store's exceptional record merchandising ability. One example of brilliant salesmanship described how, through some mysterious trickery, the store actually managed to sell an album called "Ionization" (the real name of the album was "The Complete Works of Edgard Varese, Volume One"). The article described the record as a weird jumble of drums and other unpleasant sounds.

I dashed off to my local record store and asked for it. Nobody ever heard of it. I told the guy in the store what it was like. He turned away, repulsed, and mum- bled solemnly, "I probably wouldn't stock it anyway . . .nobody here in San Diego would buy it."

I didn't give up. I was so hot to get that record I couldn't even believe it. In those days I was a rhythm- and-blues fanatic. I saved any money I could get (some- times as much as $2 a week) so that every Friday and Saturday I could rummage through piles of old records at the juke Box Used Record Dump (or whatever they called it) in the Maryland Hotel or the dusty corners of little record stores where they'd keep the crappy records nobody wanted to buy.

One day I was passing a hi-fi store in La Mesa. A little sign in the window announced a sale on 45's. After shuffling through their singles rack and finding a couple of Joe Houston records, I walked toward the cash register. On my way, I happened to glance into the LP bin. Sitting in the front, just a little bent at the corners, was a strange-looking black-and-white album cover. On it there was a picture of a man with gray frizzy hair. He looked like a mad scientist. I thought it was great that somebody had finally made a record of a mad scientist. I picked it up. I nearly (this is true, ladies and gentlemen) peed in my pants . . . THERE IT WAS! EMS 401, The Complete Works of Edgard Varese Volume I . . . Integrales, Density 21.5, Ionization, Octandre . . . Rene Le Roy, the N. Y. Wind Ensemble, the Juilliard Percussion Orchestra, Frederic Waidman Conducting . . .liner notes by Sidney Finkelstein! WOW!

I ran over to the singles box and stuffed the Joe Houston records back in it. I fumbled around in my pocket to see how much money I had (about $3.80). 1 knew I had to have a lot of money to buy an album. Only old people had enough money to buy albums. I'd never bought an album before. I sneaked over to the guy at the cash register and asked him how much EMS 401 cost. "That gray one in the box? $5.95 - "

I had searched for that album for over a year, and now . . . disaster. I told the guy I only had $3.80. He scratched his neck. "We use that record to demonstrate the hi-fi's with, but nobody ever buys one when we use it . . . you can have it for $3.80 if you want it that bad. "

I couldn't imagine what he meant by "demonstrating hi-fi's with it." I'd never heard a hi-fi. I only knew that old people bought them. I had a genuine lo-fi . . . it was a little box about 4 inches deep with imitation wrought-iron legs at each corner (sort of brass-plated) which elevated it from the table top because the speaker was in the bottom. My mother kept it near the ironing board. She used to listen to a 78 of The Little Shoemaker on it. I took off the 78 of The Little Shoemaker and, carefully moving the speed lever to 33 1/3 (it had never been there before), turned the volume all the way up and placed the all-purpose Osmium-tip needle in the lead-in spiral to Ionization. I have a nice Catholic mother who likes Roller Derby. Edgard Varese does not get her off, even to this very day. I was forbidden to play that record in the living room ever again.

In order to listen to The Album, I had to stay in my room. I would sit there every night and play it two or three times and read the liner notes over and over. I didn't understand them at all. I didn't know what timbre was. I never heard of polyphony. I just liked the music because it sounded good to me. I would force anybody who came over to listen to it. (I had heard someplace that in radio stations the guys would make chalk marks on records so they could find an exact spot, so I did the same thing to EMS 401 . . . marked all the hot items so my friends wouldn't get bored in the quiet parts.)

I went to the library and tried to find a book about Mr. Varese. There wasn't any. The librarian told me he probably wasn't a Major Composer. She suggested I look in books about new or unpopular composers. I found a book that had a little blurb in it (with a picture of Mr. Varese as a young man, staring into the camera very seriously) saying that he would be just as happy growing grapes as being a composer.

On my fifteenth birthday my mother said she'd give me $5. 1 told her I would rather make a long-distance phone call. I figured Mr. Varese lived in New York because the record was made in New York (and be- cause he was so weird, he would live in Greenwich Village). I got New York Information, and sure enough, he was in the phone book.

His wife answered. She was very nice and told me he was in Europe and to call back in a few weeks. I did. I don't remember what I said to him exactly, but it was something like: "I really dig your music." He told me he was working on a new piece called Deserts. This thrilled me quite a bit since I was living in Lancaster, California then. When you're fifteen and living in the Mojave Desert and find out that the world's greatest composer, somewhere in a secret Greenwich Village laboratory, is working on a song about your "home town" you can get pretty excited. It seemed a great tragedy that nobody in-Palmdale or Rosamond would care if they ever heard it. I still think Deserts is about Lancaster, even if the liner notes on the Columbia LP say it's something more philosophical.

All through high school I searched for information about Varese and his music. One of the most exciting discoveries was in the school library in Lancaster. I found an orchestration book that had score examples in the back, and included was an excerpt from Offrandes with a lot of harp notes (and you know how groovy harp notes look). I remember fetishing the book for several weeks.

When I was eighteen I got a chance to go to the East Coast to visit my Aunt Mary in Baltimore. I had been composing for about four years then but had not heard any of it played. Aunt Mary was going to introduce me to some friend of hers (an Italian gentleman) who was connected with the symphony there. I had planned on making a side trip to mysterious Greenwich Village. During my birthday telephone conversation, Mr. Varese had casually mentioned the possibility of a visit if I was ever in the area. I wrote him a letter when I got to Baltimore, just to let him know I was in the area.

I waited. My aunt introduced me to the symphony guy. She said, "This is Frankie. He writes orchestra music." The guy said, "Really? Tell me, sonny boy, what's the lowest note on a bassoon?" I said, "B flat . . .and also it says in the book you can get 'em up to a C or something in the treble clef." He said, "Really? You know about violin harmonics?" I said, "What's that?" He said, "See me again in a few years."

I waited some more. The letter came. I couldn't believe it. A real handwritten letter from Edgard Varese! I still have it in a little frame. In very tiny scientific-looking script it says:


VII 12th/57

Dear Mr. Zappa

I am sorry not to be able to grant your request. I am leaving
for Europe next week and will be gone until next spring. I am
hoping however to see you on my return. With best wishes.


nbsp; &n

bsp; &nb

sp; Sincerely

nbsp; &n

bsp; &nb

sp; Edgard Varese

I never got to meet Mr. Varese. But I kept looking for records of his music. When he got to be about eighty I guess a few companies gave in and recorded some of his stuff. Sort of a gesture, I imagine. I always wondered who bought them besides me. It was about seven years from the time I first heard his music till I met someone else who even knew he existed. That person was a film student at USC. He had the Columbia LP with Poeme Electronique on it. He thought it would make groovy sound effects.

I can't give you any structural insights or academic suppositions about how his music works or why I think it sounds so good. His music is completely unique. If you haven't heard it yet, go hear it. If you've already heard it and think it might make groovy sound effects, listen again. I would recommend the Chicago Symphony recording of Arcana on RCA (at full volume) or the Utah Symphony recording of Ameriques on Vanguard. Also, there is a biography by Fernand Oulette, and miniature scores are available for most of his works, published by G. Ricordi.

Article taken from Stereo Review, June 1971. pp61-62. ---James Fei, 3/95

Lasse Gjertsen Creates Music by Video Editing

A YouTube hit, and justifiably so. He deftly slices together hundreds of video samples of drums set and piano to create a song:

The genesis of this technique can be found on last year's Gjertsen beatbox editing sensation, "Hyperactive." The thing that really separates Gjertsen from his imitators is his sense of time. Check it out:

Friday, November 17, 2006

Nice Maria Schneider article

New York Times November 17, 2006
Listening With | Maria Schneider
Keeping the Notes Dancing and Flying

Clipped to the music desk of Maria Schneider’s upright piano is a picture of the ballerina Sylvie Guillem. Spread out all over it a few weeks ago were sketches for a new composition, “Cerulean Skies,” for a festival in Vienna programmed by Peter Sellars, celebrating the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth.

It is a piece about the migration of birds, and Ms. Schneider has been struggling with it, trying to get the right quality of motion. When she composes, she often plays a sequence into a tape recorder, then gets up to play it back, and moves around the room to the phrases of the music, seeing how it feels when danced. “It helps me figure out where things are, and what needs to be longer,” she said.

Much of Maria Schneider’s large- ensemble jazz of the last six years has been nearly a figurative description of long-flow movement, particularly dancing or flying. And even when that’s not what it’s really about — as it is in her piece “Hang Gliding” or the various dances represented in her suite “Three Romances” — that’s still, in a sense, what it’s really about. In her Upper West Side apartment Ms. Schneider, 45, composes at the piano; onstage she stands and conducts her band, which ranges from 17 to 20 musicians, and which will take up residence at Jazz Standard next week. Judging herself a mediocre pianist, she doesn’t play the instrument onstage; she is one of the few well-known jazz composers who do not perform with their own ensembles.

It is extremely unlikely in these times for a jazz composer who isn’t also an instrumental star to keep a 17-piece band more or less intact for 13 years. But she has managed it, through grants and ambitious touring and, recently, an innovative system of releasing recordings through the online label ArtistShare, which treats customers as “members,” allowing them not only to preorder her new music at standard CD prices but, for a little more, to see how its various parts are coming together, via streaming-video updates.

Both the open, flowing sound of Ms. Schneider’s music and its hopeful, nearly naïve sense of possibility make some sense when laid against the details of her life. Ms. Schneider and her two sisters grew up in rural southwest Minnesota, in an agricultural town called Windom, 150 miles from Minneapolis.

“We had all these big picture windows,” she said recently, “and you’d look out the window and you’d see nothin’.” She smiled. Ms. Schneider is blond and slim, with large, deep-set eyes. When she talks about her art, or about music that she likes, her dry voice flushes and cracks, and she straightens her body and moves her limbs to express something.

“When your entertainment isn’t provided for you,” she continued, “your life is full of fantasy.” As a girl Ms. Schneider would play the piano and imagine that New York talent scouts might be driving nearby in cars with radio antennae that could pick up her music and discover her. “So I was always on, prepared for one of these talent scouts.”

Her father designed machinery for processing flax, and his company required him to get a pilot’s license so he could fly to flax fields in Canada and North Dakota. He kept his plane in a hangar behind the family garage, and he would often take Ms. Schneider flying with him. “When you’re in a small plane, and it banks — when the plane goes like this?” She turned her flat palm to a 90-degree angle. “The earth looked perpendicular to the wing, and I used to look at the earth and think that we were straight. I didn’t think that we were tilted.”

Ms. Schneider learned something about musical motion with Gil Evans, the great composer and arranger, who died in 1988. After attending the Eastman School of Music, She moved to New York and worked as his assistant, copying scores, transcribing things, helping Evans with arrangements. He never helped her directly with her music — she didn’t presume to ask — but she has since become, in a sense, his best-known contemporary student. And her work has been frequently compared to his, which, she says, suggests that people don’t understand his work much. But it is an almost inescapable conclusion: He is the precedent for her, the Impressionism-influenced jazz composer who recused himself as a pianist from some of his greatest work, created his own sound colors and didn’t make typical “big band” jazz.

She put on “Concierto de Aranjuez,” from “Sketches of Spain,” one of Evans’s collaborations with Miles Davis. It starts with castanets and harp; then soft orchestral lines move in for the theme, before Davis enters, a minute into the piece. “Check this out,” she said.

Davis enters with a soft flourish, and the orchestra goes into a kind of slow motion. “You know how Armani knows how to dress a woman up and make her look just incredible?” she asked. “Gil knew how to dress a soloist and make that soloist so beautiful, you know? So there’s all this fluttering — this movement, the tuba’s playing these melodies, there’s all these things going on — and when Miles enters, everything stops.” As if stirring to life again, more lines form after a minute, with curious crisscrossing momentum; it sounds improvised, but it was all was precisely composed.

Ms. Schneider once conducted the piece from a transcription; then she did it again after Evans’s original scores were found. She was amazed by the difference. “I saw everything in them, and that’s when I realized: It’s like a watch, where every little gear attaches to something else. The music and the soloist are an inseparable entity.”

What’s important to Ms. Schneider isn’t just standing in front of a band and having it play her music, but setting up structures for the improvisers so that their phrasing becomes part of the music, which then becomes part of her, so that it changes her subsequent writing. (The bands of Duke Ellington and Count Basie evolved in much the same way.) Certainly a similarly trusting approach applies to her unusual new method of making records. With a movie camera, or a digital audio recorder, Ms. Schneider documents each stage of a new piece of music, including recording sessions, even problematic recording sessions. The video can be streamed from her Web site,

This is quite an act of transparency for someone who comes across as extremely anxious about the creative process. But it seems to have worked: “Concert in the Garden,” her latest record and her first with ArtistShare, won a Grammy last year. She says the process proves that a good piece can result from unpromising beginnings. And she needs regular access to that proof.

The turnaround moment for her band was her album “Allegresse,” from 2000. Around that time her music lost some of its academic stuffiness and its obsession with vertical harmony. Part of this, she explains, was a result of her having spent time in Brazil in 1998. “I was going through tough times in my life,” she said. “When we landed in Rio and I saw the landscape, I knew my life was going to change.”

She put on a track called “A Maldade Não Tem Fim,” from an album by Velha Guarda da Portela, the dynastic group formed by the elders of the Portela samba school, which competes annually in Rio’s carnival. It’s a lovely song, typical of its kind: trombone over the mandolinlike cavaquinho and the tambourinelike pandeiros; a male voice singing the verses scratchily, a thunder of voices coming in on the chorus.

“What I love in Brazilian music,” Ms. Schneider said, “is that the way they’re singing is sustenance. It’s not about making music either for entertainment or for the conservatory — you know, music is here” — she spread her hands apart — “and your life is here. Life and music are one. The music I love is necessary for life, for survival.

“Flamenco: it makes living possible. Blues, and early jazz: it made living possible. Samba is like alchemy. It turns pain into joy, into magic. My music was very intense and serious and very jazz, even though it was influenced by classical music.” But after the trip to Brazil, “my priorities changed,” she said. “I really didn’t care if my music impressed anybody anymore, or if it was complex.”

When she got home, she didn’t immediately start writing in the style of samba. She began borrowing rhythm, loosely, from the more jazz-influenced choro style of Brazilian music. Later she moved toward flamenco, with its 12/8 buleria rhythm. She has since become obsessed with the accordion as a new voice in her ensemble; to several pieces she has added a cajon, the percussive wooden box of Peruvian music, and she hasn’t written with swing rhythm since.

She is still a jazz composer, by self-identification, working with jazz improvisers. But the music is pulling further away from any sort of conventional jazz.

“Sometimes I feel like, in the world of jazz, people think that more chromaticism all the time is going to make their music hipper,” she said disappointedly. “It’s like, no. Music is a time-oriented art. So it’s how you play a person’s attention through time.

“I mean, here and there you’ll capture an experience in jazz that just makes you go ....” She opened her eyes wide and gasped. “But to me it happens less and less, and I think that’s because musicians think they have to keep playing more and more. Sometimes I leave those clubs and come home and listen to Bach cello suites. One line. Some space around one note. Or nothing. Nothing for weeks on end.”

Finally she wanted — really wanted — to hear “Up — Up and Away,” the hit by the Fifth Dimension, written by Jimmy Webb. It entered her bloodstream when she was a girl, she said. During the first lyric line (“Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon?”), Ms. Schneider cocked a finger.

“Now check this out,” she said. ”Modulation, up a minor fifth. That’s the flying modulation. It’s all over my new music.” She mentioned a few of her songs that contained similar modulations: “Hang Gliding,” “Coming About.”

“And now: up another minor third.” (The Fifth Dimension was singing, “For we can flyyy ...”) “Now it’s going down—let’s see — a major third. And you hear the flutes?” (They appeared after the line “It wears a nicer face in my beautiful balloon.”) “That’s Gil Evans, I’m sorry.” (The influence is entirely possible: the arrangements were by Marty Paich, a West Coast jazz arranger and a contemporary of Evans.)

She seemed self-conscious that she was praising an AM radio tune from her childhood in terms that should be reservied for Major Works of Art. But she raved: “Jimmy Webb is a genius, I’m sorry. That tune modulates six times, if not more. Ah. I get chills. Am I crazy? Who could dare to write that? It modulates as much as ‘Giant Steps’ does.” (She was referring to the John Coltrane composition, of which she has written her own inventive arrangement.)

Motion, flying, nostalgia: it seems important, this thing about flying in your father’s plane, I said, a little embarrassed by the obviousness of the psychology.

To my surprise, she grew excited. “Maybe because of the motion, the openness and the motion,” she said. “I never thought about it.”

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Jay-Z Versus the Sample Troll

Jay-Z Versus the Sample Troll
The shady one-man corporation that's destroying hip-hop.
By Tim Wu
Posted Thursday, Nov. 16, 2006, at 1:50 PM ET

Last week, a mysterious company, Bridgeport Music Inc., sued hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, accusing him of breaking the law when he recorded his 2003 single "Justify My Thug." The song is an obvious nod to Madonna's "Justify My Love," but she is not the plaintiff. Instead, Bridgeport is suing because Jay-Z did something that is normal in hip-hop: sampling. He took a few notes, looped them in the background, and produced the tune. Bridgeport claims to own those notes, and is demanding a fortune in damages and a permanent ban on the distribution of the song.

Bridgeport is an unwelcome addition to the music world: the "sample troll." Similar to its cousins the patent trolls, Bridgeport and companies like it hold portfolios of old rights (sometimes accumulated in dubious fashion) and use lawsuits to extort money from successful music artists for routine sampling, no matter how minimal or unnoticeable. The sample trolls have already leveraged their position into millions in settlements and court damages, but that's not the real problem. The trolls are turning copyright into the foe rather than the friend of musical innovation. They are bad for everyone in the industry—including the major labels. The sample trolls need to be stopped, either by Congress or by court rulings that establish sampling as a boon, not a burden, to creativity.

Bridgeport is a one-man corporation formed in 1969 and owned by a former music producer named Armen Boladian. It has no employees and no reported assets other than copyrights. Technically, Bridgeport is a "catalog company." Most catalog companies are in the relatively quiet business of licensing rights for television commercials, cover songs, and selling sheet music to interested fans. But Bridgeport has figured out a far more lucrative business model—trolling for sampling cash.

George Clinton is otherwise known as the King of Interplanetary Funk and, along with the late Rick James, the world's most famous funk musician. In the 1970s, Boladian and Bridgeport managed to seize most of the copyrights to Clinton's songs. How exactly they did so is highly disputed. However, in at least a few cases, Boladian assigned the copyrights to Bridgeport by writing a contract and then faking Clinton's signature (as described here). As Clinton put it in this interview, "he just stole 'em."

Bridgeport, if a thief, stole the winning ticket. The Clinton sounds it acquired went on to be among the most widely sampled in the rap music of the 1980s and 1990s. Sampling is as elemental to the genre as beats, beefs, or bragging, and Clinton's sonic creations were a major part of Public Enemy's debut, and were also used heavily by N.W.A., Dr. Dre, Biggie Smalls, and other rap pioneers. Often the sampling is virtually impossible to detect—listen to this sample in this Public Enemy song.

The rise of rap presented a golden opportunity for Bridgeport. After years of demanding fees, in 2001, Bridgeport launched nearly 500 counts of copyright infringement against more than 800 artists and labels. The company, suing in Nashville, Tenn., located every sample of Clinton or other owned copyrights it could find. It took the legal position that any sampling of a sound recording, no matter how minimal or unnoticeable, is still a violation of federal law. Imagine that the copyright owner of The Lord of the Rings had sued every fantasy book or magazine that dared used the words elf, orc, or troll. That gives you an idea of the magnitude of Bridgeport's campaign.

Since 2001, Bridgeport's shotgun approach has led to many dismissals and settlements, but also two major victories. First, in 2005, Bridgeport convinced Nashville's federal appellate court to buy into its copyright theory. In that case, Bridgeport Music v. Dimension Films, the defendants sampled a single chord from the George Clinton tune "Get Off Your Ass and Jam," changed the pitch, and looped the sound in the background. (The result is almost completely unrecognizable—you can listen to it here). The Sixth Circuit created a rule: that any sampling, no matter how minimal or undetectable, is a copyright infringement. Said the court in Bridgeport, "Get a license or do not sample. We do not see this as stifling creativity in any significant way."

Then, in March of this year, Bridgeport cashed in. It convinced a court to enjoin the sales of the best-selling Notorious B.I.G. album Ready to Die for illegal sampling. A jury awarded Bridgeport more than $4 million in damages.

These troll lawsuits may sound unattractive. But is Bridgeport perhaps serving the goals of copyright—fostering creativity—in some less obvious way? One idea is that Bridgeport is more Robin Hood than troll, stealing from lazy, rich rappers like Jay-Z to channel money back to deserving artists like George Clinton. That argument would make some sense if making rap music were easy, or if Clinton or other artists were in some way the beneficiary of the lawsuits. But neither is true. Bridgeport and other trolls do take from the rich. But they keep the money.

If the benefits are abstract, the costs imposed are obvious. Sample trolls have already changed the face of hip-hop. Early rap, like Public Enemy, combined and mixed thousands of sounds in a single album. That makes sense musically, but it doesn't make sense legally. Thousands or even hundreds of samples, under the Bridgeport theory, mean thousands of copyright clearances and licenses. Today, Public Enemy's breakout album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, would cost millions to produce or, more likely, would never have been made at all.*

The kicker is that while sample trolls are bad for artists, they're also bad for mainstream record labels. Record labels want to get out new music at minimum cost. But if clearing rights in the Bridgeport world costs a fortune, production becomes that much more expensive, and innovative music that much riskier a bet.

What, if anything, can be done? In the big picture, copyright must continually work to ensure that the basic building blocks of creativity are available to artists and creators, especially as new forms of art emerge. We already know what this means for novelists: freedom to use facts, borrow stock characters (like Falstaff) and standard plots (the murder mystery). For filmmakers, it means the freedom to copy standard shots (like The Magnificent Seven's "establishment shot"). For rap music, it means the freedom to sample. Rap's constant reinvention and remixing of old sounds makes it what it is; now is the time for the copyright system to get that. Vibrant cultures borrow, remix and recast. Static cultures die.

Legal solutions to the sample-troll problem are relatively easy—much easier than fixing the patent-troll problem. First, there's only one appellate court, the 6th Circuit, that takes the ridiculous position that any sample, no matter how minimal, needs a license. Most copyright scholars think the decision is both activist and bogus—in the words of leading commentator William Patry, "Bridgeport is policy making wrapped up in a truncated view of law and economics." Other courts can easily counter Bridgeport. They just need to say that the infringement rules for sampling are the same rules that apply for the rest of copyright. Dumbledore may resemble Gandalf, but he's no infringement. Similarly, if you can't even recognize the original in a sample, it shouldn't violate federal law to use it.

Congress could also easily act against the sample trolls. All that is needed is a "sampling code": a single section of the law that declares the usage of some fixed amount of a sound recording, say, seven notes or less, to be no infringement of the copyright law. That would give artists a simple rule to live by, while still requiring licenses for big samples that would compete with the original. It's a win-win scenario. With a single line of code, Congress can make this problem go away.

In the end, it's probably wrong to suggest the sample trolls are evil or hate rap music. The trolls simply look for profit, like any business, and are rational and predictable, like the mold that grows on rotten meat. None of these problems would be quite so severe if artists actually controlled their own copyrights. George Clinton's copyrights end up blocking sampling, when he himself favors sampling. "When hip-hop came out," said Clinton in this interview with Rick Karr, "I was glad to hear it, especially when it was our songs—it was a way to get back on the radio."

Copyright is supposed to be the servant of artists, but today that is all too often just a pretense. The vast majority of the nation's valuable copyrights are owned not by creators, but by stockpilers of one kind or another, and Bridgeport is just a particularly pernicious example. We need better devices to keep the control of the most valuable of artist's rights with artists. For, to paraphrase Judge Learned Hand, copyright was born to protect and liberate musicians, but it all too often ends up enslaving them.

Click here to see the complaint in the Jay-Z case.

Correction, Nov. 16, 2006: The article originally and incorrectly stated that It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back was Public Enemy's first album. In fact, it was the group's second. (Return to the corrected sentence.)
Tim Wu is a professor at Columbia Law School and co-author of Who Controls the Internet?

Article URL:

Copyright 2006 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Co. LLC

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Air Guitar Shirt-Controller

Air guitarists hide a new trick up their sleeves

Rockin' science: CSIRO researcher Richard Helmer demonstrates the shirt that means anyone can be a guitarist.
Photo: Wayne Taylor

Ben Doherty
November 14, 2006
Rockin' science: CSIRO researcher Richard Helmer demonstrates the shirt that means anyone can be a guitarist.

It's not rocket science. No, no, it's something way cooler. It's rockin' science.

Scientists in Geelong have created something talent-lean wannabe rock gods everywhere need: an air-guitar shirt that allows its wearer to actually play.

The shirt recognises arm movements and relays them wirelessly to a computer, which makes the sound.

Different arm positions create different sounds. The left arm chooses the chords and "plays" them by adopting a certain position, while the right arm strums the "strings".

Just like a real guitar, but without the hours of practice and the bleeding fingers.

There are hopes to take the air-guitar shirt to market, but so far only two exist, one in white, another in a very rock black.

The shirt was created by CSIRO research engineer Richard Helmer, who is also a guitarist. He made it a side project for a couple of years. It was inspired by the intelligent knee sleeve that has been trialled by Geelong Football Club and which, through a series of audio beeps, could tell wearers whether they were landing correctly.

His response to the knee sleeve was pretty instantaneous, Dr Helmer said. "I thought, 'Let's make a guitar out of that'. But . . . it wasn't really until about January this year that the project gained some momentum."

By adapting the knee-sleeve technology, and through collaboration with computer, textile and music experts, the air-guitar shirt was born.

The current model is the shirt's second incarnation. The first involved finger movement in the left hand as well, but was abandoned because it was "too fiddly and complicated" for non-guitarists.

"What we have now is an easy-to-use, virtual instrument that allows real time music-making, even by players without significant musical or computing skills," Dr Helmer said. "It allows you to jump around and the sound generated is just like an original MP3."

The air-guitar shirt technology also has more serious applications. A shirt that could "map" a wearer's body, highlighting postural, muscular or other health problems, is probably not far away, and will be Dr Helmer's next major endeavour.

But he thinks that, simply because it's fun, there could be a market for the air-guitar shirt and he is working on a business plan.

"If enough people are excited about it then we will do it," he said.

Initially, the technology might be expensive but in a few years, the shirts could cost a couple of hundred dollars.

"We'd like to think that they'd be affordable enough so that everyone who wanted one could have one," Dr Helmer said.

Monday, November 13, 2006

'Whiter Shade of Pale' authorship dispute

'Whiter Shade of Pale' now a court case

By JILL LAWLESS, Associated Press Writer
Mon Nov 13, 8:53 AM ET

Two former '60s rock stars appeared before a music-loving judge on Monday for a showdown over authorship of one of the decade's most iconic songs.

The organ strains of Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale" sounded through Court 56 of Britain's High Court as the band's former organ player, Matthew Fisher, sued an ex-bandmate for a share of copyright in the multimillion-selling song.

Fisher's lawyer, Iain Purvis, said the song "defined what is sometimes called the Summer of Love in 1967" and had achieved cult status.

He said Fisher had composed the organ melody, and particularly the eight-bar Hammond organ solo, which gives the song its distinctive baroque flavor.

Purvis said the solo "is a brilliant piece of work and it is crucial to the success of the song."

"Our case, in essence, is that Mr. Fisher wrote the entirety of the organ tune," he said.

Fisher is suing Procol Harum singer Gary Brooker and publisher Onward Music Ltd. for a co-author credit and a share of the song's copyright and royalties.

Brooker, who is credited as the song's author with lyricist Keith Reid, says the pair wrote the song before Fisher joined the band in March 1967.

Brooker has said the melody was inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach's "Air on a G-string" and "Sleepers Awake."

Defense lawyers said the fact Fisher had waited almost four decades to bring his claim was "bizarre and obviously prejudicial."

"Mr. Fisher's claim should fail on that ground alone," they said in court papers.

The song, renowned for its mystifying lyrics — beginning "We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels cross the floor" — topped the British singles chart for five weeks and was a top 10 hit in the United States. Rolling Stone magazine has ranked it 57th in a list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

Purvis said a Web site compiled by a fan lists 771 recorded cover versions, "most of them, sad to say, disastrous."

Fisher, now a computer programmer, left the band in 1969. Brooker, 61, still tours with Procol Harum. The two sat facing the judge and did not look at one another on the first day of the five-day hearing.

A Yamaha electric keyboard sat near the witness box, where Fisher is due to appear later in the case.

The case is being heard by judge William Blackburne, who studied both music and law at Cambridge University.

The judge requested access to the keyboard and sheet music of "A Whiter Shade of Pale" so he could run through the song after court hours.

Judges are not always familiar with popular music, and Purvis noted that "one always risks in these cases a 'what are The Beatles' moment" — a reference to a famous but possibly apocryphal story of a judge who purportedly asked that question during a case in the 1960s.

"But I'll hazard that your lordship is familiar," with "A Whiter Shade of Pale," Purvis said.

"I am of an age, yes," said the judge, 62.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Displaced Pygmies in Congo

Lured Toward Modern Life, Pygmy Families Left in Limbo
Group Fled Forest To Escape Militias, But Lost Benefactor

By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, November 12, 2006; A12

MUGUNGA, Congo -- When he dreams, Pygmy chief Byeragi Ngenderezi dreams of having basic things: a good plastic tarp, some decent fishing nets, perhaps a few garden hoes. When he dreams big, he envisions a life altogether different from the one his ancestors have lived for thousands of years in the equatorial forests of Congo.

He imagines trading up, moving out of his leaky banana-leaf hut and into something a bit roomier.

"First of all, I would like to have my own compound," the chief began one recent afternoon. "Second? A house like this one," he said, pointing to a 20-by-20-foot wood-plank house, the only one in sight. "Third? A motorbike. I would learn how to ride it and become a taxi driver."

For the moment, however, the chief and his people, around 160 Pygmy families accustomed to hunting and gathering in the tropical green mountains, are stuck tending to vegetables in Mugunga, a flat and treeless limbo of gravelly earth at the foot of a dormant volcano.

Like so many millions of Congolese, they fled their homes because of the militia fighting that has consumed this mineral-rich eastern region over the past decade. Unlike other refugees, this particular group of Pygmies had their own personal benefactor, or so it seemed: a woman they initially knew only as Ma Jacqui, who brought them here promising help, then left them with little more than a desire to join the modern world.

As this impoverished country awaits results in the first democratic elections in 40 years, Ngenderezi and his group, among an estimated 600,000 Pygmies considered to be the aboriginal people of Congo, are perhaps as good a barometer as any of the fragile aspirations of its people .

After all, the Pygmies, the marginal among the marginal, voted last Sunday, too, walking a mile from their dilapidated huts in Mugunga to cast ballots to elect a president for the first time ever.

"We are human beings," said Ngenderezi, his thumb still stained with the black ink that showed he had voted. "And we'd like to live like other human beings live."

Perhaps more so than any of the 400 other ethnic groups in Congo, Pygmies have historically been ostracized or romanticized for their traditions, and cut off from education, health care and any legal means of securing land they have inhabited for centuries in the forests. In recent decades, a relatively small number have managed to attend school and join the life of Congo's villages and cities, but most have remained in the forests, with some communities made nearly extinct by various diseases, including AIDS.

A decade of fighting among militias in the east has been even more devastating, with Pygmies being singled out for particularly sordid and psychotic forms of violence, according to human rights groups.

Ngenderezi simply said that soldiers "were killing us like flies."

When Ma Jacqui encouraged them to leave the forest for Mugunga, they followed her, exchanging their usual clothing of bark strings for donated Levi's and permanent-press slacks, Celine Dion T-shirts and San Jose Sharks sweaters. They built their traditional huts on the volcanic rock. And Ma Jacqui, who Ngenderezi later learned worked with a Catholic relief organization in the nearby city of Goma, began teaching them to farm and to fish in the nearby lake.

Then, the chief said, she simply vanished.

"The last time we saw her was maybe four years ago," said Ngenderezi, who has since become suspicious that some aid groups are using the plight of the storied African Pygmies simply to raise money. "So many local NGOs have come to visit and promised to build houses. But so far, nothing."

An aid group dropped off some rehydration packets, which were quickly used up. A group called Solidarite passed out some plastic tarps now worn with holes. A campaign entourage for Joseph Kabila, one of the two candidates vying for the presidency, breezed by, handing out yellow caps and buttons. And more recently, a group called CIDOPY, which receives funding from the Netherlands and has an annual budget of $200,000 to help several Pygmy camps in the area, gave some cabbage seeds.

Its field director, Achille Biffumbu, said the owners of the land where the Pygmies are living recently sold it. He is now cutting off aid to encourage them to leave, because, in his estimation, they would be better off back in the forest.

"You have to understand the cultural parameters," Biffumbu said, sitting in an office in Goma full of arty photo books of Pygmies and articles with titles such as "Central African Hunter-Gatherers in a Multidisciplinary Perspective." "We can't solve all their problems."

So far, 15 members of the group have died from hunger or exposure, according to the chief, who thinks they have been here four years in all, or maybe six. He is certain, however, that he does not want to go back to the forest, where life was difficult even before the fighting began.

"I'd like having a house and knowing I could leave my child in that house," he said. "I would like to see my brother Pygmies owning businesses like other people."

They were never exactly isolated, Ngenderezi explained. If their parents could gather money for tuition, some children attended school. Pygmies often traded their pottery in nearby villages, where they would see bicycles, cars, houses and, in general, what appeared to be a better life. When the time came, they embraced Mugunga as a way out.

Since their arrival, the chief and others have made a habit of walking the dirt road into Goma a few times a week to look for work.

There they find themselves amid thousands seeking jobs, with former soldiers hobbling on crutches in the dust and others competing in the daily carnival of selling used loafers, or bananas or bricks.

By some estimates, the unemployment rate in Goma is 90 percent. A few wealthy businessmen and politicians live behind barbed wire along the shores of blue Lake Kivu, where the notorious dictator Mobutu Sese Seko once had a palace. In a country of untold mineral wealth, Goma is a city without electricity most of the time, a place lit at night by roadside fires and lanterns.

Still, to the chief, the crowded streets of Goma seem better than Mugunga, which seemed better than the forest.

He sees bustling markets and roads buzzing with motorcycle taxis. He sees the vast blue and white United Nations compound, and one local aid organization after another lining the streets, including some with names containing the word "Pygmy," he noted.

Once, he visited the CIDOPY offices to ask for a job, which he thought would be of more help than the cabbage seeds they offered.

"I told them I could write, but they said I cannot work with them," he said. "There are NGOs that claim to work on behalf of Pygmies, but I can't even work in their office, because they are afraid I'll learn their secrets."

And so Ngenderezi, who was educated through the sixth grade, returns to Mugunga, where the skills that were useful in the forest are of little help. He and his people used to hunt animals, for instance, but there are none to hunt around here. They used to make pottery from the soil and sell it, but the dirt in Mugunga is unsuitable. The thick forest used to help shelter their huts from heavy rains, but now they are vulnerable to the wide-open sky.

They pass the time tending to a few rows of vegetables, gathering firewood or fetching water from the lake. Sometimes, local farmers hire a few people, but that is sporadic at best, especially because they do not have good tools.

Other times, for fun, they kick around a homemade soccer ball, having learned a bit about the sport from Ma Jacqui.

And other days, Ngenderezi just sits in his hut and thinks.

He imagines himself in a dry house, he said. He imagines driving a motorcycle taxi like the ones he sees in Goma. By now, though, those notions are tempered by a mild sense of the absurd.

"I have children here being sent home from school because we can't afford tuition," he said. "I don't understand how I can adapt to normal life if I don't have children studying like others do. Thanks to learning history, we've learned that the only man lost today is the Pygmy."

Last Sunday, those who were eligible cast ballots in Congo's first presidential election in four decades, and the other day, some in the group were still wearing buttons that Kabila's camp had handed out. A woman was using a Kabila scarf as a blanket in her banana-leaf hut. The camp's co-chief, Mutembwa Ngenderezi, attended to the cabbages in a bright yellow Kabila hat.

"I went to meet with them so I could tell them how we are getting kicked out of here," he said. "And they gave us this hat."

Friday, November 10, 2006

James Taylor

New York Times November 7, 2006
On the Road Again, a Sensitive Singer- Songwriter (and One Man Band)

At one point in James Taylor’s show on his current One Man Band tour, which stops at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan on Thursday and Friday, he brings out a drum machine he built himself. No, he hasn’t turned into some kind of electronics wizard, and he’s not doing a hip-hop remix of “Carolina in My Mind” either.

“When people think of a drum machine, they think of something that’s made up of bits and bytes,” Mr. Taylor said, “but I designed and built this Rube Goldberg thing, this big, kinetic sculpture — bigger than a piano. It’s a revolving drum with big fins attached to the outside that activate and actually play the drums for four bars. It scared the hell out of me the first time we used it, but it works great.”

Though it has been decades since Mr. Taylor went on the road as a solo act — well, almost solo; he’s accompanied onstage by the pianist Larry Goldings — he wanted to do something more than just sit on a stool and play his songs. “I needed things in between, stories, film,” he said. “So we’ve tried to enhance the show and leaven it. But we did it all locally, with friends and family. We didn’t call Las Vegas and ask the Cirque du Soleil expert to come in. It gives it a certain shabbiness, but a certain cohesion too.”

The One Man Band performances offer a look back at the career of an artist who, perhaps more than anyone else, defined the image of the solitary singer-songwriter. Mr. Taylor, 58, has been enjoying working at this smaller scale again and said he felt liberated to find new ways to approach old songs. “I’m playing my first electric guitar solo in 30 years,” he said with a laugh.

On an unseasonably warm afternoon recently, Mr. Taylor sipped coffee in his publicist’s Manhattan office and removed a vest from over a well-worn mock turtleneck jersey. His conversation is much like his songs, soft-spoken and deliberate. It was John Lennon’s birthday, and Mr. Taylor fondly reminisced about his days as the first artist signed to the Beatles’ Apple Records in 1968. (When he made his first record, he shared the studio with the Beatles, working by day as they were making the album almost universally referred to as “The White Album” through the night.)

Mr. Taylor seemed excited, even a bit relieved, about his solo tour. “It’s how I started, and it has an immediacy and an intimacy,” he said. “When we go out with a 12-man band with horns and singers, it depends on a certain economy of scale. But when I’m playing to 15,000 people, there’s some question of how far you can expand yourself. A lot of these songs are well placed in a smaller venue, and there’s something very calibrating about just playing with piano and guitar.”

There are two new Taylor releases in stores: out today is “A MusiCares Person of the Year Tribute Honoring James Taylor,” a concert on DVD that will also be broadcast on Nov. 29 as part of the “Great Performances” series on PBS. “James Taylor at Christmas,” a slightly expanded version of an album he put out exclusively through Hallmark stores last year, was released last month.

“We did ‘Jingle Bells’ as a blues, ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ with a Latin, bossa nova thing,” he said. It also includes his version of Joni Mitchell’s “River,” a song recently covered on new albums by Sarah McLachlan and Madeleine Peyroux.

The tribute concert, filmed at the MusiCares “Person of the Year” dinner in February, features artists including Bruce Springsteen, the Dixie Chicks, Sheryl Crow and Sting performing Mr. Taylor’s songs. Mr. Taylor himself sings three songs, including “Fire and Rain.”

He said he was extremely skeptical about the idea at first. “This isn’t football,” he said, “and one of the reasons I do it is that it’s not a competitive sport.” But as the lineup came together and the evening progressed, he said he felt “very bucked up, very encouraged and supported by the entire endeavor.”

He singled out Mr. Springsteen’s performance of the song “Millworker” — a relative obscurity, taken from the 1978 Broadway show “Working” — as a standout. “His version was much more fierce and furious, where my version is more resigned and a little more whimsical,” Mr. Taylor said.

In his introduction Mr. Springsteen called Mr. Taylor “an authentic Southern voice.” It’s a surprising characterization: Mr. Taylor grew up in North Carolina but has become very much identified with New England, especially the Boston area, where he lives. “I think he wanted to say that there was something other than country-western music that comes out of the South,” Mr. Taylor said. “There’s also Stephen Foster and William Faulkner and William Styron — not that I put myself in that league.”

It’s been four years since “October Road,” Mr. Taylor’s last new album, and he’s starting to think about his next project, which he hopes to have out in a year or so. “I’ve got a lot of starts on songs I’m feeling pretty excited about,” he said. “I think I’d like to keep it pretty spare this time. That seems to be working for me these days.”

Film Composer Basil Poledouris (1945-2006)

Basil Poledouris, 61; film composer known for his bold sounds
By Valerie J. Nelson
Times Staff Writer

November 10, 2006

Basil Poledouris, a composer whose sweeping score for the 1989 miniseries "Lonesome Dove" won him an Emmy and who became known for the bold orchestral sounds he brought to such films as "Conan the Barbarian" and "The Hunt for Red October," has died. He was 61.

Poledouris, who scored more than 80 films and television shows, died of cancer Wednesday at his Los Angeles home, a family spokeswoman said.

"When we were all beginners at USC, he was the most talented of any of us," said director John Milius, speaking of a 1960s film school class that included future directors George Lucas and Randal Kleiser ("The Blue Lagoon").

"He was one of the truly great movie composers. His music had tremendous emotion … a certain kind of nobility," Milius, who used Poledouris for the sword-and-sorcery epic "Conan" (1982), told The Times.

After scoring more than 100 education films with such titles as "A Day in the Life of a Dollar Bill," Poledouris got his feature film break in "Big Wednesday," a 1978 surfing movie by Milius, who was a surfing buddy.

Later, Milius hired the composer to score "Red Dawn" (1984), "Farewell to the King" (1989) and "Flight of the Intruder" (1991).

Last summer, Poledouris directed a concert version of his "Conan" score at a film music conference in Ubeda, Spain. He considered the experience a career highlight, said Doreen Ringer Ross, a vice president of the BMI performing rights agency who had worked with him more than 20 years.

"When we got to Ubeda, there were 700 or 800 fans screaming his name and wanting his autograph," Ross told The Times.

"He was already sick, but he did such a brilliant job conducting. It was the most emotional musical moment," Ross said.

For CBS' "Lonesome Dove," based on the Larry McMurtry novel about an arduous cattle drive, Poledouris wrote more than 4 1/2 hours of music. The mainly symphonic score was "Copelandesque," The Times said in 1990.

The composer had long professional relationships with several directors, including Kleiser, for whom he scored "The Blue Lagoon" (1980), "It's My Party" (1996) and other films. For Paul Verhoeven, the musician's work included "Robocop" (1987) and "Starship Troopers" (1997).

A penchant for choral music could he heard in some of his scores, including that for "Red October" (1990), a Cold War thriller.

Basil Konstantine Poledouris was born Aug. 21, 1945, in Kansas City, Mo., and grew up in Garden Grove.

At 7, he started taking piano lessons. In high school, he performed with a folk music group called the Southlanders, according to a 1997 Copley News Service feature.

After studying music at Cal State Long Beach, Poledouris transferred to USC, where an interest in composing for movies took hold, nurtured by film-scoring classes taught by Miklos Rozsa. Poledouris graduated with a bachelor's degree in film and music.

"I wandered into the cinema department … and immediately thought that it looked to me like film was the music of my generation," he said on his website, . "It was an extraordinary time of social upheaval, and film just seemed to be a part of it."

Poledouris, who was divorced, lived on Vashon Island in Washington's Puget Sound for several years and had recently returned to Los Angeles.

He is survived by two daughters, Zoe of Los Angeles and Alexis of New York City; his mother, Helen; and a brother, John, both of Palm Desert.

No services will be held.

Instead of flowers, the family requests donations to the Catalina Island Conservancy, P.O. Box 2739, Avalon, CA 90704, or the Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation, .

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1926 - 2006)

posted on the webpage for the Society for Ethnomusicology
Clifford Geertz 1926 - 2006

PRINCETON, N.J., October 31, 2006 -- Clifford Geertz, an eminent scholar in the field of cultural anthropology known for his extensive research in Indonesia and Morocco, died at the age of 80 early yesterday morning of complications following heart surgery at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Geertz was Professor Emeritus in the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, where he has served on the Faculty since 1970. Dr. Geertz's appointment thirty-six years ago was significant not only for the distinguished leadership it would bring to the Institute, but also because it marked the initiation of the School of Social Science, which in 1973 formally became the fourth School at the Institute.

Dr. Geertz's landmark contributions to social and cultural theory have been influential not only among anthropologists, but also among geographers, ecologists, political scientists, humanists, and historians. He worked on religion, especially Islam; on bazaar trade; on economic development; on traditional political structures; and on village and family life. A prolific author since the 1950s, Dr. Geertz's many books include The Religion of Java (1960); Islam Observed: Religious Development in Morocco and Indonesia (1968); The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (1973, 2000); Negara: The Theatre State in Nineteenth Century Bali (1980); and The Politics of Culture, Asian Identities in a Splintered World (2002). At the time of his death, Dr. Geertz was working on the general question of ethnic diversity and its implications in the modern world.

Peter Goddard, Director of the Institute, said, "Clifford Geertz was one of the major intellectual figures of the twentieth century whose presence at the Institute played a crucial role in its development and in determining its present shape. He remained a vital force, contributing to the life of the Institute right up to his death. We have all lost a much loved friend."

"Cliff was the founder of the School of Social Science and its continuing inspiration," stated Joan Wallach Scott, Harold F. Linder Professor in the School of Social Science at the Institute. "His influence on generations of scholars was powerful and lasting. He changed the direction of thinking in many fields by pointing to the importance and complexity of culture and the need for its interpretation. We will miss his critical intelligence, his great sense of irony, and his friendship."

Dr. Geertz's deeply reflective and eloquent writings often provided profound and cogent insights on the scope of culture, the nature of anthropology and on the understanding of the social sciences in general. Noting that human beings are "symbolizing, conceptualizing, meaning-seeking animals," Geertz acknowledged and explored the innate desire of humanity to "make sense out of experience, to give it form and order." In Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author (1988), Geertz stated, "The next necessary neither the construction of a universal Esperanto-like culture...nor the invention of some vast technology of human management. It is to enlarge the possibility of intelligible discourse between people quite different from one another in interest, outlook, wealth, and power, and yet contained in a world where tumbled as they are into endless connection, it is increasingly difficult to get out of each other's way."

Dr. Geertz was born in San Francisco, California, on August 23, 1926. After serving in the Navy from 1943 through 1945, he studied under the G.I. Bill at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he majored in English. His internship as a copyboy for The New York Post dissuaded him from becoming a newspaper man. "It was fun but it wasn't practical," he said in an interview with Gary A. Olson ("Clifford Geertz on Ethnography and Social Construction," 1991), so he switched to philosophy, partly because of the influence of philosophy professor George Geiger, "the greatest teacher I have known."

"I never had any undergraduate training in anthropology [Antioch didn't offer it at the time] and, indeed, very little social science outside of economics," Geertz told Olson. "Finally, one of my professors said, 'Why don't you think about anthropology?'"

After receiving his A.B. in philosophy in 1950, Geertz went on to study anthropology at Harvard University and received a Ph.D. from the Department of Social Relations in 1956. It was a heady time, according to Geertz.
"Multi- (or 'inter-' or 'cross-') disciplinary work, team projects, and concern with the immediate problems of the contemporary world, were combined with boldness, inventiveness, and a sense that things were, finally and certainly, on the move."

Geertz recounted that he was exposed to a form of anthropology "then called, rather awkwardly, 'pattern theory' or configurationalism.' In this dispensation, stemming from work before and during the war by the comparative linguist Edward Sapir at Yale and the cultural holist Ruth Benedict at Columbia, it was the interrelation of elements, the gestalt they formed, not their particular atomistic character that was taken to be the heart of the matter."

At this point, Geertz became involved in a project spearheaded by cultural anthropologist Clyde Kluckhohn, who headed Harvard's Russian Research Center. Geertz was one of five anthropologists assigned to the Modjokuto Project in Indonesia, sponsored by the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and it was one of the earliest efforts to send a team of anthropologists to study large-scale societies with written histories, established governments, and composite cultures.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, anthropology was torn apart by questions about its colonial past and the possibility of objective knowledge in the human sciences. "For the next fifteen years or so," Geertz wrote, "proposals for new directions in anthropological theory and method appeared almost by the month, the one more clamorous than the next. I contributed to the merriment with 'interpretive anthropology,' an extension of my concern with the systems of meaning, beliefs, values, world views, forms of feeling, styles of thought, in terms of which particular peoples construct their existence."

Dr. Geertz began his academic career as a research assistant (1952-56) and a research associate (1957-58) in the Center for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and also served as an instructor in social relations and as a research associate in Harvard University's Laboratory of Social Relations (1956-57). In 1958-59, he was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, California.

From 1958 to 1960, he was Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley, after which time he was assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago (1960-61), and was subsequently promoted to associate professor (1962), and then professor (1964). He was later named Divisional Professor in the Social Sciences (1968-70). At Chicago, Dr. Geertz was a member of the Committee for the Comparative Study of New Nations (1962-70), its executive secretary (1964-66), and its chairman (1968-70). Geertz was also a Senior Research Career Fellow at the National Institute of Mental Health from 1964 to 1970.

Consultant to the Ford Foundation on Social Sciences in Indonesia in 1971, he was Eastman Professor at Oxford University from 1978 to 1979, and held an appointment as Visiting Lecturer with Rank of Professor in the Department of History at Princeton University from 1975 to 2000.

In 1970, Geertz joined the permanent faculty of the School of Social Science at the Institute, and was named Harold F. Linder Professor of Social Science in 1982. He transferred to emeritus status in 2000.

Dr. Geertz is the author and co-author of important volumes that have been translated into over twenty languages and is the recipient of numerous honorary degrees and scholarly awards. He received the National Book Critics Circle Prize in Criticism in 1988 for Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author, and was also the recipient of the Fukuoka Asian Cultural Prize
(1992) and the Bintang Jasa Utama (First Class Merit Star) of the Republic of Indonesia (2002). Over the years, he received honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton universities, from Antioch, Swarthmore, and Williams colleges, and from the University of Cambridge, among other institutions.

He was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science; a corresponding Fellow of the British Academy; and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. Dr. Geertz was a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books.

Dr. Geertz's fieldwork was concentrated in Java, Bali, Celebes, and Sumatra in Indonesia, as well as in Morocco. In May 2000, he was honored at "Cultures, Sociétiés, et Territoires: Hommage à Clifford Geertz," a conference held in Sefrou, Morocco, where he had conducted work for a decade. It was particularly gratifying, commented Geertz, because "Anthropologists are not always welcomed back to the site of their field studies."

Dr. Geertz is survived by his wife, Dr. Karen Blu, an anthropologist retired from the Department of Anthropology at New York University; his children, Erika Reading of Princeton, NJ, and Benjamin Geertz of Kirkland, WA; and his grandchildren, Andrea and Elena Martinez of Princeton, NJ. He is also survived by his former wife, Dr. Hildred Geertz, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Anthropology at Princeton University.

A Memorial will be held at the Institute for Advanced Study. Details will be announced at a future date.

[This announcement was posted November 1, 2006]

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Cultural Historian Lawrence Levine (1933-2006)

Lawrence W. Levine, 73; historian's work backed multiculturalism in higher education
By Elaine Woo
Times Staff Writer

November 1, 2006

Lawrence W. Levine, a former UC Berkeley historian and MacArthur "genius" grant recipient whose elegant scholarship bolstered arguments for multiculturalism in higher education, died of cancer Oct. 23 at his Berkeley home. He was 73.

Levine advocated a catholic definition of culture in several books written over the last four decades, including "Highbrow and Lowbrow, The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America" (1988).

The most admired of his books was "Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought From Slavery to Freedom" (1977), an engaging examination of black oral expression — including spirituals, gospel songs, folklore and humor — that demonstrated the richness and diversity of black culture from the slavery era to more modern times.

"He was really one of the key people who invented the field of American cultural history," said Roy Rosenzweig, founder and director of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University in Virginia. Levine joined the history faculty at George Mason in 1994 after 32 years at Berkeley.

Particularly in "Black Culture and Black Consciousness," Rosenzweig said, Levine demonstrated that intellectual history is "not just the study of Emerson and Thoreau but the study of Negro spirituals and folk tales. These are the intellectual and cultural achievements of ordinary people. He wanted to recover that achievement and analyze it."

In so doing, Levine influenced his field by "redefining the content of history," said Leon Litwack, a UC Berkeley historian who knew Levine for 40 years.

A former president of the Organization of American Historians, Levine also wrote "The Opening of the American Mind" (1996), which attracted wide attention as a forceful answer to conservative critics such as philosopher Allan Bloom, who fueled the culture wars of the 1980s with charges that political correctness was ruining the university.

The title was a deliberate takeoff on Bloom's 1987 bestseller, "The Closing of the American Mind," a complex treatise that blamed contemporary social movements, including feminism and civil rights, for deemphasizing Western intellectual traditions.

Levine was born to a working-class family in New York City on Feb. 27, 1933. He helped his father, a Lithuanian immigrant, run a fruit and vegetable store, even while a student at City College of New York, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1955, and at Columbia University, where he earned a master's degree in 1957 and a PhD in 1962.

His early experiences "clearly had an impact on the way he saw the world," his wife, Cornelia, told The Times on Tuesday.

He joined the civil rights movement in the 1960s, participating in sit-ins to integrate businesses in the Bay Area. He also joined other historians who marched in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to draw attention to blacks' struggle for voting rights. During the Berkeley Free Speech movement, Levine defended students who protested the ban on political activity on campus.

He later helped lead efforts to broaden cultural studies on campus. In the late 1980s he was instrumental in developing a requirement that all new undergraduates take a class on America's racial and ethnic past.

"The Opening of the American Mind" pushed him to the forefront of the national debate about multicultural education.

He was attacked by many of the leading conservative critics, including Lynne Cheney, chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities under President Reagan, who told the New York Times in 1996 that Levine's work was an example of "the left deliberately misconstruing the arguments of its opponents while offering no substantive evidence of its own."

He was applauded by other leading figures, such as Stanley N. Katz, then-president of the American Council of Learned Societies, who said Levine's book "should put an end to the 'culture war' talk."

Levine's scholarly interest in the history of disenfranchised groups came after his active participation in civil rights protests, his wife said. He began to study the history of black protest but was sidetracked by an interest in black folklore. That interest led to a decade of prodigious research and analysis of songs, stories, even jokes, from plantation humor to the routines of comedian Jackie "Moms" Mabley.

Such an imaginative approach to history "helps us to recapture the joys as well as the pains, to gain some sense of a people's angle of vision and worldview, to better understand the inner dynamics of the group and the attitudes its members had toward each other as well as toward the outside world, to comprehend the mechanisms members of the group erected to guard their values, maintain their sense of worth and attain their sanity," Levine wrote in "Black Culture and Black Consciousness."

Besides his wife, Levine leaves three children, Alexander Pimentel of Richmond, Calif.; Joshua and Isaac Levine of Berkeley; a sister, Linda Brown of New York City; and three grandchildren.