Monday, December 31, 2007

Download Uproar: Record Industry Goes After Personal Use

Washington Post
Download Uproar: Record Industry Goes After Personal Use

By Marc Fisher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 30, 2007; M05

Despite more than 20,000 lawsuits filed against music fans in the years since they started finding free tunes online rather than buying CDs from record companies, the recording industry has utterly failed to halt the decline of the record album or the rise of digital music sharing.

Still, hardly a month goes by without a news release from the industry's lobby, the Recording Industry Association of America, touting a new wave of letters to college students and others demanding a settlement payment and threatening a legal battle.

Now, in an unusual case in which an Arizona recipient of an RIAA letter has fought back in court rather than write a check to avoid hefty legal fees, the industry is taking its argument against music sharing one step further: In legal documents in its federal case against Jeffrey Howell, a Scottsdale, Ariz., man who kept a collection of about 2,000 music recordings on his personal computer, the industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer.

The industry's lawyer in the case, Ira Schwartz, argues in a brief filed earlier this month that the MP3 files Howell made on his computer from legally bought CDs are "unauthorized copies" of copyrighted recordings.

"I couldn't believe it when I read that," says Ray Beckerman, a New York lawyer who represents six clients who have been sued by the RIAA. "The basic principle in the law is that you have to distribute actual physical copies to be guilty of violating copyright. But recently, the industry has been going around saying that even a personal copy on your computer is a violation."

RIAA's hard-line position seems clear. Its Web site says: "If you make unauthorized copies of copyrighted music recordings, you're stealing. You're breaking the law and you could be held legally liable for thousands of dollars in damages."

They're not kidding. In October, after a trial in Minnesota -- the first time the industry has made its case before a federal jury -- Jammie Thomas was ordered to pay $220,000 to the big record companies. That's $9,250 for each of 24 songs she was accused of sharing online.

Whether customers may copy their CDs onto their computers -- an act at the very heart of the digital revolution -- has a murky legal foundation, the RIAA argues. The industry's own Web site says that making a personal copy of a CD that you bought legitimately may not be a legal right, but it "won't usually raise concerns," as long as you don't give away the music or lend it to anyone.

Of course, that's exactly what millions of people do every day. In a Los Angeles Times poll, 69 percent of teenagers surveyed said they thought it was legal to copy a CD they own and give it to a friend. The RIAA cites a study that found that more than half of current college students download music and movies illegally.

The Howell case was not the first time the industry has argued that making a personal copy from a legally purchased CD is illegal. At the Thomas trial in Minnesota, Sony BMG's chief of litigation, Jennifer Pariser, testified that "when an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." Copying a song you bought is "a nice way of saying 'steals just one copy,' " she said.

But lawyers for consumers point to a series of court rulings over the last few decades that found no violation of copyright law in the use of VCRs and other devices to time-shift TV programs; that is, to make personal copies for the purpose of making portable a legally obtained recording.

As technologies evolve, old media companies tend not to be the source of the innovation that allows them to survive. Even so, new technologies don't usually kill off old media: That's the good news for the recording industry, as for the TV, movie, newspaper and magazine businesses. But for those old media to survive, they must adapt, finding new business models and new, compelling content to offer.

The RIAA's legal crusade against its customers is a classic example of an old media company clinging to a business model that has collapsed. Four years of a failed strategy has only "created a whole market of people who specifically look to buy independent goods so as not to deal with the big record companies," Beckerman says. "Every problem they're trying to solve is worse now than when they started."

The industry "will continue to bring lawsuits" against those who "ignore years of warnings," RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy said in a statement. "It's not our first choice, but it's a necessary part of the equation. There are consequences for breaking the law." And, perhaps, for firing up your computer.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Classical Music: A Patience to Listen, Alive and Well

December 30, 2007
Classical Music
A Patience to Listen, Alive and Well

REPORTS about the diminishing relevance of classical music to new generations of Americans addled by pop culture keep coming. Yet in my experience classical music seems in the midst of an unmistakable rebound. Most of the concerts and operas I attended this year drew large, eager and appreciative audiences.

Consider this: On Dec. 15 the Metropolitan Opera’s first high-definition broadcast of the season, a Saturday matinee of Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette,” played on more than 600 movie screens around the world to 97,000 people, a new record for attendance in this bold Met venture. O.K., the total doesn’t match the millions who watch rock videos. For all her popularity, Anna Netrebko, who sang Juliette, is not Mariah Carey. But classical music always was and always will be of interest to relatively modest numbers of people.

In recent years a spate of articles and books have lamented classical music’s tenuous hold on the popular imagination and defended its richness, complexity and communicative power. I’m thinking especially of the book “Why Classical Music Still Matters” (University of California Press, 2007) by Lawrence Kramer, a professor of English and music at Fordham University.

Just this month classical music emerged as pivotal to international relations. With the blessing of the State Department, the New York Philharmonic announced that it would present a concert in North Korea during its Asian tour in February. Some consider this plan an outrage that will allow a totalitarian regime to use the Philharmonic musicians as puppets for propaganda. Others see it as at least a chance to pry open a door and share Western culture with a closed society, which is pretty much my view.

Either way, implicit in this plan is the idea that classical music matters. It’s not a sports team or pop group that has been enlisted to begin a thaw with the government in Pyongyang. It’s the musicians of a premier American orchestra.

What effect might this concert have on an audience in a repressive society? To Professor Kramer, as he recently told The New York Times, classical music by definition “is addressed to someone who has a certain independence of mind.” It “almost posits for its audience a certain degree of Western identity, which includes that sense of individual capacity to think, to sense, to imagine.”

Classical music invites listeners to focus, to take in, to follow what is almost a narrative that unfolds over a relatively long period of time. Length itself is one of the genre’s defining elements. I do not contend that classical music is weightier than other types of music. Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony is no more profound than “Eleanor Rigby.” But it’s a whole lot longer.

Even a 10-minute Chopin ballade for piano, let alone Messiaen’s 75-minute “Turangalila Symphony,” tries to grapple with, activate and organize a relatively substantial span of time. Once you accept this element of classical music, the reasons for other aspects of the art form — the complexity of its musical language, the protocols of concertgoing — become self-evident.

Structure in classical music is the easiest element to describe yet the hardest to perceive. Too often writers of program notes take the easy way and simply lay out the road map of a piece: first this happens, then that happens, then the first thing returns in a modified form and so on. But perceiving these structures as a listener is another matter.

When I was around 13 and enthralled by Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony and Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, I didn’t have the vaguest notion of how sonata form worked or what a rondo was. That I grew so familiar with these big pieces, though, does not mean I grasped how they were organized. Still, I intuitively sensed that they were monumental in some way, for the great classical works seemed to have an inexplicable and inexorable sweep.

Years later, when I was an assistant professor at Emerson College in Boston, I inherited from my predecessor a music appreciation course called “Listening to Music.” Teaching that class was like missionary work. I tried to help students hear what seemed to me astounding similarities between, say, a song-and-dance from Monteverdi’s “Orfeo” and “America” from Bernstein’s “West Side Story.” I broke down symphony movements by Beethoven and Shostakovich into constituent parts. Quite a few students were openly resistant, others mildly curious; some were surprisingly engaged.

Once in a while someone would come back from a concert having had an epiphany, like one awestruck woman who had attended her first live symphonic concert: the New England Conservatory Orchestra at the acoustically splendid Jordan Hall playing Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.” She had no idea that such viscerally powerful sounds existed.

More often than not, though, these epiphanies did not turn the students into devotees of classical music. Why not? My guess is that the pieces played were simply too long. Taking in a concert involves a major time commitment. You sit in silence for extended periods and pay attention to live performances that, however viscerally involving and sonically impressive, are visually unremarkable. Operas, of course, tend to be even longer. But opera is a total-immersion experience, with characters and costumes, like going to the theater.

In an essay in The New York Times in June, Professor Kramer called for classical music presenters to follow the lead of enterprising art museums, which have had much success in presenting new and old art in interactive, stimulating and demystifying ways. The museum experience encourages visitors to relax, to take in things at their own pace. You feel emboldened to follow your instincts, to move on from a painting that bores you, or linger at some intriguing, baffling work.

As Professor Kramer acknowledged, the analogy is limited. You cannot set your own pace while listening to a Schubert string quartet. A concert can offer pre-

performance talks, interactive video displays in the lobby and spoken comments by the performers onstage. But at some point the talking stops, the performance begins, and the audience is asked — expected really — to be quiet and pay attention.

Even so, the act of communal listening need not be reverential. And classical music has its “wow” factors too. What could be more entertaining than a dynamic performance of Prokofiev’s shamelessly theatrical Third Piano Concerto, with its monstrously difficult piano part? And if your mind wanders during “La Mer,” by Debussy, and you start focusing on the kinetic playing style of an attractive young violinist in the orchestra, then, as Professor Kramer suggests, just go with it.

Concert protocol demands that you stay put for the duration. Yet entering into that receptive state of mind can actually foster excitement over the music. Most young people in today’s interactive, amplified, high-tech world may not instinctively be enticed by the idea of sitting quietly and contemplating a long musical work in a natural acoustical setting. Yet I’ve taken young friends and other classical music neophytes to concerts over the years and been routinely struck by how absorbed they become during, say, a blazing account of Stravinsky’s “Firebird,” even while all around us older, restless concertgoers are fiddling in their seats and rustling the pages of their programs.

Creating an atmosphere conducive to listening does not mean that concert halls have to be stuffy. Dress codes of any kind should disappear. Go ahead and replace some rows of seats at Avery Fisher Hall with rugs and pillows to recline on, if it helps.

Much less drastic innovations have proved effective. Lincoln Center’s series A Little Night Music, at the intimate Kaplan Penthouse, for example, presents 60-minute programs beginning at 10:30 p.m. Only about 160 people can be accommodated. Patrons share small round cocktail tables and have free glasses of wine. In one program last summer the bookish British pianist Paul Lewis played a probing performance of Beethoven’s stormy, mystical Opus 111 Piano Sonata, followed by the exciting young cellist Alisa Weilerstein delivering an intense account of Kodaly’s brooding and volatile Sonata for Solo Cello. Here were two elusive and demanding works. And the audience was transfixed. I don’t recall a single throat-clearing.

But to claim a listener’s attention, a substantial classical piece must entice the dimension of human perception that responds to large structures and long metaphorical narratives. This, more than anything lofty about the music, accounts for the greater complexity, typically, of classical works in comparison with more popular styles of music.

Beethoven was a master musical architect. When his “Eroica” Symphony appeared in 1804, it was the longest work yet written in which virtually every phrase and rhythmic figure was derived from a small group of musical motifs. Beethoven made this colossal symphony, in four quite varied movements, seem organic and whole. Most listeners may discern this only subliminally. But they do.

One reason “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” stunned my generation at its 1967 release was that this Beatles album was not just a collection of songs but a whole composition. I remember sitting in my freshman dorm room with friends, listening to the entire album in silence. That was a new experience in rock. “Sgt. Pepper” pointed the way to longer total-

concept albums like Radiohead’s “In Rainbows,” the big news in pop music today.

For the most part, though, rock and pop songs are relatively short lyrical statements. The classical genre that has most in common with the pop concert is the song recital. It makes no difference that the revered classical song repertory, from Schubert to Mahler, is rich with musically complex, often dark works. Because songs tend to be short, we perceive them as more approachable. This explains why, in a program at Weill Recital Hall three years ago, an appealing young baritone, Nathaniel Webster, segued so easily to an American group including songs by Purcell, Schumann and Wolf to American songs by Gershwin and Rufus Wainwright.

No one was better than Leonard Bernstein at drawing new listeners to classical music. When he presented his Young People’s Concerts with the New York Philharmonic, he didn’t have music videos or PowerPoint, and didn’t need them. It was just our amazing Uncle Lenny explaining the content of a piece, conveying its character and revealing its secrets.

But when the explanations were over, Bernstein would turn to his young listeners and say, “Are you ready?” The time had come to settle down and focus as the orchestra performed the piece in question. Instilling audiences of all ages with the ability — and patience — to listen to something long was crucial to an appreciation of classical music. It still is.

The Shrinking Market Is Changing the Face of Hip-Hop

December 30, 2007
The Shrinking Market Is Changing the Face of Hip-Hop

UNTIL a few weeks ago it seemed like one of the few happy stories to emerge from an otherwise difficult year in hip-hop. UGK, the Port Arthur, Tex., duo that influenced a generation of Southern rappers, returned after a five-year hiatus. They came back bearing a sublime single, “Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You).” And they came back bearing a great double album, “Underground Kingz” (Jive/Zomba), which made its debut atop Billboard’s album chart.

Then, on Dec. 4, the news arrived: Pimp C — the duo’s flamboyant half, a slick drawler and an even slicker producer — had been found dead in his hotel room. His bereaved musical partner, Bun B, gave a handful of eloquent interviews, trying to explain what he had lost, what fans had lost.

“I appreciate the concern,” he told Vibe. “But I wouldn’t ask anyone to stop their life, because Pimp would’ve wanted us all to keep grinding.”

If you’re looking for a two-word motto for hip-hop in 2007, you could do worse than that: “Keep grinding.” This was the year when the gleaming hip-hop machine — the one that minted a long string of big-name stars, from Snoop Dogg to OutKast — finally broke down, leaving rappers no alternative but to work harder, and for fewer rewards. Newcomers arrived with big singles and bigger hopes, only to fall off the charts after selling a few hundred thousand copies, if that. Hip-pop hybrids dominated the radio, but rappers themselves seemed like underground figures, for the first time in nearly two decades.

Sales are down all over, but hip-hop has been hit particularly hard. Rap sales fell 21 percent from 2005 to 2006, and that trend seems to be continuing. It’s the inevitable aftermath, perhaps, of the genre’s vertiginous rise in the 1990s, during which a series of breakout stars — Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Tupac Shakur, the Notorious B.I.G. — figured out that they could sell millions without shaving off their rough edges. By 1997 the ubiquity of Puff Daddy helped cement hip-hop’s new image: the rapper as tycoon. Like all pop-music trends, like all economic booms, this one couldn’t last.

This was a bad year for hip-hop sales, but it wasn’t necessarily a bad year for the genre. The scrappy New York independent Koch flourished, releasing a couple of great CDs by major-label refugees: “Return of the Mac,” by Prodigy from Mobb Deep, and “Walkin’ Bank Roll,” by Project Pat. (Koch also released “We the Best,” a sanctioned mixtape by DJ Khaled that produced a couple of hip-hop hits, and “The Brick: Bodega Chronicles,” the well-received debut album from Joell Ortiz.)

And then there is Turf Talk, a loudmouthed upstart from Vallejo, Calif., who made arguably the year’s most exciting hip-hop album, “West Coast Vaccine (The Cure).” It came out through Sick Wid’ It Records, which is run by his cousin, the rapper E-40. (The album was released through a distribution deal with Navarre, which sold its music distribution business to Koch in May.) And despite Turf Talk’s flamboyant rhymes, the album has pretty much remained a secret. Without a national radio hit or even a proper music video, Turf Talk has promoted the CD mainly through West Coast regional shows, from San Diego to Tacoma, Wash.

Reached by telephone at his home in Concord, Calif., Turf Talk tried to put the best spin on a mixed-up year. “The independent game is starting to shine again,” he said. But when pressed, he said he would love to cross over to the mainstream, speaking in the third person: “Turf Talk wants to be known all across the world.”

A few years ago that might have seemed like a reasonable goal, and an attainable one. During the boom the industry was flooded with scowling optimists: small-time hustlers with dreams of big-time success. And some dreams came true. In 1998 Juvenile went from a New Orleans secret to a pop radio staple, selling five million copies of “400 Degreez”; two years later, Nelly came from nowhere (actually St. Louis) to sell six million copies of “Country Grammar.” Overall CD sales peaked in 2000, and by then even second-tier major-label rappers were routinely earning gold plaques for shipping half a million CDs.

Because hip-hop is so intensely self-aware, and self-reflexive, it came to be known as big-money music, a genre obsessed with its own success. If we are now entering an age of diminished commercial expectations, that will inevitably change how hip-hop sounds too.

How bad are the numbers? Well, no rapper was more diminished by 2007 than 50 Cent, who challenged Kanye West to a sales battle and lost. His solid but not thrilling recent album, “Curtis” (Shady/Aftermath/Interscope), has sold about 1.2 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan; considering that he’s supposed to be the genre’s biggest star, that’s a disaster. (His 2005 album, “The Massacre,” sold more than five million.) In fact “Curtis” has sold about the same as T. I.’s “T. I. vs. T. I. P.” (Atlantic), the underwhelming and underperforming follow-up to his great 2006 album, “King,” which sold about 1.6 million.

This year veterans like Jay-Z and Wu-Tang Clan also returned, pleasing old fans but not, for the most part, making new ones. And Lil Wayne released another slew of great mixtapes — available for free download, not for sale. Meanwhile Mr. West’s “Graduation” (Roc-A-Fella/Island Def Jam), which stands at 1.8 million sold and counting, is the only hip-hop album of the year that really seems like a hit, although he loves to portray himself as outside the hip-hop mainstream. Only one problem: After a year when the hitmaker Fabolous and the bohemian Common sold about equally, as did the BET favorite Yung Joc and the indie-rap alumnus Talib Kweli, it’s not clear that there’s still a hip-hop mainstream to be outside.

And eager newcomers discovered that the definition of success has changed. Rich Boy, Shop Boyz, Plies, Hurricane Chris and Soulja Boy Tell’em all released major-label debuts, buoyed by big, lovable hits: “Throw Some D’s,” “Party Like a Rockstar,” “Shawty,” “A Bay Bay” and “Crank That (Soulja Boy).” But of those only Soulja Boy has managed to sell half a million CDs. Hurricane Chris’s disappointing CD, “51/50 Ratchet” (Polo Grounds/J Records), has sold only about 80,000 copies. To a major label that number is almost indistinguishable from zero. (Despite the hit the No. 1 chart debut and the half-decade of anticipation, UGK’s triumphant double album hasn’t reached the half-million mark either.)

Hip-hop has always had a complicated relationship with full-length albums. They’re both too long (for impatient hit lovers) and too short (for ephemera- obsessed mixtape listeners). And even though the South has been hip-hop’s most fertile region since the 1990s, the industry, based in New York and Los Angeles, harbors a lingering anti-Southern bias. Southern rappers are often viewed as one-hit wonders, and that can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. By the time Rich Boy, from Mobile, Ala., tried to drum up interest in his excellent fourth single, “Let’s Get This Paper,” it seemed everybody had already moved on.

At least independent-label rappers have no one to blame. Turf Talk knew from the start that he would have to fight for his album, which he released in June. “I had a lot of hopes for ‘West Coast Vaccine,’ that’s why I’m still pushing it now,” he said, adding that he was finalizing plans for a video. The song he chose was “Popo’s,” a sleek and infectious collaboration with E-40, who adds a memorable touch: a thunderous “Oooh!” In his mesmerizing verses, Turf Talk raps about selling drugs and avoiding the police. His breathless rhymes — “I’m tryna stack every dollar,” he pants — evoke not a kingpin’s confidence but a survivor’s tenacity.

It’s easy to romanticize Turf Talk’s grass-roots approach: his do-it-yourself video shoot, his evident pride in how much he has accomplished on his own, his commitment to the family business. But for him the promise of exposure and the long shot at stardom are too tempting to reject.

“I love the independent money,” he said. “I’m living good, I drive nice cars. But right now, if you asked me, I’d say, ‘Turf Talk wants to go major.’ Because you can always come back to independent.”

That’s what Prodigy discovered. Last year his duo, Mobb Deep, flopped with “Blood Money,” a misconceived CD on 50 Cent’s label, G Unit, an Interscope imprint. This year he went independent for “Return of the Mac,” a hallucinogenic, willfully obscure solo album that evokes the grimy old New York, and the grimy old Prodigy too. (It sold about 130,000 copies.) He has a new album scheduled for next year, though he pleaded guilty in October to gun possession and was sentenced to three and a half years. His new single, “ABC’s,” begins with a halfway defensive boast: “It don’t matter who poppin’ for the moment/P is forever.” If you’re not making hits, why not claim to be making history?

Like Prodigy, Project Pat is a major-label refugee. He emerged from Memphis in the late ’90s and swiftly took advantage of the hip-hop boom. “Chickenhead,” his memorable but medium-sized hit (it peaked at No. 24 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart), helped his 2001 major-label album, “Mista Don’t Play: Everythangs Workin,” sell nearly 1.1 million copies. (Five years ago, in other words, Project Pat sold about as well as 50 Cent sells today.)

After a prison sentence and an underperforming major-label comeback, Project Pat made his Koch debut with “Walkin’ Bank Roll.” The boast in the title track is a defiant (and typically absurd) response to his diminished commercial success: “I’m a walkin’ bank roll/You can rubber-band me,” he keeps shouting, and his glee is infectious. It’s a weird, funny little album; though it has sold only about 40,000 copies, it feels triumphant.

Is it possible to hear a shrug over the phone? Project Pat, when asked about his newfound independence, seemed profoundly unimpressed. “It’s the same old, same old,” he shouted, over the roar of a Mortal Kombat game, though he conceded, “People say they liked it better.” He said he was planning his next album and gearing up for more live dates, which are crucial for independent acts. “Alaska — yessirrr, Anchorage,” he said, sounding a bit like the eccentric rapper from the CDs. “They asked for me per-son-al-ly.”

Under-the-radar releases, weird tour schedules, modest sales figures: none of this is new. The success of Southern hip-hop in the last decade was built on a foundation of independent and independent-minded rappers, many of whom worked with the scrappy regional distributor Southwest Wholesale, which is now closed, like many of the little shops it used to serve. In an earlier era these regional scenes were farm teams for the industry, grooming the top players and then sending them up to the big leagues. But what if there are no big leagues anymore? What if there’s no major label willing or able to help Turf Talk get his platinum plaque? Would his next album sound as brash? Will his musical descendants be as motivated? The mainstream hip-hop industry relies on a thriving underground, but isn’t the reverse also true?

Eventually, a (new?) group of executives will find a business model that doesn’t depend on shiny plastic discs, or digital tracks bundled together to approximate them. But for now the major league is starting to look a lot like the minor one. And in ways good and bad and utterly unpredictable, rappers may have to reconsider their place in the universe, and their audience. Some will redouble their commitment to nonsense, like Project Pat. Some will wallow in their misery, like Prodigy. Some will merely revel in their own loudmouthiness, like Turf Talk, hoping someone will pay attention. But if sales keep falling, more and more rappers will have to face the fact that they aren’t addressing a crowd, just a sliver of one.

On Oct. 14, less than two months before Pimp C’s death, there was another death in the Houston hip-hop family. His name was Big Moe, and he died of a heart attack. He was a much more local figure than Pimp C: a crooner turned rapper and an associate of DJ Screw, who popularized the art of remixing records by slowing them down. (DJ Screw died in 2000.) Big Moe’s best tracks are sublime and disorienting. His was a huge, wobbly sing- rapping voice, often paired with slowed-down drums and lyrics extolling the pleasures of cough syrup.

Big Moe eventually got himself a deal, but his odd and entertaining 2002 major- label debut, “Purple World” (Priority/Capitol), quickly disappeared, and soon he was back to independent releases. It’s no slight to his legacy to say that when news of his death arrived in October, even most hip-hop fans didn’t know who he was. That’s all right. Music that seems lost — there’s a head-spinning selection on “Big Moe Classics Volume One” (Wreckshop) — will be found, over and over again. And after this dispiriting year, it’s not hard to admire Big Moe’s little career. He made secrets, not hits, but so what? He kept grinding.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Savage Silencing of Mexico's Musicians

In the Washington Post
The Savage Silencing of Mexico's Musicians
Killings Bear Hallmarks Of Drug Cartel Hitmen

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 26, 2007; A01

MORELIA, Mexico -- Sergio Gómez roared into town in a big SUV, entourage in tow, pressed suits, fancy cowboy boots.

Everything about him said superstar. He had an international following, an impish smile that drove the women wild and a star on the walk of fame in Las Vegas. More than 20,000 fans swarmed the parking lot of this colonial city's soccer stadium to dance and hear him sing romantic "Duranguense grupero" pop songs backed by a driving drumbeat.

After the show, in the small hours of Dec. 2, Sergio Gómez was kidnapped. Police found his body the next day. He'd been strangled and beaten. His face -- a face that graced album covers and made teenage girls blush -- was disfigured by burn marks.

Sergio Gómez, 34, was the latest of a dozen pop musicians to have been killed in the past year in Mexico. Nearly every one of the slayings bore the hallmarks of the drug cartel hitmen blamed for 4,000 deaths in the country in the past two years.

But the savage murder of Sergio Gómez -- one of Mexico's hottest singers, a headliner whose band, K-Paz de la Sierra, commanded $100,000 a show, twice the rate of other top bands -- was different. It has set off an unprecedented chain reaction in which at least half a dozen bands have canceled concert tours. Popular bands, such as the Duranguense act Patrulla 81, which backed out of four major shows, are terrified of coming to Morelia and the surrounding state of Michoacan.

"All this is very dark for us," José Angel Medina, Patrulla 81's lead singer, said in an interview. "We're very worried. Very scared."

Among music industry insiders, Sergio Gómez's death and the previous killings are also forcing a quiet assessment of the influence drug trafficking kingpins wield over the business. It is common knowledge in Mexico's music industry, but not known to the general public, that drug cartels finance the careers of some budding musicians, then launder money through unregulated concert ticket sales, according to industry sources, musicians and law enforcement.

There has been no suggestion that Sergio Gómez was backed by drug money. But the obvious cartel-hitmen trademarks in his killing have been the catalyst for the music industry to question the risks of mixing socially and professionally with drug traffickers.

"The narcos are completely involved in the business," Lucio Tzin Tzun, who has been a concert promoter here for 20 years, said in an interview. "They control everything. It's like a mafia."
Dangerous Benefactors

The marriage of music and the underworld is nothing new. In the United States, Frank Sinatra was long criticized for being too cozy with the mafia and, more recently, gangsta rappers often have been accused of celebrating violence against police.

In Mexico, the musical celebration of counterculture figures is in the country's DNA. An array of homages are still sung to Pancho Villa -- a bandit turned revolutionary-era folk hero. The new bandit heroes are drug traffickers, celebrated in songs known as narcocorridos and written by artists who are "essentially court poets for the drug world," said Elijah Wald, author of the book "Narcocorrido: A Journey Into the Music of Drugs, Guns and Guerrillas."

"It's all about being like Pancho Villa," Wald said in an interview.

The existence of the narcocorrido genre made the drug cartel-style killing of Gómez all the more puzzling. Sergio Gómez, who launched his musical career in Chicago, made his reputation with romantic ballads and kitschy covers, such as the New Orleans-inflected classic "Jambalaya." He didn't sing about drug dealers. Sergio Gómez was certainly no Valentin Elizalde, the Mexican singer murdered in November 2006 after his narcocorrido "To All My Enemies," a song that mocked drug kingpin Osiel Cardenas, became an Internet sensation.

A clear line seemed to connect Elizalde's lyrics to his demise. No such line ties Sergio Gómez's music to his death.

But Wald said the popular notion that only narcocorrido singers mix with drug lords couldn't be further from the truth. Musicians are sometimes expected to give private concerts for kingpins, and to play whatever the kingpin wants to hear for as long the kingpin and his friends feel like listening.

"The drug lord is just as likely to ask for songs by Jose Alfredo Jimenez [a popular ballad crooner] as a narcocorrido," Wald said.
Deals and Consequences

The nexus between drug traffickers and musicians often forms in poor mountain villages. Young musicians have few sources of income to launch their careers. There is scant public funding for popular music genres, which ruling elites look down upon as "lower-class junk," according to Wald.

Drug traffickers are often the only wealthy people in the mountain villages of states such as Sinaloa, a hotbed of cartel activity. In the most extreme situations, the musician can become almost a serf to his kingpin sponsors.

"There are those who dedicate themselves to singing for those people," Alfredo Ramirez Corral, lead singer of Los Creadorez del Pasito Duranguense, said in an interview. But Corral, whose group canceled a December show in Michoacan, was reluctant to criticize musicians who cater to narcotraffickers, saying that "each person has to do what they can to make a living."

Traffickers are drawn to musical acts because they provide an easy platform to launder money. There are other easy options, but none is so culturally prestigious. It is the glamour of the music scene that makes it irresistible to narcotraffickers, said Rolando Coro, a well-known disc jockey at Radio Tremendous in Morelia.

"They show up at the dances, these drug traffickers, and order the expensive whiskey, not just a glass, but the whole bottle," Coro said. "They have pretty women following them around. It's fun for them."

Bands that make deals with drug traffickers get a crucial leg up on the competition. Tzin Tzun, the promoter, can spot them with ease.

"They come into town with the most expensive equipment, stuff from Germany, stuff that costs thousands of dollars," he said. "But nobody's ever heard of these guys. They were on the rancho yesterday, today they're on billboards."

But support from a drug dealer comes with strings. Traffickers expect a hefty cut of profits -- sometimes 20 percent or more -- and react violently if they don't get what they believe they're owed, music industry insiders say. Still, bands take chances.

"Bands start to get popular and sometimes they want to keep more of the money," Tzin Tzun said.

Drug traffickers can also expect musicians to be available to them at a moment's notice. But band leaders, especially those who achieve major commercial success, sometimes grow weary of altering schedules to suit their patrons' desires.

"So a capo has supported you since you were kids," Wald said. "Now it's his daughter's birthday party and instead you take the gig in Morelia for $100,000."

The consequences of such intransigence can be fatal, industry insiders say.

Proximity with drug traffickers can also lead to other dangerous entanglements. Music industry sources have theorized that some of the singers killed in the past year may have been romantically involved with the wives and girlfriends of drug kingpins, or simply that cartel honchos may have become jealous of handsome musicians.

"Skirts," Coro said. "That's what they say a lot of this is about. Musicians chasing skirts."
A Week of Tears

The spasm of violence against musicians in the state of Michoacan began a year ago, about the same time that Mexican President Felipe Calderón, a native of Michoacan, was launching a military offensive against drug cartels here. On Dec. 14, three days after the arrival of more than 6,000 soldiers and federal police officers, Javier Morales Sergio Gómez, leader of the popular band Los Implacables del Norte, was gunned down in Michoacan. Sergio Gómez, no relation to Sergio Sergio Gómez, had sung narcocorridos with titles such as "Death Contract" and "Drug Tragedy."

Two months later, four members of Banda Fugaz were shot to death in the town of Puruaran after a concert. A fifth band member survived the shooting.

Then there seemed to be a calm. No musicians died in Michoacan in the spring, summer or fall. Sergio Sergio Gómez, who grew up in Michoacan, was set for a big show in December and tickets went fast. The decision to play Michoacan surprised some here. Coro said Sergio Gómez canceled a show the year before amid rumors that he had offended a violent drug trafficker.

As Sergio Gómez was preparing for his appearance, the music industry was jolted by news from the far north of Mexico. The worst six days in the recent history of Mexican music were about to begin.

On Friday, Nov. 30, Zayda Peña, the 28-year-old singer of Zayda y Los Culpables, was shot in the neck in Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Tex. She was rushed to the hospital. But a gunman came into her room Dec. 1 and blasted a bullet into her heart. She died instantly.

That evening, Sergio Gómez stepped to the microphone in Morelia, nearly 500 miles to the south. Hours after his show, around 3 a.m. on Dec. 2, he was kidnapped. His body was found the next day.

There did not appear to be a connection between the killings of Sergio Gómez and Peña. Still the violence wasn't over. A few days later, the body of José Luis Aquino, a trumpeter with the band Los Conde, was found in the southern state of Oaxaca. His hands and feet had been bound and his head was covered with a plastic bag.

It should have been a joyous week for Mexico's sizzling music scene, instead of a week of tears and funeral Masses. Grammy nominations were due on Thursday, Dec. 6, and Mexican bands were expected to fare well.

The nominations went off as planned. When the Banda album category was announced, the list was stocked with Mexican musical royalty. But it was also a reminder of the violence that racks this country.

One of the five nominees, the singer Lupillo Rivera, had survived when his SUV was hit by seven bullets in December 2006 in Guadalajara. Two other nominees, Elizalde and Sergio Gómez -- who was nominated with his band -- were dead.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Another Karlheinz Stockhausen obit

Karlheinz Stockhausen
In every sense, the composer was on a different wavelength.
By Matthew Guerrieri
Updated Friday, Dec. 21, 2007, at 5:20 PM ET

Around 1911, William S. Sadler, a Chicago physician whose hobby was debunking paranormal claims, found a case that perplexed even him. "This man is utterly unconscious, wholly oblivious to what takes place, and unless told about it subsequently, never knows that he has been used as a sort of clearing house for the coming and going of alleged extra-planetary personalities," Sadler wrote. Eventually, "this man" (quite possibly Sadler's brother-in-law Wilfrid C. Kellogg, of the cornflake family) became the conduit for 2,097 pages of quasi-Jungian Christian cosmology, purportedly communicated by extraterrestrial beings, and published in 1955 as The Urantia Book.

The 14th section of the book maps the hierarchical waystations of the ascending soul, from Urantia (the Earth) all the way up to Havona, the last, billion-world stop before Paradise. "Love of adventure, curiosity, and dread of monotony … were not put there just to aggravate and annoy you during your short sojourn on earth," it reads, "but rather to suggest to you that death is only the beginning of an endless career of adventure, an everlasting life of anticipation, an eternal voyage of discovery." On Dec. 5, the 216th anniversary of Mozart's death, German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen began his endless career of adventure.

Stockhausen borrowed from The Urantia Book in his last completed major work, the seven-opera cycle Licht, which occupied him from 1977 until 2002 (and remains only five-sevenths performed). The book was one of a long line of spiritual systems—Catholicism, Sufism, the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo—that Stockhausen embraced. But they were adjuncts to his true creed: Stockhausen was first and foremost a priest of sound, a clearinghouse for the coming and going of vibrations.

"We are all transistors in the literal sense," he proclaimed. Orphaned by the war—his mentally ill mother euthanized by the Nazis, his officer father killed near the conflict's end—he turned to the cosmos for guidance. "I closed my eyes and stood somewhere in the road or on the street—or, during the war, in a field where bombs were falling," he said, "and I wouldn't move until I heard a message." He came to consider himself an antenna for tuning in the music of the spheres.

Canadian pianist Glenn Gould included among his stable of satirical characters one Karlheinz Klopweisser: donning a long wig, brandishing an enormous electric wand, ruminating about the resonance of organic silence. It wasn't much of an exaggeration. The perception was that, as the summers of love faded, Stockhausen had lost his way, that the leading avant-garde composer of the 1950s and '60s—who gave electronic music a soul and made the arid calculations of serialism dazzlingly, confrontationally vivid—had gone off the psychedelic deep end. Once, prefacing some typically esoteric statement, Stockhausen himself inadvertently summed up critical opinion. "At this point, my argument is about to become metaphysical," he warned. "Most people have no intention of following me to this level."

But the metaphysics had been there from the outset. The landmark Gesange der Jünglinge, possibly the most epochal five-channel tape in musical history, grew out of a proposed Catholic mass for voices and electronic sounds, nixed by the Archbishop of Cologne on the now-quaint grounds that loudspeakers didn't belong in church. Gruppen, a three-conductor extravaganza that reinvented the orchestral showpiece with clangingly dissonant exhilaration (excerpt), included in its mathematical blueprint the contour of the Swiss Alps, as viewed from the room where Stockhausen composed: a communion with nature embedded in the code.

Stockhausen's relentless spiritual quest gave his works an exigent power, their arithmetic construction infused with cabalistic zeal. Completed in 1960, Kontakte (excerpt) especially in its incarnation for piano, percussion, and prerecorded sound, still stuns with its uncompromising fervor, its jagged utterances piling up with the lengthy, sustained intensity of a hellfire preacher. (Inori, a later piece for dancer and orchestra, cataloged worshipful postures from various cultures into a "chromatic scale of prayer gestures.")

A brief late-'60s flirtation with textual works—koanlike instructions for improvisation ("Play a vibration in the rhythm of your enlightenment")—had mixed results. In the aftermath of his second marriage, Stockhausen had a vision of a universe where the music he imagined would happen spontaneously; the problem was, nobody spontaneously imagined music quite the way Stockhausen did. Instead, beginning with the hypnotic Mantra (1970), Stockhausen took back control, with intuitively composed melodies becoming the recombinant seeds for a labyrinthine structure. The idea would fuel the rest of Stockhausen's output, including the cathedral of Licht: musical "formulas" schematically stretched across hours or compressed to a singularity. Alpha and omega.

The man Jonathan Cott once called "an agent provocateur for the divine" caused one last scandal after 9/11, when news reports quoted him calling the destruction of the World Trade Center "the biggest work of art there ever has been." Stockhausen protested, with justification, that his words had been taken out of context—but by that time, his context was so individual that almost anything would be. The evangelist had become an anchorite, publishing his own music, selling his own recordings, starting his own school, working primarily with a close group of companions and offspring. Interviewed by Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk (like the Beatles and Miles Davis, a fan), the guru shrugged: "I have concentrated on composition and I have missed almost everything that the world offers to me." In every sense, he was on a different wavelength.

Stockhausen's death rendered the musical world less outlandish and more reasonable—but also less ambitious and more boring. Detractors called him a charlatan. If so, Stockhausen—who, as a young man, spent a year as a touring accompanist for an illusionist—never undermined the act with so much as a wink. His fierce earnestness made even his most baffling manifestos hard to dismiss out of hand. He was, in the end, the leading character in his own fantastic fable: Baron Stockhausen, riding on cannonballs, floating to the moon, telling his epic, tall musical tales, which, for all their implausibility, just might be true. As of Dec. 5, concerts on the Havona worlds are a lot more interesting.
Matthew Guerrieri writes the classical music blog Soho the Dog and regularly contributes to the Boston Globe.

Article URL:

The Afterlife Is Expensive for Digital Movies

New York Times

December 23, 2007
Scene Stealer
The Afterlife Is Expensive for Digital Movies


TIME was, a movie studio could pack up a picture and all of its assorted bloopers, alternate takes and other odds and ends as soon as the production staff was done with them, and ship them off to the salt mine. Literally.

Having figured out that really big money comes from reselling old films — on broadcast television, then cable, videocassettes, DVDs, and so on — companies like Warner Brothers and Paramount Pictures for decades have been tucking their 35-millimeter film masters and associated source material into archives, some of which are housed in a Kansas salt mine, or in limestone mines in Kansas and Pennsylvania.

A picture could sit for many, many years, cool and comfortable, until some enterprising executive decided that the time was ripe for, say, a Wallace Beery special collection timed to a 25th-anniversary 3-D rerelease of “Barton Fink,” with a hitherto unseen, behind-the-scenes peek at the Coen brothers trying to explain a Hollywood in-joke to John Turturro.

It was a file-and-forget system that didn’t cost much, and made up for the self-destructive sins of an industry that discarded its earliest works or allowed films on old flammable stock to degrade. (Indeed, only half of the feature films shot before 1950 survive.)

But then came digital. And suddenly the film industry is wrestling again with the possibility that its most precious assets, the pictures, aren’t as durable as they used to be.

The problem became public, but just barely, last month, when the science and technology council of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released the results of a yearlong study of digital archiving in the movie business. Titled “The Digital Dilemma,” the council’s report surfaced just as Hollywood’s writers began their walkout. Busy walking, or dodging, the picket lines, industry types largely missed the report’s startling bottom line: To store a digital master record of a movie costs about $12,514 a year, versus the $1,059 it costs to keep a conventional film master.

Much worse, to keep the enormous swarm of data produced when a picture is “born digital” — that is, produced using all-electronic processes, rather than relying wholly or partially on film — pushes the cost of preservation to $208,569 a year, vastly higher than the $486 it costs to toss the equivalent camera negatives, audio recordings, on-set photographs and annotated scripts of an all-film production into the cold-storage vault.

All of this may seem counterintuitive. After all, digital magic is supposed to make information of all kinds more available, not less. But ubiquity, it turns out, is not the same as permanence.

In a telephone interview earlier this month, Milton Shefter, a longtime film preservationist who helped prepare the academy’s report, said the problems associated with digital movie storage, if not addressed, could point the industry “back to the early days, when they showed a picture for a week or two, and it was thrown away.”

Mr. Shefter and his associates do not contend that films are actually on the verge of becoming quite that ephemeral. But they do see difficulties and trends that could point many movies or the source material associated with them toward “digital extinction” over a relatively short span of years, unless something changes.

At present, a copy of virtually all studio movies — even those like “Click” or “Miami Vice” that are shot using digital processes — is being stored in film format, protecting the finished product for 100 years or more. For film aficionados, the current practice is already less than perfect. Regardless of how they are shot, most pictures are edited digitally, and then a digital master is transferred to film, which can result in an image of lower quality than a pure film process — and this is what becomes stored for the ages.

But over the next couple of decades, archivists reason, the conversion of theaters to digital projection will sharply reduce the overall demand for film, eventually making it a sunset market for the main manufacturers, Kodak, Fujifilm and Agfa. At that point, pure digital storage will become the norm, bringing with it a whole set of problems that never troubled film.

To begin with, the hardware and storage media — magnetic tapes, disks, whatever — on which a film is encoded are much less enduring than good old film. If not operated occasionally, a hard drive will freeze up in as little as two years. Similarly, DVDs tend to degrade: according to the report, only half of a collection of disks can be expected to last for 15 years, not a reassuring prospect to those who think about centuries. Digital audiotape, it was discovered, tends to hit a “brick wall” when it degrades. While conventional tape becomes scratchy, the digital variety becomes unreadable.

DIFFICULTIES of that sort are compounded by constant change in technology. As one generation of digital magic replaces the next, archived materials must be repeatedly “migrated” to the new format, or risk becoming unreadable. Thus, NASA scientists found in 1999 that they were unable to read digital data saved from a Viking space probe in 1975; the format had long been obsolete.

All of that makes digital archiving a dynamic rather than static process, and one that costs far more than studios have been accustomed to paying in the past — no small matter, given that movie companies rely on their libraries for about one-third of their $36 billion in annual revenue, according to a recent assessment by the research service Global Media Intelligence.

“It’s been in the air since we started talking about doing things digitally,” Chris Cookson, president of Warner’s technical operations and chief technology officer, said of the archiving quandary.

One of the most perplexing realities of a digital production like “Superman Returns” is that it sometimes generates more storable material than conventional film, creating new questions about what to save. Such pile-ups can occur, for instance, when a director or cinematographer who no longer has to husband film stock simply allows cameras to remain running for long stretches while working out scenes.

Much of the resulting data may be no more worth saving that the misspellings and awkward phrases deleted from a newspaper reporter’s word-processing screen. Then again, a telling exchange between star and filmmaker might yield gold as a “special feature” on some future home-viewing format — so who wants to be responsible for tossing it into the digital dustbin?

For now, studios are saving as much of this digital ephemera as possible, storing it on tapes or drives in vaults not unlike those that house traditional film. But how much of that material will be migrated when technology shifts in 7 or 10 years is anyone’s guess. (And archiving practices in the independent film world run the gamut, from studied preservation to complete inattention, noted Andrew Maltz, director of the academy’s science and technology council.)

According to Mr. Shefter, a universal standard for storage technology would go far toward reducing a problem that would otherwise grow every time the geniuses who create digital hardware come up with something a little better than their last bit of wizardry.

As the report put it, “If we allow technological obsolescence to repeat itself, we are tied either to continuously increasing costs — or worse — the failure to save important assets.”

In other words, we could be watching Wallace Beery long after more contemporary images are gone.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

In Marseille, Rap Helps Keep the Peace

From the New York Times
December 19, 2007
In Marseille, Rap Helps Keep the Peace

MARSEILLE, France — The other day, a dozen or so teenage rappers in baggy jeans and hoodies gathered outside a community arts center called Le Mille-Patte in Noailles, a poor immigrant neighborhood here, hard by the Old Port.

One of this city’s most successful hip-hop artists, M’Roumbaba Saïd, who calls himself Soprano, lately wrote a track called “Melancholic Anonymous”: “I can’t help it, expressing my feelings, my melancholy in my lyrics,” he rapped. “I can laugh at my sadness. It helps.”

When the slums outside Paris, Lyon, Toulouse and Strasbourg exploded last month, repeating the violence that erupted two years ago, here in Marseille, France’s second-largest city, all remained calm. Back in July, in one of this city’s impoverished northern neighborhoods, a 14-year-old boy named Nelson Lobry-Gazelle was killed by a police car. Four hundred people demonstrated peacefully, so the incident barely made headlines. As it happens, it was also a police car’s killing two teenagers in Villiers-le-Bel, a destitute suburb about 10 miles north of Paris, that sparked the trouble that broke out across France in November. A bus-burning here in October 2006 was considered an isolated incident and failed to ignite a local chain reaction.

The Marseillais have plenty of explanations for this disparity, aside from the obvious one that the poor areas here aren’t segregated on the city outskirts, as they are in Paris — but it is hip-hop, as much a source of local pride as the town’s soccer team, that turns out to be a lens through which to examine why this city didn’t burn.

Melancholy is the word often used to describe the local rap style: melancholy as a reflective state of mind. In contrast to the city’s sun-and-sea context, melancholy actually suits lots of its culture. A Marseille novelist, Jean-Claude Izzo, who died just a few years ago, became famous in France for writing grim, pessimistic detective stories. Robert Guédiguian, also from Marseille, is a filmmaker whose reputation is based on dark movies.

Rappers in Marseille, some of the most original and distinctive ones anyway, compose sad odes to their local neighborhoods and hymns to the whole melting-pot city. The sound of Paris hip-hop, slicker and more aggressive, adopts much from American gangsta rap, as Marseille hip-hop does too, but Marseille boasts a groovier style. It mixes in blues, flamenco, Jamaican ragga.

The number that a decade or more ago helped fixed IAM, the Marseille group, on the French charts, borrows from George Benson to lay down a mellow beat. "Belsunce Breakdown," about one of the city’s downtown neighborhoods, by Bouga, a rapper from there, begins with a hypnotic piano riff, jazzily syncopated — a little Steve Reich crossed with 50 Cent.

Here the basic interconnectedness of all modern music expresses a local truth about the city’s cultural identity. An ancient, gritty seaport, Marseille flaunts its history as an immigrant magnet. Its population of 820,000 includes 200,000 Muslims, 80,000 North African Jews, 80,000 Armenians. One of the largest immigrant groups is made up of Muslims from the Comoro Islands, near Madagascar. Three of the four musicians in PSY4 de la Rime, Soprano’s band, are Comorians who grew up in the northern part of Marseille where Mr. Lobry-Gazelle died. The fourth member of the band, DJ Sya Styles (of Moroccan background, born Rachid Aït Baar), like many of the teenagers at Le Mille-Patte, comes from Noailles.

Marseille lyrics can be full of rage but they’re not violent, the way those of certain Parisian bands are. Two years ago 152 conservatives in the French Parliament brought suit against seven rap groups, but notably none from Marseille, for fostering hatred and racism against whites and for what one politician called “anti-French ” sentiments.

PSY4, by contrast, wrote a rap not long ago called “Justicier”: “I know all the cops are not that bad, but why do you always ask me for my ID? To your violence I prefer responding with my lyrics. Can’t we have a proper dialogue?”

The other evening PSY4 occupied a recording studio in Grottes Loubières, just northeast of the city. During a break the members talked about the way rappers help one another here, and about how success comes not from landing studio contracts but from earning respect, ground up.

“Rap’s not a business here, the way it is in Paris,” DJ Sya Styles said. “It’s not like Paris, where the suburbs are just concrete. Here you first have to prove yourself in the neighborhoods.”

Stéphane Gallard put it another way: “Paris is more hard-core.” He is the quiet, suave young man in charge of music programming for the nonprofit Radio Grenouille, the city’s most popular hip-hop station. “The fact that hip-hop artists sell their music on their own blocks contributes to their identifying with Marseille, and this explains why there’s no car burning,” he said. “Different communities in Marseille are still quite separate, there’s racism here, but it’s a city in which you have the freedom to move among communities if you choose.”

It’s also true that this city has a contrarian streak going back at least 2,000 years, to when it backed Pompey over Caesar. You might say Marseillais rappers reflect the tradition of “pays,” or local communities, to which their inhabitants maintain more powerful loyalties than to France. At the same time, it’s a place proud of its old Corsican and French-Italian mob heritage (a popular downtown clothing store was named for a famous mob boss), and the prevalence of drug dealers and North African gangs does partly explain why there’s relative calm in destitute areas: Calm is maintained for the sake of their businesses.

Unemployment nears 40 percent in those same parts of town among those 18 to 25; it’s 13 percent citywide, much more than the national average of 8 percent. So clearly job opportunities alone, or their lack, don’t account for the absence of urban violence recently.

It helps that an old, Mediterranean-style civic patronage system doles out favors to earn loyalty and keep the peace. And, as everybody says, unlike Paris, where immigrant poor occupy huge concrete blocks cut off from the city center, Marseille has its neighborhoods, like Noailles, that are smack in the middle of town, while the hard-pressed quarters to the north are linked to the center by cheap public transport and remain inside city limits. So residents feel that they belong to Marseille, because they do, and in turn they feel that Marseille belongs to them.

Out of these communities, where musicians have their own version of a patronage system, the hip-hop scene has emerged — besides PSY4 de la Rime, IAM and Bouga, others, like Keny Arkana, FAF Larage, Fonky Family, DJ Rebel and Prodige Namor, have made it big here.

“Marseille rap never integrated violence the way Paris did,” Philippe Fragione told me. He’s Akhenaton, the leader of IAM. He, like other older musicians here, supports younger Marseille rappers. It was his studio in Grottes Loubières that PSY4 was using. Marseille rap is “more socially conscious,” Mr. Fragione added. “That’s because there is a real sense of community.”

I stopped in the waterfront office of Paul Colombani, the deputy director of the redevelopment program Euroméditerranée. With more than $5 billion in public and private investments, it plans, by 2012, to turn some 2.5 miles of downtown into office towers, mixed-income apartments, museums and esplanades. Zaha Hadid, Jean Nouvel and other archistars have signed on. Outside the porthole office window, the Danielle Casanova, an enormous white ferry, waited to carry passengers to Algeria. Passengers coming back often bring knockoff goods that merchants hawk on sidewalks. “Les jeunes errants,” as migrant street children, some as young as 12, are called, hide in boats, then head for Noailles when they land. A few have become aspiring rappers through community cultural centers like Le Mille-Patte.

Mr. Colombani noticed my gaze. “That will be moved out of this area,” he said about the ferry. He meant to L’Estaque, far to the north, “easier for customs,” he explained. Luxury cruise ships will dock here instead.

Marseille can surely use the money, but hardly at the cost of undoing the social chemistry that has kept the peace and fostered, among other things, the city’s musical life. At Le Mille-Patte those dozen or so young rappers outside were a typical Marseille mix: first-, second- or third-generation immigrants from Algeria, Morocco, the Comoro Islands, Eastern Europe, Argentina.

Habib was a skinny 18-year-old with a doleful face and a band called Urban Revolution. “We all get along because we share music,” he explained. Le Mille-Patte had first encouraged him to rap as a young boy: “I didn’t know what to do with my days, so this place was very important.”

Bacariane, a slightly older rapper wearing a New York Yankees cap, its brim pressed down over his eyes, piped in: “This is a rough neighborhood, but there’s not violence here without meaning, like in Paris. I lived there for a while,” he said, meaning in the isolated suburbs outside the capital. He paused to consider the difference. “Here there is a culture of respect,” he said. “We’re all Marseillais.”

With Regrets, New Orleans Is Left Behind

From the New York Times
December 18, 2007
With Regrets, New Orleans Is Left Behind

LAKE CHARLES, La. — With resignation, anger or stoicism, thousands of former New Orleanians forced out by Hurricane Katrina are settling in across the Gulf Coast, breaking their ties with the damaged city for which they still yearn.

They now cast their votes in small Louisiana towns and in big cities of neighboring states. They have found new jobs and bought new houses. They have forsaken their favorite foods and cherished pastors. But they do not for a moment miss the crime, the chaos and the bad memories they left behind in New Orleans.

This vast diaspora — largely black, often poor, sometimes struggling — stretches across the country but is concentrated in cities near the coast, like this one, or Atlanta or Baton Rouge or Houston, places where the newcomers are still reaching for accommodation.

The break came fairly recently. Sometime between the New Orleans mayor’s race in spring 2006, when thousands of displaced citizens voted absentee or drove in to cast a ballot, and the city election this fall, when thousands did not — resulting in a sharply diminished electorate and a white-majority City Council — the decision was made: there was no going back. Life in New Orleans was over.

Now, they are adjusting to places where the pace is slower, restaurants are fewer, existence is centered on the home, and streets are lonely and deserted after 5 p.m., as in this city in southwest Louisiana. These exiles, still in semi-limbo and barely established in a routine, describe their new lives less in terms of what it now consists of than of what they left behind.

“I told them, ‘I love turtle soup.’ People here go, ‘What’s that?’ ” said Pauline Hurst, a former therapy technician at a New Orleans hospital who settled here after her home was destroyed in the post-hurricane flood.

Dreadlocks, accepted in New Orleans, might mean a reservation at a fancy restaurant is suddenly “lost,” as in the telling of one exile here. A burst of gunfire might mean an instant police response rather than none at all, as in New Orleans, in the amazed recounting of another. Late-night cravings mean the IHOP rather than the famous Camellia Grill; going to work means hourlong trips on country roads, rather than, say, a 10-minute hop across the Industrial Canal from the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans.

Warily, they praise the quiet, the friendliness and the absence of crime.

“It’s the country, but it’s — lovely,” said Barbara Shanklin, a retired city bus driver who has settled 50 miles to the southwest of New Orleans in a Terrebonne Parish hamlet, Gray. Still, Ms. Shanklin added quickly, “I miss New Orleans.”

The precise calculus that went into these painful choices was complex, a mix of emotion and reason, in the telling of former New Orleanians. They voted in 2006 clinging to a hope of return, and in some cases a desire to protect decades of black political gains by returning an African-American, C. Ray Nagin, to the mayor’s office. But while 113,000 voted in May 2006, only 53,000 did last October. The mirage of the old, comfortable life in a city of densely woven neighborhoods, beguiling if sometimes dangerous street life, and inviting po’ boy sandwich shops contrasted too sharply with the grimmer present-day reality of New Orleans for these exiles.

The old house was gone. The neighborhood was empty. The friends were missing. The job had vanished. Rents were high, when you could find them. Murder had returned (with about 200 victims so far this year), even if many of their friends had not.

And the city seemed frozen in its half-ruined state, strangely alien and unfamiliar. The current population remains stuck at somewhere between 200,000 and 280,000, far below the pre-hurricane level of 450,000. These exiles do not see the New Orleans that has picked itself up; instead, they see the one that remains largely destroyed.

Away from the city, a less threatening existence awaited: blander and demanding adjustment, yet less oppressive. The quiet of languid country-town streets was deemed preferable to the absolute silence of whole abandoned blocks. Outside New Orleans, it was easier to deal with the still-fresh trauma of being homeless and losing “everything,” as several put it.

“In the beginning, I thought I might go back,” said Ms. Hurst, who came here with her sister and 88-year-old mother, also chased out by the hurricane, and lived with them for five months in a single large room at St. Mary’s Missionary Baptist Church. They now work at the church, which has become a regional relief center for storm evacuees.

The 2005 flood, Ms. Hurst said, turned everything in her home at the edge of the Broadmoor section of New Orleans “black, purple and green,” as though somebody had “just put everything in a blender.” Yet the city had not relinquished its grip on her, and she voted in the 2006 New Orleans election, at a special polling place in the white-columned Calcasieu Parish courthouse here.

Voting for the familiar New Orleans candidates was an act of normalcy. But that election, once over, did not magically conjure up the old New Orleans. Going back was a jolt.

“Everything was gone,” Ms. Hurst said. “All that was gone — community, friends — scattered. You feel like, when you go there, you’re walking into a strange country. It’s just totally different. It just feels like you’re in outer space.”

Each return visit to New Orleans brings sharp reminders of what was lost. “It hurts me, every time I go back,” said Ms. Hurst’s sister, Cynthia Jones.

Others spoke of being alienated from their old surroundings.

“There is nothing to go back to,” said Renee Roussell, whose husband found a job as a manager at a casino restaurant in Lake Charles.

Sylvia Young, a former public school teacher in the Lower Ninth Ward, now works as a mental health counselor in La Place, just up the Mississippi River from New Orleans. Her old school and job are gone.

“I go, and I get depressed,” Ms. Young said.

She drove to New Orleans to vote in 2006 — “I thought for a minute I could possibly move back,” she said — but not this year.

“When I go to Gentilly,” Ms. Young said, “and I see my son’s school is not back, and the house we lived in is gone, and the house next door to Tammy and them is gone. Everything is just gone. It’s either torn down or partially being rebuilt or just nothing done to it at all.”

But, in the accounts from people who left New Orleans after the storm, the missing or ruined physical landscape is barely half of it. Even more absent now is the human landscape — the network of friends, relations and acquaintances that often, in New Orleans, helps compensate for fragmentary families and neighborhoods that can be dangerous. Life in the city takes place outside the home as much as inside; now, that would not be possible.

“It’s not New Orleans to me,” said Ms. Shanklin, the retired bus driver in Terrebonne Parish. “And I find myself asking, Where are all the people? I see all the empty houses, and I knew once there was people in all those houses.”

“Where are the people, you know? Where are the people?” Ms. Shanklin said. “It’s like somebody threw a bomb on it.”

Now, she lives in a trim little house that Habitat for Humanity built in a curving subdivision of similar dwellings definitely unlike New Orleans. The town of Houma is nearby, but there are fields all around, and it is quiet enough to hear birds. New Orleans noises — police sirens, traffic, honking car horns, children, hip-hop music — can be conjured only with difficulty. At night, Ms. Shanklin boasted, she opens her window and listens to the cows in the pasture.

But a year ago, she had a nervous breakdown and spent 10 days in the hospital. She missed New Orleans.

Ms. Roussell, in Lake Charles, said, “If anybody asks me where I’m from, I say New Orleans. It’s not easy to let go. But why go back home, when nothing is what it used to be?”

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Japanese Monks Stage Fashion Show

Japanese Monks Stage Fashion Show
Japanese Buddhists trying to spread religion to younger generations
The Associated Press
updated 1:15 p.m. PT, Sat., Dec. 15, 2007

TOKYO - Japanese monks and nuns hit the catwalk in Tokyo on Saturday in a bid to spread Buddhism among younger people in this rapidly aging society.

The fashion show opened with a Buddhist prayer set to a hip-hop beat at the centuries-old Tsukiji Honganji temple, where nearly 40 monks and nuns from eight major Buddhist sects showed off elaborate robes in an effort to win back believers.

Five monks from each school walked on the runway, then chanted prayers and wrapped up in a grand finale with confetti resembling lotus petals.

Buddhist monks traditionally wear simple black robes. But to appeal to more fashion-conscious youth, the monks wore green and yellow clothes, some with gold embroidery. Others wore elaborate, multilayered robes.

"Their robes were gorgeous," said Sayaka Anma, one of the audience in her 20s, after the monks' show. "I was a bit surprised in the beginning, but it was very moving."

Buddhism in crisis?
More than 1,200 years after it first arrived from mainland Asia, Buddhism in Japan is in crisis, priests say.

Almost three-quarters of Japan's population of 120 million are registered as Buddhist, but for many, the only time they enter a temple is to attend a funeral. That has sent many of the country's 75,000 temples into financial trouble.

Japan's aging population has meant more funerals, but the declining population and birth rate means fewer young people to share the bill to keep temples afloat.

"We wanted to show the young people that Buddhism is cool, and temples are not a place just for funerals," said Koji Matsubara, a chief monk at Tsukiji.

The Tsukiji Honganji offers theological seminars in English for foreign visitors, and has fitted its main hall with a pipe organ for Western-style weddings to attract young couples. Some other temples have also introduced cafes, art galleries and other innovations to reach out to young people who are interested in a different lifestyle.

"Many of us priests share the sense of crisis, and a need to do something to reach out to people," said priest Kosuke Kikkawa, 37, one of the organizers of Saturday's event. "We won't change Buddha's teachings, but perhaps we need a different presentation that can touch the feelings of the people today."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Deaf Audiophile: What's so good about bad sound? Plenty

The Deaf Audiophile
What's so good about bad sound? Plenty
November 10, 2007; Page W14

Of all the clever inventions of the past decade, the most culturally consequential just might be the iPod. In case you've been asleep since 2001, that's Apple's proprietary name for the MP3 player, a hand-held hard drive that stores and plays the audio files used to transmit recorded sound over the Web. It's the postmodern equivalent of the Walkman, only better, since an iPod can hold as many as 40,000 songs in its digital memory. Yet these ingenious devices are driving producers and engineers nuts.

In September the Journal's Lee Gomes reported in his "Portals" column that "those who work behind-the-mic in the music industry -- producers, engineers, mixers and the like -- say they increasingly assume their recordings will be heard as MP3s on an iPod music player." Accordingly, these audio professionals are now custom-tailoring their product to sound best on iPods, the same way that pop record producers of the early '60s are said to have tailored their product to sound best on car radios.
[Sightings illustration]

The trouble with this approach, Mr. Gomes explained, is that MP3 files are highly compressed in order to make them easier to store and transmit. Thus a piece of recorded music that is loaded onto an iPod and listened to on inexpensive earbuds doesn't sound as good as the same music recorded on a CD and played back on a stereo system equipped with high-quality speakers or headphones. The result, Mr. Gomes was repeatedly told by industry professionals, is "music that is loud but harsh and flat, and thus not enjoyable for long periods of time."

True? Incontestably. As a trained musician with many years of performing experience under my belt, I'm well aware that the MP3 is, musically speaking, something of a blunt instrument. Yet I find it hard to get bent out of shape over its burgeoning ubiquity. Indeed, I spend a great deal of time listening to digital audio files on my iPod or through a pair of compact desktop speakers connected to my MacBook.

Why do I settle for inferior sound quality? Partly because of the near-miraculous convenience of MP3s, which not only can be stored and retrieved with the greatest of ease but are equally easy to purchase over the Web via services like Apple's iTunes. But I have another reason, one that I share with millions of other iPod users: I'm middle-aged.

Like a third of my fellow baby boomers, I'm experiencing one of the more predictable consequences of growing older, which is that I now suffer from a mild but noticeable case of presbycusis, the medical term for age-related hearing loss. Not only are the sensory cell receptors in my inner ear gradually degenerating as a result of advancing age, but when young I spent countless happy hours playing loud music, which fried more than a few of those same receptors. I can still enjoy music of all kinds, but I don't hear it quite as well as I did 20 years ago, because I now find it harder to perceive the high-frequency sounds that are such an important part of recorded music.

That's the bad news. The good news is that I don't care . . . much. For one of the unintended consequences of presbycusis is that it liberates you from the snare and delusion of audiophilia. When I was younger, I longed for bigger, better, ever more expensive sound systems, sure that they would enhance the pleasure I took in listening to recorded music. And did they? Up to a point. But somewhere along the way I forgot that every dollar I spent on speakers was a dollar I could no longer spend on records -- not to mention tickets to live performances. Like so many sound-crazy audiophiles, I had not only put the cart before the horse, but I'd come close to cutting the reins.

Now that my hearing isn't what it used to be, I understand more clearly than ever before that recorded music can never hope to be more than a substitute for the real thing. A priceless and irreplaceable substitute, to be sure, and one that has clearly changed the world of music for the better. I've been listening to old records for most of a lifetime, yet it never quite ceases to amaze me that simply by pushing a button, I can hear Igor Stravinsky conducting "The Rite of Spring" or Louis Armstrong rapping out that golden introduction to "West End Blues." Yet the fact remains that sitting down in your living room and throwing on a CD is simply not the same thing as going to a concert, much less playing for your own pleasure. Yes, it can be intensely meaningful, but it is still experience once removed, no matter how fancy your speakers are. Conversely, Stravinsky is still Stravinsky when you experience him through a $10 pair of earbuds. He's the point, not the earbuds.

That's why I'm more than content to listen to "The Rite of Spring" on my trusty iPod. Would that my presbycusic ears were capable of distinguishing between great and good sound -- but at least they still know the infinitely more important difference between sound and silence.

Mr. Teachout, the Journal's drama critic, writes "Sightings" every other Saturday and blogs about the arts at Write to him at

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Karlheinz Stockhausen, Influential Composer and Avant-Garde Guru, Dies at 79

New York Times Music
December 8, 2007
Karlheinz Stockhausen, Influential Composer and Avant-Garde Guru, Dies at 79

Karlheinz Stockhausen, an original and influential German composer who began his career as an inventor of new musical systems and ended it making operas to express his spiritual vision of the cosmos, died on Wednesday at his home in Kuerten-Kettenberg, Germany. He was 79.

His death was announced on Friday by the Stockhausen Foundation; no cause was disclosed.

Mr. Stockhausen had secured his place in music history by the time he was 30. He had taken a leading part in the development of electronic music, and his early instrumental compositions similarly struck out in new directions, in terms of their formal abstraction, rhythmic complexity and startling sound.

More recently, he made news for his public reaction to the attack on the World Trade Center. Not widely known outside the modern-music world in 2001, he became infamous for calling the attack “the greatest work of art that is possible in the whole cosmos.” His comments drew widespread outrage, and he apologized, saying that his allegorical remarks had been misunderstood.

Mr. Stockhausen produced an astonishing succession of compositions in the 1950s and early ’60s: highly abstract works that were based on rigorous principles of ordering and combination but at the same time were vivid, bold and engaging.

In “Song of the Youths” (1956), he used a multichannel montage of electronic sound with a recorded singing voice to create an image of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego staying alive in Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace. In “Groups” (1957), he divided an orchestra into three ensembles that often played in different tempos and called to one another.

Such works answered the need felt in postwar Europe for reconstruction and logic, the logic to forestall any recurrence of war and genocide. They made Mr. Stockhausen a beacon to younger composers. Along with a few other musicians of his generation, notably Pierre Boulez and Luigi Nono, he had an enormous influence. Though performances of his works were never plentiful, his music was promoted by radio stations in Germany and abroad as well as by the record company Deutsche Grammophon, and he gave lectures all over the world.

By the 1960s his influence had reached rock musicians, and he was an international subject of acclaim and denigration.

The intellectual and physical excitement of his earlier music diminished in the later 1960s, when he devoted himself largely to performing semi-improvised music with a chosen group of performers. The tone of his lectures and essays also changed. Earlier he had based his thinking on psychoacoustics and the nature of musical time; now he presented himself as the receiver of messages about a spiritual drama being played out in the cosmos.

Between 1977 and 2002, he concentrated his creative efforts on “Light,” a cycle of seven operas intended to bring that cosmic drama to the human stage. The project was extravagantly egomaniacal. Mr. Stockhausen devised the music, the scenario and the words for his operas, and he made stipulations about sets, costumes and lighting. During the period of “Light” and after, Mr. Stockhausen was venerated within his own circle of performers and family members (often the same people) but largely ignored outside it. His home at Kuerten, which he designed, became the center of a publishing, recording and promoting enterprise removed from the wider world. Formerly a star, he had turned into a guru.

Karlheinz Stockhausen was born on Aug. 22, 1928, near Cologne, the first child of Simon Stockhausen, a schoolteacher, and his wife, Gertrud. His mother began suffering deep depressions when he was still a boy and was committed to a mental hospital, where, according to Mr. Stockhausen, she was “officially killed” in 1941. His father later volunteered for the army and was killed in Hungary.

The young Mr. Stockhausen himself served as an orderly to a military hospital during the last year of World War II, after which he studied at the State Academy of Music in Cologne. He took composition lessons from Frank Martin, but his training was as a music teacher. He also played jazz in Cologne bars, directed an amateur operetta theater and, as he later remembered, “prayed a lot.”

His ambitions changed in July 1951, when he attended a summer music course at Darmstadt and heard a recording of Olivier Messiaen’s piano piece “Mode of Values and Intensities,” which he described as “incredible star music.” On his return to Cologne, he began studying the music of Messiaen, writing his own similarly conceived work, “Crossplay,” for piano, percussion and two wind instruments.

As “Crossplay” shows, he understood at once how Messiaen’s single notes could be organized by applying Schoenberg’s serial principle to every dimension of sound: pitch, duration, loudness and tone color. A few formal rules would be set up, and the notes would fall into patterns as of themselves. Here his admiration for Hermann Hesse joined with his intense Roman Catholic faith to give him confidence in a kind of music that would be new and pure, reflecting the unity of the divine creation.

He arrived in Paris in January 1952 and stayed 14 months, during which he wrote two big orchestral scores; “Counter-Points,” an exuberant ensemble piece with instrumental flourishes; and the first four of a continuing series of piano pieces. He also composed his first electronic piece. When he went back to Cologne, it was to assist in the foundation of an electronic music studio, as well as to marry his student sweetheart, Doris Andreae, with whom he had four children during the next decade: Christel, Suja, Markus and Majella.

Between 1953 and 1955, he wrote more piano pieces (influenced by a first meeting with John Cage and with Cage’s regular pianist, David Tudor) and two electronic studies. Then came works on a more public scale: “Song of the Youths” and “Groups.” He was attracted by the idea that pitch, timbre, rhythm and even musical form could all be understood as forms of vibration, and by the notion of an entire musical work as a kind of photographic blowup of a single sound or sequence of sounds.

The first performance of “Groups,” in 1958, confirmed his dominant position within the European avant-garde. But he kept moving on. His music became slower and more enveloping in the electronic “Contacts” (1960) and in “Moments” for solo soprano, choir, brass, percussion and electric organs (1964). At the same time, his Catholic piety began giving way to a broader spirituality that embraced Eastern thought. He also fell in love with the American visual artist Mary Bauermeister. He divorced his first wife to marry her in 1967; they had two children, Simon and Julike.

His first visit to Japan, in 1966, was crucial to his artistic development. He was impressed by traditional Japanese culture and gained an awareness of himself as an artist in a global context. In Tokyo he composed the electronic piece “Telemusic,” in which recordings of music from around the world are made to intermingle. On his return to Cologne, he produced “Anthems” (1967), an electronic composition based on national anthems. For a few years after that, much of his work was devised for his own live-electronic performing group.

Working with his chosen musicians, he simplified his notation, until, in “From the Seven Days” (May 1968), he was offering his players only a text on which to meditate in performance. He spoke not of improvisation but of “intuitive music,” the idea being that his words would guide the performers to a metaphysical connection with music beyond themselves.

With “Mantra” for two pianos and electronics (1970) he returned to precise notation and introduced a new style, in which entire compositions were to be elaborated from basic melodies. The method gave him the means to fill long stretches of time, and from then on his major works were of full-evening length. They included “Starsound” for several groups in a public park (1971) and“Inori” for orchestra (1974).

Once again, a turn in Mr. Stockhausen’s music coincided with a new page in his emotional life. In 1974 the American clarinetist Suzanne Stephens entered his entourage, and she remained his companion to the end, joined from the early 1980s by the Dutch flutist Kathinka Pasveer. These two, along with his son Markus, a trumpeter, and his son Simon, on saxophone and synthesizer, gave him a new ensemble.

They also became the central performers of “Light”: Markus, who shared his father’s striking good looks, as the hero Michael; Ms. Stephens or Ms. Pasveer as the lover-mother figure, Eva; and often a trombonist as Lucifer, the spirit of negation.

The first three “Light” operas were introduced by La Scala, the next two by the Leipzig Opera; the remaining two have not been staged. Mr. Stockhausen’s final project was “Sound,” a sequence of compositions for the 24 hours of the day.

Mr. Stockhausen is survived by his companions, his six children and several grandchildren.

Right from his early 20s he never doubted that he was a great composer, and this conviction guided all his actions. It made him authoritarian in his dealings with others, whether fellow musicians or administrators. It pulled him through the creative challenges he set for himself as a young man. But it left him an isolated figure at the end.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The hidden gem: A walk through San Diego jazz history with tenor saxophone legend Daniel Jackson

San Diego City Beat

The hidden gem
A walk through San Diego jazz history with tenor saxophone legend Daniel Jackson

By D.A. Kolodenko 11/27/2007

Daniel Jackson is reading a small bronze plaque affixed to the side of the Starbucks at Fourth Avenue and Market Street. It says that the building once housed The Crossroads, “San Diego’s first live jazz nightclub.” Not only is it a shame that the ubiquitous coffee mega-chain replaced the venerable club—which, after about 15 years, closed its doors in 1984 due to noise complaints (prior to the Gaslamp revitalization that made the question of noise superfluous)—but the plaque, Jackson assures me, is inaccurate.

“Downtown had jazz before that. The Creole Palace in the Douglas Hotel at Third and Market had live shows going back to the ’20s. They called it the ‘Harlem of the West.’ Those were shows with dancers and comedians. But the first real jazz club in San Diego was the Black and Tan up on Imperial.” Jackson points a long index finger toward the Southeast.

He knows what he’s talking about. A San Diego native and acclaimed tenor saxophonist, the 70-year-old is a legend among West Coast jazz musicians. Alto superstar Charles MacPherson considers Daniel “an excellent, very knowledgeable musician… who has his own way of doing things, his own style.” And tenor giant James Moody “can’t say enough about Daniel” and calls him “a wonderful saxophonist” who “if he was in L.A. or New York would be a much, much bigger name.”

But Jackson, with his reputation as private and maybe even eccentric—who has been known to pack up his horn and walk right off a gig if the audience is unruly—is not well-known outside of his hometown.
We’ve left downtown now, driven east, parked and started to stroll up Imperial Avenue, Logan Heights’ busy commercial heart. It’s a warm but breezy day and Jackson—exceptionally cool in a white rayon dress shirt, black vest, black slacks, dress shoes, shades and a black beret—takes long but measured strides, greeting everybody we pass, including kids.

Now a predominantly Latino neighborhood, from the 1930s to the 1970s, Logan Heights was home to much of San Diego’s African-American community, and Imperial Avenue was the musical Mecca of San Diego’s black nightlife.
That avenue of jazz history, however, has largely been ignored, as San Diego’s black musical legacy has often been subordinated to that of the well-documented Central Avenue jazz scene of Los Angeles, memorably depicted in the Walter Mosley novel Devil with a Blue Dress and the popular Denzel Washington film based on it.

Case in point: In published mentions of the late Harold Land, tenor star of the brilliant Max Roach/Clifford Brown Quintet, Land is usually referred to as a Los Angeles player, while the years he spent mastering his instrument in the juke joints, hotels and dance halls of San Diego remain overlooked.

In West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in California 1945-1960, Ted Gioia does quote Land’s point that “there was a strong jazz scene in San Diego,” which attracted top players from L.A. like Sonny Criss, Hampton Hawes and Teddy Edwards. Gioia also acknowledges that Land honed his skills in the band of San Diego’s famed trumpeter Fro Brigham, who had turned down offers from the likes of Duke Ellington and Billy Eckstine to remain the “King” of San Diego’s club scene. Gioia points out that by the 1940s “some twenty clubs flourished on the black side of town—none of which has survived to the present day.”

But one gets the sense that without Land’s success in Los Angeles, San Diego might not have made it into the book at all: Gioia’s primary concern is documenting the professional lives of the stars of jazz and not its overlooked regional scenes and players; the discussion of San Diego takes up less than two of the book’s 400 pages.
As San Diego jazz languished in the shadow of its flashier sister to the north, local musicians who wanted to make it big knew they’d have to leave. In the mid-’50s, Land moved to L.A. Jackson’s stubbornness in staying put, like Brigham’s, is responsible to a large extent for his obscurity.

And now, some 40 years later, walking past the decrepit shells of those “twenty clubs that flourished on the black side of town,” Jackson pauses and gazes through the weathered facades into that past where, after a hard working week, sharply dressed African-American men and women came to escape, dance, laugh, drink, flirt and listen to the musicians wail.
“Now, you see that right there?” Jackson points across the street at the one-story building that currently houses the Western Service Worker’s Association, the social-justice organization founded by San Diego’s beloved Episcopalian priest and activist, the late Art Elcombe. “That was the first jazz club—the Black and Tan,” Jackson says. “It was a nightclub chain like The Cotton Club. It was the one club down here where white people would come.” The only evidence of the building’s former life are the faded glass brick windows and heavy art deco doors. No plaque.
Further down the block, he points out a large, refurbished two-story building that houses a Muslim Mosque. “There was a black doctor, Doctor Jackson—no relation—and he decided the black neighborhood needed a real ballroom. And this is it: The Ebony Ballroom. I saw Big Jay MacNeeley play here one night, and he came out onto the sidewalk playing his horn and the police arrested him.”

Jackson recalls the incident with an impassioned, searching expression on his face—a look you’ll see each time he confronts the memory of an event ripe with implications of social injustice.

You’ll see the look a lot if you hang out with Jackson.

“With the military buildup of World War II,” he recalls, “a lot of people came out here from the South. And they brought their prejudice with them.” He cites an example—but one not culled from the African-American experience: “I remember the Japanese families in Logan Heights being shipped off to internment camps, man.” He pauses and lets that probing look of his stand as commentary.

We keep walking. Jackson lingers in front of storefronts along the way, pointing out the former sites of The Two-Five Club (now Gabriel’s Mercadito), The Silver Slipper (now Imperial Electronics) and the still-standing Elks Lodge just off Imperial on Hensley Street, where Jackson would attend teenage dances and hear the likes of Bobby “Blue” Bland and local blues shouter Big Daddy Rucker.

At the clubs that served alcohol, young Jackson would stand outside and listen to his older brother, Fred, play piano inside with Fro Brigham’s band.

“Fred and Harold [Land] played in Fro’s band—Fro ran all the gigs in San Diego—and I was just a kid, but when I heard Harold play tenor, I said, ‘Man, I want to play that!’”
Prior, Jackson had been “more interested in marbles than music,” as he puts it, but with Land as his inspiration—literally rehearsing in the Jacksons’ living room—he began taking saxophone lessons from local teacher Max Dalby.

The lessons were paid for by his mother, the late Mrs. Johnnie B. Jackson, a native of Waco, Texas, who, widowed since 1946, raised Daniel, Fred and their sister. Mrs. Jackson could hardly afford the lessons, supporting her family as a single mother on the pay she earned performing domestic work. After graduating from San Diego High School in 1955, Jackson joined the Air Force, securing a spot in the marching band, which he says helped him develop a disciplined approach as a performer.

The Air Force took Jackson to Illinois, where he played in regular jam sessions with guitarist Wes Montgomery and organist Jimmie Smith, honing his chops, learning on the fly.

When he returned to California a more seasoned improviser, Jackson heard Charlie Parker play at a boxing ring downtown. Legend has it that hearing Bird play in person made some players put down their horns forever. But not Jackson. “You knew you could never reach that. It was on a different level. But it made you want to try,” he says.
Within a few years of leaving San Diego, Harold Land had risen to star status in Los Angeles. “I went and heard him at The Flame in Hillcrest, after he had joined Clifford Brown and Max Roach. It was amazing.”

“One of Max Roach’s students,” Jackson recalls, “was one of the greatest drummers in jazz at the time, this cat named Lenny McBrowne.” In 1959, McBrowne asked Jackson to take Land’s place as a member of McBrowne’s Four Souls, which Land had left to join the Roach/Brown Quintet. Jackson took the gig and performed on McBrowne’s two highly regarded and collectable LPs recorded in 1960 and 1961 for the Pacific Jazz label, which feature Jackson’s compositions and arrangements. These classics of the hard bop idiom have been re-released by EMI.

By mid-decade, Jackson had landed a gig with Ray Charles and toured Europe with the legendary genius. He likes to tell stories about those days. Charles was a tough taskmaster with a wicked sense of humor. “One time the weather was so bad that the pilot was reluctant to take off and some guys in the band were afraid, but we had this gig in another city. So Ray says, ‘We’re gonna take off in this motherfucker if I have to fly it myself.’”

He loved being in the band and listening to Charles play piano and alto sax, but by that time, Jackson had already developed the heroin addiction—a habit he shared with Charles—that he believes held him back.
Although he composed music for the likes of Cannonball Adderly, and went on to perform with jazz greats from Freddie Hubbard to Willie Bobo, Jackson says he “didn’t have any sense of self-worth.”

At one point, his addiction became so bad that Jackson pawned his horn; he played only piccolo flute for many years and became accomplished on the instrument. In the ’70s, Jackson spent some time living in Veracruz, Mexico, where he says that for the first time, he felt what it was like to be accepted and not judged by the color of his skin. “It was something to get a sense of that, of what it was like to live without prejudice.”

In the ’80s, back in San Diego, Jackson entered a methadone clinic. He kicked heroin and started picking up teaching and performing gigs, one of which was as the first performer at Croce’s jazz bar, on Fifth Avenue and F Street. Ingrid Croce helped him pay for the Selmer he plays now, and the legendary tenor player James Moody gave him the mouthpiece he performs with to this day. “I saw him once a few years back, and he asked me how that mouthpiece is working out, and I said, ‘Man, I still haven’t found out all the things it can do.’”

Before the end of the ’90s, Jackson found himself paid to play piano nearly as much as saxophone and took a gig as the house pianist at the upscale Prince of Wales Room at the Hotel Del Coronado, which he wryly refers to as “Ice Cube Island” for the chilly atmosphere he endured for six years. With a recent remodel, the bar was demolished and Jackson’s stint ended.

It was, he says, “the only regular paying gig I ever had in San Diego.” Is he bitter that they let him go? “No, man, that’s just the free market system at work. I’m happy to have time to focus on the horn. There’s some things I want to do, to figure out. I’d like to record an album with strings,” as his heroes Parker and Land did before him. “And I’m organizing a foundation to get artists, musicians and other creative people in need the training or equipment they need to help shine some light in the world.”

Not long after our afternoon on Imperial, I travel with Jackson by car up the coast—avoiding the freeway almost the entire way, since he prefers surface streets, “where you can see something”—to attend a jam session in South Central Los Angeles, where Jackson is admired as a visiting sage. Young musicians seek him out after the session for advice and encouragement, which Jackson gives generously, as he has off and on for decades in university seminars on jazz improvisation and occasionally as a private saxophone teacher.

Appearances at such jam sessions have been high points of the 2000s, during which Jackson has recorded several independently produced CDs, written dozens of compositions, performed at a concert in his honor at Sushi Gallery, a sold-out 69th birthday tribute at Dizzy’s and an all-star show he organized at San Diego City College.
But infrequent concerts don’t pay the bills.

The town to which Jackson has remained loyal hasn’t entirely reciprocated. Resurgent interest in the recordings of jazz icons like John Coltrane (who once advised Jackson not to imitate others but to “do what you do”), along with a burgeoning young local jazz scene led by trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos, who cites Jackson as a mentor, has yet to lead to regular work for the elder statesman. There are only a few clubs in town that feature jazz as more than background music, and Jackson’s only current steady gig is playing piano for Sunday brunch at Croce’s.
Last week, Jackson called me, discouraged, and said, “I’m thinking about maybe selling my horn.”

If he did, the dominant living voice of the post-war Imperial Avenue scene, of San Diego jazz history, would be silenced. And what a shame that would be when Jackson at 70 plays with remarkable dexterity, passion and tone, perhaps better than ever.

As James Moody says, “San Diego doesn’t know how lucky it is to have Daniel Jackson.”

Daniel Jackson is on the web at