Monday, April 27, 2009

NYT Op-ed: End the University as We Know It


April 27, 2009
Op-Ed Contributor
End the University as We Know It

GRADUATE education is the Detroit of higher learning. Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans).

Widespread hiring freezes and layoffs have brought these problems into sharp relief now. But our graduate system has been in crisis for decades, and the seeds of this crisis go as far back as the formation of modern universities. Kant, in his 1798 work “The Conflict of the Faculties,” wrote that universities should “handle the entire content of learning by mass production, so to speak, by a division of labor, so that for every branch of the sciences there would be a public teacher or professor appointed as its trustee.”

Unfortunately this mass-production university model has led to separation where there ought to be collaboration and to ever-increasing specialization. In my own religion department, for example, we have 10 faculty members, working in eight subfields, with little overlap. And as departments fragment, research and publication become more and more about less and less. Each academic becomes the trustee not of a branch of the sciences, but of limited knowledge that all too often is irrelevant for genuinely important problems. A colleague recently boasted to me that his best student was doing his dissertation on how the medieval theologian Duns Scotus used citations.

The emphasis on narrow scholarship also encourages an educational system that has become a process of cloning. Faculty members cultivate those students whose futures they envision as identical to their own pasts, even though their tenures will stand in the way of these students having futures as full professors.

The dirty secret of higher education is that without underpaid graduate students to help in laboratories and with teaching, universities couldn’t conduct research or even instruct their growing undergraduate populations. That’s one of the main reasons we still encourage people to enroll in doctoral programs. It is simply cheaper to provide graduate students with modest stipends and adjuncts with as little as $5,000 a course — with no benefits — than it is to hire full-time professors.

In other words, young people enroll in graduate programs, work hard for subsistence pay and assume huge debt burdens, all because of the illusory promise of faculty appointments. But their economical presence, coupled with the intransigence of tenure, ensures that there will always be too many candidates for too few openings.

The other obstacle to change is that colleges and universities are self-regulating or, in academic parlance, governed by peer review. While trustees and administrations theoretically have some oversight responsibility, in practice, departments operate independently. To complicate matters further, once a faculty member has been granted tenure he is functionally autonomous. Many academics who cry out for the regulation of financial markets vehemently oppose it in their own departments.

If American higher education is to thrive in the 21st century, colleges and universities, like Wall Street and Detroit, must be rigorously regulated and completely restructured. The long process to make higher learning more agile, adaptive and imaginative can begin with six major steps:

1. Restructure the curriculum, beginning with graduate programs and proceeding as quickly as possible to undergraduate programs. The division-of-labor model of separate departments is obsolete and must be replaced with a curriculum structured like a web or complex adaptive network. Responsible teaching and scholarship must become cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural.

Just a few weeks ago, I attended a meeting of political scientists who had gathered to discuss why international relations theory had never considered the role of religion in society. Given the state of the world today, this is a significant oversight. There can be no adequate understanding of the most important issues we face when disciplines are cloistered from one another and operate on their own premises.

It would be far more effective to bring together people working on questions of religion, politics, history, economics, anthropology, sociology, literature, art, religion and philosophy to engage in comparative analysis of common problems. As the curriculum is restructured, fields of inquiry and methods of investigation will be transformed.

2. Abolish permanent departments, even for undergraduate education, and create problem-focused programs. These constantly evolving programs would have sunset clauses, and every seven years each one should be evaluated and either abolished, continued or significantly changed. It is possible to imagine a broad range of topics around which such zones of inquiry could be organized: Mind, Body, Law, Information, Networks, Language, Space, Time, Media, Money, Life and Water.

Consider, for example, a Water program. In the coming decades, water will become a more pressing problem than oil, and the quantity, quality and distribution of water will pose significant scientific, technological and ecological difficulties as well as serious political and economic challenges. These vexing practical problems cannot be adequately addressed without also considering important philosophical, religious and ethical issues. After all, beliefs shape practices as much as practices shape beliefs.

A Water program would bring together people in the humanities, arts, social and natural sciences with representatives from professional schools like medicine, law, business, engineering, social work, theology and architecture. Through the intersection of multiple perspectives and approaches, new theoretical insights will develop and unexpected practical solutions will emerge.

3. Increase collaboration among institutions. All institutions do not need to do all things and technology makes it possible for schools to form partnerships to share students and faculty. Institutions will be able to expand while contracting. Let one college have a strong department in French, for example, and the other a strong department in German; through teleconferencing and the Internet both subjects can be taught at both places with half the staff. With these tools, I have already team-taught semester-long seminars in real time at the Universities of Helsinki and Melbourne.

4. Transform the traditional dissertation. In the arts and humanities, where looming cutbacks will be most devastating, there is no longer a market for books modeled on the medieval dissertation, with more footnotes than text. As financial pressures on university presses continue to mount, publication of dissertations, and with it scholarly certification, is almost impossible. (The average university press print run of a dissertation that has been converted into a book is less than 500, and sales are usually considerably lower.) For many years, I have taught undergraduate courses in which students do not write traditional papers but develop analytic treatments in formats from hypertext and Web sites to films and video games. Graduate students should likewise be encouraged to produce “theses” in alternative formats.

5. Expand the range of professional options for graduate students. Most graduate students will never hold the kind of job for which they are being trained. It is, therefore, necessary to help them prepare for work in fields other than higher education. The exposure to new approaches and different cultures and the consideration of real-life issues will prepare students for jobs at businesses and nonprofit organizations. Moreover, the knowledge and skills they will cultivate in the new universities will enable them to adapt to a constantly changing world.

6. Impose mandatory retirement and abolish tenure. Initially intended to protect academic freedom, tenure has resulted in institutions with little turnover and professors impervious to change. After all, once tenure has been granted, there is no leverage to encourage a professor to continue to develop professionally or to require him or her to assume responsibilities like administration and student advising. Tenure should be replaced with seven-year contracts, which, like the programs in which faculty teach, can be terminated or renewed. This policy would enable colleges and universities to reward researchers, scholars and teachers who continue to evolve and remain productive while also making room for young people with new ideas and skills.

For many years, I have told students, “Do not do what I do; rather, take whatever I have to offer and do with it what I could never imagine doing and then come back and tell me about it.” My hope is that colleges and universities will be shaken out of their complacency and will open academia to a future we cannot conceive.

Mark C. Taylor, the chairman of the religion department at Columbia, is the author of the forthcoming “Field Notes From Elsewhere: Reflections on Dying and Living.”

Friday, April 24, 2009

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Volcano Boarding in Nicaragua


April 19, 2009
Heads Up
A Sport Erupts on a Live Volcano in Nicaragua

THERE’S nothing quite like the sudden silence one experiences midway through the descent down a roughly 1,600-foot volcanic slope, having just somersaulted out of the pebble-scraping, air-rushing trajectory previously occupied by you and your volcano board.

Squinting in the Nicaraguan sun, I found the goggles that had flown off my head during my tumble and shimmied over to my board, slowly slipping downhill all the while. I somehow regained my seated position on the board and immediately submitted again to gravity, zooming down, down, down, until I slid to a gentle stop amid applause from fellow boarders.

This was my introduction to volcano boarding, a young adventure activity that has popped up, most notably at Cerro Negro, an ominous charcoal-black volcano in western Nicaragua. Boarders hurtle down the active volcano’s bald, steep slope atop a sledlike piece of plywood, at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. It’s hot, dusty, a little scary — and crazy enough to be fun.

Cerro Negro is accessible from León, a colonial city historically known as a center of left-wing intellectualism that is about 15 miles southwest of the roughly 2,388-foot mountain (the height can vary from eruption to eruption, experts say). The city was once a Sandinista stronghold occupied by poets, revolutionaries and university students. But today, aside from its magnificent churches, bright-hued colonial architecture and sprawling anti-corruption murals, León is becoming synonymous, at least among backpacking adventure-seekers, with volcano boarding.

In February, my husband, Scott, and I decided it was too unusual to pass up. Climbing a volcano was one thing, but sledding down its slope? That’s a story for the grandkids.

I had heard of a tour offered by Bigfoot Hostel, which Darryn Webb, a tour guide from Australia, founded in 2005, when he was developing the sport on Cerro Negro. He’d grown up sandboarding in Queensland, and once he visited the volcano, he realized its boarding potential. Here was a dunelike slope, only bigger and blacker, and with the added thrill of a potential eruption.

After a lot of trial and error with sledding vessels — he tried boogie boards, mattresses and even a minibar fridge — he settled on plywood reinforced with metal and augmented with Formica under the seat. “Once we figured out the sit-down boards, it became a lot more fun for people,” Mr. Webb told me by phone from Perth, where he now lives.

When we got to the hostel, two tours that week were already sold out, but we were able to join one the next day. (Bigfoot, which Mr. Webb sold in 2008, averages about 15 people a tour, but has handled as many as 34 — numbers even Mr. Webb never anticipated.) Nowadays, Gemma Cope, the manager of Bigfoot, runs the tours. With nary a waiver in sight, our group of 17 piled into pickup trucks for the 40-minute drive to Cerro Negro National Park. The dusty rural roads are still largely blanketed by dark ash spewed by the last eruption, in 1999.

Cerro Negro is the youngest volcano in Central America, and like a rambunctious youth, it’s active. Born in 1850, it has erupted over 20 times.

At the volcano’s base, we were handed boards and a cloth bag containing a jumpsuit and goggles. The steep 45-minute climb up the cone’s rocky backside, for which we carried a 5- to 10-pound board, was moderately difficult.

Dropping our stuff near our push-off point, we continued up to the main crater’s exposed rim. The views proved sublime: on one side, the gaping black craters splotched with egg-yolk yellow and burnt sienna; on the other, Cerro Negro’s hulking neighbors in the Maribios chain and León under a haze.

All too soon it was go time. We clumsily pulled on the oversize orange jumpsuits and gathered for Ms. Cope’s brief, cheeky lesson on boarding techniques — how to balance, steer and control speed on the slope, which is 41 degrees at its steepest, she said. Then, she informed us that the women would go first, so that they could sit back and giggle at their male counterparts, who were likely to “crash and burn” while recklessly trying to set speed records.

Two women reluctantly volunteered to go first. They were soon lava-colored streaks speeding down the hill. One made a smooth, controlled slide all the way down. I was encouraged.

Then I watched the other boarder take a spill. And then another.

After two more descents, I couldn’t take the suspense any longer. I slid over to the starting point, got into the ready position, and took off.

Immediately, I realized that letting out a shout was a bad idea: pebbles and dust flew everywhere, including into my mouth. Unlike a smooth, soft sandboarding descent, the ride was bumpy, the noise deafening.

I hunkered down and began tapping my feet in the slope along the board’s sides — a technique to slow speed — but I evidently dug in too hard. The result was like braking too suddenly on a bicycle: crash and burn.

At the bottom, Bigfoot’s radar gun registered my end speed at a respectable 46 kilometers an hour — over 28 miles per hour. The whole run had taken just a few minutes, even with my fall.

I stumbled over to the group, suddenly aware of a scratched hand and aching knee. Everyone was dazed but grinning, faces blackened by dust. Some of us bore scrapes on skin left exposed by the suits; volcanic pebbles aren’t as forgiving as sand.

Volcano boarding, it was agreed, isn’t easy to master, but you can’t help but want to try. It’s a cheap adventure and a novel challenge, with actual technique required and speeds recorded. The post-boarding mojito Bigfoot throws in didn’t hurt either.

“I didn’t like flipping three times,” one boarder from Germany said, laughing, “but I want to do it again.”

See story for lodging recommendations.

Journalism Schools Play Catchup


April 19, 2009
J-Schools Play Catchup

In his second month as a professor at Arizona State University, Tim McGuire was standing in front of 13 students teaching “The Business of Journalism” when his inner voice interrupted. “You dummy,” he recalls thinking, “you are teaching a history course.” It was fall 2006, and he was talking about the production of a daily newspaper, but not about the parallel production of a 24-hour-a-day Web site. He was explaining the collapse of the print classified advertising market, but not the striking success of Google search advertisements.

The course, new to the curriculum, was in desperate need of a revision already. Mr. McGuire, a 23-year veteran of The Star Tribune in Minneapolis, was in need of a re-­education himself.

“I knew what I knew until I realized there was an earthquake underfoot,” he says. He immersed himself in Internet business models. He started a blog. The course was renamed “The Business and Future of Journalism.” He quickly learned that today’s journalism students don’t enroll to hear, in Mr. McGuire’s words, “old newspaper farts telling them that the business is doomed.”

“They know the model is broken,” he says. “They think, We’ll just have to fix it.” And so he started this semester by outlining an intimidating theme for the course: “How do we pay for journalism?”

Right now, there may be no other field of education where “I don’t know” is spoken so often.

read the story here

Saturday, April 18, 2009

New Song Aggregator: 'Black Box' Could Redefine the Search for Music

Voice of San Diego

'Black Box' Could Redefine the Search for Music

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 | Luke Barrington wanted a good example of "funky music with a horn section for listening to at a party."

The University of California, San Diego doctoral student typed the search term into his computer program and it told him to give James Brown's "Give It Up Or Turn It Loose" a try. It also suggested "Onyoghasayo" by Shankin' Pickle and "Super Freak" by Rick James.

For years now, computer-based song aggregators like Pandora and have allowed people to compile playlists based on song names or artists. But Barrington's computer at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology takes things to a new level.

The "black box," as Barrington's professor Gert Lanckriet calls it, can listen to a song and decide, for example, whether it is a romantic song or a dance song. It can figure out what genre it falls into, and know what instruments are being played. And it puts the student/professor team at the forefront of the burgeoning field of machine listening.

"You don't need the artist name; you don't need the song name, all you need to say is 'I want some scary Halloween music,'" said Lanckriet, an electrical and computer engineering assistant professor at UCSD's Jacobs School of Engineering.

Machine listening is part of the latest evolutionary cycle in how people find, compile and listen to music. Personalized playlists, rooted in the mix cassette tapes of the 1980s, have, among younger audiences, largely taken the place of albums put out by record companies.

This change in listening habits has contributed to the destruction of the big record company business model, and to the rise of song-by-song sellers like iTunes and the song aggregators. These sites employ technology that allows users to essentially create their own radio stations derived from what is considered the genetic makeup of songs they enjoy.

Pandora was born out the Music Genome Project, an effort that began in 2000 to breakdown songs to their elemental parts. Musicians were enlisted to "tag" parts of songs such as the type of vocalist, guitar sound and rhythm structures. A typical rock song has around 150 tags, while a jazz song might have 350 tags.

With Pandora, a listener can type into a search engine a song they enjoy, say Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man," and the program will create a playlist of songs with similar qualities to Dylan's masterpiece. To avoid copyright infringement, Pandora licenses the music only for streaming over the internet. Apple's iTunes recently added a feature called Genius that performs a Pandora-like function on a person's iTunes library.

The beauty of these technologies, from Lanckriet's and Barrington's perspective, is that it exposes people to artists they likely would have otherwise never heard of, and gives largely unknown artists an audience they otherwise wouldn't have.

Lanckriet and Barrington met for the first time at a barbeque put on by the Jacobs School at the beginning of the 2005 school year. The two immediately hit it off, and, with a little help from a keg of beer, soon reached what Lanckriet calls "a slightly higher level of society."

The evening ended with Barrington inviting Lanckriet to join his band, Audition Laboratory. Taking the Pandora technology a step further was a regular topic of conversation among the members of the band.

"We would talk about how frustrating it is for independent artists to get noticed and how my mom would never use any automated services online because she can't remember artists and song names," Lanckriet said. "Very often people who can describe the kind of music they feel like listening to, but they don't know a specific artists, song name or album that satisfy that desire."

So they set about writing a computer program that could listen to music and learn how to breakdown songs like the musicians who work for Pandora do. And then go a step further and build a Google-like search engine that would allow people like Lanckriet's mom to search for the music they like.

They started by writing code that would allow the computer to break the sound waveform down by its frequencies. A female singer, for example, will produce higher frequencies, while a bass guitar and kick drum will produce lower frequencies.

The next step was a bit trickier. The computer had to be taught how to differentiate between romantic songs and punk songs, and so on. Lanckriet describes the computer's learning process as similar to a human's. "A human learns by being given examples, and then extrapolating to the unknown. We are getting the computer to do the same thing."

But they needed good examples -- songs, for example, that most everyone agrees are romantic or punk or elicit certain types of emotions or images. To start, they went the Pandora route, and paid UCSD undergrads to tag 500 songs. But lacking a multi-million dollar budget, they needed another way to provide the computer with more examples.

So they came up with what is best-described as a word/song association game in which players assign words to describe the songs they hear. Players score points based on how similar their answers are to those of other players. The scientists launched the game, called Herd It, on Facebook this week. The goal is to collect about 1 million word/song associations.

"After the learning process is complete, we basically have a fully-trained black box that now listens to any song out there and basically overnight find millions of similar songs," Lanckriet said.

The black box is still in demo form, and the student/professor team and associate Damien O'Malley are looking for a partner to help with the further development of the program, as well as help with licensing costs associated with web streaming. They feel it could be valuable to any number of potential partners, with companies like Pandora and Apple topping the list.

"The reason we started this project was because it is academically interesting," Barrington said. "But obviously there are a lot of applications in the outside world."

Westergren, Pandora's founder, said machine listening technologies could revolutionize this corner of the music industry much like automation technologies have changed the face of industries from cotton picking to auto making. But he has not been impressed with the technology he has seen so far. He has not seen Lanckriet's and Barrington's invention.

"The promise of machine listening is you can discover a lot more music," Westergren said. "But our experience so far is that there is no substitute for a trained human ear."

Eric Johnson, president of San Francisco-based Wolfgang's Vault, a website that keeps an archive of live concerts and sells music memorabilia, is also skeptical about computers completely taking over the music suggestion business.

"People used to like listening to the radio because you had a DJ you trusted," Johnson said. "Will the computer do that effectively? I don't know."

Please contact David Washburn directly at with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or set the tone of the debate with a letter to the editor.

The YouTube Internet Symphony

"Internet Symphony, Eroica" by Tan Dun:

Friday, April 17, 2009

Music Story from Ohio: At an Age for Music and Dreams, Real Life Intrudes


April 15, 2009
This Land
At an Age for Music and Dreams, Real Life Intrudes


Two days before their long-awaited trip to New York City, for many of them a foreign place, the members of the Newark High School Sinfonia noisily gather for rehearsal. The cacophony ends when the first of the first violinists, the best violinist, stands to lead others in tuning to an A.

Her name is Tiffany Clay and she is 18, with light brown hair tied in a ponytail and large eyes that always seem at the edge of tears. She has been on her own, more or less, since she was 16, and the violin in her delicate hands was bought for $175 on eBay by her music teacher.

She is a complicated young woman, says that teacher, and a gifted musician. Consistently at or near the very top of her class. Should be going to a top college, on scholarship. Should be, but won’t be, because she feels a need to make money more than music.

Ms. Clay is a child of her age and place, worried about being laid off, uninterested in and maybe even afraid of imagining a life beyond central Ohio. Newark is what she knows: a pleasant, bifurcated city of 45,000, where concerns about unemployment temper the pride in local public art, and where affluence and poverty sit side-by-side in the classroom.

She once explored the idea of going away to college to become a music teacher. But it just didn’t seem practical: spending four years studying the theory of music, which doesn’t interest her, while here in Newark, the school system is constantly adapting to real and threatened cuts.

Music programs always seem among the first to go, she says. No job security in Tchaikovsky.

So she is maintaining high grades, playing in the orchestra, working 35 hours a week as a Sonic Drive-In carhop, paying $345 a month for the small apartment she shares with an unemployed boyfriend — and planning to study nursing for two years at a technical college in Newark.

“Everybody gets sick,” she says, plotting her future.

Right now, though, she and the other students are rehearsing their string instruments for a high school orchestra competition that will take place in Lincoln Center. Soon the chatter of teenagers in a mostly empty school auditorium surrenders to the music of the masters.

“Listen,” says their teacher, Susan Larson, her baton paused in mid-sway. “Listen.”

Ms. Larson, 43, the Newark school system’s music director for the past three years, faces challenges beyond those presented on sheets of music. The city’s voters keep rejecting raises in the tax levy, forcing cuts in school programs, including music. Parents now pay $55 for a child to participate in activities like this orchestra, and $200 to play sports; if next month’s proposed levy is defeated, Ms. Larson doubts that the orchestra, for one, will survive.

When she struggles to pay for repairs to instruments, many of which are long-ago hand-me-downs from another school district, she recalls her 15 years as the music director in Bexley, a more affluent city where her budget was nowhere near as tight. She vividly remembers the Bexley student who celebrated graduation by smashing a $10,000 violin — his spare.

She cried then; it hurts more now.

Here in Newark, half the students are poor enough to receive lunch free or at a discount. The system also has one of the highest dropout rates in Ohio; nearly a third of the high school students do not graduate. That elevated percentage seems out of place given the Middle America setting, but officials have a theory:

Back in the day, you could drop out and still get a good job at one of the many manufacturing plants in town. You could pay the mortgage, buy a car new, take holiday trips — all without a high school diploma.

“Now those jobs have gone away,” says Keith Richards, the city’s schools superintendent. “But the mindset has not.”

Mayor Bob Diebold, 48, who grew up here, agrees. “You could walk out of school and get a job,” he says. “You can’t do that anymore.”

Actually, you can — only those jobs are more likely to be at McDonald’s and not, say, at the Owens Corning fiberglass plant, for generations a vital part of the Newark economy. Nine years ago the plant employed about 1,500; now, fewer than 700.

Rehearsal ends and the young musicians flee, a few in cars driven by parents. Ms. Clay, though, drives her 1998 Chevy Malibu to wash clothes for her New York trip at the Colonial Coin Laundry, then heads to her home in a weathered apartment complex — the unit, she says, “right next to the Dumpster.”

The apartment contains little more than bed, television and couch, now occupied by her boyfriend, Trevor Scanlon, who dropped out of high school but says he’s working on his graduate-equivalency diploma. Slinking about is their cat, Easy Mac, named after a macaroni and cheese that you microwave.

The short life story Ms. Clay tells is of an adulthood come too soon, of parents splitting up when she was young, of a mother gone to another city, of a father, an electrician, dogged by employment uncertainties. She and her father clashed so often, she says, that she moved out at 16, got a job and tried to figure out life — rent, work, school, some health issues — on her own.

She returned after a year but left again several months later, for good, though she is in touch with her parents, and talks often of wanting to be around in case they ever need her.

While working full time at the Sonic, she has also maintained superior grades, taken several Advanced Placement courses and distanced herself from classmates. She bristles when some of them talk of what they have spent at the Easton Town Center mall — “That’s a month’s rent,” she wants to say — but at the same time she admits to feeling jealous: “I want — that!”

Now wearing a yellow Sonic golf shirt and a Tiffany C. nameplate, Ms. Clay leaves to make $7.35 an hour, plus tips; it will be a long night. “Kids are in school during the week,” she explains. “They leave at 9, and I stay until after 11.”

Soon she is gliding on roller skates beneath neon reds and yellows that grow more garish as dusk descends. Spinning, speeding, stopping with effortless grace, she balances plastic trays of sweet and greasy food with those delicate hands. Her mastery of yet another world, this Sonic world, means she is again employee of the month, entitling her to a month of free meals.

And the lyrics of her night songs are:

“All right, I’ve got your three junior chili cheese wraps, a B.L.T., chicken strip sandwich, extra long Coney and a mozzarella stick. And a kid’s hot dog meal and kid’s hamburger meal, one with a grape slush, the other with a Powerade slush.”

Two mornings later, buses whisk the Newark High School Sinfonia and its entourage to New York: Austin Modesitt, 16, violinist, who has never left Ohio, but whose mother, a factory worker, contributed her tax-refund check; Jessica Kunasek, 17, violinist, whose older siblings chipped in to pay her way; other students, who sold chocolate, washed cars, held a spaghetti dinner — anything to cover the cost of $850 a student.

Now it is Sunday. They have spent three days in a Manhattan wonderland, but the time has come to compete for something called the National Orchestra Cup. They file into the just-renovated Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center and put on their school-owned tuxedos and gowns.

A few of the invited high schools had to decline; the recession, organizers explain. But others, from Ohio and California, New York and Indiana, have made it, and their instruments, at least in Ms. Larson’s estimation, are of higher quality.

Newark is the last to perform, following a symphony orchestra — with strings, brass, winds, percussion and a harp — from Carmel, Ind., where the median household income is nearly three times that in Newark. The Carmel students seem at home in Lincoln Center; they play exquisitely.

The Newark students take the stage, led by concertmaster Tiffany Clay and trailed by director Susan Larson. First, a toccata by Frescobaldi. Then a cello duet by Vivaldi, sweetly rendered by juniors Bryn Wilkin and Alex Van Atta. Finally, the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings.

Soon there come sounds just beyond articulation, of sorrow and joy and wonder, summoned from wood and string by the children of Newark, Ohio. And Ms. Clay, at the front of the stage, disappears into the music.

Enchanted by Pachelbel as a child, given free lessons by a teacher who recognized her talent, blessed with the gift of musical sight reading, Ms. Clay has not been as fortunate with other parts of her young life. Her worries are not about prom dresses but about family, and rent, and employment.

Soon, these students will be back in Newark, proud of tying for first runner-up, behind that orchestra from Carmel. And Ms. Clay will be back at the Sonic, spinning her wheels, singing her song of limeades and cheeseburgers, easy on the mayo. After that, nursing, probably.

What role music will play in her life, she doesn’t know. But for now, at least, she is on a New York stage, wearing a borrowed black gown, playing a borrowed eBay violin, and Tchaikovsky holds her.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

As Chinese art market crashes, many artists applaud


As Chinese art market crashes, many artists applaud
Chinese contemporary painters hope the collapse will shake out speculators, leaving true collectors.
By Peter Ford | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

from the April 6, 2009 edition

One of the best ways to make a quick buck over the past few years has been to buy contemporary Chinese paintings. The fastest-growing sector of a feverish international art market saw prices leap by multiples of ten or more.

No longer. The global recession is deflating sales. Today, "the bubble is really bursting," says Beijing painter Zhao Gang, as prices tumble by nearly one-third and record-setting Chinese artists watch their works go unsold at auction.

But few people in the art world here are lamenting the end of an overheated era. "Chinese artists were seen as ATMs," says Jerome Sans, director of the nonprofit Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing. "Maybe now they'll stop creating for the market and create for the mind."

Maybe too, he suggests, as the internationally fueled boom runs out of steam, local artists will turn their attention to local buyers, who are just beginning to build a collectors' market.

Prices for Chinese contemporary art have skyrocketed over the past five years. In 2004, only one of the top 10 best-selling living artists was Chinese, according to the website, But by 2007 five of them came from China.

Among them was Yue Minjun, whose paintings of broadly grinning men in a variety of settings have been imitated widely here. "Gweong Gweong," a painting he made in 1993 and sold a year later to a dealer in Hong Kong for $5,000, was worth $636,000 by the time it came up for auction in November 2005.

Last May, it was flipped for $6.9 million.

A handful of other star painters have commanded auction prices in the millions of dollars. Their staggering success has attracted a host of artists feeding a voracious network of galleries that has sprung up here.

"A lot of gold diggers appeared," complains Sheng Qi, a London-trained artist who has seen the price of his paintings rise steadily in recent years. "Anyone could be an artist."

The boom also attracted speculative dealers and collectors, drawn to a market that was expanding even faster than the speed of China's headlong economic growth. "Paintings became just like any other commodity," says Mr. Qi.

"A lot of strange birds came out of the woods," says Mr. Zhao wryly, referring to the speculators who drove the market for Chinese art. "Now they have heard the guns."

"You could see that this would explode one day," says Mr. Sans. "Some prices were beyond craziness. These people were making money on the backs of artists, selling paintings in six months. That's not collecting; it's just making money.

"These people will disappear now, and I am very happy about it," Sans adds.

Also likely to disappear as dealers and collectors become more discriminating, predicts Qi, are lesser talents. "The crisis is a good thing," he argues. "There won't be a lot of people painting a lot of trash, and the market will be cleaner.

"People who love art will continue to do so, and those who were only pretending don't need to pretend any more," he says.

In the meantime, though, the slump is hitting even respected artists.

Zeng Fanzhi, one of whose older paintings was bought for $9.7 million at auction a year ago, sold only a third of the paintings on display at the opening night of his first one-man show in New York last week.

Last year, says Fabien Fryns, owner of the F2 gallery here and a friend of Mr. Zeng, "The show would have sold out even before the opening" and "prices would have been 20 percent higher."

The fact that he did sell nine paintings, at prices ranging from $100,000 to $1 million, however, "shows that quality at the right price still sells," Mr. Fryns argues. "The buyers were really serious collectors," he adds. "Last year, maybe 50 percent of the works would have been sold to speculators."

Some mid-level artists, though, are finding life harder. "I know people who haven't sold a picture for six months," Qi says. And while none of the major Beijing galleries have closed, many smaller ones in the once-vibrant "798" art district have either shut their doors or turned themselves into coffee shops or fashion stores.

Auctioneers also are being cautious. At an early spring sale last week, one of China's largest houses, the Poly International Auction Co., "included more low-price items than last year, to attract more buyers," spokeswoman Liu Jing told the state-run Xinhua news agency.

"We also increased the number of items without a starting price," she said. "It's like a sale."

That policy appeared designed to hold the market up in the wake of a disappointing auction season last autumn, when Poly brought in only $59 million, compared with $152 million in the spring season, mostly from Chinese buyers.

That drop suggests that the local market is still weak. But Sans says he believes "there is a huge chance the local market will develop in the next few years."

Fryns, the F2 owner, also predicts that "a much stronger Chinese market will emerge" and says he is "pretty confident" that new Chinese collectors will buy from domestic artists as well as from established Western names.

In the long run, says Zhao, the cooling market means that "people will take more time to take a serious look at art" in China. "If you are serious about art, the crisis is good," he believes. "But it's not very good for speculators."

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Saturday, April 04, 2009

Stevie Wonder's "Superstition"

NoiseAddicts has a great post with a bunch of clips of Stevie Wonder performing "Superstition" back in the day, but also a clip of someone with the original studio tracks layering them via his computer to show the components of the song. It's fascinating, but also not cool as it appears someone dumped the tracks onto Bit Torrent rather than Stevie releasing them. See the post here at NoiseAddicts.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Gaumont Chronophone (double Grammophone) 1910

Amazing double grammophone from 1910, from Douglass Self's very interesting website.

Ta-Nehisi Coates on Mos Def vs. Christopher Hitchens

A deeply personal and great post by Coates pushing back at the nihilism of Mos Def, who he really digs and admires. It pains him to do it, but he does it for the greater good:

A few people have asked me to comment on this. I'm a bit hesitant, because this tape hits me somewhere very personal, and requires that I say some critical things about people I like. I think Mos Def was offering up that corner consciousness, in which brothers preach nihilism under the cover of an alleged "Knowledge of Self" or "Thinking for oneself." I think Christopher Hitchens, rightfully, sonned him. As a Mos Def fan, and member of the hip-hop generation (whatever that means) I felt embarrassed. That's probably not my right, but I felt that way. Here's where it gets really weird, I held one person responsible for the whole debacle--Cornel West.

I don't know that this is fair, but I immediately thought back to when West and Mos Def were on The Bill Maher show and Mos basically said he didn't believe Bin Laden brought down the towers. West pointed out that he disagreed, but instead of pushing Mos, he went into this explanation for why black people tend to be paranoid. His explanation was perfect in substance, but bad for Mos Def. I thought the elder radical owed it to the younger radical to challenge him, to push him past nihilism and paranoia.

Again, this is all about me and my constant ruminations over my status as a lapsed black nationalist. With that in mind, two things need to be said.

Read the full post HERE:

NYT profile on drummer Bernard Purdie


[M&C note: see media samples on original NYT post]

Great anecdotes about recording, Purdie's shuffle, ego...

March 31, 2009
A Signature Shuffle Enjoys a New Life

For bowlers the ultimate test is the 7-10 split. For card sharks it’s the hot shot cut. For drummers it’s the funky little miracle of syncopation known as the Purdie Shuffle.

You’ve heard Bernard Purdie — better known as Pretty Purdie — perform his creation on Steely Dan’s “Home at Last,” from the 1977 album “Aja.” And you’ve heard variations on songs by Led Zeppelin (“Fool in the Rain”), Toto (“Rosanna”) and Death Cab for Cutie (“Grapevine Fires”).

Created with six bass, high-hat and snare tones, the Purdie Shuffle is a groove that seems to spin in concentric circles as it lopes forward. The result is a Tilt-a-Whirl of sound, and if you can listen without shaking your hips, you should probably see a doctor.

Now the beat has a whole new life. On YouTube dozens of amateurs, aspiring pros and assorted dilettantes have uploaded videos of their attempts to teach or demonstrate the Purdie Shuffle.

But you post at your peril. A guy identified as BazyBeats was savaged in the comments section of the video he posted of his attempt at “Fool in the Rain.” He slightly bungled the pattern on the snare, and dozens of angry nitpickers let him know it. Eventually he asked them to “go somewhere else with your negative, hateful, blackhearted and useless souls.”

Mr. Purdie can be found these days at the Al Hirschfeld Theater playing for the Broadway revival of “Hair,” which has been in previews since early March and opens Tuesday.

For Mr. Purdie, the “Hair” gig is one of those full-circle experiences that can’t be planned. He worked with the show’s composer, Galt MacDermot, in New York in the early 1960s, when demos of the songs for the show were first recorded. Those tracks were later refined for the musical.

At the time Mr. Purdie was a relative newcomer to the city, having spent most of his life in Elkton, Md., a town near the Delaware border. One of 15 children, he had started by banging on his mother’s pots and pans.

“I knew right away that’s what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” he said. “No matter what happened, I wanted to play the drums.”

Mr. Purdie, who says he is 68, was sitting at a sushi bar across the street from the theater, dressed in a dark suit and a satiny white tie. He was an hour from changing into Tommy Bahama-style casual wear and climbing onto the rear of a colorful pickup truck stationed onstage, where he drums for the show.

He’s an ample, teddy-bearish guy with a graying mustache, a hearty laugh and an ego that is legendarily large. For years he showed up at sessions with two professionally made signs, which he would place on music stands near his kit. “You done hired the hit maker,” read one. “If you need me, call me, the little old hit maker,” said the other. It was both a gimmick and a calling card, and it would have come across as pure braggadocio except that Mr. Purdie always delivered.

“He was one of the top five drummers in Manhattan back when Atlantic was recording here, when all these great independent labels were recording here,” said Phil Ramone, a producer who worked with Mr. Purdie in the late ’60s and went on to record Paul Simon and Billy Joel. “Purdie just had a way of inspiring confidence in everyone.”

He also had a way of implying that he was finished with a session as soon as he had nailed his part, which was often before anyone else in the room.

“You’d do a first take, and he’d put on his overcoat as if he was about to leave,” said Donald Fagen, the Steely Dan keyboardist. “The problem was that some of the other musicians had just become comfortable with the chords. You had to cajole him to do some other takes so everyone else could polish up their parts a bit.”

Within a few years of arriving in Manhattan Mr. Purdie was touring and recording with the greats of ’60s soul, funk and jazz, including James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Louis Armstrong. He is heard on more than 4,000 records.

Some of the greats, in his telling, were ornery characters. The Godfather of Soul fined him $25 for a mistake he didn’t make, prompting Mr. Purdie to quit. During a concert with Ray Charles in Chicago, when Mr. Purdie started playing a few bars too soon, Charles barked, “Don’t play, drummer,” into the microphone, a rather public embarrassment before a huge crowd.

“He would turn around and look at you — I always thought the guy could see,” Mr. Purdie said. “And he’d say, ‘What is your problem?’ Now, what are you supposed to say to that?”

Before the current “Hair” gig Mr. Purdie spent much of his time in different bands, one of which, the Hudson River Rats, plays a lot of private parties and clubs. He is sampled often, turning up on Beck’s “Devil’s Haircut” and most recently in “Mother of All Funk Chords,” a YouTube mash-up by an Israeli producer known as Kutiman.

A new generation of drummers, meanwhile, is keeping his shuffle alive. Jason McGerr of Death Cab for Cutie says it’s not quite accurate to call the beat on “Grapevine Fires” a Purdie Shuffle.

“It doesn’t matter how much I practice, I will never play that shuffle like Purdie,” Mr. McGerr said. “It’s because he has an attitude that seems to come through every time. He always sounds like he’s completely in charge.”

Mr. Purdie has half a dozen theories about the shuffle’s appeal — the challenge, the energy, the versatility of the rhythm, and on and on. It’s easier for him to pinpoint the beat’s genesis.

“It comes from the train near my house where I grew up,” he said. “When I first started working this out, I was 8 years old, and I called it the locomotion because that’s what I was trying to capture: whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.”

It started as a regular shuffle, but then he began weaving in what are called ghost notes, created by lightly brushing the snare with the fingers or stick. And instead of a straightforward tapping on the high-hat, he moved his right hand up and down so that he was hitting the side of the high-hat, then the top, over and over — creating this tock-tick tock-tick sound.

As buoyant as the beat is, it can convey a lot of different emotions, as Steely Dan figured out during the recording of “Babylon Sisters,” from the 1980 album “Gaucho.”

“I guess we expected more of a regular shuffle, and he started playing something very complex,” Mr. Fagen recalled. “We were amazed, because it was perfect for the tune. ‘Babylon Sisters’ has this dark mood to it, and the beat seemed to accentuate the floating dark mood that the song required.”

Mr. Purdie said he was flattered by the versions he has heard by other bands, though if you want to hear the real thing live, you’ll have to come to “Hair.” The shuffle turns up at least half a dozen times during the show.

“You’ll know it when you hear it,” he said, “because when you do, you’ll have to move your feet.”

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Another Prehistoric Stoner

Canabis in a 2700-year-old tomb. Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan, who posts the link HERE

NYC Percussionist Manny Oquendo dies

World Music Central

Master Timbalero and Bandleader Manny Oquendo Dies in New York

Saturday, March 28 2009 @ 02:22 PM EDT

Renowned salsa musician Manny Oquendo died March 25, 2009 at a New York hospital. Oquendo was a veteran of the days when Latin bands crowded into a studio to polish off a recording in an all-night session. "The first recording (singer) Tito Rodriguez did, we took the 7th Avenue train to record for SMC label," Oquendo recalled. "Tito Puente did the arrangements. You recorded on monaural, with just a few mikes. You couldn't stop and overdub. You just played."

Oquendo's musical education consisted of the old-school, "just play" approach, and he was in the right place to learn. He grew up on Kelly Street in the Bronx, New York, not far from the great Cuban tres player, Arsenio Rodriguez. Colin Powell, who'd later become a general, lived on the block too, so did pianist Noro Morales. And a lot of kids who'd later make their names in Latin music, such as Joe Cuba, the Palmieri brothers, Little Ray Romero, grew up playing stickball on Kelly Street.

Oquendo became an expert on Cuban rhythms and began playing bongo and timbales with a succession of New York's top bands , with José Curbelo and Vicentico Valdes before moving into the orchestras of Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez.

In 1963, he joined La Perfecta, the conjunto organized by pianist Eddie Palmieri. "La Perfecta was struggling at that time, trying to compete with all the other bands at the Palladium," says Oquendo. "I'm talking about big bands with 15 people in them. Eddie's was a small conjunto group. But what made us different was the music and the playing " we were looser, more free."

In 1974, Oquendo and Jerry Gonzalez left La Perfecta to move in their own direction. In the years since, Manny Oquendo and Libre became preservationists of the tipico sound, nurturing some of the most dedicated sidemen in the business.

1979 interview with bassist Andy González

González, the prince of Latin bass playing (I'd put Cachao as the king), was interviewed in 1979 by Roberta Singer. reprints this excellent interview about the NYC Latin and Latin jazz scene HERE.

Groundbreaking Female Flutist Frances Blaisdell dies at 97


March 31, 2009
Frances Blaisdell, ‘Girl Flutist’ Who Opened Doors, Dies at 97

Frances Blaisdell, a flutist who played her way into what was then the male world of orchestral music, becoming one of the early women to play a woodwind instrument with the New York Philharmonic, died on March 11 in Portola Valley, Calif. She was 97.

Her son, John, announced her death.

In addition to playing with the Philharmonic, Ms. Blaisdell performed with prominent chamber ensembles, on Broadway, at Radio City Music Hall, in vaudeville, and with Phil Spitalny and His All-Girl Orchestra on the “Hour of Charm” on CBS and NBC radio. She also taught generations of leading flutists.

“I had lots of opportunities because I was sort of a freak, and people couldn’t imagine a girl flutist,” she said in an interview printed in The Flutist Quarterly in 2005.

Chamber Music magazine suggested in 1992 that she was considerably more than that, saying, “Every woman flute player in every major American orchestra, every little girl who pays the flute in a school band, has Frances Blaisdell to thank. She was first.”

Ms. Blaisdell had to overcome the mixed feelings of her father to become a professional; proud of her talent, he feared that as a woman, she would not survive as a player. He was in the lumber business, but his own love was the flute, and he started teaching her to play when she was 5. He wished she were a boy and called her Jim, she said in The Flutist Quarterly interview, which first appeared in the New York Flute Club newsletter. Ms. Blaisdell wrote to Ernest Wagner, a flutist with the New York Philharmonic, to ask if he would teach “Jim.”

When she appeared for her lesson, she said, Mr. Wagner refused to teach her, saying there was no future for a woman trying to play the flute in orchestras. But he finally agreed to six lessons, and then more.

Ms. Blaisdell’s father wanted her to pursue a career, but saw no future for her in music. He gave her the choice of being a teacher, nurse or secretary. She persuaded him that since she was graduating at 16, two years early, she should spend the two years pursuing her dream.

“Two years, but not another day,” he said.

So in 1928 she wrote Georges Barrère, the great French flutist, who taught at what is now Juilliard. She was given an appointment, perhaps because her name had been taken down as “Francis.” She was admitted with a scholarship.

Ms. Blaisdell later studied with two other giants of the flute, Marcel Moyse and William Kincaid. In 1941, after Barrère had a stroke, she took his place in the Barrère Trio.

In 1930, she became first flute of the National Orchestral Association and soon joined Barrère to play Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 under the baton of Walter Damrosch at Madison Square Garden. She was first flute in the New Opera Company and in the New Friends of Music.

On Nov. 26, 1932, she was the soloist with the Philharmonic at a children’s concert, playing Mozart’s Flute Concerto No. 2 in D major. Josh Marcum, a spokesman for the Philharmonic, confirmed the appearance.

But in 1937, she was refused an audition for an opening as assistant first flute of the Philharmonic because she was a woman. In 1962, she said, she became one of the first women to play a woodwind with the Philharmonic, when a piece demanded extra flutes. Mr. Marcum said this was possible, but not provable.

In 1937, Ms. Blaisdell married Alexander Williams, first clarinetist for the Philharmonic. They and three other Philharmonic players formed the Blaisdell Woodwind Quintet, which had a radio series. Mr. Williams died in 2003.

In addition to her son, Frances Louise Blaisdell is survived by her daughter, Alexandra Hawley; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Ms. Blaisdell played several concerts with the soprano Lily Pons, providing the requisite flute trills that accompany many showpieces for a coloratura soprano, and taught at the Manhattan School of Music, among other places. In 1973, she moved to California, where she taught at Stanford for 35 years.

Ms. Blaisdell adapted to the show business side of classical music. She said she wore a beautiful gold lamé dress at Radio City Music Hall for five shows a day in 1934 or 1935. She had two Rockettes on each side of her. Still, she was deathly frightened the first time she gazed into the immense black space, which looked, she said, like the “caverns of hell.”

A Rockette nudged her and said, “Get going, kid, and smile.”

Ms. Blaisdell did. After a couple of shows, it was easy."

Film Composer Maurice Jarre (1924-2009)


March 31, 2009
Maurice Jarre, Hollywood Composer, Dies at 84

Maurice Jarre, a composer who mastered the musical idiom of the Hollywood epic and was nominated nine times for Academy Awards, winning three, died Saturday in Malibu. He was 84.

He died after a short illness, said his agent, Laura Engel, speaking on behalf of Mr. Jarre’s wife, Fong.

Mr. Jarre (pronounced Zhar) won all three of his Academy Awards for films directed by David Lean, whose exotic locales served as fodder for Mr. Jarre’s lush musical imagination. Whether evoking the deserts of Arabia for “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), the Russian steppes for “Dr. Zhivago” (1965) or the Indian subcontinent in “A Passage to India” (1984), Mr. Jarre’s vivid scoring for percussion — he was a percussionist himself — his use of wide intervals to suggest vast landscapes and his appropriation of musical modes indigenous to the films’ settings, made the music a crucial element of the romance and spectacle of the stories.

He may be best known for the melancholy melody that was the prime leitmotif from the score of “Dr. Zhivago,” Mr. Lean’s heart-tugging love story set in Russia during World War I and the Russian Revolution, starring Omar Sharif and Julie Christie. Associated with Ms. Christie’s character, the theme, a lilting tune with a seeming sigh of longing attached to each phrase, was repeated again and again during the film with different instrumentation, most notably the balalaika. It came to be known as “Lara’s Theme” and became a standard of easy listening, a staple of elevators and dentist’s offices; when words were added by Paul Francis Webster, the song became known as “Somewhere, My Love” and was recorded by Connie Francis, Ray Conniff and many others.

For decades, Mr. Jarre was among the most sought-after composers in the movie industry. He was a creator of both subtle underscoring and grand, sweeping themes, not only writing for conventional orchestras (sometimes augmented by the more exotic instrumentation of other cultures) but also experimenting with electronic sounds later in his career. He was prolific; he contributed music to more than 150 movies of a wide variety: dramatic and comic, ponderous and light-hearted, artsy and baldly mercenary, high-minded and trashy.

The films included the World War II epic “The Longest Day” (1962) and the Neil Simon sex comedy “Plaza Suite” (1971); the exploitative tale of interracial lust on an antebellum Southern plantation, “Mandingo” (1975) and Volker Schlöndorff’s adaptation of Günter Grass’s Holocaust novel, “The Tin Drum” (1979); a modern thriller of sexual obsession, “Fatal Attraction” (1987), a biography of Dian Fossey, who lived in Africa among the apes, “Gorillas in the Mist” (1988) and the gentle drama of schoolboys and their idealistic teacher, directed by Peter Weir, “Dead Poets Society” (1989).

Mr. Jarre composed music for five movies directed by Mr. Weir, including the electronic scores for “The Year of Living Dangerously” (1982) and “Witness” (1985). When he collaborated with the director Jerry Zucker on the fantasy drama “Ghost,” (1990), he was nominated for the ninth time for an Oscar.

Maurice Alexis Jarre was born Sept. 13, 1924, in Lyon, France. He came to music relatively late, dropping out of the Sorbonne, where he was studying engineering, and enrolling in the Paris Conservatory, where his teachers included the Swiss composer Arthur Honegger, the timpanist Félix Passerone and Joseph Martenot, the inventor of an electronic keyboard, a predecessor of the synthesizer.

His early compositions were not for film but for the theater; during the 1950’s he was associated with France’s Théâtre National Populaire. He composed his first film scores for the French director Georges Franju. He made his breakthrough in Hollywood when the producer Sam Spiegel heard his score for the film “Sundays and Cybele,” which eventually won an Oscar for best foreign language film, and he hired him to work on “Lawrence of Arabia.”

Mr. Jarre married four times; he is survived by his wife, Fong, whom he married in 1984. Other survivors include two sons, Jean-Michel, a composer, and Kevin, a screenwriter; and a daughter, Stéfanie. Though Mr. Jarre had lived in the United States for decades, the president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, issued a statement after his death, calling Mr. Jarre “a great composer” who, by working in film, “broadened the public for symphonic music.”

“He showed everyone that music is just as important as images for the beauty and success of a film,” Mr. Sarkozy said.

Mr. Jarre worked with many legendary directors, including Alfred Hitchcock (“Topaz”), John Huston (“The Man Who Would Be King”) and Luchino Visconti (“The Damned”). It is an oddity, perhaps, that his most successful partner in Hollywood was one he met so early on, Mr. Lean, with whom he made four films; the only one for which he did not win an Oscar was “Ryan’s Daughter,” (1970), an unhappy love story set in Ireland during World War I about an adulterous affair that is the sexual and romantic awakening of a young woman. (Vincent Canby, the New York Times film critic, called the score “dreadfully ever-present.”) Otherwise, in Mr. Jarre, Mr. Lean found the perfect composer to enhance his sweeping storytelling.

Mr. Jarre often said that Mr. Lean had very specific ideas about the role that music should play in his films and that he understood what Mr. Lean wanted.

“Four films, three Oscars,” Mr. Jarre concluded in an interview with Variety in 1989. “That’s not so bad.”

Motown Drummer Uriel Jones dies at 74

Funk Brothers Jones and James Jamerson.


March 26, 2009
Uriel Jones, a Motown Drummer, Dies at 74

Uriel Jones, a drummer with the Funk Brothers, the studio musicians at Motown Records who played without credit on virtually every hit during that label’s heyday in the 1960s, died on Tuesday in Dearborn, Mich. He was 74.

The cause was complications of a recent heart attack, his sister-in-law Leslie Coleman said.

Drawn from the ranks of Detroit jazz players by Berry Gordy Jr., the founder of Motown, the Funk Brothers were the label’s regular studio backup band from 1959 to 1972, when Motown moved to Los Angeles and left most of them behind.

The players appeared on songs by Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, the Temptations, Martha and the Vandellas and many others, and “Standing in the Shadows of Motown,” a 2002 documentary, opens with the claim that they “played on more No. 1 records than the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, Elvis and the Beatles combined.” Yet the group remained largely unknown until that film’s release.

The band’s main drummer was the formidable Benny Benjamin, but as he became sidelined by drug addiction, Mr. Jones and another player, Richard Allen, known as Pistol, gradually took over drumming duties. Mr. Benjamin died of a stroke in 1969, and Mr. Allen died in 2002, shortly before the release of the film.

Mr. Jones joined the Funk Brothers around 1963 after touring with Marvin Gaye, and plays on Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” the Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” the Miracles’ “Tracks of My Tears,” Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” and Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” among many other songs.

Born in Detroit, Mr. Jones began playing music in high school. But his first instrument was the trombone, said his wife, June. She survives him, along with three children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

“He wanted to box also,” Ms. Jones said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “When he went to band classes his lip was swollen and he couldn’t play the trombone, so he had to switch to the drums.”

Mr. Jones remained in Detroit after Motown left, and continued to play in local clubs with other Funk Brothers alumni, including Earl Van Dyke, the keyboardist, who died in 1992. After “Standing in the Shadows of Motown,” Mr. Jones toured widely with other surviving Funk Brothers.

In interviews later, he said he regretted being underpaid, but held no grudges against Motown.

“We know now that we didn’t get the money that we was supposed to,” he told The Call and Post, a Cleveland newspaper, in 2002, “but the way I look at it is, ‘What would my life had been like without Motown?’ I’d rather it had been with Motown.”