Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Story on Jazz Arranger/Composer Sammy Nestico


Musician’s talent takes him places
Superstars and presidents are part of his adventures


Tuesday, December 29, 2009 at 12:01 a.m.

What do you say to the president after he insults your life’s work?

Absolutely nothing.

That was one lesson no one had to teach Sammy Nestico, who was working as the White House chief music arranger when then-President Lyndon Johnson said, “You call this music?”

“I didn’t answer, although I didn’t think his concept of music was worth a damn,” Nestico said.

Nestico, 85, a jazz musician and La Costa resident, was recently nominated for a Grammy in the Best Large Ensemble category, for his album “Fun Time,” which he recorded with the SWR Big Band of Germany.

He composed 11 of the album’s 15 tracks and arranged all 15.

“I’m going to conduct it in March in Germany,” he said.

His living room is occupied by a large composing console. A Yamaha keyboard is plugged into his Macintosh. As he plays chords, the corresponding notes pop onto the screen.

He’s been arranging jazz and big-band pieces on a computer since 1999. He also has drawers full of handwritten music that he produced for some familiar musicians: Barbra Streisand, Bing Crosby, Count Basie, Quincy Jones, Frank Sinatra.

The names are so numerous they would fill a book, so Nestico wrote one “The Gift of Music,” his memoir.

“The Library of Congress came and took 600 of my publications,” Nestico said, standing in the middle of a room full of mementos. It’s the only place in his home where he shows off his achievements. He and his wife, Shirley, call it the “brag room.”

He considers his collaboration with jazz pianist and band leader Count Basie the pinnacle of his musical sojourn.

“Count Basie and I did 10 albums, and four of them won Grammys,” Nestico said. “Count Basie was my favorite person in the world.”

He recalled a recording session when they had to stop to fix an error in the music charts.

After correcting it, “I said (to the sound engineer), ‘Play that back, I want to hear the tempo,’ ” Nestico recalled. But Basie waved him off and started tapping his foot.

“He had radar in his shoes,” Nestico said, marveling at the memory.

The two worked together from 1968 until Basie died in 1984.

Dressed in a cream-colored argyle sweater, brown slacks and white tennis shoes, Nestico looks much younger than his age.

He said he tried to retire, but couldn’t.

His collaboration with SWR Big Band started in 2003, when he and the band were nominated for Grammys separately and met at the awards ceremony.

“Europe still loves big bands,” Nestico said.

Nestico discovered music at age 13, as a high school freshman in Pittsburgh.

“After two years I knew what I wanted to do the rest of my life,” he said.

When he joined the Army in 1941, the big bands of Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Count Basie and Duke Ellington ruled the music world.

“When I came home (in 1946) the swing era was still in bloom, then it all ended,” Nestico said.

So what was a trombonist with dreams of conducting to do?

Re-enlist, this time with the Air Force as arranger for its concert band and jazz ensemble. The Air Force still gives an annual award, The Sammy Nestico Arranging Award, in his honor.

In 1963 he became arranger and leader of the Marine Band in the White House, serving Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

He liked Kennedy and was arranging something for him when the president was assassinated.

“I started in May and with Nov. 22 it was over,” he said.

Asked what music Johnson liked, Nestico grimaced. “Hello, Lyndon,” he said, sung to the tune of “Hello, Dolly.” It was Johnson’s campaign song.

After his White House stint ended, Nestico came to California. “I wanted to make my way in Hollywood.”

He said he got his big break with Capitol Records, but added, “A break is when preparation meets opportunity.”

He recalled recording with some of the great musicians, including Crosby, whom he admired. But he said recording with Crosby was a disappointment.

“Bing came in, sat in a booth and overdubbed,” rather than standing in front of the band and singing. “He lost that spontaneity.”

Sinatra, on the other hand, “stood in front of the orchestra, his hand cupped over his ear,” and let it rip.

“It was electric,” Nestico said. “I thought he was the greatest singer of the 20th century.”

Before his guests left, Nestico logged onto his iTunes library and queued up Michael Bublé singing Nestico’s arrangement of “Mack the Knife.”

As the song played, Nestico’s hands waved in the air as he conducted the virtual musicians from his chair. His face glowed.

“It humbles me, that people like my music,” Nestico said after the song ended.

But, he said, “The more I give the more I get back.”

African Drums as Possible Cause of NH Anthrax Case

Yet another reason to avoid drum circles! :)


Drums probed as possible cause of NH anthrax case
By HOLLY RAMER, Associated Press Writer Holly Ramer, Associated Press Writer Tue Dec 29, 7:45 pm ET

CONCORD, N.H. – A New Hampshire woman diagnosed with a rare gastrointestinal anthrax case may have swallowed spores propelled into the air by vigorous drumming, a state health expert said.

Officials haven't confirmed how the woman contracted the disease but are focusing on a drum circle gathering she attended Dec. 4 at the United Campus Ministry center in Durham shortly before becoming ill. Public health officials who learned of her diagnosis last week immediately began investigating, and earlier this week shut down the ministry center after anthrax spores were found on two drums.

Some health officials believe it's the nation's first case of gastrointestinal anthrax, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is unsure.

Dr. Elizabeth Talbot, an adviser to the state's public health division, said one theory is that the woman ingested airborne spores from a drum's animal-hide covering.

"This was a wild type of anthrax that is found ubiquitously in our environment. It can become stirred up or agitated to a place where it briefly suspends in the air, and this patient likely contacted it on her fingers and introduced it into her mouth or inhaled a ... spore into her mouth and then swallowed it," she said.

Two recent U.S. anthrax cases involved African drums covered with animal hides, but those involved spores that were inhaled or entered through the skin.

On Tuesday, officials said spores also were found on an electrical outlet and that antibiotics and vaccines would be offered to about 80 people, including about 60 who attended the drum circle as well as University of New Hampshire students who lived in the building and those who worked there.

Samples have been sent to the CDC to determine whether the patient's anthrax strain matches that found on the drums or electrical outlet.

The ministry center is not part of the university, but it houses students and runs a variety of campus-based programs. Pastor Larry Brickner-Wood, the center's director, said the monthly drum circles involve people playing hand drums and other percussion instruments to build community spirit and promote well-being.

"Our thoughts and prayers remain with this young woman and her family," he said.

Anthrax is a potentially fatal disease caused by bacteria. There are three types of infection based on where the disease manifests itself: inhalation affecting the lungs, cutaneous affecting the skin and gastrointestinal affecting the digestive tract. Infection from natural sources such as animal skins, soil or contaminated meat is rare in developed countries, but occurs regularly in poor nations. It is not transmitted from person-to-person.

In 2007, two members of a Connecticut family were treated for skin anthrax traced to animal hides used to make African drums. In 2006, a New York dancer and drum maker who collapsed after a performance in Pennsylvania recovered from the first case of naturally occurring inhalation anthrax in the United States since 1976.

According to state public health officials and The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, there have been no previous confirmed cases of gastrointestinal anthrax in the United States. A Minnesota farm family was believed to have symptoms of the disease in 2000 after eating meat from an infected cow, but blood test results from exposed family members were negative, state health officials said.

read the rest HERE

Monday, December 28, 2009

Chile's New Museum of Memory and Human Rights

LAT has a story on Chile's new Museum of Memory and Human Rights:

By Chris Kraul
December 28, 2009

Reporting from Santiago, Chile - What they'll leave in and what they'll leave out -- that question haunts Margarita Iglesias as she considers next month's opening of the Museum of Memory and Human Rights.

That Chile is recognizing victims of its military dictatorship in a striking new "monument to memories" is positive, said Iglesias, both a victim and a historian of Augusto Pinochet's bloody 17-year rule. As a high school student activist in Santiago in 1975, she was tortured before fleeing with her family to France.

"It can't be just a horror show. The political movements and conditions that led to the coup and its aftermath must be explained. If not, how can you understand how state terrorism came about?" said Iglesias, 51, now a University of Chile professor.

The $19-million museum that opens in downtown Santiago on Jan. 11 is dedicated to the 31,000 murder, torture and kidnapping victims of the 1973-90 military dictatorship of Gen. Pinochet.

Museum directors are keeping a tight lid on the specific exhibits, hoping for maximum effect.

read the rest HERE

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Another Liam Clancy obit (NYT)


December 5, 2009
Liam Clancy, Last of the Folk Group, Dies at 74

Liam Clancy, an Irish troubadour and the last surviving member of the singing Clancy Brothers, who found fame in the United States and helped spread the popularity of Irish folk music around the world, died on Thursday in Cork, Ireland. He was 74.

His death was announced by his family and reported on the Web site www.liamclancy.com. He had been treated for pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease, The Associated Press reported.

Wearing white Aran sweaters, the Clancy Brothers, joined by a fellow Irishman, Tommy Makem, won fans with musicality, sentimentality and irreverence, not unlike the Smothers Brothers a few years later, though without their penchant for patter.

Both authentic Irish and expatriate Irish, they were cultural crossovers, and, for a while, celebrities. When they were criticized, it was as the epitome of staged Irishness, as a documentary about Liam Clancy put it.

Mr. Clancy played guitar, sang in a bell-clear baritone, wore a friendly, slightly roguish expression and exuded a humorous world-weariness that made him beloved by his countrymen as quintessentially Irish. But he and his musical clan made their name in America.

It was in 1956 that Mr. Clancy, then 20 or 21 and intending to be an actor, immigrated to the United States, joining two of his older brothers, Tom and Paddy, in New York. He achieved some success as an actor; he and Tom starred as prison guards in a well-received stage dramatization of the Frank O’Connor story “The Guests of the Nation,” and he appeared on Broadway in a short-lived production of James Costigan’s “Little Moon of Alban.”

In the meantime, the brothers and Mr. Makem, a friend of Liam’s who had also immigrated, began singing together, performing rowdy and sentimental Irish folk tunes at clubs and fund-raisers and developing a local following. They recorded on a label established by Paddy Clancy, and in the early 1960s, billed as the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, they made a career-changing appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” They soon found themselves in the midst of the folk music revolution, touring and recording several albums.

Liam Clancy lived in Greenwich Village, where he befriended another young folk singer, Bob Dylan. They dated a pair of sisters, Mr. Clancy told interviewers. Recalling that time in an interview on Irish television two years ago, Mr. Clancy said that he, a Roman Catholic from rural Ireland, and Mr. Dylan, a Jew from a small Minnesota town, shared an important quality.

“People who were trying to escape repressed backgrounds, like mine and Bob Dylan’s, were congregating in Greenwich Village,” he said. “It was a place you could be yourself, where you could get away from the directives of the people who went before you, people who you loved but who you knew had blinkers on.”

Mr. Dylan told an interviewer in 1984: “I never heard a singer as good as Liam ever. He was just the best ballad singer I’d ever heard in my life. Still is, probably.”


read the rest HERE

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Liam Clancy, last of the Clancy Brothers, dies at 74


Irish folk pioneer Liam Clancy dies at 74
He was last member of Clancy Brothers, which took U.S. by storm in ’60s

updated 1:38 p.m. PT, Fri., Dec . 4, 2009

DUBLIN - Irish balladeer Liam Clancy, last of the Clancy Brothers troupe whose feisty, boozy songs of old Ireland struck a sentimental chord worldwide, died Friday in a Cork hospital. He was 74.

Clancy died in his hospital bed flanked by his wife Kim and daughters Siobhan and Fiona, his manager and family said. He suffered for years against incurable pulmonary fibrosis, the same lung-destroying disease that claimed one of his older singing brothers, Bobby, in 2002.

Ireland's arts minister, Martin Cullen, led nationwide tributes to Clancy, praising his "superb singing, warm voice and gift for communicating in a unique storytelling style."

"It was always so obvious with Liam Clancy that he loved what he was doing and his very presence made you feel welcome," Cullen said.

Clancy, the youngest of 11 children in a County Tipperary household filled with folklore and song, emigrated to the U.S. in 1956 to join two elder brothers, Tom and Patrick, in New York City who were singing on the side as they pursued budding careers as Broadway actors.

But after recording a 1956 album of Irish rebel songs, they grew a New York following as musicians and formed a partnership with Northern Ireland immigrant Tommy Makem. Soon they were earning more as weekend singers in Manhattan bars and clubs than as full-time stage actors.

Scouts for U.S. television's flagship “Ed Sullivan Show” spotted them performing in Greenwich Village's White Horse Tavern, and their 16-minute appearance in March 1961 on the program — extended because of the last-minute cancellation of another act — turned them into an Irish-American folk phenomenon.

Their agent cultivated a schmaltzy appeal to Irish emigrants worldwide, encouraging the Clancy Brothers and Makem to perform in cream-white Aran wool sweaters hand-knit from home as well as tweed fishermen's caps.

But their up-tempo resurrection of traditionally slow, sad Irish songs made a deeper impression on much of America's emerging folk artist movement, including Bob Dylan, who paid tribute to Liam Clancy as "the best ballad singer I'd ever heard in my life."

The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem performed Carnegie Hall, toured Ireland, Britain, Australia and repeatedly throughout the U.S., and recorded more than a dozen albums before breaking up amid arguments over bills, babes and booze in 1974.


read the rest HERE

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Pakistani rappers


Forget the Taliban – Pakistani teens just wanna rap
Posted: Tuesday, December 01, 2009 11:25 AM
Filed Under: Islamabad, Pakistan
By Carol Grisanti, NBC News Producer

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – The beat was good. Even the song's title, "Turn Your Swag Off," was catchy – but the lyrics needed some explanation.

"What does it all mean?" I asked.

"It’s just about me rapping how cool and bad I am," said Adil Omar, an 18-year-old Pakistani rap artist.

"I don’t get it," I told him.

"Look," he tried to explain, "I guess you could call it a protest song, but having fun with it, instead of taking myself too seriously. The violence is all comical and the sex is all comical. It’s just a funny song."

"Oh, I see," I said, pretending to get it.

Omar went on to explain that he often writes fictionalized or outrageous lyrics as metaphors for other things.

"In Pakistan today," Omar explained, "there are certain things you can’t do, you can’t promote. There are certain topics you can’t tap into because it’s a bit dangerous – like religion and politics." He said he is not an activist and stays away from rapping about governments. "You can’t target certain individuals in Pakistan," he said, "but if you speak out against the West, then no one really cares."

Some Pakistani musicians have made headlines by tapping into the anti-Western and especially the anti-American sentiments gripping the country. I asked Omar about the band "co-Ven," and their song, "Ready to Die" which was singled out recently by the New York Times for its anti-American lyrics.

Omar didn’t think that was cause for too much concern. "It [the song] was probably for shock value and people are just taking it too seriously," he said. "It’s has always been either the really violent and explicit side of rock, rap and hip-hop that gets the news coverage or it’s the protest side. It’s always been a genre, its entertainment," he argued with a conviction that belies his years.

Privileged Pakistani rappers
Rap music was born out of rage. It began, over 20 years ago, as a cry against the deprivation and unequal opportunities in America’s urban ghettoes. But today’s Pakistani rappers, by contrast, are from the country’s educated and privileged classes and at least by Omar’s account – they are "just having fun."

Omar is a well-mannered and soft-spoken teenager who lives in a posh suburb of Islamabad. He attends a private high school and is hoping to get into an American university next year. He started to write rap lyrics, as a hobby, when he was 9 years old. But it may well have been the death of his father one year later when Omar decided his life’s ambition was to become a full-time rapper.

"My mother thinks it’s a bit extreme, but she is supportive of my music. She understands that it’s the only thing I am probably good at," he said.

I asked him about the lyrics to his song, "The Writer," which say, "The world hates me so I hate the world."

"That’s pretty strong stuff," I said. Omar laughed. "That was all about being so involved in your work that you have the feeling of being cut off from the rest of the world," he said, grinning.

He advised me not to take his writings so literally. "You thought it was anger," he said. "I’m not angry. I'm actually pretty happy, but maybe if I didn’t have this outlet to write this stuff, I would be angry," he said.

Taking it to the Internet
Omar is not the only Pakistani teenager turning to rap music to voice their feelings. Earlier this year, Bakhtawar Bhutto, the 18-year-old daughter of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, mourned her slain mother in a rap rhythm she released on YouTube.

In her song, "I Would Take the Pain Away," Bhutto rapped about her grief: "Shot in the back of your ear, so young in 54th year, murdered with three kids left behind."// "Why did you have to go?"//" Why did you have to leave?" The teenager sang out her pain over a simple hip hop beat and edited video clips of her mother.

Like young musicians across the world, the Internet is the vehicle of choice for young independent Pakistani artists who are looking for their big breakthrough. Omar uploads his music on YouTube, as well as on Facebook and MySpace for maximum exposure.