Wednesday, June 30, 2010

From the Kol Israel Orchestra to a Pygmy Choir: The Musical Life of Simha Arom

A nice story on ethnomusicologist Simha Arom, with audio as well. Check it out here at Forward.

Gail Dines Book “Pornland” and How Pornography Destroys Intimacy and Hijacks Sexuality

I saw a link to this interview on Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish. Gail Dines is professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College and an expert on pornography. Dines' book Pornland looks at the effects of contemporary pornography on society. It's a pretty sobering assessment and an interesting interview. An interview excerpt:


In the preface of your book, you share a personal story about a conversation you had with your son over pornography. You write, “I said [to him] that should he decide to use porn, that he was going to hand over his sexuality—a sexuality that he had yet to grow into, that made sense for who he was and who he was going to be—to someone else.” How and why do boys and young men give their power away to pornography? What kind of power does pornography have in shaping boys’ and men’s perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs toward sex?

Boys and men don’t realize the power they’re giving away to pornography. They don’t understand the power it has to shape who they are, their sexuality, and their sexual identity. In this culture, we think of pornography as a joke or something to laugh about. We don’t take it seriously as a source of information that has the ability and power to impact on the way we think about the world. Most boys and men go to pornography for an ejaculation; they come away with a lot more. I don’t think they’re quite aware of it.

Pornography, like all images, tells stories about the world. It tells stories about women, men, sexuality, and intimacy. In pornography, intimacy is something to be avoided, and—as I say in the book—“In pornography nobody makes love. They all make hate.” The man makes hate to the woman’s body. It’s about the destruction of intimacy.

Is it true that what most boys and men see in current trends of pornography are things that they expect in sex? How did that happen, and how is it impacting on boys’ and men’s perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs toward sex?

Well, a lot of people don’t know what pornography is. The first thing I do in the book is very purposefully describe it in detail. I know that for many people it’s going to be hard to read. I understand that. But if you’re really going to understand what I’m saying and why I’m saying it, then you have to understand the material I’m talking about. A lot of older men and women think I’m talking about Playboy from 15 years ago: a centerfold or a woman with no clothes on smiling in a cornfield. They think, “What’s wrong with that?” Well, that was bad enough in the way it objectified women, but we’re on a whole new level now with this kind of imagery.

How it got to this point is the Internet. It made it more accessible, affordable, and anonymous. You’re seeing a massive rise in use, and the users are getting younger and younger. Children who are 11½ years old are now looking at pornography because it comes straight into the home. There’s no limit on how much you can access. It used to be you had to steal father’s Playboy or Penthouse. Use was limited to how much you could actually pilfer. Today it is unlimited.

So what happens is that desensitization sets in that much quicker and that much earlier. In order to keep the consumer base going, the pornographers have to keep upping the ante. They make it more violent, body-punishing, or abusive as a way to keep men interested. When you think about it, if you’re exposed to it at age 11 or 12, you’re jaded by 20. You’re certainly jaded by 30. Pornography bleeds sex dry of intimacy, emotions, and connection. Once you do that, then there’s not much left. It becomes boring and mechanical. So you have to keep feeding newer and newer ideas just to keep [the audience] interested.

You describe Gonzo porn as “body-punishing sex.” Why is it body-punishing, why is it prevalent today, and what do people need to know about it?

It’s body-punishing because the male performers pound away at a woman’s body. You often see three men orally, vaginally, and anally penetrate her over and over again for 20 minutes or more, and these are often Viagra-fortified penises, so they stay hard much longer. A woman’s body has limits. All of ours do. What you see in Gonzo porn is a woman’s anus that is red and sore and a swollen vagina. All of these things happen because of the way a woman’s body is treated. Even the pornography industry says that Gonzo is very demanding and potentially dangerous for women. If the industry is saying it, then there’s certainly a problem.

What I’ve found with my interviews with men is the more they watch, the more they want porn sex, because they become habituated to that kind of industrial-strength sex. Once you become habituated to that, anything else looks boring or uninteresting. What I find is that some men lose interest in their partners altogether and use more pornography. Other men nag and cajole their girlfriends to perform porn sex, or they use prostitutes because that’s who they think they can play this porn sex out on.

Remember that you are not just reading or looking at porn. You’re actively masturbating and having an orgasm to it. It has a very visceral response in the body. This is one of the reasons it is so powerful.

How/why does pornography misuse and abuse the concepts of sex and how/why does pornography normalize the idea that pain is pleasure?

Well, it’s because of the way the woman’s body is treated. In pornography, no matter what you do to her, no matter how much you physically or verbally abuse this woman, she loves it. She can’t get enough. What I find fascinating and upsetting at the same time is…

Men believe that!

… That’s right. They believe it. I’ve had men argue with me that they believe women like it. So when I say to them, “What’s your evidence? Have you seen any empirical studies? Have you interviewed these women?” No, of course they haven’t. They’re using the text as their evidence because she’s saying “I love it! Give it to me harder!,” when of course she has no choice. First of all, she wants to get paid. She has to say that, and if she wants to continue working in pornography, she has no choice.

Read the entire interview HERE.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Conan the Barbarian: The Musical

Wonderful parody!

Monday, June 21, 2010

60 Pianos Installed in NYC Public Spaces

Art installation brings 60 pianos to the streets of New York City
By Mythili Rao, CNN
June 22, 2010 12:59 a.m. EDT

New York (CNN) -- On Monday morning, New York City added a new sound to its usual cacophony of honking cars and taxis, groaning buses, and screeching subways: 5,280 tinkling piano keys.

In a collaboration between artist Luke Jerram and charitable organization Sing for Hope, 60 newly refurbished pianos were installed in public spaces throughout the city's five boroughs. "Play Me, I'm Yours," the brightly colored instruments announce provocatively.

Jerram has been bringing fleets of pianos to the parks, squares, bus stops, train stations, plazas, churches, post offices, zoos, ferries and bridges of major metropolises since 2008. Prior to Monday's installation, he had already installed 167 pianos in eight cities worldwide, including Sao Paulo, Brazil; Sydney, Australia; London, England; and Barcelona, Spain.

But the New York installation is his largest yet -- "twice the size of any installation I've done before," Jerram said.

In New York, no public space is too humble for a piano: The instruments have been placed at a post office (Jackson Heights, Queens), a zoo (Staten Island), churches (St. Mark's Church and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan), and a boardwalk (Coney Island, Brooklyn), among other locations.

Read the full story HERE.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Donald Fagan interview

At the Gothamist.

an excerpt from the middle of the interview with Steely Dan member and solo artist Donald Fagan:


Do you have any theories about what’s made your collaboration with Walter [Becker] so fruitful? We share a lot of the same interests. We met at Bard College in the late ‘60s and we were both jazz and blues fans as kids, which was kind of unusual at the time; I guess it still is. At the time there were a lot of different kinds of music and it was all novel at the time; soul music was basically invented when we were in high school and that grabbed our attention. And we just combined all those things into the kind of music that we like.

On the other hand, we were both also interested in literature. At the time, I guess we were of the generation that began what they used to call black humor, which they now just call humor. It was a kind of dark humor that was typical of the upcoming writers like Kurt Vonnegut and Bruce Jay Friedman and, on a more sophisticated level, Vladimir Nabokov, who was a big influence. We were both fans of those people and I guess our world view was kind of shaped by the subculture which we were a part of. Now the whole world sees everything the way we did back then, but at the time, coming out of the conformist ‘50s and so on, it was sort of unusual, I guess. But it’s not anymore.

There was a long period where Steely Dan existed as just a studio band and the impression was that you didn’t like playing live. I guess that’s changed? For a long time we had been trying to get a band together. And we finally got a record contract still without having a band, really. So we got together a bunch of guys we knew who were competent but we had never spent any time together. And when we went out on the road various problems developed. They were all very enthusiastic and had a lot of energy and all that and the band had all that going for it, but it wasn’t exactly what we had in mind when we dreamed of starting a band. So after a couple albums we decided to let everyone go and employ studio musicians to try to realize what we had in mind. And that made it difficult to tour because studio musicians for the most part didn’t want to go out on the road. And we ended up just making records.

The first couple nights at the Beacon will be opened by Bill Charlap. Yeah, rather than get someone we don’t really know – especially since we don’t know too much about popular music anymore anyway – we’re taking it as a great opportunity to have some jazz musicians come on and open. Bill played with us in the studio a couple times and he’s going to open. And we have the Sam Yahel Organ Trio opening for us in the south and a few other places. There are some other jazz artists opening on the west coast too. I think it’s good; a lot of people over the years told me they started listening to jazz because they starting hearing some jazz artists soloing on our records. So I think it’s a good thing to do.

My older brother is one of the many fans always hoping to hear Dr. Wu live. Why has that become such a rarity? We tried it out in sound check a couple times last year and it sounded okay. It’s mainly that I don’t like the way it feels on stage. I think a lot of those songs have aged really well and aren’t dated at all. And if the words still seem relevant in some way or can be recast to make some kind of sense, we rearrange it – if the music seems dated. That tune feels dated to me and it’s difficult for me to sing if I feel, you know, that it’s not… There’s something about the curve of the song that doesn’t work dramatically on stage for me.


Read the full interview HERE.

Bassist Alain Caron Slaps the six-string bass

he is amazing:

Friday, June 18, 2010

Teaching African American Studies in Russia

Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog has some guest bloggers this week, and I have really enjoyed a couple of posts by Jelani Cobb (who has a blog HERE) on the experience of teaching African American history in Russia. Here are some excerpts:

From "A View From the East":

Jun 17 2010, 1:15 PM ET | Comment
[Jelani Cobb]

Some years back I made a resolution to ignore the second half of any sentence that began with the words "We are the only people who..." Almost always the next clause featured some shortcoming of the race and after years spent drenched in the backwaters of Afrocentrism (the patchouli era), I'd had my fill of black specificity.

"We are the only people," came to be an advance warning that I was talking to someone who probably didn't know much about any people other than (a small segment of) black ones. More subtly, an expression of the speaker's fixation on the values of a wider world they both rejected and envied.

I spent the past spring semester teaching African American history at Moscow State University. People tend to toward a common reaction when I mention this. "What was that like?" The inflection hinting that two decades after the end of the Cold War, Russia -- at least in the minds of Americans -- remains foreign in a way that few other places are. There's a lot I could say about that experience but the shorthand version is the we are not the only people.


In the thirteen years I've been teaching African American history, the common theme has been the way in which the black experience has stood outside of, and therefore defined, American democracy. But from the first day in my classroom at Moscow State University, the unintentional theme was the common threads of the past and its weight in the present. Paul Robeson once said that of all the places he'd visited, Russians reminded him the most of Negroes. He had a point.

Russia's serfs were freed just two years before Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

During World War II somewhere between 20-25 million Soviet citizens were killed, meaning on its most basic terms, that they lost more people in four years than died in the entire course of the Transatlantic slave trade.

I traveled 7000 miles and found myself immersed in a culture that was defined, but not destroyed by brutal history, whose people bore the mark of that past even as they took pride in the fact that other people might not have survived such trials. Familiar.

.......... I was reminded of that blues truth that suffering doesn't recede into the past, it gets handed down through history like an inheritance. What one chooses to do with that inheritance is ultimately the only thing that matters.

So no, we aren't the only people. And the only problem comes with needing to be.

It's great stuff, please read the full post HERE.

And a post "That Russian for 'Hope'":

Jun 18 2010, 12:41 PM ET | Comment
[Jelani Cobb]

If you are a black man teaching African American history in Russia in 2010 you will be asked about Barack Obama. A lot. I began my class by projecting an image of black slaves picking cotton on a plantation alongside a picture of the Obama inauguration and explained that my goal for the semester was to explain how we moved from the picture on the left to the picture on the right.

Yesterday the NYT ran a story on a Pew study of Obama's impact on foreign perceptions of the U.S. abroad. Given the previous administration's antagonism toward the UN and references to "old Europe" it's not exactly surprising that the country's popularity in Western Europe surged post-Bush.

But it was worth noting that Russia was one of the two countries that showed the largest increase in positive sentiment toward the United States since Obama's election.


For it's own reasons, the Soviet Union highlighted the history of slavery, lynching, disfranchisement and Jim Crow. As a consequence, even now the Russian students had more base knowledge of African American history than many students I've taught in the United States.) That said, the election of a black president might have been farther outside their expectations than many other places.

The question I encountered most often was whether or not Obama was actually calling the shots. I initially took that as a matter of racial skepticism—surely the black guy was some sort of racial PR stunt. But at some point I realized that the question also had to be understood in context of who was asking it. Many of the Russians I talked to didn't believe their own president was calling the shots. It wasn't cynical, it was raw experience that made it reasonable to doubt whether Barack Obama was actually in charge.

Read the full post HERE.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wax On, F*ck Off with Original Karate Kid Ralph Macchio

Violence in Jamaican Dancehall Lyrics (LAT)

Jamaica music lyrics — trigger of violence?

The debate has intensified since lethal police raids in a slum that is the home turf of an alleged drugs and arms trafficker whose violent lifestyle is glorified in lyrics of a music called dancehall.

By Chris Kraul, Los Angeles Times
June 13, 2010

Reporting from Kingston, Jamaica —

Ova di wall, Ova di wall
Put yuh AK ova di wall…
Blood a go run
Like Dunns River Fall.

Blood flowing like waterfalls. Brains floating like feathers out of a torn pillow. Women submitting to the whims of neighborhood "dons."

The images are typical of dancehall, a popular Jamaican music style that has sparked a furious debate over whether it merely reflects an increasingly violent society or somehow contributes to the mayhem.

Some of dancehall's most popular performers, including Elephant Man, who wrote "Ova di Wall," use hyperviolent lyrics that chronicle the exploits of "badmanism," the cult of gun-toting gangs. Some are also criticized as misogynistic and anti-gay.

The national debate has intensified in the aftermath of lethal police raids last month in the Tivoli Gardens slum that is the home turf of Christopher "Dudus" Coke, the alleged drugs and arms trafficker whose violent lifestyle is glorified in dancehall lyrics.

Community leader Henley Morgan, a pastor who runs a social outreach program in the lower-class Trenchtown district where reggae legend Bob Marley grew up, worries that the extreme songs of dancehall, a successor to ska, rocksteady and reggae, could be "dictating the culture."

"This is music that is coming out of what we call garrisons, or ghettos that have been politicized. Violent dancehall has a lot of profanity, glorifies guns and degrades women," Morgan said. "Not all dancehall promotes violence, but it's the songs with raunchy lyrics that get played."

Youths interviewed recently seemed torn between their enjoyment of a genre that is perfect "jumping up," or dance, music and their aversion to the lyrics' often explicit messages.

"These are things the Jamaican middle class doesn't want to hear, but they happen in our society," said Adrian Demetrius, a 20-year-old telemarketer who was interviewed one Saturday night amid the din of a popular dance club here called Quad. "Dancehall is just bringing it to the mainstream."

As the music's influence has grown, Jamaica's Broadcasting Commission has tried to impose rules on radio stations to limit explicit language. But dancehall's enormous popularity has frustrated those efforts fueled competition among the island's radio stations to play the most outrageous tunes, said Donna Hope, a Jamaican music expert and professor at the University of the West Indies.
Read the full story HERE.

Vuvuzela: The Buzz of the World Cup

Vuvuzela: The Buzz of the World Cup


Deafening to fans, broadcasters and players, the ubiquitous plastic horn is closely tied to South Africa’s soccer tradition

* By Jim Morrison
*, June 08, 2010

Players taking to the pitch for the World Cup games in South Africa may want to pack some extra equipment in addition to shinguards, cleats and jerseys: earplugs.

The earplugs will protect against the aural assault of vuvuzelas. The plastic horns are a South African cultural phenomenon that that when played by hundreds or thousands of fans, sounds like a giant, angry swarm of hornets amplified to a volume that would make Ozzy Osbourne flinch. South African fans play the horns to spur their favorite players into action on the field.


A study in the South African Medical Journal released earlier this year said fans subjected to the vuvuzela swarm were exposed to a deafening peak of more than 140 decibels, equivalent to standing near a jet engine. The South African Association of Audiologists has warned they can damage hearing.

Noisemakers at soccer matches have a long history....

Read the full post HERE.

and some opposing graphics from Facebook pages:


and a little something extra:

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Jason Marsalis: The Definition of a Jazz Nerd

"The Definition of a Jazz Nerd"
by Jason Marsalis
Note posted on the Facebook page of Jason Marsalis
Reposted by permission of Jason Marsalis
June 16, 2010
originally posted to Facebook today at 12:20pm

I’ve been lucky to grow up as a privileged musician. I’ve been surrounded by a considerable amount of information and various influences from different genres of music. As a high school and college student, jazz students I knew were very knowledgeable about music and hungry for even more. Then in the early 2000’s, something happened. While performing with some of the new jazz students relocating to the New Orleans area, I noticed something missing in their music. As I became familiar with their compositions and solo performances, my suspicions were confirmed; while their music was often complex with a different mood, it was unfortunately lacking in knowledge of the Jazz tradition.

These musicians did not take sufficient time to investigate jazz before 1990 nor did they have a belief in that music. I then realized that these musicians did not have many opportunities to play outside of the classroom situation. Therefore, playing Jazz for an audience was not part of their musical experience. As I traveled the country, I began seeing this as a trend. Jazz students would play an abundance of notes in an abstract manner without an understanding of basic melodic content.

During this time, I overheard a musician describe hearing music in which musicians played notes and patterns over complex chord changes as “nerd music”. That term struck a chord with me because that was same thing I was hearing from college students, and some professional musicians, around the country. At that moment I realized the trend that was happening with Jazz music and I coined the phrase the “JNA”, the Jazz Nerds of America.

As I traveled to Europe and Canada, I discovered common attitudes were pertinent my observations. Jazz musicians in both countries said the same thing is happening with music students in their respective regions. At this point I’m getting notoriously disturbed about the new music I’ve been hearing. Finally, in a conversation with my father, he told me of a set he attended at a New York Jazz club and heard music that I would describe as being played by JNA members. He noticed that the band members had their heads buried in the music and made no eye contact with the audience. He also observed a very attentive audience working hard to like what they were hearing. Basically, instead of enjoying the music, they were expending energy in an attempt to connect with what was being played.

At this point I decided to warn the Jazz audience about the JNA. When I would tell my story, it would be part musician/part raving street preacher to elicit laughs from the audience. I would advise them to run away from “nerd music” as fast as they can. One night in Toronto, I told my JNA story to the audience and Keita Hopkinson, someone who was helping put together the show, wanted to film my rant on his iPhone. I agreed and he posted it on YouTube.

I recently received a phone call from band mate and pianist Marcus Roberts and he mentioned that received an e-mail about my “jazz nerd” video and that it was getting a lot of attention over the Internet. I did a Google search on jazz nerd international and lots of entries appeared. It was humorous that JNA was getting this much attention. The articles were also interesting reads. The only troublesome aspect was that my views were misconstrued and misdirected into another conversation contrary to what the video was about. Some of the blame falls on me because a lot of the musical examples presented in the video were done in a vague fashion. This is why I have decided to write an essay to explain my problem with the “jazz nerd”

Let’s define a jazz nerd. A jazz nerd, or JNA for short, is a Jazz student who reduces all music to notes and concepts only. JNA worships complexity while ridiculing simplicity. JNA will hear groups lead by Dave Holland and Wayne Shorter and will marvel at the complex musical structure but ignore the historical substance behind their music. JNA saxophonists will listen to and worhsip the music of Mark Turner, Chris Potter, Michael Brecker, and other modern players but ignore the musicians that have influenced their music such as John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Warne Marsh, and Sonny Rollins. JNA will hear the music of James Brown and say that it’s no big deal because it only has two chords. JNA looks down on blues as “simple” while wanting to play endless non-melodic eighth and sixteenth notes over “All the Things You Are” in 7/4 straight feel. JNA finds a slow blues boring. Swing is uninteresting and straight feel is actually more “challenging” and “exciting”. Instead of embracing both, the JNA worships one while ridiculing the other. 4/4 is “old” while 9/8 is “new”. A basic drum groove is boring unless you fill it with lots of notes. For the JNA, that’s modern music-as many complex notes as possible while ignoring the simple elements and history behind the notes.

In the infamous video, it seemed as though I was attacking odd-meters. Anyone that knows my music would rightfully label that hypocrisy. It isn’t the time signatures I was attacking but rather the highly indifferent approach the JNA would employ in the name of creating music. They play all odd meters the same way, straight and medium-to-fast. They’re not interested in bringing a variety of grooves and mood to odd-meters. Furthermore, a jazz nerd will have music that will modulate from 5/4 to 9/8 to 7/4 in a matter of measures while playing a barrage of notes that make no sense. As an audience member you actually can’t tell what the band is playing since there’s no clarity of chord movement or rhythm. This approach to odd meters can work, as exemplified by tenor saxophonist John Ellis’ composition “Bonus Round”, but cluttering the space doesn’t help the music. The music student has fun but the audience has nothing with which to connect and therefore is sitting on their hands.

As far as today’s music is concerned, I do have a problem with another trend that isn’t exclusive to the JNA, but it affects jazz music and JNA members usually believe in it. It’s what I call “innovation propaganda”. It is rooted in the fact that starting in the 1980’s and through the 90’s, there were jazz musicians interested in the history of the music. They wanted to explore jazz music from the 50’s and 60’s, a period of music that there generation hadn’t previously explored. While there was an audience for this music, there were jazz writers and musicians who excoriated them as “neoclassicists” who were bringing jazz backwards and were not moving the music forward. Starting from 2000, the majority of today’s jazz started to reference rock, hip-hop, pop, R&B, and world music. That’s great except there’s a catch. Almost no jazz before 1990 is referenced in the majority of music played today. Jazz magazines and writers created this flavor of kool-aid named “innovation” and when a musician drinks “innovation kool-aid”, you believe the following principles.

1. Jazz has to move forward into the future
2. We can’t get stuck in the past with hero worship
3. Swing is old and dated. We have to use the music of today.
4. Jazz is limiting. You must take a chance by bringing in current styles.
5. I don’t care about the past. I have to do my own thing.
6. We’re past playing American songbook standards. That’s yesterday’s music.

This point of view actually mirrors the same narrow-minded point of view that the “traditionalists” are being accused of. “Traditionalists”, apparently, are only interested in music from 1900-1969. With the majority of the new music, music after 1969, and sometimes 1999, is the only period of interest. Here’s the reality about music. Genres are neutral, all music is old, and music is information. The 20th century has produced lots of music. Rather than dividing it up with categories like “traditional” and “modern” or “old” and “new”, it should be viewed as a century’s worth of information. There’s information in Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Louis Jordan, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, The Beatles, Cecil Taylor, Jimi Hendrix, George Clinton, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, Weather Report, Michael Jackson, Public Enemy, Genesis, Nirvana, Common, John Legend just to name a few. Hundreds upon thousands of artists in numerous genres were left out, but the point is this music is all available for any musician to employ. There are those that complain of narrowing music through categories; my complaint is about narrowing music through dates. There’s information that can be incorporated in music from 1900 to 2000 in today’s context. Jazz is an open architecture that includes everything from genres to history.

In closing, there are those who wonder why do I bother? Why am I so outspoken about music? Why not let the music speak for itself? Why am I wasting my time with this subject instead of practicing? Well, I’ve been inspired by music for many years from all walks of life and to be honest, I’m bored with the majority of the new music being played today. Newer musicians are being selfish by not including a wide range of history and only thinking of themselves over the music. But there’s a bigger problem; I’m not alone. Earlier, I mentioned that jazz had a larger audience with music that was apparently “retrogressive”. Now, today’s music is hailed by some as pushing jazz into the future but guess what? The audience has dwindled and there are magazine articles asking if the music is dead. Furthermore, the response to my “jazz nerd” video is interesting because there are musicians who disagree with me, but not as many non-musically trained jazz fans share the same view. They’re collectively known as the audience, remember? The jazz audience could care less whether any music is “new” or “innovative”. The audience pays its hard earned money to hear a good show. I’ve talked to many audience members who feel the exact same way I do and are just as frustrated as I am with most of the new music. The problem is that because of “innovation propaganda”, they feel guilty if they don’t like the music. They feel that it’s their fault for not understanding the “intellectual capacity” of it so they work hard at trying to enjoy the music when they aren’t in the first place. This, in my view, is part of the reason why the jazz audience is getting smaller.

Is there a way to solve this problem? One solution is to restructure the academic curriculum in university programs to be inclusive of all music and introduce students in elementary school, 4th through 12th grades, to music studies. The best thing for a musician to do is not to divide music by years or genres, but by basing it on at least a century’s worth of information. The more, the merrier. Where this will take the music, we shall see. But this approach of unity is more intriguing than division and Jazz music can truly grow into the 21st century. In the meantime, I would like to thank those who have commented on my impromptu video and I’m glad we are having this conversation.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Hiromi Uehara: "Place To Be"

This is the title cut of her solo piano recording. She is a phenomenon, and has been touring the world relentlessly. With endless traveling, she says the title is about wondering where her place is in the world. Watch her and I think she's found it: being at the piano in front of an audience enthralled by her amazing gift.

Black Violin "Brandenberg"

and background interview;

Monday, June 14, 2010

In Praise of Artist Patrick Nagel (1945-1984)

Anyone who remembers the early eighties would be familiar with Patrick Nagel's illustrations, doubly so if they ever opened a Playboy magazine back then (Nagel contributed an illustration every issue for the Playboy Advisor/letters column). Reportedly variously influenced by Art Deco, the "finish fetish" sheen of California car detailing, Japanese woodcuts, and West coast minimalism, Nagel created something very impressive: a simple, stark, evocative and sensuous style that seemed to mesh with the times. Characterized by clean minimalist lines, void-like colored backgrounds, additional abstract shapes, colorless skin, and beautiful female subjects, Nagel reportedly often worked from photographs of live models and then began stripping away details he deemed extraneous in drawings before painting the even more minimalist final work. His style was modern, sleek, and embodied the stylistic turn of the page from the seventies to the eighties (even as he began this style in the mid-seventies). This was a hip, bold, clean style that was reductionist, derivative, but also totally original, and it became quite popular. I loved it and still do. I mean, look at this face, with everything so flattened and pale, yet fine detail with the loose strands of hair; the faintly colored eyes, evocative gaze, and the eye-popping nail-polish-color lips:

[there is another version of this one without the venetian blind shadows]

For those who didn't see Nagel in Playboy or fashion magazines, the Duran Duran album Rio used this illustration for their platinum-seller album cover. Nagel's illustration seemed to compliment the new wave/new romantic style of the band, a perfect and evocative fit at the right moment:

Newly on my own, I craved some of his prints around 1980-82, but I was too poor for such expenditures. I envied those that had them (and apartments worthy of them). By the end of the eighties I had forgotten them. Later on, I admit that I didn't see Nagel's work for a while, and then after a long absence I saw it again in the mid- or late nineties and it looked dated, out of step; it reminded me of the beginning of the eighties, and once the posters got out they were ubiquitous; his work was very overexposed. Now that I look at it again I see what I liked, even though it doesn't have the splash that it used to, but part of that is simply because it was so popular and recognizable. In a sense, Nagel's reputation is a victim of his popular success. And also, the subsequent rise of anime and graphic novel genres makes some of Nagel's work look even more common. Given this, it's hard to appreciate the freshness of his work in its original context if you didn't live through it.

Of course, I do not have copyright for these images but offer them in the spirit of criticism via fair use. These are some of my favs:

This one really evokes Japanese influence or at least style to me by suggesting a geisha with the hairstyle and collar, albeit a modern Caucasian Nagel Woman one. But check out the three shades of green he uses, saving the lightest (and most artificial and unrealistic) for the eyes. Plus, dig the blue lines he uses on borders or for folds:

So simple, yet how many shades of blue? Four? Are the hair highlights a different blue, making it five?

Click some of these to enlarge.

Sometimes of his more consciously fashion subjects pushed his work close to the more common fashion advertisement illustrations, though those were usually consciously more sketch-like and/or messy in their simplicity while his remained painstakingly sharp and clean:

Something I like about his faces is that even though there are barely any features (there is barely even a nose on this one), one still gets a sense of the subject's character. [click to enlarge]

Love the curves on this one:

While I love the eyes of his subjects, he did a bunch with sunglasses:

This last one was his bestseller and as a result was way overexposed:

It's sometimes suggested that Robert Palmer's women in his 1985 smash hit video for "Addicted to Love" were a take-off on the Nagel Women:

With his simple and streamlined style, Nagel's work is easier than most to parody and imitate, though arguably so much of it was absorbed into fashion and illustration culture and it no longer has the singular direct reference than it used to. This is my favorite homage/take-off (there are a lot of them out there, especially of celebrities), and it certainly matches the era: Princess Leia as a Nagel Woman:

The official Nagel page is HERE. They have a bio and a nice gallery. Give it some love.
There is an unofficial forum HERE.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Wendy's pulls free CD over Donna Summer lyrics

Racy lyrics lead Wendy's to pull CD from kid meals

June 12, 2010
updated 2 hours 33 minutes ago

ATLANTA — The fast food-chain Wendy's has pulled a disco CD included in kids' meals because of racy lyrics in one of the songs.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that one of the songs on the Disco Fever CD was Donna Summer's "Last Dance." The song has two sets of lyrics. One version includes the words "so bad." But some heard the alternative lyrics "so horny" on the CD, which had been marked as safe for 3 years old and up.

The Atlanta-based chain announced on its website Saturday that it would continue to put three other CDs in the kids' meals. Those CDs include the songs "ABC" by Jackson 5 and "Celebration" by Kool & the Gang. The website said Wendy's is "no longer offering" the Disco Fever CD but doesn't mention the reason.

A reader sent this related video suggestion from [thanks!]:


Multisource political news, world news, and entertainment news analysis by

Mohammad Reza Shajarian: Iran's soulful voice stings hardline regime


Iran's soulful voice stings hardline regime
By Azadeh Ansari, CNN
June 12, 2010 1:42 p.m. EDT

(CNN) -- A year after a fierce crackdown silenced erupting street protests, not many Iranians living in the country can defy the hardline Islamic government without fearing for their life.

But Mohammad Reza Shajarian, is using his voice like never before.

"Art by its nature is a form of objection," the legendary musician said in an interview during his tour of the United States. "It can object against love, life, or governments and when art becomes rebellious, it can intimidate governments."

Shajarian, 69, sparked his a high-profile protest last year when he publicly objected to state TV and radio broadcasting one of his most popular anthems, "Iran, Ey Saraye Omid" (Iran, the land of Hope), to celebrate the contested re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The song was first performed by Shajarian back in the early days of the 1979 revolution when a popular movement dethroned the Shah. Shajarian was outraged the current Iranian government used his work to drum up patriotic support.

"I'm not going to allow my own work to be used against me," said Shajarian, an outspoken critic of the hardline regime.

In order to channel his own discontent with the escalating violence at the time, Shajarian collaborated with his colleagues and within a day composed "Zabaneh Atash" (Language of Fire) to capture the political and social climate of the post-election fallout. The song begins this way:

Lay down your guns!

I am tired of this gruesome needless shedding of blood

Whether the gun is in your hand or another's

It is the language of fire and mayhem

Shajarian's new release became an instant hit as a battle cry especially for Iran's youth, many of whom are clamoring for change.

"You shouldn't beat people over the head with guns, you have to talk to them logically," Shajarian said.

Shajarian spent most of his life in Iran and was one of a handful of musicians the Islamic regime allowed to stay and perform in the country after the 1979 revolution. But he has also been met with opposition and has only been able to perform in fewer than a dozen concerts in Iran over the past three decades.

Shajarian's interpretations of Persian poetry is lyrical, his voice soulful. He music has captivated Iranians for decades but he has also earned international accolades, including the UNESCO Mozart Medal, the Golden Picasso Medal and two Grammy nominations.

In an effort to encourage cross cultural dialogue and reinvigorate Iran's traditional music profile, Shajarian recently toured Australia, the United States and Canada with 16-member Shahnaz Ensamble, comprised of some of Iran's finest classical musicians.


Read the full original post (including video) HERE.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Dogfish Head Brewery has a Bitches Brew Beer in honor of Miles Davis' 1970 Bitches Brew album

In honor of the 40th anniversary of Miles Davis' historic Bitches Brew album, the Dogfish Head Brewery has unveiled a Bitches Brew...well, brew. Check it out.

Nike's epic Write the Future commercial

I can't believe I'm posting a commercial, but this one, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, is so good I cannot resist:

(Cuban singer) Silvio Rodriguez: Nostalgia Merchant

Cuban singer Silvio Rodriguez is touring the US for the first time in thirty years. Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez has an blog post at HuffPo

Silvio Rodriguez: Nostalgia Merchant
Yoani Sanchez

Award-Winning Cuban Blogger
Posted: June 2, 2010 09:52 PM

While young people around the world enjoyed the music of the sixties, for Cubans it was forbidden to hear anything that had imperialist echoes, including the Beatles. Just at that time there appeared in our island what ended up being called the Nueva Trova -- New Minstrel -- Movement. Silvio Rodriguez has been its signature performer with songs full of poetic lyrics and music that mixes the tonalities of our traditional minstrel songs with the chords of Bob Dylan.

Silvio's generation, touched by the euphoric effects of the Revolution, was considered anti-establishment, based on between-the-line meanings one could read into his lyrics. He was banned on some television programs and many of his songs were never broadcast. Little by little, before the eyes of followers and detractors, the Movement was absorbed by the ruling ideological apparatus to the point where there came a time when no political event lacked the accompaniment of his songs. He won admirers and spawned imitators, girls swooned over him, and requests for concerts came from all over Latin America.


The 1980s, when at any hour of the day or night, you could turn the radio dial and hear Silvio's songs, are long gone. In those days he won every popularity contest and seemed like a star whose light would never fade. But the demands of tourism and Cubans' own weariness with protest songs, set the stage for the creation and spread of danceable music which, in all its rawness, is the anthem of these times: reggaeton. While Nueva Trova still has its adherents, it has been relegated to niche audiences.

Today, Silvio Rodriguez is the living representative of nostalgia for a utopia that never materialized. Some of his fans come to his concerts decked out in their Che Guevara T-shirts and sing the choruses as if they could roll back history; it's as if they are saying, "This is not dead." Increasingly rare are those who can reconcile his musical expression with his civic behavior, as few can forgive the many years he has been sitting in parliament without raising his hand to ask for an end to the immigration restrictions, the elimination of the dual currency system, or the decriminalization of political dissent.


Read the full post HERE.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The dustbin of art history (celebrating the death of postmodern art)


The dustbin of art history
Why is so much contemporary art awful? We’re living through the death throes of the modernist project—and
this isn’t the first time that greatness has collapsed into decadence

The paintings in Damien Hirst’s exhibition at the Wallace Collection last October were execrable. Most critics fulminated that these works of art should never have been hung in close proximity to masterpieces by Poussin and Rembrandt. My visit to the show was brief. But as I made my way hastily to the exit—down the grand staircase past vast pompous canvases of sunrise and sunset by the 18th-century French painter François Boucher, full of pink putti and topless girls in diaphanous dresses—I realised that those critics were wrong. The Wallace, famous for its collection of French rococo, was actually the perfect setting for Hirst’s exhibition, titled “No Love Lost, Blue Paintings.”

For there are compelling parallels between much of the contemporary art of the last two decades—not only the work of the expensive artists who made the headlines like Hirst, Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami, but also many of the conceptual artists patronised by public galleries—and French rococo, a movement that extolled frivolity, luxury and dilettantism, patronised by a corrupt and decadent ancien régime. Boucher’s art represented the degradation of the baroque school’s classical and Christian values into a heavenly zone of soft porn, shorn of danger, conflict and moral purpose. Similarly, Hirst’s work represents the degeneration of the modernist project from its mission to sweep away art’s “bourgeois relics” into a set of eye-pleasing and sentimental visual tropes.


I believe that this decline shares four aesthetic and ideological characteristics with the end-phases of previous grand styles: formulae for the creation of art; a narcissistic, self-reinforcing cult that elevates art and the artist over actual subjects and ideas; the return of sentiment; and the alibi of cynicism.

[he details his ideas on each of the four]
Read the entire story HERE.