Sunday, August 29, 2010

lincoln the whig

An interesting take on Abraham Lincoln, and his place in the history of progressivism in America.
Read the full article.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

oberammergau interview

A few months ago, Catherine and I went to Oberammergau, in Bavaria, Germany. We spent two weeks there, thoroughly enjoying the magnificent views, the delightful people, the delicious food, and the cool spring weather. The main reason for going, though, was the Oberammergau Passion Play, something that the people of this village have been putting on every 10 years, almost without exception, since 1634.

Our generous host, Clayton Young, introduced me to the daughter of the play's music director, within a few hours of when we arrived. Naturally, it occurred to me that this remarkable story and the beautiful music that goes with it would be perfect material for a Texas Public Radio feature. A few days later the director, Markus Zwink, was sitting with me in a charming cafe, talking about the village, the music, the play, and what it's like to be part of a tradition that goes back to 1634 — when members of his own family were in the original production.

If you can't see the videos below, try clicking on the title of this post.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


What is it about Moby-Dick right now? First of all, there's been a new opera written (by Jake Heggie, composer of Dead Man Walking and The End of the Affair) and premiered in Dallas, based on that great American novel; and now I know several people who are all sitting down to read it, outside of any class assignment, just for fun.

A welcome development! In the 20th century, school classrooms did for Moby-Dick what school cafeterias did for spinach. The best way to refute both the critics and Miss Crabtree is to get into your favorite reading chair, get some good coffee/tea/whatever, and put yourself into the lap of a fantastic writer and thinker. I may do it myself. It's been a good 15 years or more.

One friend, reading it right now, has put a couple of quotes from it as her Facebook status; another was moved to quote the following passage in his Notes section:

Oh, grassy glades! oh, ever vernal endless landscapes in the soul; in ye, — though long parched by the dead drought of the earthy life, — in ye, men yet may roll, like young horses in new morning clover; and for some few fleeting moments, feel the cool dew of the life immortal on them. Would to God these blessed calms would last. But the mingled, mingling threads of life are woven by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every calm. There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause: — through infancy's unconscious spell, boyhood's thoughtless faith, adolescence' doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood's pondering repose of If. But once gone through, we trace the round again; and are infants, boys, and men, and Ifs eternally. Where lies the final harbor, whence we unmoor no more? In what rapt ether sails the world, of which the weariest will never weary? Where is the foundling's father hidden? Our souls are like those orphans whose unwedded mothers die in bearing them: the secret of our paternity lies in their grave, and we must there to learn it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

a political conversation

They're building a mosque near Ground Zero! The end of civilization is near! We can't have a mosque near ground Zero!

But there's been one there for years. Decades, in fact.

Still, I'm mad about this one! Especially because liberals are in charge now. After all, Obama isn't having an annual National Day of Prayer event at the White House! The end of civilization is near!!!!

Actually, neither did Clinton, Bush Sr, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy, Eisenhower, Truman....

Well I'm still mad, only about Obama!!

Why only about Obama?

Hey! over there! Obama didn't go to the Boy Scout Jamboree!!! How on earth could he disappoint the Scouts like that?

Bush didn't speak there in his first term, either: he sent a video just like Obama.

Well I'm still mad only about Obama!

Hey, at least he addressed the nation's schoolchildren.

WHATT!! Keep that big-government pro-gay socialist Muslim indoctrinator away from our children!

So, you're glad he didn't address the Boy Scouts?

No, I'm horrified! How on earth could he disappoint the Scouts like that? Especially because he skipped them in favor of going on a daytime talk show. What happened to presidential dignity?

Actually, on that talk show he discussed the most pressing matters of the day, and was grilled intensively on his policies and actions.

I'm still shocked that a sitting president would ever appear on a daytime talk show! No president has ever done that before. The end of civilization is near!!

Actually, George W Bush did that, just a few years ago. Remember?

Of course, but I'm still only mad at Obama, because — look, there's Elvis!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

protag pics at the witte

On August 8th the Jazz Protagonists played a really fun concert at the Witte Museum, and Protagonists superfan Elizabeth Turner snapped these really great photos. Take a look!

Monday, August 16, 2010

tempest musical instruments

I just played at the opening of a musical instrument store; a bunch of cream-of-the-crop musicians, including Ron Wilkins, Logan Keese, Kyle Keener, Greg Norris, and Pierre Poree got together to just hang out and jam on opening day.

I'd known that my friends Jim Gavigan and Mike Palermo had started a musical instrument store, but, looking around, I finally realized the extent of it: all the instruments — every trumpet, trombone, tuba, flute, clarinet, bassoon — were actually designed and manufactured by these guys. It's not just a store that sells musical instruments; it's a store that sells its own musical instruments.

As I told Mike, only he and Jim really know how much this took: the years and years of work and research and wheeling-and-dealing and forging relationships with metal people and wood people on three continents, all the honing and craftsmanship that came from all the years of hard-won expertise, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital to raise on a decidedly non-virtual, non-digital venture — man, what an accomplishment. To look at an ornate saxophone, to hear its superb tone, and say, "I bloody did that": what's that worth?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

speech and consequences

I'm disturbed by our emerging attitude toward free speech.

We all grew up with the phrase, "I may detest what you say, but I would defend to the death your right to say it."

That is, no matter how controversial someone's message is, there was a large part of America's culture that would wrap it in the flag, so to speak: to protect that person from possible violence or retaliation for simply having expressed something. Violent reactions were considered so wrong in response to even the worst and most horrible message that one might even leap to the defense of one's enemy in order to protect not necessarily that person's point of view but that person's right to express it.

But here's what we're seeing more and more of: "I may agree or disagree with what you say, but if you're foolish enough to say it when you know it will draw fire, you're on your own, buddy."

That's not progress.

Monday, August 9, 2010

laughter in the rain

I've been thinking about Neil Sedaka's song "Laughter In The Rain" lately.

He got started young and had a bunch of hits in the late 50s and early 60s, making the kind of pop music that occupied the vacuum that started in around 1950, after the great between-the-wars flowering of slick popular song was pretty much over but before rock-n-roll really took off. Sedaka's career shows it dramatically: once the Beatles hit here in 1964 he had nary a hit for years.

As a performer, that is. As a writer, he continued to write catchy pop music for other people, including the Monkees and the Carpenters. (He wrote "Solitaire.") His last big hit as a writer was "Love Will Keep Us Together," which made the Captain and Tennille famous. (In the fadeout na-na-na section, you can hear Toni Tennille singing something that sounds like scatting but is actually Sedaka's name.)

Some of his stuff is so very fluffy that we can see why folks who began to embrace rock-n-roll would view it, and him, with contempt. Look up the Scopatone jukebox-video for "Calendar Girl" to see and hear the badness. Tons of mid-century fun, but man oh man.

And then there's "Laughter In The Rain." To me, that song is Sedaka distilled. Not at all complex, fluffy as can be, perfectly feel-good, and just a twist or two of sheer pop genius.

Like a lot of pop songs in the early 70s, it utilizes the Major-7 chord. (Think of the opening notes of "Color My World," which outline that chord: C-E-G-B-G-E-etc.) In the opening line, "Walkin' along country roads with my baby," the word roads and the ba- of baby are sung on the 7th degree of the chord. It creates a relaxed, easygoing sound that defines the era in song after song. Later on, in the chorus, the I hear laugh- is also sung on the 7th degree of the chord.

But what's fun to me is the volta. The chord progression during the verse, I-IV-V-I in the key of F-major, is as standard as it comes. And in the chorus is too: ii-V-I over and over. Straight from the shelves of the chord progression store. But the key is the key.

The song would be just fine, though completely unremarkable, if the verse and chorus were sung in the same key. Sedaka, though, was going for a sunny effect to match his sunny lyrics and his sunny alto voice in this sunny song about rain. So, suddenly, we find ourselves thrown, completely without warning, into the key of Ab-major. That key only shares one of its 4 flats in common with the original key of F, which means that the color palette contains fresh new unused notes, jolting the ear slightly. Right on the downbeat, with that long, delicious Oooooh!, the melody leaps from a middle C to the Ab above it, carrying the spirit along. It's as if he's so in love he overshot his high note — and the whole world, enchanted, scooted over to make it land just right.

Gets me every time. Such a simple gesture, so perfectly deployed! Part of it is that he chose his keys very carefully, so that when he transitions back into F-major (with a C11 chord) it sounds propulsive, so that each tonality sounds like it's ahead of the other, a dog pleasantly chasing its tail, more joyful with each turn.

Give it a listen, if you haven't in a while, and enjoy the art and science and psychology of a song well-written.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

jazz at the witte this sunday

Hey - if you're looking for a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon and evening, you could do worse than to head over to the Witte Museum for their summer-long "Jazz at the Witte" series.

This Sunday, just to take a random example, the Jazz Protagonists will be protagging there from 4 till 7 pm. Get on out there and get some good music into you!

On the plate: previews from our coming CD.