Monday, June 30, 2008

Mondegreens on Steroids (My Loony Bun is Fine, Benny Lava)

We've mentioned "mondegreens" a few times before on this blog; a mondegreen is defined as the mishearing of a song lyric, replacing a word or line of text with something that sounds almost exactly like it. Common examples include "'Scuse me while I kiss the sky" from Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" being misheard as "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy," and "There's a bad moon on the rise" from Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising" behind misheard as "There's a bathroom on the right." Snopes.com also has a wonderful collection of holiday mondegreens at its site, which was where I discovered the term.

But now there's a new kind of mondegreen going around, and it involves the mishearing of foreign language songs into English, and that was the subject of a discussion at Althouse yesterday, which I missed because I was too busy blogging SNL. Evidently, I'm late to the party all over on this one, because it's been going around the Internet for a whole two months (which adds up to eons for a meme like this).

Here's what happened: A guy who calls himself Buffalax took the video to a song by a popular Indian artist, Prabhu Deva Sundaram (who's been called the" Michael Jackson of India" for his impressive dance moves), and, instead of trying to translate it from its original language of Tamil, instead made subtitles for what he thought the words sounded like in English. So is your loony bun really fine? Benny Lava wants to know:



(If you can't get the video to launch, go here to watch it.)

The actual title of the song is "Kalluri Vaanil," but pretty much everyone knows it as "Benny Lava" now, and Buffalax (who has done similar things with other songs of this type) has become synoymous with this new type of foreign-language mondegreen. I couldn't stop laughing when watching this, even after multiple viewings, and I bet it will affect you the same way.

I won't spoil the video by posting my favorite lines here; instead, I'll do so in the comments. Feel free to chime in with your own as well.

A jack (of all trades) with the box: Althouse also links to a video by a guy named Joe Raciti, who sings and accompanies himself on instruments made out of cardboard. More of his videos can be found here.

Blowing out the candles: Happy birthday to my former student David F., as well as some alumni of our college program, Josh and Juli, who were born on the same day 30 years ago.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Blast From TV's Past

Inspired by the passing of George Carlin last weekend, NBC aired the original episode of Saturday Night Live last night--the one from October 11, 1975, featuring Carlin as the inaugural host.

I'm pretty sure I'd seen this one before, but it was fascinating to look at a show this old (that's still on the air) and compare and contrast with modern editions. Here are some of my observations:
  • It was odd to see the show aired under its original name, NBC's Saturday NIght. The reason for this was that rival ABC had a show on at the time called Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell, if you can imagine him doing a variety show. According to Wikipedia, NBC bought the rights to the name in 1976 after Cosell's show tanked, and they started using it a year later.

  • It was funny to hear the venerable announcer Don Pardo mess up the intro; he referred to the cast as the "Not For Ready Prime Time Players." (And Pardo is still doing the gig at age 90, flying in from his retirement home in Tuscon each week; he did the voice-over at the beginning of the show explaining how this rerun was a tribute to Carlin.)

  • There were actually two musical guests on this first night: so-called "Fifth Beatle" Billy Preston and one-hit wonder Janis Ian. It's rare to have more than one on any given show, but they both got two segments apiece.

  • While Preston's first song, "Nothing From Nothing," can still be heard today, his second song, "Fancy Lady" (which Pardo called his "new hit"), may not have been heard since; Wikipedia says it made it only to #71 on the Billboard chart. (The other song that Ian played besides her signature "At Seventeen" was also something with which I was unfamiliar, but that didn't surprise me, since she's pretty much associated with that one song.)

  • I was also squinting at the screen to see what kind of keyboard Preston was playing. Turns out it was a Hohner--that's right, the harmonica company. (Evidently, they haven't made keyboards for quite some time now, but I had no idea that they were the ones who made the Clavinet.)

  • Carlin himself got a lot more time in front of the audience than is usual for the host, doing three separate monologues throughout the show. It was funny to see him with long hair and wearing a vested leisure suit over his usual long-sleeved henley shirt. (Last week's Reuters article on Carlin notes that he was high on cocaine while doing the show.)

  • Just like in nearly every episode of SNL that has followed this one, there were some sketches that were funny and some that left the viewer going "Huh?" at the end. (You would swear that some of the sketches just stopped randomly because they ran out of time or something.)

  • In light of the Supreme Court's Heller decision of a few days ago, it was interesting to watch the short sketch where a truck full of people drove around and invited passersby to "Show Us Your Guns."

  • It was really funny to see one of their gag commercials touting a three-blade razor--a strange idea back then, but a part of reality nowadays (there's one on my bathroom counter, as a matter of fact).

  • I taped the show last night and watched it this evening (something that few people could have done in 1975). Normally, that would mean that I would fast-forward through all the commercials, but I let some of them roll, just to experience the juxtaposition of modern ads with a 33-year-old show. A person from 1975 would indeed be amazed and confused to see those commercials; they'd probably pass out upon seeing the list prices for cars and trucks, and they'd surely wonder what this "dot com" thing was all about.
I'll admit that it's been quite a few years since I'd watched SNL; looking at the current cast, I only recognized two names (Darrell Hammond and Amy Poehler). I'm sure I'll check it out at some point again (if I'm actually home on a Saturday night and remember to get off the Internet for a bit), but it's seemed to be not quite as good recently.

SNL seems to have had a "jumped the shark" point for a lot of people, just as rock fans can often tell you after what album Rush or Metallica started to not rock anymore. If you're also one who used to watch SNL in the past but don't do so regularly anymore, answer me this: When did it stop being good (or at least when did you stop being a regular viewer)? For me, it started to fall off around the mid-'90s, I think, and I stopped watching regularly sometime around the turn of the millennium. (Still, my proverbial hat's off to a show that's still going after such a long time.) Feel free to leave your own answers in the comments below.

Time-Wasting 101; This post took several hours to actually go up, as I got sucked into reading the entire history of the show on Wikipedia. Good thing it's summer...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Cool Video Alert: e.s.t.

A few days ago, I wrote about the passing of pianist Esbjörn Svensson just as he and his trio (known as e.s.t.) were starting to get attention in this country. Since then, I've found a wealth of videos on YouTube:
  • e.s.t. performing "Goldwrap", the first tune I heard by the group, and the one that made me a fan right then and there

  • Two e.s.t. tunes with cool titles: Dodge the Dodo and When God Created the Coffeebreak (great tunes as well!)

  • A wonderful live version of the trio performing "Behind the Yashmak" (with the intro slightly and skillfully truncated to fit YouTube's 10-minute limit)

  • The same tune done with special guest Pat Metheny (the Metheny Group was an obvious influence--and the trio's top friend on MySpace--and they mesh together quite nicely)

  • Svensson with Pat Metheny and MIchael Brecker, among others, performing "This Masquerade" (done in two parts because the whole thing runs about 15 minutes)
It was rare for Svensson to perform outside of his trio, so the latter two videos are already a special treat, made even more so with Metheny and Brecker sharing the stage.

Another interesting thing about the "Goldwrap" video (a studio version, same as the one on the band's website) is that the whole thing is shot in sort of a sepia hue that does indeed make the bandmembers appear to be wrapped in gold. This prompted one of the YouTube commenters (well in advance of Svensson's passing, of course) to note that they look like the "Gold Man Group." Considering the baldness of Svensson and bassist Dan Berglund (not to mention the electronic treatment of the drums), that's an apt comparison.

As I said the other day, I came to this trio's music too late to celebrate it while Svensson was living, but can continue to keep the music alive by listening to it. Click the links above and enjoy...

Our Ability to Festoon Ourselves in the Colors of Our Nation for a Nominal Fee Has Not Been Taken Away; We Just Have to Plan Ahead

This post was almost going to be a rant. I visited my friendly local Old Navy store today to buy one of their flag T-shirts to wear on the Fourth--a tradition which dates back to '99, when I wore one atop Rochers de Naye in Switzerland on my trip to the Montreux festival. (I still laugh when I remember how many of the young kids I was teaching at the time--upon hearing that I would be spending my first Fourth outside the USA--asked me if "they had the Fourth of July in Switzerland." I sometimes replied that no, their calendars just went right from the third to the fifth. Of course, some of those same kids also asked me if I had to 'learn to speak Swedish" before the trip. Heh.)

So I was quite surprised to find not a sign of the venerable shirts upon entering the store; they're usually front and center. I searched the entire place, but...nothing. Surely they hadn't stopped the tradition! Was patriotism no longer a priority for the Gap brands? I started to stew inside just a little bit.

Thankfully, a clerk was walking around, and I was able to get the truth (and the wry smile on her face when I asked the question told me that mine wasn't the first of its kind today): The shirts were in stock, but evidently, the sale that started this morning (featuring, among other things, $1 flip-flops) brought in such a cattle stampede that the shirts--which were on sale in the checkout line area--were picked clean. (Memo to self: Make this purchase even earlier next year, and be thankful that the online store wasn't sold out; if shipping follows the low end of the estimate, my 2008 shirt will arrive in time to continue the tradition unabated.)

So I guess playing a song that "really bombed" is out of the question too: Freakonomics Blog reports that, according to the End User License Agreement, you're not allowed to use iTunes software to operate a missile or a nuclear reactor. Who knew?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Downtown vs. the 'Burbs....Are We Getting the Cooler Stuff?

Longtime readers will know that I'm a fan of New Urbanism, especially since one of those "lifestyle centers" was built in my area a few years ago. I've long suspected that hard-core urbanites who prefer actual downtowns would thumb their noses at our faux ones, but something I read this morning came as a surprise: Trey Garrison of D Magazine, writing in a DMN op-ed, thinks that the suburbs are getting all the cool stuff these days:
When I built my first house out in the undeveloped hinterlands of Allen a decade ago, there wasn't much up there. Every time a new strip center would go vertical, we'd start wondering what it might contain. A groovy little European cheese and wine shop? A family-owned barbecue joint? An authentic taquería? When it did open, it was socks for Christmas: donut shop/nail salon/Supercuts/ cheap chain pizza place. Meanwhile, Dallas was getting all the cool places and funky spaces.

Now it's like everything is reversed. The big story out of Plano is Legacy Town Center, with its collection of locally owned upscale restaurants, boutiques and a ridiculously huge independent bookstore.

And there's historic downtown Plano, too, which is getting in the funk. Northwest, you have Southlake Town Square. Toward Garland, Firewheel.

Conversely, it seems like most of what's going up in Dallas is chain after chain. Or it's chain after chain filling in places where cool little bookstores, restaurants and antique shops died.
He actually called up a local real estate broker to inquire as to why this was happening, and the answer was complex: One, places like Firewheel can only be built where there's room to do so, and they're also following the money. But also, the developers build what customers want, and right now, in Dallas proper, the chains are winning out.

I have another thought as well: New Urbanist projects do well in the 'burbs because there are few, if any, Old Urbanist areas to compete with them. I'm sure that one of the reasons that Legacy Town Center is doing so well in Plano is that it's so different from everything else that Plano is known for (and subject to derisive comments by city-dwellers). There's nothing cookie-cutter about it; the mixture of high-end restaurants, an art-house theatre, residential in close proximity to retail, an abundance of green space (a cool modern buzzword), and the overall walkability (there's an even bigger buzzword) of the place can't be found in too many other places north of LBJ.

If someone tried to build a place like Legacy or Firewheel in Dallas proper, it wouldn't be nearly as special, as it would be competing with established venues that are often of the same period whose architecture the New Urbanist centers are emulating. And it would be silly in an urban setting to tear down old buildings in favor of replicas of the same (put "Fry Street" in the search box above to see how this is playing out--not so well--in Denton).

Also, as I've said before, if people can get the urban experience in their own suburb--without having to use a tank of $4 gas to get there (and possibly pay for parking once they did), or take a crowded train (which is not everyone's cup of tea, and might not work if you were going to buy, say, a big piece of furniture), they'll probably stay home. There's nothing wrong with a trip to Dallas every now and then, but it's great to keep the tax dollars at home most of the time. And if all these places are staying in business, it obviously means that the area has enough growth to support multiple locations of lots of different stores.

And besides, there's lots of cool stuff in Dallas already. We deserve our turn out here.

Incidentally, Garrison also has the best rebuttal I've seen in a long time for those who feat that developers are "paving over America" with new stuff:
An undeveloped parcel of land (and that's about 93 percent of the land in America, so let's not kid ourselves about paving paradise, Joni Mitchell) may provide an hour or two of communing with nature, but what it doesn't provide is food, shelter, jobs or a shopping center where you can buy/lease happiness. You know where they don't have an overdevelopment problem? Cuba. Zimbabwe. Appalachia. And much of southern Dallas.
Good point.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I'm Sorry, But "Mr. Lyres" Won't Be Seeing You Anytime Soon

Today, I invite all the Musings readers who are way more computer-savvy than myself to have a little laugh at my expense (after all, if you can't laugh at yourself, you can't laugh at others, right?). Sure, I know my way around the Internet very well and have no trouble with garden-variety HTML (and also possess what I consider to be "mad Googling skillz"), but something I figured out this weekend reminded me of what a complete "n00b" I still am in many areas.

This is how it all started: there's a huge road construction project in my city, almost literally within rock-throwing distance of my house, that's been going on for over a year now. I've gone to the city's website on many occasions to check on its progress, as well as that of some other upcoming projects in my area. I noticed that the URL for the page looked something like this:

http://www.ci.garland.tx.us/NR/rdonlyres/5D0DD681-1D0C-4612-BD3B-1E346A6FD85A/0/completionschedule.pdf

There were some unusual things listed there, such as the "NR/rdonlyres" part, but it didn't grab my attention too much...yet.

Here's one more thing about me: I'm a pretty big road geek. If I hadn't gone into music (or architecture, which was another possibility until my high school math teachers pretty much snuffed my desire to do anything with that much math in it), I might well have gone into civil engineering, designing roads and the like. I used to draw up entire cities' worth of street grids when I was bored in school, and sometimes, while driving, I'd just follow a road to see where it went.

Because of that predisposition, and the fact that I drive around a lot (and am always looking for more efficient ways to get places), I'm often checking the various local road websites (NTTA, TxDOT, etc.) to see when new projects in my area (and other places I visit a lot, like Austin and Houston) will be built. And every road schematic on that site included the term "rdonlyres" just like the city's site did. I jumped to the conclusion that there must be an engineering firm headed up by one R. Don Lyres that was responsible for all these types of things in the state (and if you have trouble conceiving of "Don" as a middle name--as opposed to the more formal "Donald," that is--you must not live in the South).

So I wallowed around in my ignorance for quite a while, continuing to see the handiwork of Mr. Lyres on other engineering projects, and the only thought that went through my head was that business must be really good for the Lyres firm. But this weekend, I was Googling for something else, and the "NR/rdonlyres" thing appeared on other URL's as well--things that had nothing to do with engineering or Texas. Maybe it wasn't someone's name after all...

I thought about it for a second, before researching it: What did all the "rdonlyres" pages have in common? Looking at a few, it occurred to me that the appellation only applied to PDF's. Then I looked at the character string differently, and the word "only" jumped out at me in a way that it never had before. Was this the clue? Let's separate the elements by isolating that word: "rd only res." Hmm--could the first part be "Read only?" That would make sense with a PDF. Read only...resolution? Maybe that was it.

It was obviously time to hunt for it online, so I did, and it turns out that I was close; this answer page defines it as "read only resource." That certainly makes sense. (And if anyone knows what the "NR" that precedes it stands for, go here and post the answer, as nobody's chimed in so far. Then please come back and post it in the comments here as well.)

So I felt a little silly when I discovered the truth; so much for "Mr. Lyres" and his thriving business. But at least I know now.
What's the silliest misconception you've ever had about something computer-related?

This technology will scare a lot of people: For those who just can't wait till they get to the bar to belt out their favorite song, a Japanese firm has come up with a portable karaoke machine (alcohol not included.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Esbjörn, We Hardly Knew Ye

The world of jazz is big enough that it's nearly impossible to hear everyone. Subscribing to two of the major jazz magazines as I do, I run across articles all the time about musicians who sound interesting, and I always make a mental note to check out some of their music online, even if it sometimes takes a while to actually do so.

One of the musicians who falls into this category is Sweden's Esbjörn Svensson, pianist and leader of the eponymous Esbjörn Svensson Trio (or "e.s.t." for short). I remember reading all kinds of good things about this group--including the fact that, at home in Sweden, their recent recordings had made it onto not just the jazz charts, but the pop charts as well. (I noted to myself at the time that the Swedish masses must have extremely good taste for such a thing to happen.) This was definitely a group worth checking out, in time.

If only I'd acted a bit more quickly. I just found out yesterday that Svensson died about a week and a half ago in a diving accident near Stockholm at the young age of 44. Reading the stories of his passing would inevitably lead me to his band's website (linked above) to finally listen to his music for the first time. I'm glad I discovered it, but I wish it hadn't taken the event of his passing to get me to do so.

Suffice it to say, e.s.t. was no ordinary piano trio. As Ian Patterson notes in an AllAboutJazz.com article,
The music he recorded and played alongside drummer Magnus Ostrom and bassist Dan Berglund for fifteen years embraced the idiosyncrasy and fun of Thelonious Monk, echoed the drama and penchant for melody of Johann Sebastian Bach, and rivaled the energy of prog-rock trio Emerson Lake and Palmer in their halcyon days; the first two were influences, (E.S.T's second studio album was a selection of Monk tunes) the third is mere supposition. What is sure however, is that Svensson's music was drawn from many sources and appealed to a broad demographic; the Esbjorn Svensson Trio's concerts brought together jazzers and rockers alike, and likely converted die-hards both ways across the divide.
The music is fresh, uplifting and full of unusual effects, many coming from pedals attached to Berglund's bass; the piano and drums sound processed at times as well, but never in a manner that takes away from the music. (Svensson noted in a 2004 interview that "[w]e have a couple of small devices so we can change the sound of instruments at times when we want it. This is more or less how we work all the time. We have both, the pure acoustic picture and the amplified picture and you can blend them as you wish.")

The first tune that I heard on the band's website, "Goldwrap," drew me in right away. It might be a stretch to say that it's a tune that one could whistle while walking down the street (being full of fast arpeggios and all), but it's highly infectious in both a rhythmic and melodic sense. Other tunes are equally enjoyable; the 2006 release Tuesday Wonderland has enough such compositions that I'm about to fire up my iTunes account after writing this post. (Check out longer sound and video clips at the trio's MySpace page.)

I'm really sorry to be late to the party on this one, but thankfully, the trio's recorded legacy lives on. My thoughts and prayers are with Svensson's family and bandmates, as well as his legions of fans around the world...a group that has just now grown by one.

And we remember another one: While reading the AllAboutJazz.com stories about Svensson, I thought I was in for another shock, as an article in memory of Bill Reichenbach showed up in the links. Had the noted bass trombonist and studio musician left us as well? No, it was his father, a drummer who played with Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd on the classic "Jazz Samba" album. (That solved a mystery that had puzzled me since my radio days, when I'd seen that name on that album; was the trombonist also a master of the drums, and at a young age, no less? Nope; he just inherited some really great musical genes. My condolences to Bill Jr. and his family.)

Monday, June 23, 2008

When I Heard of His Passing, I Said "@#$*)%*!!!" In His Honor

R.I.P. George Carlin. I was a big fan of his material in college, having a few recordings and an old videotape of one of his great HBO specials. I hadn't seen him on TV as much recently, but I tried to catch him whenever he was on Leno. I only wish I'd gotten to see him during the many times he played Dallas (which, until recently was often at the also late and lamented Bronco Bowl).

Althouse has a tribute that features several YouTube clips, including the classic "A Place for My Stuff" routine. Sure, he said the "Seven Words You Can't Say on Television," but he was really, really funny, and he had some great observations that were perfectly PG-13 rated. (Among my favorites: "Why do we park in driveways and drive on parkways?" "Why, if you deliver something by car, is it called a shipment, but if you deliver it by ship, it's cargo?") He will be missed.

Trivia I just learned today: One of Carlin's first jobs was at a Ft. Worth radio station.

UPDATE: Here's even more trivia: According to one of the brothers on my fraternity listserv, Carlin was a keyboardist who often played on his own comedy albums. Here are two quotes he had on the subject of music:

“I’ll tell you a little secret about the blues: it’s not enough to know which notes to play; you gotta know why they need to be played.”

“All music is the blues. All of it.”

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Two for the Show(s)

It had been months since I'd been to the movies; the combination of a busy spring semester with the fact that my friend who used to work at a theatre (and got us in free on occasion) changed jobs, kept me away for a while. So yesterday was unusual in that I ended up seeing two movies in the same day. Here's a quick blurb about each:

Iron Man: This lives up to the hype; it's the best superhero movie I've seen in a long time, and, for that matter, one of the better movies, period, that I've had the pleasure of attending. The beginning moved a bit slowly for me, but some of that was probably intentional; war is neither quick nor pretty most of the time. It has a good mixture of action, comedy and drama, and the funny parts were really funny. Kev says thumbs up. (If you're one of the few remaining people who haven't seen this yet, be sure and stay till the end of the credits.)

Get Smart: I know that TV shows don't always translate well into the big screen. I'm also a fan of the show, which was in reruns throughout most of my college days. I have to say, though, that this one really works. It's been updated to fit modern times while still offering generous nods to the old series. Steve Carell's Maxwell Smart is more understated and complex than Don Adams' rendering, and Anne Hathaway's Agent 99 is a truly modern woman, often outsmarting Smart while still having both a soft heart for him and marveling at the things that he can do well. And there's plenty of laughter to go around. An 11 p.m. showing last night was almost full, so I'm sure this one is doing well at the box office. Kev definitely says thumbs up on this one as well.

Heralding the Harkins: We saw Iron Man at a place I'd never visited before: Harkins Theatres in Southlake Town Square (yes, it was a Copeland's day). The chain, out of Tempe, Arizona, also has locations in California, Colorado and Oklahoma; this is its first foray into Texas. I have to say I'm impressed; the theatre was clean and comfortable, the sound was good, and maybe I'm imagining things, but they may have even had an energy-efficient thing going; I could swear that the AC didn't turn on to its coldest point (which was comfortable but not Arctic) until the lights dimmed and the feature started. So the venue gets a great rating as well, and, being in Town Square, it means that places like Taco Diner, Snuffer's and Cheesecake Factory (and, yes, Copeland's) are literally steps away.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Two More Graduation Absurdities

Now that summer has kicked in and I'm catching up on my Web reading, I have two more crazy stories involving graduations that I felt like I needed to share:
  • Students at a British university were forbidden from throwing their hats in the air at the ceremony's conclusion. The reason? "You might put an eye out." (I tossed my own hat at my undergrad ceremony just enough to where I could catch it, and I removed the tassel first, desiring to keep it to hang from the rear-view mirror in my car.)

  • And officials at a high school in the Cleveland area were embarrassed by a misspelled word on all 300+ diplomas given out recently. The offending word? "Educaiton."
(My previous weird graduation stories are here and here.)

Here's a lesson that not everyone will want to learn...or hear: A Scottish school is offering bagpipe lessons over the Internet.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Judicial Overreach North of the Border

In previous posts, we've discussed several court cases where it appeared that judges went too far, but this case, from Canada, is one of the most jarring in recent memory: A 12-year old girl who defied her father's orders to stay off the Internet was subsequently forbidden by him from going on a school trip. She decided to take her dad to court...and she won:
If you deny your children access to TV or withhold their allowance, can they take you to court? And win?

That implausible scenario emerged after a judge in Gatineau, Que., sided with a 12-year-old girl who challenged her father after he refused to let her go on a school trip for disobeying his orders to stay off the Internet.

Experts in family law and child welfare say they were dumbfounded by last Friday’s ruling by Superior Court Justice Suzanne Tessier.

“As a lawyer and as a parent,” said Ottawa family lawyer Fred Cogan, “I think it’s state interference where the court shouldn’t be interfering.

“I’ve got six kids,” Cogan said. “I certainly wouldn’t want a judge watching over everything that I do, and I wouldn’t want my kids being able to run to the judge.”
Experts say that it's unlikely for other Canadian courts to rule in a similar manner, and the father is appealing the case, but the judge's decision still boggles the mind. Is even the most ardent nanny-stater in favor of this type of family decision being made by a judge?

Hat tip: The Volokh Conspiracy, where host Eugene Volokh, tongue-in-cheek, pretends the story is from the satire site The Onion. It almost is too strange to be true. (And it's scary to see how Volokh's sarcasm was lost on some of his readers.)

Also, one of the Volokh commenters points out a paragraph in the story that seemed unusual to me as well: A big source of the conflict was that the girls' parents are divorced. The (non-custodial) mother was in favor of the daughter going on the school trip, but the school required consent from both parents. In cases of divorce like this, I'm surprised that there aren't more messy situations like this. Shouldn't the custodial parent have the final word?

Another commenter points out that, since many people seemed to be in favor of the state stepping in to prevent parents from administering corporal punishment--we discussed this here the last week as well--that such a ruling was the next (il)logical step.

I'll let Eugene Volokh have the last word here:
But it seems to me the absurdity remains: It's absurd that a judge would step in to decide whether grounding a child from a school trip is "excessive punishment." If the mother petitioned for a change in custody, that would indeed justify (and require) a judge's intervention, because it would involve a major life decision, and would determine which parent should have disciplinary authority -- something the courts have to do in case of a divorce -- rather than whether a particular grounding decision was justified. But when the school policy is that both parents must consent, which is to say that each parent has veto power, and one parent does exercise his veto, it makes no sense for a judge to decide the matter for herself instead of leaving it to the vetoing parent's judgment.
I only hope that no judgements of this nature are rendered here in the U.S. anytime soon. The nanny state must go!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Great Quote of the Week (Education Division)

"Why do our schools exist? Schools exist so that our teachers can educate our children. School administrators exist to respond to the needs of the schools and the teachers who exist to educate our children. School boards exist to govern, protect and nurture the schools and the teachers that exist to educate our children."
--former Texas state comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, in a Dallas Morning News op-ed column yesterday. She was leading into a discussion of relationships between school board members and companies that have contracts with their school districts (she favors banning such relationships), but her words apply in an everyday sense as well.

Now, this obviously doesn't always play out in reality, does it? Even though "one tough grandma" Strayhorn hits the nail on the head--the purpose of having schools is to teach; the purpose of administrators should be to support teachers in every way possible--too often the administrators end up getting caught up in their own power trips, promoting their own agendas, which often have very little to do with education. This has to change.

So we need to keep up the good fight; sooner or later, someone will have the guts to do what I'm suggesting: Put teachers (not bureaucrats, not politicians) in charge of schools again, and make sure that those who are already in charge become teachers again as well or step aside.

It's refreshing to see that a noted state political figure "gets it;" let's hope that others will follow suit.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Answer is 4242

And while that sounds like something from the Hitchhiker's Guide, the question is "How many songs are in my iTunes library at the moment?

This was actually posed to me twice by students here at the home studio today; we were using the computer for play-alongs to go with their jazz improv studies, and they noticed that the library seemed pretty big (as does my collection of CD's, located on a shelf just to their left). I actually had to look to see how many songs I had, as that's not a number that I carry in my head.

Another number that's startling is 17.6; that's the number of days of music that are stored here. (To give you some perspective: If I'd left the computer at home on the Vermont trip and started iTunes, I'd still have over a week of music left to go when I returned...not that I'd want that kind of electric bill or anything.)

It's also startling to see how much music I've loaded in there recently. You may recall that I decided to listen to every song on my ITunes in order starting last fall. When that project was finished in February, I only had 1800 songs on there. I had no idea that I had more than doubled my capacity since then.

(Incidentally, it was funny just a minute ago to realize that Level 42 takes up quite a few of the 4242 songs. I've gotten very much into them again recently.)

How many songs are in your iTunes?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"The Applause Police" Go on the Rampage at a Recent Graduation

A few weeks ago, at graduation time, I posted a set of stories about people who had setbacks at their graduation ceremonies for what appeared to be silly reasons: Not being allowed to walk as punishment for riding a horse to school, not being allowed to wear military uniforms, etc. And now comes word of some audience members who were arrested for cheering too loudly at a recent high school ceremony in South Carolina:
Six people were arrested for cheering at Fort Mill High School's commencement ceremony at Winthrop Coliseum Saturday, according to police reports.

Another man was arrested at the York Comprehensive High School commencement Friday morning, also at the Winthrop Coliseum, according to Rock Hill police reports.

Following a growing trend at high schools around the country, Fort Mill and York school officials asked Rock Hill police to monitor the graduation ceremonies and enforce the rules limiting cheers for individual graduates. District officials said the rule is in place to prevent loud cheers from drowning out the reading of the next graduate's name. Attendees were warned verbally and in writing that loud celebrations during the presentation of diplomas were strictly prohibited, the reports state.
Is it me, or did the authorities totally overreact here? Eject someone from the ceremony, sure...but actually arrest them? That's a bit too much.

I understand the other side of things--with 500 graduates, the ceremony can run a bit long. And I know that some family members and friends go overboard themselves, totally drowning out the next name called. But do the district authorities really expect this?
Russell Booker, superintendent of York schools, said family and friends are encouraged to cheer at designated times during the ceremony.
Yeah, that'll happen.

But no matter how you might feel about cheering vs. not cheering...isn't there a better solution than arresting the offenders?

Hat tip: The Volokh Conspiracy, where again, the commenters are all over the map. Some talk about etiquette; sure, the participants are dressed up (and the audience is encouraged to be, though that's far from universal in reality), but is graduation supposed to be as solemn as going to the symphony? Other commenters cite a possible racial/cultural angle, but I can't substantiate that, because I can't find any photographs of any of the detainees. My favorite quote is from commenter Pete Guither:
Please spare me the graduation ceremony where everyone has to be polite and sedate until all the students have crossed the stage. How boring. What's the point? Graduation is a celebration -- it should be celebrated. If managed properly, you can allow cheering and still get it done quickly.

Our college ceremony has cheering, students sometimes dancing across the stage, name readers with enthusiasm, and even the Commencement band gets in the act adding grace notes when a music major crosses the stage. Everyone has a good time, the families feel like their students have been treated as important individuals (and not some kind of assembly line product), and we get done in less than two hours, even with special speakers and a performance.

Schools that feel they have to manage the time by squelching the audience are making up for their own incompetence in running a Commencement ceremony.
Amen, brother. (I love the part about the music majors getting special recognition from the band.)

I'll let Volokh Conspirator Orin Kerr, the author of this VC post, have the last word:
I think this is a classic slippery slope problem. Imagine you let people cheer at graduation. It seems innocuous at first. People get used to it; it feels good. But the next thing you know, they'll start cheering at sporting events. Then they'll add in concerts. Then they'll cheer on their favorite contestants when watching American Idol. Before you know it, people will start expressing great joy all the time. Let's face it: Graduations are the gateway cheering event. I'm glad the cops are taking this seriously.
And I hope everyone can sense the "sarcasm" tags around Prof. Kerr's quote as well.

As always, feel free to contribute your own thoughts in the comments below.

Parents weren't cheering this action: A Chinese teacher has been fired for escaping from his school building ahead of his students during last month's earthquakes. (None of his students died in the quake, but many Chinese teachers gave their lives protecting their students.)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Reed Rant

I don't do this very often, but I'm writing a post today that will pretty much only be of interest to my fellow saxophonists. If you're not among them, feel free to look elsewhere around the blog (a click to the June 2008 archives will take you to some pretty cool pictures I took in Vermont a couple of weeks ago).

OK, fellow saxists: Have any of you out there been happy with the new Vandoren reed packaging. (If you haven't bought reeds in a while, they've now individually wrapped each reed in plastic and, in doing so, have dramatically increased the size of the box.) Their website claims that this was done to ensure "freshness," but I have several issues with this concept:
  • The extra packaging has made the reed boxes big. Big. Really, really freakin' big. Alto reed boxes are bigger than tenor reeds boxes used to be, and so on. For those of us who carry several different boxes at a time (i.e. classical and jazz reeds) in the limited storage space of our cases, this makes them take up even more room than they did before.

  • For those concerned about the environment (which I thought most Europeans were), is it really a good idea to have even more plastic out there, probably destined to end up in landfills?

  • The plastic covering is also really, really hard to open; of the two students who brought in these reeds today, none of us could open it with our bare hands. I used scissors in both cases today, but that would have been a pain if I'd been at school. (I obviously don't carry scissors in my case.)

  • And finally, the most annoying thing to me is that, after going through all the trouble to open the packaging, there's the possibility that the reed won't be to your liking--too light, too dark, unevenly cut, etc. With the old system, it was easy to look at all the reeds in fairly quick succession to see which ones were the best; now, you'd have to open every individual package (thus negating any of the remaining freshness factor) to do so.
I suppose that, if I'm not lazy, I should copy the body of this post and put it in an email to Vandoren. In the meantime, fellow saxophonists, feel free to chime in with your own thoughts on the subject.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Another Tribute to Dads

Happy Father's Day to all the Dads out there in Musings-Land (especially my own, whom I'll actually get to see in a few days when he and Mom visit later in the week). Dads may get the short end of the stick in the phone call department, but their contributions can't be understated.

I certainly had my share of classic father-son moments as a kid (many of them involving baseball games), but I also treasure the interaction we have now, as he's moved on to the role of trusted advisor. The "parenting" may have stopped a long time ago, but the mentoring that replaced it has proven equally as valuable. It may seem as though I'm waiting a long time to become a father myself, but I won't be lacking for a role model. I hope that all of you out there are so lucky; if your father's still around, call him. Now. (And not collect; does anyone even do that anymore?)

Worth repeating: The tribute to Dads by Tony Woodlief that I linked to and excerpted last year bears another mention. And as a bonus, here's a Lessons From My Father interview with Frank Sinatra, Jr.; longtime readers may recall that the Chairman of the Board was the subject of a very weird dream I had a few years back. (Others in the Lessons From My Father series, linked at the end of the story, include the sons of Johnny Cash, Billy Graham, and President Ford.)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

"Spare the Rod," Part 3

This subject has been discussed here a few times before, but it's always worth revisiting every few years, because nobody seems to have a good answer to the dilemma. I'm talking about corporal punishment, and it was in the news recently when the Indiana Supreme Court reversed a lower court's conviction of a mother of felony child battery for using spanking to discipline her son (after several other methods of punishment proved unsuccessful). Among other things, here's what the court said:
[We adopt the Restatement (Second) of Torts view:] “A parent is privileged to apply such reasonable force or to impose such reasonable confinement upon his [or her] child as he [or she] reasonably believes to be necessary for its proper control, training, or education....
In determining whether force or confinement is reasonable for the control, training, or education of a child, the following factors are to be considered:
(a) whether the actor is a parent;
(b) the age, sex, and physical and mental condition of the child;
(c) the nature of his offense and his apparent motive;
(d) the influence of his example upon other children of the same family or group;
(e) whether the force or confinement is reasonably necessary and appropriate to compel obedience to a proper command;
(f) whether it is disproportionate to the offense, unnecessarily degrading, or likely to cause serious or permanent harm.
We hasten to add that this list is not exhaustive. There may be other factors unique to a particular case that should be taken into consideration. And obviously, not all of the listed factors may be relevant or applicable in every case. But in either event they should be balanced against each other, giving appropriate weight as the circumstances dictate, in determining whether the force is reasonable....

Thus, to sustain a conviction for battery where a claim of parental privilege has been asserted, the State must prove that either: (1) the force the parent used was unreasonable or (2) the parent’s belief that such force was necessary to control her child and prevent misconduct was unreasonable.
OK, that's a lot of legalese for this blog. But the gist of it is that the court supported a parent's right to use corporal punishment in certain circumstances, an idea with which I agree.

Hat tip: The Volokh Conspiracy, where the commentariat is varied and passionate. Here are a few of my favorite comments from that post:
"The problem with trying to fit a one-size-for-all definition of child abuse around physical punishment is that some children don't need it in order to respond to authority, so rapid resort to physical discipline would be abusive; while other children have the will of mule and often don't respond to anything else.

As such, it seems like the court did the best with what they had to work on. The kid was old and sane enough to know better, had been tried with lesser punishments, and yet persisted in lying and stealing. A parent would have to hate that kid NOT to whip him. He evidently has a taste for this sort of activity and is approaching his teens; the next stop is juvie."--anym_avie

"I look at spanking as a potentially useful but potentially dangerous tool; it should not normally be your first response (with exceptions, such as being bitten by a seven-year-old who ought to know better) but to blanket ban it takes away a potentially useful parenting tool."--Andrew Janssen

"Too many kids in the last few years treat all around themselves (other kids, their parents, teachers, total strangers) with utter and shameful contempt and scarcely realize that there's an alternative. We have taught them that we, the grown-ups, need to tiptoe around these precious little idiots lest we wind up in prison. It's time for this nonsense to stop."--J.M. Lengyel
And here's my own contribution to that post; it mirrors things I've written here before:
As a kid, I saw the business end of Mom's Kappa Delta paddle more times than I would have liked, but I think it was ultimately beneficial to me. My parents never hit me in anger, it was never more than a few times, and it only happened when i did something really, really bad. (And of course there was always the spectre of getting "swats" at school too, which sounded even less fun; I was a really good kid at school, if for no other reason than that.)

I also think the prospect of having that happen again colored the decisions I made later on...to the extent that, even now, I judge whether or not I decide to do something by whether or not I might "get in trouble" for doing so. Granted, the adult ramifications of being in "trouble" are different, but that little element of fear helped in the formation of my moral compass. I wonder what can replace that healthy fear when corporal punishment gets put on the taboo list.
This is a long post, and there's no way that the argument involved will be solved anytime soon. I am happy with the court's ruling, though, because I feel like the less government involvement in parenting, the better. As always, feel free to chime in using the comments function.

UPDATE: Commenter "Leo" seems to be responding to me, since he used two of my terms in quotes:
I find people who are in favor of their own past spanking to be risk-averse and fearful, often afraid of "getting in trouble" in some nebulous way. People should weigh risks rationally and act in their interests, rather than having their "moral compass" made up entirely of residual fear of physical violence from someone who, to them, has more or less godlike authority.
Even though the thread is a few days old now, I responded to him:
Leo, I feel as if you're responding to me, since you took two quotes from my comment above. Let me assure you that my moral compass wasn't founded on fear (though a little healthy fear never hurt anyone growing up). Rather, it came down to this: I wanted to be a good kid. If I messed up enough to get spanked (and I need to reinforce that this was a rare occasion), I knew that I wasn't being a good kid at that moment, so I tried hard to act better the next time. I don't consider myself to be risk-averse, but I do feel as though I know my limits, and you can't say that for a lot of kids these days.
The thread is a few days old now, so I don't know if I'll get a response, but you know me....I had to say my piece.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: I meant to include one more quote, from parenting expert John Rosemond, in a recent issue of Time Magazine:
Plenty of experts believe that spanking is not always wrong. John Rosemond, executive director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, N.C., and author of several books on discipline, notes that 50 years ago almost all children were spanked. Yet by all accounts, children are more aggressive and prone to violence today, and at earlier ages, than they were back then. Rosemond isn't advising parents to break out the whip. He simply points out that existing research on spanking is unpersuasive. "There is no evidence gathered by anyone who doesn't have an ideological ax to grind that suggests spanking per se is psychologically harmful," he says.
This sums up my opinion in a more concise manner, I believe.

Friday, June 13, 2008

While I Was Out...

...I didn't stop collecting random weird news stories. Here are a few, for your enjoyment:
  • Advice to the criminally-inclined: If you shop at a store using a stolen credit card, it's probably not a good idea to fill out a job application at the same store (using your real name, no less).

  • A pest-control company in Oregon reported that it removed 788 rats from a house in the town of Sutherlin.

  • Also in Oregon, an 8-foot-tall cypress statue of the old Star-Kist mascot "Charlie the Tuna" was stolen by two pranksters, who then chopped it up with a chain saw after they feared being caught with it. (The locals are having a wake for the statue tomorrow.)

  • A Pennsylvania man couldn't find a ride to court for his DUI sentencing, so he walked 25 miles to get there instead.

  • And while nobody would have forced these people to walk, maybe they should have gotten a ride: An elderly couple in New Zealand (they're 100 and 99, respectively) were observed driving the wrong way on the highway for more than a mile.
I suppose it's time to rant about educrats or legislative stupidity--it's been a while--so I'll do that tomorrow.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Wrapping Up the Trip

Now that sleep is starting to get back on a normal schedule again (does anyone really sleep a lot on vacation?), it's time to throw out some final thoughts of our week in Vermont before resuming regular posting...
  • With the exception of one late-night run to the Burger King across the street from our hotel after everything else had closed, I didn't eat at a chain restaurant the entire time we were on the trip, by design. Even the meals during the layovers at O'Hare each way came from non-chains: a local sandwich shop in the Jazz Food Court on the way over, and a hot dog stand on the way back. Even my one trip to a coffeehouse was to the Uncommon Grounds on Church Street, neglecting the Starbucks across the way. In fact, I haven't been to a Starbucks since a day or two before we left (that's around two weeks now, which has to be a personal record since the chain came to Texas in the '90s).

  • Vermont was very kind to my allergies. I use a nasal spray every morning to ward them off, and take a pill at night when necessary. That pill was only taken maybe two or three times at the most.

  • As we returned to Texas, I saw that gas was creeping towards $4 a gallon. In Vermont, we saw that with regularity in the more remote areas (the highest price seen for regular was $4.14), though a lot of stations seemed intent on sticking at $3.99 for as long as possible. At least some of this price was precipitated by a very high state tax (posted on the pump) that's been in effect since 1997.

  • This was the first time I didn't buy any sort of T-shirt on the Vermont trip. The festival shirts sold out rather quickly, but, despite the hoopla over the artist, I didn't care much for the designs, which was also the case at a few gift shops where we stopped.

  • For the second trip in a row, the World Naked Bike Race coincided with our band's performance on Saturday. Last time, we came upon it unexpectedly as we drove downtown, but this time, it started right at the base of Church Street near the stage. The general consensus among my friends and myself was again: Too many dudes. (The other general consensus was that any accident sustained during this race would be very painful.)

  • The most unusual news story I read while I was here would have to be this: A reporter from alternative newsweekly Seven Days made it her mission to eat at every food cart on Church Street in a single day.

  • Vermont is a great place to visit, but they do have a way of eztracting a little extra pound of flesh from the tourists, in the form of a meals and rooms tax of 9%, with a local option available as well. (In Burlington, it appeared to come out to about 11%, which totally blew the Texas tip computation formula out of the water; around here, it's 8.25%, which makes "double the tax" an easy way to do a basic tip.)

  • Of course, the above tax applies to everyone, not just tourists; some of my college-aged friends on the trip wondered how the local college students could afford to eat up there all the time. My theory is that some of the outlying places probably aren't as expensive as the downtown ones (just like anyplace), and there were some reasonable places downtown as well (Henry's Diner, Ken's Pizza, etc.).

  • Burlington is one of those places we've visited on trips where I've always thought "I could live here" when I was visiting. I completely realize, however, that I would need to do at least two things before contemplating such a move: 1) Spend some time there in the winter, and 2) Spend some time in the summer that's not during jazz festival. That being said, I'm sure that the local arts scene doesn't just wither up and die during the other 51 weeks of the year; a glance at Seven Days' event calendar does show some jazz, even if not as much as last week.
As I've said, I'm big on the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival. I hope to return there even before the school does, as either a patron or a player.

(I also have some more pictures to post, but, in an attempt to not use all my Blogger bandwidth, I'll either post them at my MySpace or activate my Flickr account.)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Another 30 Seconds of My 15 Minutes of Fame

I found out when doing a weekly scan of my SiteMeter referrals that this blog has been cited in a scholarly fashion in the Wikipedia entry on sight-reading. (The post that is referenced is this one, from just over a month ago.)

I'm not sure which is more weird to me--seeing a blog quoted in the usual manner of a textbook or professional journal article, or seeing my own name in the "References" list. Either way, it's cool (he says, in a most non-scholarly fashion).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Is Mah Birfday; Where R Sleep?

I'm back home now, after an interesting night of commercial aviation.

It was already going to be a late night to begin with, as we were scheduled to land at around 11 p.m. But after three flight delays and five (count 'em) gate changes at O'Hare, we finally touched down around one in the morning. Add up the usual business of getting luggage, shuttling out to the Back Forty where I parked, and driving home, and I graced the doorstep of Casa de Kev a little after two.

I've never started a new year of life in the air before (and the near-roller coaster moments before landing made things interesting), and it hasn't seemed quite like a "holiday" yet, as summer teaching started at nine this morning. There'll probably be some good naptime in the afternoon, as Tuesdays haven't filled up yet, though I still have quite a bit of catching up to do.

I'll delay the wrap-up of the Vermont trip until tomorrow.

(As for the title of this post, I once again link to this hilarious lolcat that was posted last year, a day before "mah birfday" took place.)

Monday, June 09, 2008

Travel Advisory

COLCHESTER--Our long trip to Burlington ends today; we fly out late this afternoon. I'll be home very late tonight and post some thoughts and pictures that haven't made it into the previous posts once I get back.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

There's Plenty of Jazz to Be Discovered Here in Burlington

COLCHESTER--With the return of clear skies, the past several nights on Church Street were the way I had been expecting it to be the whole time we've been here--beautiful, cool weather at night, the street full of people, and music coming out from every corner on the lower block. (Since yesterday, there has been a Texas-like heat that's come in, but it's still not as balmy as Dallas must be right now.)

As I type this, the 25th annual Burlington Discover Jazz Festival has come to an end. I have to say that this is probably my favorite festival of its kind in this country, and the closest thing to Montreux that we have in the States. Walking up and down Church Street (and some of the side streets as well, as we discovered last night), you can hear music coming out of countless venues, as well as the two outdoor stages during the day, and then everyone packs the Flynn Center for the headliner concerts at night. I've been here four times now with school groups, but, money willing, I would easily come here again as a patron, and hopefully someday as a performer as well.

So how did this all get started, anyway? I'll admit that, before my first visit here in 2002, I thought that the "Discover" part of the festival's name meant that it was sponsored by Discover Card, but that was the furthest thing from the truth; the name came from the desire of its founders for people to discover something new. The Burlington Free Press has the whole story, which starts out like this:
Before they created the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival 25 years ago, the event's organizers had to discover something about the local jazz scene.

Namely, that there was a local jazz scene.

"I don't think we knew," said Doreen Kraft, who at the time led the Mayor's Arts Council and is now executive director of its successor, Burlington City Arts. "I don't think anybody had any idea of the incredible amount of talent we had in this community."

Several members of that underground jazz scene approached the fledging city-arts group and the nascent Flynn Theatre in 1983, trying to find a way to spread the word about the musical abilities that were already in Burlington and only needed an avenue to be heard. Jazz had taken root in Burlington with composer/multi-instrumentalist James Harvey, sax giant Big Joe Burrell and the nationally known fusion group Kilimanjaro featuring guitarist Paul Asbell.

The musicians' pleas led to a three-day festival showcasing the talents of local players, some of whom performed from rooftops and on buses, whatever it took to call attention to the new event. The festival also highlighted the abilities of international acts including the first Burlington Discover Jazz Festival performer, legendary singer Sarah Vaughan at the Flynn on June 22, 1984.

A quarter-century later, that blend of international and local heroes continues.
Read the whole thing; it's a fascinating story of how the festival grew from a one-weekend acorn to the ten-day mighty oak that it is now. Count me in among those who are glad that it's here; I very much look forward to my next visit.

I'll have a collection of miscellany from the trip on Tuesday.

Here are some people I've discovered this year: My favorite local to run across this year for the first time has to be alto saxophonist Dave Grippo, who appears to be one of the hardest-working musicians in Burlington, leading both the Grippo/Sklar Quintet (which put on a very impressive show at Red Square on Monday night) and the Grippo Funk Band, which seemed to be everywhere during this past weekend. I was also impressed with another local hero, Gabe Jarrett, who led the closing-night jam session tonight and could be found in multiple locations throughout the week as well (check out his trio Vorcza). And I have to give a shout-out to the unknown group that was playing at the Vermont Brewing Company last night; we stood on the sidewalk below and enjoyed them for quite some time. (The group that was listed evidently had a saxophone in it, but the one we heard was piano/guitar/bass/drums, so it probably wasn't the same.)

I've discovered some good eats as well: I've added two more places to my list of favorite Burlington eateries: The Red Onion Cafe and Bueno y Sana (a gourmet burrito joint). They join the old standbys: Shanty on the Shore, Ken's Pizza, Henry's Diner and Sweetwater's. My wallet is lighter, but my taste buds are happy.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

A Night "Out" at the Flynn

COLCHESTER--The mainstage portion of the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival went out with a bang tonight, as the legendary Ornette Coleman and his quartet graced the stage of the Flynn Center. While it may not have been everyone's cup of tea, the near-capacity crowd was enthusiastic and appreciative.

Even if you haven't heard a bar of Ornette's music, you probably know him as the "father of free jazz" (indeed, he released an important 1960's recording under that title) or the inventor of "harmolodics" (more on that in a moment) so it would come as little surprise that the evening was going to be more than a little "out," especially compared to last night's Dave Brubeck concert. And I recently noted that the older I get, the "outer" I like, but tonight might prove to be a challenge to that. Still, tonight's concert was touted as being in the mode of Sound Grammar, his 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning release. I own that CD and enjoy it, so my deepest plunge into free jazz would probably be just fine (though I wondered about some of the less-adventurous members of the audience, who may well have approached tonight with some trepidaton, as if riding a new roller coaster--will it be cool or scary?).

So just what is this "harmolodics" thing, anyway? From Ornette's website:
The richness of harmolodics derives from the unique interaction between the players. Breaking out of the prison bars of rigid meters and conventional harmonic or structural expectations, harmolodic musicians improvise equally together in what Coleman calls compositional improvisation, while always keeping deeply in tune with the flow, direction and needs of their fellow players. In this process, harmony becomes melody becomes harmony. Ornette describes it as "Removing the caste system from sound." On a broader level, harmolodics equates with the freedom to be as you please, as long as you listen to others and work with them to develop your own individual harmony.
What this meant in terms of tonight's concert was that the tunes didn't necessarily have a formal structure beyond the heads themselves, which might be repeated several times. After the solo section, the head might also come back at any time, and tonight, it appeared that there was at least a partially conscious effort to keep the tunes short so that as many tunes could be played as possible.

The band itself was reasonably close to the Sound Grammar personnel. That recording included two acoustic bassists; Tony Falanga did bowed figures, while Greg Cohen did the pizzicato (plucked) ones (i.e. walking bass lines, etc.), and Ornette's son and longtime cohort Denardo on drums. Tonight's group had a new twist, as Cohen was replaced by electric bassist Al MacDowell, who tuned his instrument high and played it mostly like a guitar. (The festival program had stated that there were going to be three bassists, and we were wondering how that would work, but the program was in error.)

The concert began with a full-on sonic assault, one of many compositions that began and ended this way: A rapid-fire succession of notes done in unison with the two bassists, punctuated by Denardo's drums. Several tunes were done in that manner, including "Jordan," the opener of the new CD, and the title track from Song X, Ornette's 1985 collaboration with Pat Metheny. On the other side of the spectrum, there were several plaintive ballads, including "Sleep Talking" (also from Sound Grammar), and a few tunes that at least hinted at more traditional forms (such as "Turnaround," ostensibly a twelve-bar blues--and played as such by the likes of Joshua Redman--though that form would disappear during the solo sections tonight. There was also a most unusual treatment of one of the Bach cello suites, played mostly straight by Falanga, then improvised over by Ornette--sometimes in key, sometimes not at all. (If anything sent the purists to the exits--and I need to emphasize that this wasn't particularly widespread, but it did happen--the Bach deconstruction was probably it.)

For the open-minded in the audience, there was plenty to like, with the interplay between the two bassists being tops on my list. Because of the different setup, Falanga got to do most of the walking lines as well as the above-mentioned bowed passages, some of which were quite stunning. MacDowell acted as a comping instrument most of the time, though he had a few bass-like solo moments, as well as adding an extra color on the unison heads. There was plenty of eye contact between the pair all night, and they showed lightning-quick reactions in coming back to those heads, often turning on a dime to do so.
One of the most fun parts of the night was listening to the grooves laid down by the rhythm trio, even if they often seemed to be somewhat disconnected from Ornette's soloing. (In a pre-concert interview by the noted critic Bob Blumenthal, Ornette emphasized that his music was built on emotion; is it the analytical nature of students and teachers of music that made parts of this concert so cerebral, or is that the nature of the beast?)

In the discussion with Blumenthal, Ornette noted that he had little formal training ("I still need lessons" was his reply to such a question), and he came off as almost self-effacing in that area, as if he didn't know that much about music; someone in our group wondered aloud if he could play a standard. But this evening's set list (despite a stated desire not to "play the hits") showed that he's been making up his own rules for so long that some of his own tunes ("Turnaround," the uncharacteristically happy "Dancing In Your Head" and the encore "Lonely Woman") are standards in their own right. (It was good to hear the Blumenthal interview, as it was our only chance to hear him talk; not a word was spoken from the stage tonight once Ornette was introduced.)

As far as any criticism goes, I can only think of two areas: One, a lot of us thought it would have been nice to have more solo space for the two bassists; not only would it have been nice to hear more from them individually (not to mention Denardo, who really didn't solo at all) the music barely got to even breathe before Ornette came in on yet another solo, sometimes switching randomly over to trumpet (which he plays fairly competently for a second instrument; he evokes latter-day Miles on many occasions) and once to violin (which he used pretty much for a tremolo effect; he also played it left-handed for whatever reason). Two? Ornette has never really been known for his intonation, which was all over the place tonight (a problem largely avoided on Sound Grammar). But these are minor quibbles (even if the latter was probably a big issue for the uninitiated); it's great to see someone who has contributed such a great deal to jazz still out there at 78 years of age, doing new material, no less. This was likely another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for those of us who hadn't yet seen him.

It may have been a 180-degree shift from Brubeck to Ornette in 24 hours, but this portion of the festival ended in fine fashion. I look forward to my next trip up here.

Other voices: Once again, read the review of tonight's concert by Paul Kaza, special correspondent for the Burlington Free Press, as well as another one from Brent Hallenbeck, arts and entertainment reporter from the same paper.

And in his own voice: Also check out an interview with Ornette by Dan Bolles of Seven Days, the alternative Vermont newsweekly that's akin to the Dallas Observer.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Take Five. Now Do That Almost Twelve Times, and It Adds Up to a Great Career

COLCHESTER--The air inside the Flynn Center was thick with anticipation tonight as the Dave Brubeck Quartet prepared to take the stage for a sold-out performance, and the legendary pianist and his group didn't fail to deliver.

At age 87, the jazz icon is slowing down a little bit; the festival MC noted that he "only" does about 60 gigs a year now, so tonight's performance was likely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many in attendance (with the exception of some of the locals, who also enjoyed a Brubeck show here in 2001). After nearly 60 years in the business, he certainly has it down to a science, but the group kept things fresh even while doing a program of classic tunes. (Brubeck noted that they usually wore tuxes, and tonight they were in their "street clothes," which consisted of dark suits. He said that he had set list after set list in his tux pockets, but nothing of the sort here, so the show would be a bit different than usual.)

The group has been together for a long time; Drummer Randy Jones dates back to 1980, saxophonist Bobby Militello joined in 1991, and the "new kid," bassist Michael Moore, came on board in 2002. This allowed for a lot of sympathetic back-and-forth between the members, and it's quite possible that some of the show was assembled on the fly (Brubeck started nearly every tune, often with interesting cadenzas that kept what they were playing a mystery for a while). The selections ranged from timeless standards ("On the Sunny Side of the Street") to trademark Brubeck odd-meter explorations (the opening "Unisphere" in 5/4) and more traditional originals ("In Your Own Sweet Way").

So the question in the minds of many was probably "Does Brubeck still have it?", and I'm happy to report that he does. Though he walked and spoke haltingly at the beginning of the show, he still displayed creativitiy, dexterity and humor throughout the evening. Bassist Moore contributed some fine solo work, including a very nice arco solo on a tune with a boogie-woogie feel whose title was not announced. Drummer Jones held everything together nicely, showing a clever palette of colors on his extended solo at the end of the night. And for me (and yes, as a saxophonist, I'm almost certainly biased here), Militello was the second-biggest jewel in the crown tonight, adding a bebop sensibility to Brubeck's often-delicate chamber jazz that Paul Desmond would never have done, pushing the group in new directions and keeping it modern. (He also suggested the opener, "Unisphere," to Brubeck when asked; the pianist replied that he doubted many people knew the tune. "I wrote it, and I don't know it," he said before proving otherwise.)

And I'm sure the other big question on everyone's mind was whether or not the group would play "Take Five," the Paul Desmond-penned warhorse that has been Brubeck's meal ticket for decades. I would have been OK with him not playing it (especially if "Blue Rondo a la Turk" had been substituted), but he gave the crowd what he wanted for the final number, sneaking into it with a slow piano intro and topped off by the aforementioned extended drum solo by Jones.

Some have derided Brubeck over the course of his career for his nearly over-coolness and classical bent, but there's no denying the contribution the man has made to jazz: Bringing it a little closer to the masses with his legendary odd-meter classics and making visits to college campuses a staple of most artists' schedules. What he does, he does very, very well, and it's great to see that time has hardly slowed him down at all. Tonight's show was one for the ages.

Trivia of the day: "In college, Brubeck was nearly expelled when one of his professors discovered that he could not read sheet music. Several of his professors came forward arguing for his ability with counterpoint and harmony, but the school was still afraid that it would cause a scandal, and only agreed to let Brubeck graduate once he promised never to teach piano."--from the Wikipedia article on Brubeck.

Another voice: Here's a review of the concert by Brent Hallenbeck of the Burlington Free Press.
UPDATE: And one more from Paul Kaza of the same paper.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

A Couple More

One more covered bridge, and one more waterfall:


Brookdale Bridge, near Stowe
(This is a much newer bridge than the one yesterday, dating only to the 1960's)


Fairfax Falls, Fairfax
(This is part of a hydroelectric plant, and carries a much higher capacity of water--and at much higher speed--than the other ones we've seen.)


We're headed downtown again tonight; I'll talk about the festival some more in a little bit.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

As Falls Water, So Falls Waterfalls

Today's trip home turned into a "waterfall hunt" of sorts. Rather than trying to type a few thousand words, I'll let the pictures tell the story:

Another view of Middlebury Falls, looking off the Main Street bridge towards the Marble Works District


Belden Falls, near Middlebury


Texas Falls (really!), near Hancock


Moss Glen Falls, near Granville


I guess they really don't want anyone climbing near the falls...
(But all the accidents listed took place in the '70s. Did people wise up after that, or did nobody bother to make a new sign?)

If this sort of thing appeals to you, check out NewEnglandWaterfalls.com.

Midday in Middlebury

We had lunch today in this charming little town that we've been to on a previous trip. (Among other things, it's the home of Holy Cow store, owned by Woody Jackson, the artist who does all the cow graphics for Ben and Jerry's.)


Looking up Main Street towards U.S. 7


Looking down Main Street towards the center of town


Middlebury Falls seems to cascade out from the back of the Main Street stores

We also got to visit the Marble Works district for the first time; it's a set of old factory buildings (and you can guess what was made there most recently) that have been renovated into stores and offices (story here). If you're in the area, I highly recommend the Noonie Deli, where they serve the same type of "apple melt" sandwich (known there as the Vermonter) that we used to eat at Jana's Cupboard in Jeffersonville (now under new ownership with a different menu).

I'll have one more shot of Middlebury Falls in the next post; you'll see why in a moment.

It Wouldn't Be a Trip to New England...

...without seeing at least one of these:

Pulp Mill Bridge, just outside Middlebury, Vermont.


Interior view of the same bridge
(Yes, I looked to make sure a car wasn't coming first)

If you can't read the signs, it dates to the early 1800's, and it can only hold one car per side at a time.

I'll share a few more pictures from today in the next couple of posts.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Monday, June 02, 2008

Random Notes from the Trip

COLCHESTER--This is a day where I didn't have an evening concert to review, so I'll use this post to chronicle a couple of interesting things that have happened thus far:
  • The water in Burlington is absolutely delicious, right out of the tap. The best that I've had so far comes from the water fountain in the lower level of the Flynn Center; it's cold and clear, as if it came straight out of Lake Champlain (which is just down the street, after all), but sanitized for our protection. I haven't seen too much bottled water in the vending machines yet, which makes sense; if my local tap water tasted like this, I'd keep one empty bottle with me during the teaching day and refill it right out of the fountains.

  • Vermont, of course, is famous for maple syrup (and maple everything else, for that matter). So it was ironic to note that, in our hotel, the little packets of syrup for the waffles at breakfast were manufactured in...Texas.

  • Speaking of that, one of the best places in the area to get all things maple (and all things Vermont) is Dakin Farm. I actually skipped lunch yesterday because I was sated by the wide variety of good stuff to sample there (it's not that I overindulged, either; there's just so many things to try), and I topped it all off with a maple frozen yogurt cone. Highly recommended, and it wasn't even too bad coming down from the sugar rush later.

  • Last time we were here, it was as if we brought our own weather with us; they were undergoing a ridiculous heat wave. This time, Burlington also reminds me of Texas...in late February. (I've enjoyed checking out the weather forecasts online; the highs here line up pretty nicely with the lows in D/FW.) It was a little sunny out on Church Street today, but it was about twenty degrees cooler than it would have been back home.

  • Yesterday, we saw a warning sign along the side of the road for SCARIFIED PAVEMENT. I pictured the road trembling with fear as cars drove across it. But what does it really mean? I had to look it up, but it's pretty much like the annoying "grooved pavement" that is sometimes seen on Texas roads under construction. (I couldn't get a picture, but one of a similar sign can be found here, near the bottom of the post, complete with kids looking "scarified." Heh.)

  • Even on an intermittently-rainy night, there's still something to do on Church Street. Tonight, we chilled at Uncommon Grounds, a cool local coffeehouse, and caught some live jazz coming from outside of Red Square. I'll try to have pictures of the area up at random times during the week, as I realized that this is my first Burlington trip in the Digital Camera Age (I got mine about six months after I was last here), so the blog posts have been bereft of photos thus far.

  • Speaking of Church Street, one of my fellow Garlanders (-ites?) on the trip said, "This looks like Firewheel!" My reply was, no, Firewheel looks like this (or, more accurately, it's a fake downtown that had to be built because our "real" downtown isn't set up this way). I only wish we had a pedestrian-friendly area at home with ample sidewalk dining (which happens a few places in Firewheel, but not as many as I'd like) and live music wafting from many points on the block (one can only dream).
I'll have more random notes throughout the week, and probably a picture or two tomorrow.

And on a personal note: Happy anniversary to Mom and Dad! This is the second year in a row that I've been at a jazz festival on their big day, thus prompting a phone call to them from an exotic location (and the year before that, I was playing jazz for them).

Sunday, June 01, 2008

I May Not Be Able To Define "Funk Tango" For You, But I LIke It

COLCHESTER--The Flynn Center was once again the site of an outstanding musical performance tonight, as the legendary Cuban saxophonist/clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera brought his "Funk Tango" quintet to the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival.

By now, many know the Paquito story: A classically-trained child prodigy who received his first alto at the age of three, and a member of the legendary Cuban Latin jazz-fusion group Irakere in the 70's, he would seek asylum in the U.S. in 1981 (another member of that group, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, would do the same thing a few years later). Equally at home on alto saxophone or clarinet (although the latter would be de-emphasized somewhat in his groups until, as he puts it, a late-'80s recording by Eddie Daniels "gave everyone permission" to play clarinet in jazz again), he is known for a big, bright sound and dazzling technique. (He also is very engaging and has a wicked sense of humor--qualities that were encouraged, no doubt, by one of his mentors, Dizzy Gillespie, but with roots in his own parents back home.)

Having never gotten to see him in concert before, the personnel of this band was largely unfamiliar to me before tonight. On most of the recordings in my collection, Paquito was teamed with the brilliant Brazilian trumpeter/flugelhornist Claudio Roditi, who has since left to become a leader in his own right. But his replacement, the Argentinian Diego Urcola, has proven to be a more-than-able replacement, mixing technique, sensitivity and very good high chops, and playing trumpet, flugel and valve trombone. A recent addition to the band, the 20-year-old American pianist Alex Brown, proved to be a crowd favorite and received a lot of solo space. Bassist Massimo Biolcati, of Italian and Swedish descent, is another fine newcomer in the band, and the American drummer Mark Walker was a fine blend of chops and style.

The quintet's portion of the concert was preceded by the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival Big Band. I had seen them in '05 with Randy Brecker doing "Sketches of Spain," but they were no mere opening act this time around, as Paquito's rhythm section was integrated into the band, and the man himself was onstage from the very first downbeat. (The unconventional setup of the show would continue when the big band took a break in the first set so the qunitet could whet the audience's appetite for the Grammy-winning 2007 CD--conveniently for sale in the lobby--and the big band would return in the second set for the finale.)

The concert opened with a big-band version of "Chucho" (a dedication to pianist Chucho Valdes, the third renowned founder of Irakere and the only one of the three to remain in Cuba), and from there, it was off to the races. One of the most enjoyable things about Latin jazz is its energy and optimism, and those were out in full force tonight--even on the slower tunes, the best of which ("I Remember Diz") featured an extended clarinet cadenza by Paquito that quoted nearly every famous Dizzy Gillespie tune in existence. The second half roared into place with "Pere," the opening track from the CD, and the energy continued unabated for the rest of the evening (punctuated by Paquito's impish sense of humor; among other things, he noted that if people in the audience bought his CD, he would autograph it afterwards, and then "even if you don't like it, you can sell it on eBay the next day").

It was noted during the pre-concert activities (which included a panel discussion led by trumpeter Ray Vega, a soon-to-be faculty member at the University of Vermont, and a one-on-one interview with Paquito by the eminent jazz critic Bob Blumenthal) that Paquito may not always get his due because he is pigeonholed as a "Latin jazz saxophonist." Tonight proved beyond a doubt that, instead, he is a great jazz saxophonist who just happens to play music that's often highly influenced by styles from Latin America. The mix of cultures in his quintet (which he once wryly referred to as his "band of illegal aliens") added considerably to the music and took it in many wonderful directions. Was there a tune that stayed in swing feel the whole night? Not at all. But did the music itself swing? You'd better believe it.

As noted above, Paquito is not only a stellar player, but he knows how to put on a show. It was said in the Blumenthal interview that not everyone does that--you wouldn't go to a Miles Davis show, for example, to experience interaction of any sort (indeed, the one time I saw Miles live, he didn't speak a word). But taking a cue from his mentor Gillespie, Paquito kept the audience in stitches all night, which added to the lively nature of the show.

So what is "Funk Tango," anyway? Well, in the Blumenthal session, Paquito said it was a tune on the CD, written by a former associate, pianist Alan Yovnai (and he noted that it's so hard that he's "too nervous" to play it without the composer on board). While it may not be an actual style of music, it's a good enough description of the wonderful gumbo of styles found within this band. The typical sax-and-trumpet-led jazz quintet (which expands to many more players on the recording) has been taken to new heights. I hope our paths cross again soon.

All in all, this was another great evening of jazz with a legendary performer. The first weekend is in the books; if I'm able to catch any of the up-and-comers during the week, they'll be reviewed here. If not, expect a Dave Brubeck posting on Friday night.

Another voice, again: Here's a review of the concert by Burlington Free Press reporter Paul Kaza, who's blogging the entire festival here.