Millard Kaufman published his first novel, “Bowl of Cherries,” at age 90. In his ninth decade, he had the presence of mind, the diligence and the creativity to write a book, an act that seems to me to be remarkable, verging on the heroic. But he’d been heroic before, lending his name to Dalton Trumbo in the heat of the blacklist. Kaufman was a screenwriter, a one-time movie director, a Marine, co-creator of Mr. Magoo and an author with a second book in the works. He died Saturday, two days after his 92nd birthday.
A YouTube clip of Kaufman talking about his life in books, Hollywood, and excrement.
How do you whittle down 70 years of Blue Note Records to a handful of favorites?
Downbeat magazine asked those at the forefront of today’s jazz generation to go one step better and name their single favorite album issued by the label. On the magazine’s cover is sax man Joe Lovano, who will release his 21st record for Blue Note, Folk Art, in May. Cradled in his arms is his pick: Art Blakey’s 1964 bop masterwork Free for All.
Bill Charlap, pianist and musical director for The Blue Note 7, chose pianist Horace Silver’s 1954 album with an earlier and altogether different lineup of the band (named Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers). But in a recent telephone interview, he all but dismissed any notion of a single “favorite” Blue Note work.
“It’s a very show-business question to ask about your favorite Blue Note record,” he said. “If you have more than one child, would you choose a favorite?”
Rather than limiting the choices to a single selection, here is my critic’s pick sampling of five champion Blue Note recordings. The choices—representing a just four years of the label’s mammoth history—intentionally omit Blue Note’s more iconic artists (Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and others) in favor of less-appreciated players who defined the label’s timeless blues, bop, soul and swing.
Hank Mobley, Soul Station (1960). One of the happiest Blue Note sessions ever teams sax great Mobley with drummer (and onetime boss) Art Blakey and pianist Wynton Kelly for an album of lean, soulful cheer. A guaranteed smile-maker of an album.
Sonny Clark, Leapin’ and Lopin’ (1961). Clark is a shamefully overlooked pianist, composer and sideman, and his records as a band leader mixed playful blues (summarized here on “Voodoo”) and exquisitely reflective solo playing (his cover of “Deep in a Dream”).
Kenny Dorham, Una Mas (1963). Like fellow trumpeter Lee Morgan, Dorham had a way with a lyrical phrase. Note the similarities between Una Mas’ title tune and Morgan’s “The Sidewinder”. But Dorham also exhibited understated swing and regal cool.
Lee Morgan, Search for the New Land (1964). You could argue to infinity about who was Blue Note’s greatest soloist and composer. Morgan gets my vote. He cut harder swing sessions, but few reached the sleeker emotive extremes of New Land.
Andrew Hill, Point of Departure (1964). Albums like this woke up Blue Note to the times. Within the jagged rhythmic strides of “New Monastery”, “Spectrum” and “Dedication”, pianist/composer Hill took the blues of Blue Note into brave new improvisational turf.
Eight years ago this week, Welsh agit-rock band Manic Street Preachers released their sixth album, Know Your Enemy. The album’s style was highly idiosyncratic and more varied stylistically than earlier Manics albums. Notably, it’s the first time lead singer James Dean Bradfield penned a lyric for the band in the form of “Ocean Spray,” a song that hit #15 on the UK charts. Here are the singles for the record as well as a live version of “Baby Elian”.
Barry Ritholtz provides an object lesson in breaking down a financial story that has been framed in an entirely misleading way. On the screen in my building’s elevator this morning—a pretty good distillation of what has been deemed considered newsworthy for regular office workers—I saw that home starts were up a surprising percent in February, which was being touted as a welcome piece of good news for the housing industry. The further implication was that the rumors of the demise of homebuilding have been greatly exaggerated. This was exactly the sort of thing we’d like to hear—that the economy is not as bad off as it seems and our “animal spirits” should be perking up right about now. Maybe Obama was right to be sending optimistic signals last week.
Ritholtz takes apart the data though and reveals nothing to be optimistic about:
If we look at the breakdown by unit types, the gains in starts were mainly in multi-family units; single family starts were little changed. And, February was still down nearly 50% from prior year. The past 4 months rank as the worst housing start figures since the data was collected. The past 2 quarters have 6 of the 10 worst seasonally adjusted figures.
This is reflecting the secular shift in trend to renting from buying. Home ownership rate is receding form the 68% level a few years ago — artificially inflated via ultra low rates / abdication of lending standards — back towards to a normalized 64% level.
Peter Boockvar suggests today’s data “is a reflection of where construction money is going.” And, the decline in permits though in this sector means that the building pace in February is unsustainable.
The question to consider here is whether the skewed reporting of economic data is a matter of incompetence or design. (Economist Dean Baker’s ongoing exposés of poor economic reporting on his blog are relevant to this question as well.) Often, numbers are framed in a congenially reportable way by trade organizations (think, the National Association of Realtors, whose onetime president wrote the already infamous Are You Missing the Real Estate Boom?: The Boom Will Not Bust and Why Property Values Will Continue to Climb Through the End of the Decade - And How to Profit From Them). Reporters and headline writers have little incentive to question this spin, since it comes ready-made and tends to conform to what editors assume readers want to read. And in general, they are trained to defer to expert opinion, in this case, the industry economists who have an interest in shading the statistics. The problem is that pertinent analysis tends to be buried in most reports of economic data, and if it exists at all, it tends to be presented as a battle between competing experts who say the opposite, leaving the slant of the headline as the final arbiter. So economic reporting in nonfinancial papers is ultimately about gauging the zeitgeist and trying to establish and exaggerate confidence or, more rarely, exploit fear. It’s a dubious place to go if you want to understand the data itself.
“Your president’s on TV,” my aunty kept saying in the days after the election of Barack Obama. I could not be home for the inauguration, but I am told that families like mine all through the South grilled meat, made dressings and salads, fried fish and chicken, smoked ribs, got together, played cards, laughed and drank, slapped hands and talked politics.
The politics they talked had to do with education: “The sooner we get our young girls out of the city schools, the better off we’ll all be.” Black folks talked about nutrition: “Are they steal taking away those kids’ lunch at school?” Folks talked about the war: “How’re my cousin, his wife and their two kids? Are they in any danger of being deployed?” The war lingers and all bets are off for military families.
Over a games of Spades, folks talked about the economy: “Winn Dixie is having a sale on shoulder bones, and Kroger is selling out just about everything.” Plus, I would add, gas is down. Over a slice of Pound Cake or Seven Layer Bars while recapping the Reverend Lowery’s benediction, folks spoke about infrastructure: “It’s cheap to build houses here; materials might be a little bit cheaper, but folks are out of work and will work for less.” In our area outside of Montgomery (YES one of those areas from which folks walked during “the” Boycott), the only industry to have not come to a grinding halt is healthcare, oh, and fast food. So, during Obama’s inauguration, while I was unable to fly back from my sunny south Delhi apartment, to the sweet Southern sun, I am told that the folks are all just fine.
“ I wanna be like Mike. I wanna fly like Jordan, soaring, throwing hoops.”
President Obama’s first 50 Days is popular news spreading faster than the tribulations of a young couple struggling with stardom, fame, and the inheritance of violence in our lives. “Take a cue from your president,” aunties like mine would tell Chris and Rihanna, “he’s on TV”. Obama is the new icon for every little brother and sister, despite the emergence of the new “Black Overclass”, examined by reporter Lee Hawkins regarding these near miracle moneymakers. They have their hoops and their dreams, but here is something more real, no disrespect to Mike Jordan, Jackson, Tyson, Steele, or any other stiff who fails to speak prophetic truth.
“Go Obama, go!”
Instead of wanting to be like some pop icon, I’d rather be like Obama. Or, I wanna be the kind of guy Obama would hire. We can address the economy, healthcare, war and peace in isolation and never coordinate our efforts into anything meaningful. Now, in the comfort of your own home and with he power of the Internet, you can take notes on the president’s weekly chats. It’s not all about Mike’s airtime anymore.
Through the White House’s YouTube account, for example, or the myriad of reports, reactions, reductions and sponsorship exploring popular politics, we have all iconic information at hand. You can decide to inspire yourself to aspire to something greater, not just some piece meal approach of ‘if and then’. “If I can save up enough, I’m gonna buy me a pair of Jordans.” Or we might say, “If I can loose ten pounds, then I can fit back into those old jeans and just feel better about myself.” We sit at our desks and wonder, “If I can just do this job a little longer, then…” And this cycle never ends. “If I could just get my credit together, then…” or “If I could just finish/go to school, then…”
Will we end see the perpetual cycle of hunger and unfulfilled desire we feed ourselves? We even feed this hunger—literally—with fast food, stuffing the emptiness we otherwise feel at home, dissatisfaction in our careers, troubles in our relationships, or generally residing to one’s old own lot. Piecing all this back together would take an eternity. We need a more holistic approach, and fast. “Everybody knows about Mississippi, Goddamn!”
Desegregation? Too Slow! Mass participation? Too slow? Reunification? Too slow! Do things gradually and folks will suffer further tragedies of loosing their homes, more civilians and combatants will die in war, and still more teenage girls will get pregnant, especially by older guys. Families collapse in those climates, and communities erode, lest we take good care. Folks will feel demoralized if not for the mass participation. Obama? Just in time.
Barack Obama’s historic speech on race, inequality and resolution
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