Sunday, March 29, 2009


Oregon composer Tomas Svoboda creates a political protest work -- sounding out against war, greed and global warming -- in "Vortex":

Learn more about "Vortex", Svodoba and Carlos Kalmar's Oregon Symphony performance here:

Friday, March 27, 2009

Here's Where I Want To Spend MY Spring Break

As the kids wrap up their spring break today, I see that the new Annenberg Space for Photography kicks off its first exhibition tonight. Been watching for this one for some time. Featuring 11 L.A. photographers, most familiar (and world-class) names, in an exploration of and tribute to life in Los Angeles. Now, how can I pull off a trip to my old hometown, the City of Angels?

Here is a partial description of the physical space, taken from its Website:

Influenced by the inner workings of a camera.

The interior design is influenced by the mechanics of a camera and its lens. The central, circular digital gallery is contained within the square building to create an architectural metaphor for a convex lens. Even the ceiling features a striking, iris-like design that is reminiscent of the aperture of a lens.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Breaking News: MHCC Proposes Partnership with OPB to Operate KMHD

Mt. Hood Community College announced this morning that its District Board of Education will consider a proposal to transfer operation of Portland's only all-jazz station, KMHD (89.1 FM), to OPB effective July 1. According to the proposal, KMHD would continue to own the station with OPB taking over programming, operational and fundraising responsibilities.

More info here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Wanda-Michelle-Jael Connection

One nice by-product of my vinyl-to-FLAC project is rediscovering some old music I had almost forgotten. Case in point would be my mono recording of legendary Wanda Landowska's 1945 performance on harpsichord of Bach's Goldberg Variations -- with liner notes by Landowska herself. Like so much music, listening immediately evokes distant memories.

First, there is my long-ago friend, Jael Greenleaf, who used to visit me in my Venice Beach live-in darkroom/photo studio to discuss politics, art, music and, yes, sports cars (given her Jag XKE and my Porsche 911), and she would sometimes bring some records of her own to share with me. Mostly then we were listening to punk rock and classical piano. One day she dropped off a copy of her Wanda Landowska On Music, a marvelous, thick tome of writings, snippets of scores and old photographs (one turn-of-century image shows her with such notables as Rimsky-Korsachov, Auguste Rodin and other Paris art scene luminaries). The moth-eaten, dog-eared, roach-trodden volume still exists on an obscure shelf in my library! Once I had re-heard the 1945 recording, I not only wanted Ivi to hear it, but I suddenly remembered the book and wanted my daughter to see that as well. Now I am wondering if Jael actually meant to leave it with me that day. So this gives me a good excuse to try to look her up after all these years; it's probably fifteen since last contact.

SIDEBAR: Jael has gone on to become a nationally prominent mental health practitioner, especially recognized for her lectures and books on the subject of ACoA (Adult Children of Alcoholics). Look her up on Amazon, or just Google for more information.

Next, Wanda Landowska has triggered memories of my brief, but most wonderful, acquaintance of Michelle Tiff. While I was working at UCLA, I enjoyed the proximity to Westwood music stores for lunchtime relaxation and research. One day I returned to my desk with some found treasures. Passing by my desk was a young woman I had seen in the department and knew to be a part-time student worker, but we had never conversed. She was there to help her supervisor communicate requirements and questions for a computer application I was programming for the department, but when she saw the records I had purchased, the discussion immediately turned to music. As it turned out, not only did we both love Bach, but when she asked for specifics, and I cited the Goldberg Variations as a prime example, she disclosed that, as part of working for her doctorate or some such thing, she had devoted the past year to exclusively working with the Variations and studying as many extant recordings as possible. (By the way, at that point in time, Michelle advised that Andras Schiff did her favorite recording, and Keith Jarrett her least favorite.) In the days to come, conversations would continue and Michelle would lend me some of her harpsichord and piano CDs. My only regret from that brief period, which provided a new reason to look forward to my days at UCLA, was that I missed Michelle's UCLA harpsichord recital (due to the birth of my son). Haven't seen her since. The pencil-and-crayon portrait, by the way, was done by acclaimed sculptor/painter Artis Lane.

SIDEBAR #2: While Michelle would sometimes conclude our talks by mentioning that she needed to "go running", it was some of her co-workers who told me that she was an Olympic-class marathon and distance running athlete. That came as no surprise to me, as I had seen how extraordinarily focused and dedicated she was to anything I saw her undertake!

Now I must wonder what Jael and Michelle might be listening to these days ... !

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Now here is someone's work I would definitely take to that Desert Island. As part of my What The FLAC project, where I am revisiting and ripping some of my old collection of vinyl music, I came upon a bunch of her albums, mostly the 1960s Philips releases, with some even earlier and some into the 70s, and knew that I needed to start my project with Nina Simone.

I was first turned on to Nina Simone by a college girlfriend, who lived in New Jersey, and had seen her live in nearby New York City and Atlantic City. A couple of years later, shortly after moving to Los Angeles where I was alone and didn't know a soul, I took comfort from my clock radio that seemed to play constantly, day and night. I had just made the remarkable discovery of a 24-hour jazz station -- we didn't have those back on the farm -- and I fell asleep one night, only to awaken at about 3am to the incredible sounds that you can hear now:

Sinnerman went on to be featured in the movie soundtrack for The Thomas Crown Affair, incidentally. You absolutely should check out anything you can find by Nina Simone. She does a remarkable job with Billie Holiday classics, and started covering Bob Dylan, among others, since the 60s.

Nina was a classically-trained pianist and got her start in North Carolina church-going music. She passed away about five years ago; Nina Simone, sometimes known as the High Priestess of Soul. Around the time of her death, I believe that I heard that a biopic was in the making -- she certainly did seem to have a life that would warrant the big screen -- but I never learned what came of it. Maybe someone can bring me up to date on that.

What the FLAC???

This is getting exciting. After a lot of trial and error, I have settled upon the rather quaint open source audio editing software, Audacity, to capture and encode selected vinyl LPs from my distant past. (See Let The Conversion Begin.) I am resurrecting my mid-70s-era Technics SL-1300 turntable with its Grado cartridge (can't recall the model, but it finally replaced a succession of Pickerings and Ortofons and others), hooked to an old 1Ghz AMD processor Windows 2000 box via an early Terratec USB 1.0 phono preamp. Nothing very audiophiliac, but it does the job fairly well. (Way, way better than trying to capture a stream via soundcard.)

Unfortunately, some of my records are not in the best of condition. Once they were stored for a few years in a shed in the California desert, with its temperature extremes, and of course some scratches, clicks and pops surface, too. Everything is dusty, and at least requires a rigorous cleaning first.

The Win2K box uses the 1.2.6 stable release of Audacity, but the capture -- just to get the assembly line in optimal motion -- gets moved to an Ubuntu Linux machine running a 1.3 beta of Audacity for editing, as its features are a distinct improvement from the earlier version and it seems quite stable under Linux (certainly better than with Win).

I do find Audacity to be strange, but once you get the hang of it, all seems to turn out well. I get the impression that it was designed by someone in a bubble, removed from the user conventions that the rest of us expect. I keep wanting to right-click for context menus and the like, but no way. Nothing seems particularly intuitive (granted that "intuitive" really just means that which corresponds to what we have learned along the way). A few behaviors are annoying, but I am going to give myself a little more time to get a better grip before complaining too much. Overall, Audacity seems to be a powerful and highly useful piece of work that makes a great contribution to the open source community. Oh, yes, I am running it on my MacBook as well.

Now the bad news here is that capturing the vinyl sounds is a realtime process, and it seems to take about two hours minimum to complete the loop on a single LP. Most run about 40-50 minutes of playing time -- sometimes requiring restarts. Then Audacity takes a while, minimally finding the edit points (I generally capture a full side in one take, then find the start-stop points, and do a batch export, automatically creating individual tracks). I first export to FLAC for my lossless digital library, then to 320 bitrate MP3s for iPod use. And I might re-create an audio CD from the original ripped WAVs for use in the car stereo and wherever standard CDDA audio disks might be needed. This doesn't count any time removing unwanted noise or making other tweaks -- but I really do try to avoid doing any post-processing of the capture if at all possible, as it almost always has a detrimental effect on sound quality. So I live with some clicks and pops; sometimes they seem to add a nostalgic sense of authenticity! At any rate, I have narrowed my vinyl shelves down to no more than about 300 I want to digitize, but it will take forever at my experienced rate of no more than one or two a day (I have to work at a day job, you know) -- so I am looking to grab the 50 or so most rare or most valued. A lot of this stuff is available on CD now, but we are in a deep recession, after all.

I also see that a some of these albums are now available on super-quality 180g flat virgin vinyl, but would require a substantial outlay for truly good equipment for playback as well. Who knows what the future might hold? In the meantime, we can probably look forward to a continuing process of digital conversion to the Next Best Thing.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Song Of The Day

Insane Asylum by Asylum Street Spankers

From the My Favorite Record album. Something a bit different for this rather outrageous and disturbing (Ivi's word) band, self-described as "God's Favorite Band".

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Friday, March 6, 2009

Fathy Salama: Arabic Jazz

Nice piece on PBS' News Hour tonight. Fathy Salama is a musician from Cairo who blends traditional Arabic music with his jazz constructions. Watch Salama performing "Sultan Bashraf":

Listen to or download the podcast in MP3 format, or watch the story online as streaming video for March 6, 2009.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mercy, Mercy, Mercy

Last night Ivi was at it again, listening to and reviewing jazz albums for her jazz band school assignment. This time she discovered my Cannonball Adderley's Somethin' Else and expressed positive reactions. I mentioned to her that Cannonball was one of the very few jazz artists to have a Top 40 hit. That would be "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" from sometime in the mid-60s. But I could not locate a copy at home for her to hear, so here goes with a find on the Web:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Rip, And Then Some

You may know that I am a huge fan of both Radiohead and Portishead. And that Portishead's THIRD album is one of my favorite releases of 2008, with "The Rip" my single favorite track. So when I discover Radiohead doing a cover, I absolutely must share:

While I don't really think of Radiohead as a cover band (!), imagine an album of some of their best covers ... One that comes to mind is how they beautifully rendered Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" (maybe I can post more on that one, given a llittle more research).


Between Ivi and our recent experience at the Idaho Jazz Festival, a lot of jazz has been hitting these ears lately. My most recent explorations have turned up a hybridization of two of my favorites, albeit in different genres. From the French Overdub people, comes this take on Radiohead + Dave Brubeck:

And these folks also have a (for me, slightly-less-interesting) mix of Radiohead + Louis Armstrong:

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Office Chair Choreography

David Byrne and the Talking Heads have always been something of a family tradition. From the time I took then-teenage niece Gabrielle to "Stop Making Sense" in Beverly Hills to our children listening to the music and dancing about as pre-schoolers to our recent acquisition of the latest Eno-Byrne album, there has always been a place with us for this stuff. Tonight, while watching the Colbert Report on the way to bed, David Byrne appeared for this performance:

Jazz in Moscow

As I started walking home for lunch today, the trusty iPod randomly brought forth Miles Davis' "Blue in Green" from the Kind of Blue album. Seemed fitting, following this past weekend at Moscow, Idaho, where my daughter had gone to participate with other students in the annual Idaho Jazz Festival at the University of Idaho. I made it up in time only to see the final evening performance, which featured some incredible piano by Eldar Djangirov, a 21-year-old or thereabouts pianist from Kyrgyzstan, the Lionel Hampton New York Big Band, bassist (and festival art director John Clayton), vibe virtuoso John Locke, amazing tap dancer Andrew J. Nemr and more. Daughter Ivi reported that the live appearance by Bobby McFerrin on the previous evening brought down the house, and went far beyond what she had expected based on the sole Bobby McFerrin CD we had at home. But the bell-ringer of the evening for me was Gretchen Parlato. Here is a taste (not from this festival), thanks to YouTube:

Heck, let's check out some earlier stuff from Eldar while we are at it:

And since the Idaho Jazz Festival honors Lionel Hampton, how about "Hey-Ba-Ba-Re-Bop" from 1945: