Donald's Blog

  This old house was only a few blocks from the state Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin. All the neighborhood cats lived in the basement during the winter. The house has long since been torn down, but in 1972 there were AR2ax speakers in the front room, and a lot of good music was heard there.

«Apr 2010»

In the 21st century I am just as opinionated as ever, and I now have an outlet. I shall pontificate here about anything that catches my fancy; I hope I will not make too great a fool of myself. You may comment yea or nay about anything on the site; I may quote you here, or I may not. Send brickbats etc. to:


April 27, 2010

Sus, or Stop and Search

When I worked briefly for the Police Federation of England and Wales a long time ago, there was a law in Britain which allowed policeman to stop anyone anywhere on suspicion. Of course most of the people stopped on "sus" were black. The law was finally got rid of in an effort to improve race relations. Now 30 years later Arizona has passed just such a law. What do you want to bet most of the people who get stopped will be brown?
      This at a time when the USA needs more immigrants, not fewer: more people consuming and producing, inventing things and starting small businesses; more talented people from other nations pursuing (and providing) higher education... This would keep us the most stable and prosperous nation on earth, while populations are falling in other countries. By the way, has the swamp that is the Immigration and Naturalization Service been reformed yet? I bet not.


April 27, 2010

Brunetti's Cookbook

I have written here before about our favorite mystery novels, set in Italy. Michael Dibdin's detective, Aurelio Zen, is from Venice, but he has a messy personal life, and he makes enemies because he's always putting his foot in it, and gets kicked up and down Italy by the forces of what passes for law & order. By contrast, Donna Leon's detective, Commissario Guido Brunetti, lives and works in Venice, and has a lovely family, a great comfort while he is dealing with gangsters and other vermin.
      Brunetti and his wife Paola both cook, and the children help too, and they all sit down and eat together like civilised people are supposed to do. Even when Brunetti grabs a snack at lunchtime, he knows which café to go to. Now there is a handsome book called Brunetti's Cookbook, with nearly 100 recipes by Leon's friend Roberta Pianaro, plus original essays by Leon, and excerpts about food from the novels.
      My Ethne is working very hard and having a lot of success -- the new issue of Organic Gardening magazine has a chicken on the cover; you can't miss it -- and I really must learn to cook a little. The recipes in Brunetti's Cookbook look delicious, and seem to have instructions that are intelligible even to me; many of them call for pasta, and even I can boil water. Wish me luck!


April 27, 2010

The Crash of the Record Biz

For many years I've been complaining about the tendency of the music industry to shoot itself in the foot; there's a lot of that in my book, The Rise and Fall of Popular Music, elsewhere on this site. Now I'm reading Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age, by Steve Knopper, and I wish I'd written it. The record business as we knew it for many decades, as opposed to the wider music business, has virtually disappeared, and Knopper tells the story very well, studded with anecdotes and quotes from interviews.
      I didn't know that a Chicago disc jockey called Steve Dahl had arranged a prank at Comisky Park during a White Sox games in 1979, inviting fans to bring disco records to be blown up by the Sox's fireworks crew. They figured they'd have a few thousand people more than usual. 59,000 fans showed up with armsful of Bee Gees albums, and there were thousands more in the streets outside, and 10,000 fans invaded the field to add to the bonfire, wrecking the dirt and turf. Some people thought that the reaction to disco was about resentment of blacks and gays, the original disco fans; I think it was because people love music. Disco faded quickly, but the cancer had already entered popular music; we have been cursed with beats-per-minute and computer-generated rhythms ever since.
      But that is just prologue. A lot of money was lost on disco as truckloads of albums were returned, but the record business always had truckloads of money to burn, until it didn't. Knopper tells the whole story of one debacle after another until the money ran out; the parts about Walter Yetnikoff and Tommy Mottola at Columbia alone would be worth the price of the book. If it was fiction, you wouldn't believe it. Buy the paperback here.
      The question is, what happens to billions of dollars pissed away? Where did it go? (Yes, I know: up a lot of people's noses, and making Madonna and her ilk very, very rich.) Keep reading.


April 27, 2010

CADENCE -- Subscribe Now

I recently received the latest issue of Cadence, The Independent Journal of Creative Improvised Music, and started reading Part 2 of an interview with Chuck Israels, a bassist who played in pianist Bill Evans's trio for six years (succeeding Scott LaFaro, which wasn't easy), and before that on a legendary session in 1958 with John Coltrane and Cecil Taylor, on which Taylor was doing something rhythmically different from everybody else. (It was a difficult session, but all the legends about it are silly; in the event, everybody just did their job, says Isreals.)
      He played with Bud Powell in France, with Eric Dolphy, and a great many others. He has a beautiful memory of his one gig with Billie Holiday. He has been teaching on the West Coast for many years now. I almost fell off my chair reading this interview, and realized that for some reason I hadn't read Part 1, so I dug up the previous issue of Cadence, and read that. The interviews in Cadence are not easy to quote from, because they are not heavily edited, and as Gene Lees used to say, it is not true that jazz musicians are not articulate. In the pages of Cadence you can hear them thinking. In the second part of the interview, Israels is asked about "jazz going forward."

If you're looking at Jazz which grew and thrived as an immediate functioning part of popular music, that's another story. By the time I started this, that world was over, so there was no way of making Jazz go forward in the way that it had been going forward [...] all that popular culture that was supporting jazz was now occupied by impoverished music. The ecology had been ruined by the baby boom generation reaching adolescence and taking over the world with adolescent sensibility, 'cause they had the power to do that, and they had the money to do it. And they didn't intend to do it--nobody planned it--it just happened the way market forces took it.

Unfettered market forces, Israels adds, are as destructive to art as totalitarian attempts at control. (And as I was asking above, where does all that market's money go? What did it buy? Where is it now?) Then the question is thrown out: "Some people say Jazz needs a new messiah. The new Charlie Parker, the new John Coltrane." (Israels has earlier given his opinion on Coltrane, whose psychedelic music he thinks is overrated; he thinks much more highly of Lucky Thompson and Sonny Rollins.)

But there's no messiah gonna come. That person is not going to come in a world that is so marginalized. That's like saying, "Oh, polo needs a Michael Jordan." And polo does need a Michael Jordan, but it's not going to happen because whoever is going to be the next Michael Jordan--the next great athlete--is not going to be playing polo. Nobody is paying attention to polo [...] You can't hold down the human spirit. Somebody will invent some kind of music somewhere, something beautiful will happen, but the Jazz time is gone like Elizabethan Theater is gone.

This may be too gloomy, or it may be off on a tangent--surely all the popular music worth hearing has jazz in it. Maybe there will never be another Big Thing, but only a large number of fragmented music scenes. But I always find Cadence thought-provoking. Every issue has several long interviews with musicians who may be famous or less famous, but all have lives in music that they can talk about. Every issue has hundreds of reviews of issues and reissues of everything from blues to early jazz to the avant-garde around the world.
      Every issue has Vladimir on playback gear and how to get the best out of it (North Country Audio is a sister company that sells only equipment it approves of; did I mention that there is virtually no advertising in this journal?) The delightful Slim writes about whatever she likes; recently she offered advice to a reader on how to go from listening to Oscar Peterson to getting into Cecil Taylor. Columnist Papatamus is the father of this clan, Bob Rusch himself (pronounced "roosh"), writing about the media, the misuse of technology, and the music he's been listening to. There are book reviews, and obituaries, and much else. Oh, and North Country is also one of the best distributors of tiny labels you can't find anywhere else. And Cadence also has two of the most interesting labels of its own: Cadence and C.I.M.P. I think that's almost everything.
      Cadence has been going for 35 years, always on a shoestring. It used to be a fat monthly stapled pamphlet, but a few years ago became an elegant quarterly paperback book. (Blind Orange Washington is still the proofreader, but he's got better at it.) Anyone who is interested in any kind of music can get something out of every issue of Cadence. To subscribe, go here. (I have no connection, except that I've been a subscriber for many years.)