Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Best Christmas Letter Ever

I'd like to share part of my Mom's Christmas letter from 2007. It is the best I've ever read.

"Dear Friends,

I have been sitting here thinking about Christmas and everything it means and it occurs to me that two of the things about this season that I especially enjoy are the Christmas trees and the Christmas cards.

I think my love of the Christmas tree probably stems from my childhood when my parents, for reasons that must have been know only to them, perpetuated the myth that Santa brought the tree on Christmas Eve and set it up then spread all his bounty beneath its beautifully decorated branches. How and why they would wait until my brother, Dick, and I were fast asleep to do all of that work remains a mystery to me, but the dazzling glory of that incredible tree standing amidst a sea of toys on Christmas morning stays with me to this day as a sight equal to none other. Thanks, Mom and Dad! You did well!

Christmas cards are also dear to my heart but for an entirely different reason. I love sending cards because every person on that list has played a special part in Sam's and my lives and each of you is important to us in all sorts of different ways. I like to take my time while writing out your addresses and remember some of the good times that we have shared over the years. It would be fun if I could make a huge mosaic with each of your faces put in a special place. What a wonderful picture that would be and what a great story it would tell! I would make it my Christmas card for all time and what a treasure it would be. Thanks for everything you have done for Sam and me over the years and for being our friends. If we do not see all of you, please know that you are in our hearts particularly during this season."

And with you, Mom and Dad.

Adam West in a Landslide

Adam West was your favorite Batman, garnering 75% of the votes. The only other ones registering on the poll were Michael Keaton and Christian Bale. Val Kilmer got the big zip (although in this author's view, he did a creditable job). George Clooney was not an option; he himself takes full "credit" (blame) for taking down a successful franchise for many years until the new Christian Bale series came along.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Dead Man Talking

NBC aired a great new comedy special this morning--Tim Russert interviewing Mitt Romney on Meet the Press.

This guy has no shot. He makes John Kerry look resolute. Romney just got called out on issue after issue where he has changed. No new real info, but with a full hour with the guy, Russert had time to show extensive clips, read extensively from articles, let Romney respond and follow-up when the response didn't make sense. And boy, they didn't. While it's exasperating to me, I think it must be as, or even more, exasperating for a conservative Republican. Romney's got to hope that everyone's cable was out in Iowa and New Hampshire this morning.

Russert started off on the now infamous religion speech Romney gave and zeroed in on the statement in the speech "Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom." They didn't touch on the second part of that statement, but here was the gist of the interview. Romney: that was in the context of the founders, and what I was doing was paraphrasing John Adams that freedom requires morality. Russert: Can an atheist be moral? Romney: Of course. Russert: So if you were evaluating a Supreme Court or Cabinet appointee who also happened to be an atheist, you would still consider him or her? Romney: Of course, you would evaluate the skills and abilities of the person. Russert: No litmus test. Romney: No. Russert: Then what does the statement in the speech mean that 'Freedom requires religion'? Romney: [Incomprehensible] [Black is black and white is white, and that's it. Doesn't gray exist? Yes, of course. Then how does that square with what you just said about black and white? I've already told you Tim--black is back and white is white, and that's it.]

And then it got worse as they marched through everything else.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Something Nice (For a Change)

What is the nicest compliment you've ever heard, or better yet, the nicest one you've ever received?

The nicest one I've ever heard was something Gil Evans once said to the great Miles Davis. Gil and Miles collaborated on some outstanding studio recordings for Columbia Records in the late 1950s (Sketches of Spain, Porgy and Bess, e.g.). The arrangements were perfect for Miles. Gil loved Miles' playing, especially his sound. In an interview many years later, Gil recounted that he once said to Miles, "Man, I'm glad you were born." Hands down to me, the greatest compliment I've ever heard.

Someone recently told me, "I'm glad I'm your friend." Period. End of statement. Nothing further. Said with sincerity. Maybe not quite as profound as Gil's statement, but I ain't complaining. That's about as good as it can get in my book.

Be interested to hear from you on this one.


Saturday, December 8, 2007

The surge, Iraq & Iran

A couple of really great articles in the NY Times this last Wednesday that I wanted to write about. One article discussed the reduction of violence in Iraq, and cited three reasons for it: Sunni rebels who had decided to fight jihadists rather than American troops; Shiite leader Moktada al-Sadr having declared a cease-fire for his forces for six months (they are three months into it); and more American troops. But none of the underlying political issues have been addressed (forget about resolved). And, the article notes, none of those patterns are realistically sustainable: the Sunni rebels took their action on the promise of government jobs, which have not materialized because there has been no Sunni/Shiite integration or reconciliation; if Sunni forces get restless because of lack of integration into Iraqi society and and having no meaningful voice in governance, they'll hit the Shiites, and then al-Sadr and like Shiite forces will react in kind (hard and violent); and American troop levels are just not sustainable, regardless of who is setting American policy, Democrat or Republican, and extending tours of duties and abusing the National Guard can't continue over the long haul.

So while Iraq may look a lot better on the surface for several months (maybe through the election-ugh), it is still a mess. Plus, when I hear the surge is working, I think what people are saying is that the violence is down. Putting aside that the surge is one of several factors, rather than the sole factor, causing the decreased violence, wasn't the point of the surge to get violence down, and then to foster an atmosphere where political reconciliation could occur? That still has not happened, has it? So I take issue with any assertion that the surge is "working" for all those reasons.

This was reported on the same day that the National Intelligence Estimate showed Iran did not have a secret program to get nukes going, and Mr. Bush still insisted his Iran policy was exactly right. I think there are a lot of people who do what Mr. Bush does, but he takes it to a new level--that is, you have a conclusion, or ultimate worldview, or whatever, and, whatever the facts are, it has to support your worldview, because, heaven knows, you could not be wrong. Rather than taking the view that you are going to take a sober look at the facts, and let the facts take you wherever they lead, no matter how painful it might be to you to realize you may not have been right after all. There are myriad examples of course, but I think back to the massive tax cuts at the beginning of the Bush administration: first, they rationale was that the economy was booming and we had a massive surplus, so we should have a tax cut. Then, as the economy was going down and the surplus was evaporating, we had to have the cuts to stimulate the economy and reverse the situation. Either way, the conclusion was the same: we needed those tax cuts!

Friday, December 7, 2007

Did you notice...?

I just noticed today that the three leading Republican candidates are:

1. A patrician, stilted, flip-flopping former governor of Massachusetts
2. A surging former governor of Arkansas
3. A pro-gay, anti-gun, pro-choice former mayor of New York City

Isn't that supposed to be the Democrats? (Not that any of these guys looks remotely like a Democrat.) Last time we had a surging former governor of Arkansas in the news, he got impeached for it.

Also, the fact that Romney felt he had to give that speech that he really is a Christian disheartens me. All of our candidates (on either/any side) must fit such a narrow set of criteria.

No fair that my son's blog is better than mine.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Football Strangeness

It is strange to have basically all of the Rams home games blacked out. Not that I was watching the games (at least not sitting down to take them in). But it is like there is a pro football season taking place in private this year. Very odd.

And it is strange to have both Mizzou and Illinois heading into bowl season as good, ranked teams. Too bad that Mizzou couldn't pull off the win against Oklahoma, but it was a fun week having them ranked #1. Who would have guessed that the first game of the season between the Illini and the Tigers was matching two pretty darn good teams on the national level--you could have guessed Mizzou, but the Illini?

(Check out the dialog my sis and I are having on her blog (linked at the sidebar). Hopefully I am not putting my standing invitation to Xmas and Thanksgiving at serious risk!)

Friday, November 30, 2007

They're Scaring Me

How can Mike Huckabee be gaining in the polls? I guess he seems like a nice guy, but he doesn't believe in evolution, for crying out loud. We can't afford another president who can't think his way out of a wet paper bag. It's like the Republicans are in an alternate universe, knee jerk bashing immigrants, falling all over themselves to figure out who is most pro-torture, failing to recognize that health care is a significant economic issue that's overwhelming our businesses (forget about moral issue--wouldn't figure that will register with that crowd--but thought they cared about the private sector's economic health--but hey, it's only 16% of the entire economy--maybe we only worry about it when it only takes 1 in 5 or 1 in 4 of our dollars). And it doesn't seem like a one of them really thinks global warming is even worth talking about, forget about addressing it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

On the backs of others

Life (or at least mine) is a series of episodes of being pleasantly surprised when you find out you can do something well, then, in the next instant and just when you think you're onto something, being completely humbled. Whenever I think I'm smart and have something funny or interesting to say, I get blown away by something someone else writes or does. Matty Farmer is one of those people. Read his response (#112) to a fairly nutty blog entry by Kurt Campbell on Nick Kristof's blog on the New York Times' website.

As usual, Matt hits it right on the mark. Enjoy.

Upcoming Gig

On Sunday, December 9, Blind Willie and I will leave our posts early at the weekly Voodoo session and join Skeet Rogers and the Inner City Blues Band to open for legendary bluesman Bobby "Blue" Bland. We've done this a couple of times before (once to open for Mr. Bland, another time to open for Jerry "The Iceman" Butler). The crowds have been enthusiastic, and really know the music. They seem to be hanging on every note and react to every turn of phrase, and these gigs have been a blast. If you want to read more about Bobby Bland, there is a nice, relatively short article on Salon: If you want to take it to the next level, check out Peter Guralnick's book, Lost Highway: Journeys & Arrivals of American Musicians, which features a chapter on Bobby Bland.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Mike Kocour

If you don't know Mike Kocour's piano playing, you have to check it out. A good place to start is at his MySpace page, which is on my sidebar of cool websites.

Within the last couple of days, my ex-roommate from Champaign, Kevin Flanigan (see my original post on "the Scene") mentioned to me in an email that he just thinking about Champaign because he had heard Mike on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz last weekend, a wonderful nationally syndicated program. Mike is now Director of Jazz Studies at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, after a long, successful time as one of the leading giggers in Chicago. Kevin points out that you can hear a rebroadcast of it at

A Chicago native, Mike was at Illinois at the same time Kevin and I were. Although he was a math major, he was one of a great stable jazz musicians around school at the time. He played in a quartet with Ray Sasaki, our trumpet professor, and Mike was simply amazing. He has a number of recordings out, including some where he is astounding on the Hammond B3 organ. Another stand-out from that group was drummer Jeff Stitely. I can still remember a drum solo during a Ray Band gig at Nature's Table, right across from the Krannert Center, where Kevin and I were hanging listening to Ray's group late in the night and nursing two huge Guinness drafts, when we turned to each other in the same instant --no words were spoken, but we had the same look on our faces: "Did you hear that?!?" Jeff had in the middle of this amazing solo quoted the melody of the tune on the drums. I'll never forget it.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Whither The Daily Show?

Anyone have a thought about the effect of the writers' strike on the election (in particular the race for the Democratic nomination)? I was thinking here we are heading into a crucial stage with the last sprint to Iowa, New Hampshire and beyond, and we are without new episodes of the Daily Show, the Colbert Report and Real Time with Bill Maher.

I think for us Dems, these are actually pretty significant sources of viewpoints and perspectives. It is not like reading the New York Times, but these guys are actually often the only ones out there who are willing to say the emperor has no clothes. For all the much ballyhooed talk (at least on the right) of "liberal bias" in the mainstream media, they are actually cowed much of the time, and in any event always feel compelled to present "both sides" of issues where there is, in fact no serious debate any longer. (Must they always talk to the scientists who question global warming, when there appears to be little serious scientific debate as to whether humans are drastically affecting the earth's climate? Must they always interview a creationist when discussing evolution?)

In any event, I'm not necessarily saying the choice of the Democratic nominee will be better or worse without those shows, but I have little doubt that the shape of the debate and discussion will be dramatically different if we don't have the voices on these shows speaking out in the next several weeks and months.

Blue State Cowboys tear up Chi-Town

Well, I participated in what has now become something of an annual ritual--goin' to Chicago at Thanksgiving. I've played music with my buddies Neal Connors and Matt Farmer for nearly 10 years running now. Matt, our fearless leader, has traditionally gotten together a date for this band (the "Blue State Cowboys"--more on the name later) on the Wednesday night before Turkey Day, which Matt tells me has traditionally been a huge tavern night in Chicago. So we played a nice little 3 and half hour set at Finley Dunne's in Wrigleyville.

Matt is a Chicago lawyer who knows more about 20th century popular music than any person I've ever met, from jazz to soul to blues to country. I met him through Neal (they went to high school together). Matt is the sweat behind the group, and we play a truly eclectic setlist from Sweet Caroline to Take a Letter Maria to Ring of Fire (before it was cool) to Ice Ice Baby (at least in the olden days). One special treat this time was that Matt pulled in Brian Wilkie on guitar (both the Telecaster and pedal steel). I knew of Brian, but had never played with him (he and Neal used to do some jazz gigs in Champaign in the 80s). Brian sounded fantastic--a pleasure to play with someone of that calibur and who can really nail a variety of styles.

I drove up (flying is just not that much faster for a trip from St. Louis), and it was a brutal drive on the way up--a little weather mixed in with about 5 hours of conference calls (ugh), but going back was a snap. But a very worthwhile gig, and we hope to play with this configuration again. Got a chance to stay over with Matt and his lovely wife Lisa, who are always very hospitable, and their charming daughter Samantha. I love hanging with Matt--he always has something interesting to share on the musical front, usually a new DVD or recording that he has gotten that he can't wait to share (this time is was a tape of Solomon Burke's band with a buddy of Matt's in the band (a Chicago-lawyer/trumpet player), a DVD of a 1967 concert of the famous Stax line-up (Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Booker T and the M.G.s) and his new 8-CD box set of Joe Henderson sides). Matt handed me two new jazz CDs on the way out the door--he's got so much music around (he says he's in and out of CD clubs all the time) that he just happened to have a couple extra copies of some classic Miles Davis and Hank Mobley CDs--fantastic listening on the way back to St. Louis today.

Lots of other friends made it out, including various members of Neal's family (his wonderful mom Annie even trooped in from the 'burbs), good friends John Tully (bass) and Mike "Waldo" Walsh, who were members of an earlier incarnation of Matt's band. We have called ourselves the Redstreaks, Chatterbox, Sprung Rhythm, the Roach Farmers (when Joe Roach was in the band), and toyed with Spongebath and Electric Amish, although never booked a gig under those last two names. Also, Sharon from the Bryan Cave office in Chicago (who I had met once at a firm retreat) came and brought a friend.

Unfortunately, I missed my good friend Tim Green, a fine jazz pianist and bassist, but Tim and I had a nice long chat as I was driving home. Tim couldn't fathom a tavern gig that started before 9:00, but I'll catch Tim another time. If you haven't bought Tim's CDs or need to check him out, go to Doesn't take much Green to get those CDs. (Plus, note that Brian Wilkie lends a hand to Tim on his second CD.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Scene?

Welcome to my new blog: The Scene. When I was studying trumpet in college at the University of Illinois, my professor, Ray Sasaki, told my best friend and me that we needed to "create a scene" (as distinct from "making a scene", which we were also known to do). And we did--our apartment was a hang-out, party scene and open to anyone who wanted to come and do a "hang"--especially a few beers and listening to a few old jazz sides. One of the more serious considerations at any party was when to bring out the recording (back in the days where it was all vinyl, of course!) of Ella and Duke live at the Cote de Azur, where Ella takes Mack the Knife through a dizzying modulation through nearly all 12 keys--if you put that on too soon, the party peaked too soon--too late, and well you know. But put on at the right time, when the dancing was happening--pure magic!

Hence, the blog title: The Scene