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