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Friday, February 27, 2015

Everything’s Coming Up Stinking Roses

From the Garden Dept.: We have grown a crop of garlic every year since the trip described below, in the fall of 2008. We now take for granted a crop of scapes in the spring and the crisp, spicy cloves that see us through the fall and winter.


IF YOU SEE ME IN MY YARD working the tiller in the next few days, this will tell you why. I’m preparing the soil to plant a fascinating crop that has the honor of being the first to push through in the spring, and which will reward me not only with pungent cloves of garlic but also one of the most delightful early-season vegetables: garlic scapes, which I’ll take over asparagus any time.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
I got a bag of seed garlic and a motivational kick in the ass at last weekend’s Hudson Valley Garlic Festival, a two-day celebration held in Saugerties and attracting patrons and participants from around the country.

In addition to lectures and cooking demonstrations, this year’s event featured 56 growers,
73 business vendors, 80 artisans, 35 food booths spread an easy walk around the grounds, not counting five music and entertainment stages.

The Garlic Goddess moved, sylphlike, through the festival, a circlet of garlic woven into her hair. And she has every right to do so: she’s Pat Reppert, of Shale Hill Farm and Herb Garden, who organized the first festival here in 1989. It was held at her farm and attracted about a hundred people, drawn by word of mouth and her farm’s newsletter. A year later, attendance quadrupled.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Funnier They Fall

SOME AUTOBIOGRAPHIES are delightful and brief. Some whiskeys are appealingly strong. Both are a product of distillation, and David Black’s autobiography, Falling Off Broadway, has been distilled to a rich, hilarious essence. Too unbelievable to be a novel, it’s the story of a man who pursued a career in opera even as he married this country’s most desirable deb, was recruited by the CIA, and then parlayed a salesman’s success into a lengthy career as a Broadway producer.

And anyone who’s able to go up against David Merrick and live to tell about it is a formidable soul indeed (just ask Stan Freberg).

Black is also a performer who has honed these stories in front of many an audience. The one-liners fall with practiced deftness. As a youngster, he writes, “I went to a camp where they meditated every day. I meditated about the girl sitting next to me.”

His father, Algernon Black, was a leader at the Society for Ethical Culture, railing against concepts of God so passionately in front of a group of such passionate followers that young David decided, “They must be here to worship my father! My father is God!” Which raises a very high bar in the pursuit of parental approval, and led the boy to court the opposite. Thus, while at Harvard he is fortunate enough to find a girlfriend who shares this agenda. She’s one of the Boston Cabots; he’s seen as an upstart Jew. Their rebellion takes them to Europe, where he studies opera while performing regularly on the Armed Forces Radio Network in Berlin.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Literature and the Bastinado

Guest Blogger Dept.: Another visit from Ben Hecht, before Hollywood beckoned, joining with the voices of several distinguished colleagues in the 1922 essay collection Nonsenseorship, a collection inspired by the Volstead Act – but given the eleven years until its repeal, hardly an effective one. Still, one might find reason to draw some parallels between Hecht’s points and current events.


SURVEYING THE TREND OF MODERN LITERATURE one must, unless one’s mental processes be complicated with opaque prejudices, wonder at the provoking laxity of the national censorship. I write from the viewpoint of an aggrieved iconoclast.

Ben Hecht chopping
away at the ever-forgiving
and all-condoning
Bugaboo of Puritanism.
Drawing by Ralph Barton.
It becomes yearly more obvious that the duly elected, commissioned and delegated high priests of the nation’s morale are growing blind to the dangers which assail them. If not, then how does it come that such enemies of the public weal as H. L. Mencken, Floyd Dell, Sherwood Anderson, Theodore Dreiser, Dos Passos, Mr. Cabell, Mr. Rascoe, Mr. Sandburg, Mr. Sinclair Lewis are not in jail? How does it come Professor Frinck of Cornell is not in jail? Bodenheim, Margaret Anderson, Mr. John Weaver are not in jail.

Were I the President of the United States sworn to uphold the dignity of its psychopathic repressions, pledged on a stack of Bibles to promote the relentless pursuit and annihilation of other people’s happiness, I would have begun my reign by clapping H. L. Mencken into irons forthwith. Mr. Cabell, I would have sent to Russia. Sherwood Anderson I would have boiled in oil.

But what is the situation? Observe these gentlemen and their kin enjoying not only their bodily liberty but allowed to prosper on the royalties derived from the sale of incendiary volumes designed to destroy the principles upon which the integrity of the commonwealth depends. The spectacle is one aggravating to an iconoclast. There is no affront as distressing as the tolerance of one’s enemies.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Brief Meditation on Boots

IN MY OFFICE AT HOME, the windows leak and the furnace has to heat the entire house in order to get my legs warm. I shut myself into the room with a small ceramic heater to provide warmth, adding a layer of long-johns and sweater when we get to the wind-buffeted single digits.

At the coffee shop I frequent, the heat blowers function continually, issuing their warmth from above, mixing it with the aroma of coffee roasting and bagels toasting. But, unless I sit far to the rear, I suffer the Arctic blast that occurs each time the door is flung open. I’m near the door now, but it was a necessary choice. A woman with two young and voluble children is perched towards the rear. As I learned when the three were in line for their comestibles, the children are of that well-loved variety who have learned to drill any nearby grown-up with an unblinking stare in order to provoke (I’m assuming) a gushing aren’t-you-so-cute or the like. As I was never disposed to gush such nonsense even to my own child, preferring to make up for it by footing her therapy bills, I find such behavior loathsome.

Yesterday morning we were met with a fresh fall of snow, necessitating its removal by snowblower and shovel. I have shod myself with all manner of snow-resistant footwear over the years, including heavy rubber boots with metal buckles, light rubber boots with removable linings, boots of ankle height, boots of calf height, hoping to get at least a season out of each before a buckle tears away or the upper separates from the sole. And the boots never seem to be tall enough, allowing the snow to take up melty residence within.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Remembering Katrinella’s

From the Vault Dept.: I’ve had occasion to drive down Madison Avenue in Albany a few times recently, passing the corner where the venerable Lombardo’s sits – beside it, the shuttered Katrinella’s, a wonderful little eatery I visited in 2012, a year before the place closed for good, a decision I would like to think had nothing to do with my enthusiastic review, posted below.


“LOMBARDO’S IS JUST DOWN THE STREET, and we also have V & R and Café Capriccio in the neighborhood,” says Katrinella’s chef-owner Joe Rogers. “I think it’s a good thing.” He and his wife, Katrina, opened the restaurant three and a half years ago in a space that’s seen previous upheaval – “seven restaurants in the past eight years, or something like that,” says Rogers.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
What have Katrina and Joe done differently enough to keep them not only open but also successful for this long? The unlikely answer is that they offer classic Italian fare: red-sauce favorites that have long defined the cuisine for American consumers.

So what, therefore, makes it special? The dining room is small enough to promise a personalized experience, and the menu promises a low-priced and familiar line-up of choices. The sound system promises an evening of Sinatra, but will admit a few other singerly incursions during the course of your meal. And your meal will prove to be prepared and served exceptionally well.

Friday, February 20, 2015

That Scoundrel Brahms

Guest Bloggers Dept.: Even as we grappled with multi-tonality of Schnittke’s music last Sunday and the less-challenging but still-challenging journey through Hindemith’s, we anticipated an easier-to-parse pleasure from the music of Brahms, because pleasant-sounding melodies too often obscure the rest of the content. But even with Brahms it has been a challenge, as these reports from his lifetime (and shortly beyond) can attest, drawn from Nicholas Slonimsky’s Lexicon of Musical Invective.


I PLAYED OVER THE MUSIC of that scoundrel Brahms. What a giftless bastard! It annoys me that this self-inflated mediocrity is hailed as a genius. Why, in comparison with him, Raff is a giant, not to speak of Rubinstein, who is after all a live and important human being, while Brahms is chaotic and absolutely empty dried-up stuff. – Tchaikovsky’s Diary, October 9, 1886.

Johannes Brahms
Musical people, as a rule, have not as yet got “educated” by the “music of the future” up to the point where they may enjoy passage after passage bereft of all tonality by meandering through doors of modulation, around corners of accidentals, and through mazes of chromatics that lead nowhere in particular unless it be to the realm of giddiness. They long occasionally to come out into the sunlight or to emerge upon some scene where recognizable objects may be viewed, grouped or marshaled somewhat according to nature and the understood laws of unity and symmetry. There is so much of this ultra-modern kind of writing in the Brahms Serenade, op. 11, that, with its inordinate length, its total effect is wearisome. The general treatment in this Serenade is after Brahms’s usual fashion, abstruse, intellectual. The work, on a first hearing at least, is largely unintelligible. – Boston Daily Advertiser, October 31, 1882.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Itamar Zorman and the Legacy of Bach

BACH WROTE SIX PIECES for unaccompanied violin, three of which he labeled “sonata” and cast in four movements: a stately opening, a fugue, a tuneful slow movement, and a virtuosic finale. His Sonata No. 3 begins, uncharacteristically, with a soft sequence of dotted-note figures, first single-voiced, separated at first by the interval of a second, then with a double-stopped second adding some crunch.

Itamar Zorman
A seventh is the other crunchy interval in the diatonic scale, but that one typically sounds like it’s leading you somewhere. The second is the sound of discontent.

Mother’s milk to Alfred Schnittke. As the Russian-born composer moved away from the influence of Shostakovich, he pushed his way past serialism into what he termed polystylism, its first example his Violin Sonata No. 2 (1968). It’s a mash-up, if that label can be applied to an aggregation of sounds and styles, rhythmic gestures and silences – and a tribute to Bach realized (as has been done by many composers) with a musical motif based on the four letters of his name. BACH translates, in German musical terms, to B-flat, A, C, B-natural, which, when the notes are closely gathered, gives two sequential intervals of a second.

Putting the Schnittke sonata on the same half of the bill as the Bach sonata was a piece of programming genius on the part of violinist Itamar Zorman, who performed at Union College’s Memorial Chapel as Arctic winds whipped the campus last Sunday. If you’re going to play one of Bach’s solo sonatas, the usual choice is the Partita No. 2 because of its famous final movement, a Chaconne. But the Sonata No. 3 offers its own substantial rewards.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Chambering Music

From the Concert Vault Dept.: Tomorrow we’ll have a violinist under discussion, so here’s a cellist to warm you up. It’s my review of a performance by Matt Haimovitz and Itamar Golan at Caffè Lena in 2003.


EVEN BEFORE CELLIST MATT HAIMOVITZ applied bow to strings, the small but ardent Caffe Lena audience was prepared for a very different experience. You don’t often see a cello travel down the aisle to the stage in that venue; you don’t offer hear a classical music performer in any venue speak as casually and compellingly as Haimovitz.

Matt Haimovitz
He and pianist Itamar Golan collaborated on a recently released CD that pays tribute to Haimovitz’s mentor, legendary cellist Leonard Rose. Two of the works on the Caffè Lena program appear on that CD; the rest of the program would make an equally appealing recording.

Chamber music ostensibly started out in small chambers, and this hall is as intimate as they come, a perfect environment for cello and piano. Given the world-class talent of these artists, who have impressive international careers, it can’t have been the most economically feasible stop on their itinerary, but what a boon for the audience!

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Present of Laughter

Necrology Dept.: At some point in your life as a public figure, you’ll have a good idea of what’s going to lead your obituary. Louis Jourdan must have known for decades that he’d be ineluctably associated with his appearance in the movie “Gigi” (1958), in which he starred alongside Leslie Caron and Maurice Chevalier.

He began as a stage actor in his native France, and was on the brink of making his film debut when the Nazis moved in. He worked for the Resistance during the war, then attracted enough attention in his subsequent films to win a part in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Paradine Case.” It didn’t lead to the hoped-for American film career, although he had significant roles in “Letter from an Unknown Woman,” “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “The Swan,” “Can-Can,” “The V.I.P.s,” “Octopussy.” and even “Swamp Thing.”

But he pursued stage work just as avidly, making his Broadway debut in 1954, and appeared on the New York stage and in regional theaters throughout his career, and that’s where I come in. Given Jourdan’s elegant manifestation of a suave continental type, it’s no wonder that my girlfriend was excited at the prospect of seeing him on stage. This was in 1979, and he was coming to the then-near-to-me Westport Country Playhouse in Noël Coward’s “Present Laughter.” We were there on the second night of the run, in fourth-row mezzanine seats, close enough to enjoy the real-life aspect of someone we’d seen on the screen.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Brave Old Radio World

From the Vault Dept.: An unpublished review, probably intended for Metroland, that betrays my love for old-time radio. Copies of this set are still available, but there are plenty of places online where you can find these shows.


IT SHOULDN’T BE FAR-FETCHED to anyone in this TV-addicted society that radio, back in its own day, exerted a pull so powerful that everything else stopped when the most popular programs aired. Without television’s images, however, radio played more powerfully upon the imagination. Could television have prompted the hysteria provoked by Orson Welles’s 1938 Hallowe’en broadcast of “War of the Worlds”? I doubt it. Even today’s crisp actualities can’t top your mind’s own pictures of those creatures emerging from that spacecraft.

But you decide. “War of the Worlds” leads off the collection of 60 programs chosen and (collectively) introduced by Walter Cronkite. It’s probably not worth quibbling over the selections – I’d have included more Bing Crosby and Fred Allen, and Amos ’n Andy are missing completely. This is a bargain-priced 30-CD set crammed with programs, some of them spanning an entire CD, like the notorious Edgar Bergen-Charlie McCarthy program in which guest Mae West offended bluenoses in a funny sketch about the Garden of Eden, most presenting two half-hour episodes of popular shows like “Suspense,” “Gunsmoke,” “Let’s Pretend,” “Escape” and others.

The single “Shadow” episode is one of the few voiced by Orson Welles, who’s also represented with a Mercury Theatre broadcast (“The Hitchhiker”) and an appearance on Norman Corwin’s “Fourteen August.”

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Case of the Vanishing Pub

From the Vault Dept.: Where was I dining a decade ago? I began February 2005 with a visit to what was then the long-lived Holmes and Watson in Troy, NY. Although it’s the shame that the place went under, it had some desultory final days that looked more like hospice than lunch, and it’s been replaced by the excellent Finnbar’s Pub.

IT’S EASY ENOUGH, with financing no problem, to assign a theme to a new restaurant and reinforce it with overwrought decor. Applebee’s, Cracker Barrel and the like are good examples. But the decor has little to do with the restaurants themselves, which are market-researched chains turning out a predictable menu for patrons who must not feel truly comfortable unless there’s something like a large bobsled hanging on a nearby wall.

Holmes and Watson, which opened in 1978, hung its walls with Sherlockian memorabilia, the better to reinforce its desired image as a London pub. I suspect there was little or no market research behind this; it was more of a quick signal to the cognoscenti that you’d find real beer here in addition to the pisswater likes of Bud.

Twenty-seven years and several owners later, the pub remains a stalwart in downtown Troy. If there was ever anything self-conscious about the theme and decor, it has easily justified itself. Unlike the chain restaurants, it has evolved as a successful melding of what owner and customers enjoy.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Love Interactive

From the Smut Vault Dept.: One of my worst-kept secrets is the time I spent as computer correspondent Dr. Barry Tetons, advising the readers of D-Cup Magazine how to use their computers for maximum personal satisfaction. I’m offering this 1995 piece in anticipation of Valentine’s Day, and as a wistful reminder of how much cruder the crude used to be.


YOU KNOW THE FANTASY SCENARIO. The porn star of your dreams is there in the room with you, gazing at you with moistened lips and a wicked gleam in her eye. “Do what you want with me,” she tells you. “I’m your slave.”

It never happens in movies or magazines, but your computer offers about the closest you’ll come to this experience, short of having Lisa Lipps knock on your door. Interactive CD-ROMs play full-motion, all-talking videos, miniaturized versions of what you enjoy on your VCR, but add an extra dimension: you’re in command. The best of these discs let you manipulate the characters and their actions in a far more satisfying way than most real-life encounters provide.

Smut has always been a driving force in technology, and computers have been especially susceptible to the lure of the lurid. As displays got sharper and sound got cleaner, processors and hard disks got faster – and things really started to move. High-resolution photos of your favorite models evolved into digital animation, allowing them to really take it off as the technology took off, too.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Answers to Correspondents

Guest Blogger Dept.: Where do you look for a guide to life? Unfortunately, the tender advice columns of yore have vanished. Where once the editor was too delicate to repeat your question, now we’re mired in Q&A pages of the most egregiously explicit sort. For a maiden of tender sensibility in 1886 England, The Girl’s Own Paper was the place to turn. The magazine was founded in 1880 and endured, in varying manifestations, until 1956. It featured sentimental poetry, serialized fiction – and answers to anxious questions such as are reproduced below. The answers, that is. We can only guess at some of the queries.


Tom.—We think that you might be received as a pupil at a school in Dresden, before recommended by us. Write to the matron, Frau Johanna Knipp-Frauen, Industrie Schule, Elias Platz, No. 4, Ecke der Sachsen Allée, Zu Dresden. Before attempting to teach the English language she should make herself better acquainted with it. She uses the third person singular and the second in the plural in the same letter, and in addressing one and the same individual.

Midge.—We think that the College of Preceptors would meet your wishes better than any other. Write to the secretary, C. R. Hodgson, Esq., 42, Queen-square, Bloomsbury, W.C. You write very well. We may add, that this college grants diplomas to teachers of three grades—associates, licentiates, and fellows—for which persons of both sexes are eligible. Lectures on the theory of teaching are given in the college rooms.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Rib Tackling

From the Vault Dept.: Yesterday’s post about the Beefsteak extravagance I recently enjoyed put me in mind of another promisingly meat-rich meal that took place 25 years ago at a short-lived restaurant in Schenectady called the Rib and Seafood House. Hotel restaurants in general live a tricky existence; hotel restaurants in Schenectady are fighting immense odds. Here’s my 1990 review.


THE IDEAL RESTAURANT REVIEW should require half a dozen visits, both announced and furtive. The place should be seen under a variety of conditions. Because intangibles are apt to go wrong unexpectedly.

This photo has nothing to do with the piece,
except that it illustrates prime rib and shrimp.
Or the post office may decide to have a party.

That's what the sign in the lobby of Schenectady's Best Western told us. The post office, among others, was partying there. The desk clerk even thought we were attached to some function when we arrived for dinner last Saturday.

When we got seated in what was left of the partitioned dining room of the Rib and Seafood House, we were placed beside a thin folding wall drawn to keep us from seeing the post office people. “This is the non-smoking section,” the hostess explained.

As soon as she left, every other table in the place broke out smokes and ignited them. I started looking for Allen Funt. The stereo at the party kicked in with that molar-loosening bass throb most apartment-dwellers know agonizingly well. I imagined a hundred letter carriers dropping their mailbags and going into a frenzied dance.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Here’s the Beef!

What’s for Dinner? Dept.: Last weekend, the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, NY, held its second annual Beefsteak, and, keeping my repertorial responsibilities in mind, attended so you wouldn’t have to. Here’s my report.


TWO HOURS INTO THE EVENT, the lights went out. The glare of spotlights in a rear balcony took over. As the band swung into a rousing processional, the first platter of beef entered the hall, borne by a young white-jacketed, toque-topped chef. Followed by another, then another, carried by chef after chef, all proceeding across the room to a stage where carving stations awaited.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
The beef was a shell of Black Angus, a well-trimmed short loin crisp on the outside but juicily rare within. Each shell was swiftly carved into large chunks that got splayed on a white platter around a small pitcher of blood-and-butter gravy.

It was the crowning touch of an evening of superfetation, marking the resurgence of a tradition that almost had left us: the Beefsteak.

The event took place at the Culinary Institute of America’s Hyde Park campus last Saturday, filling cavernous Farquharson Hall at the institute’s main building. This, once the chapel when the place was still a Jesuit seminary, otherwise serves as the student dining room. Saturday it was filled with 160 revelers who had parked their diets at the door.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Comin’ Back to the Raft Agin

From the Vault Dept.: Twenty-seven years ago I reviewed a touring production of Roger Miller’s musicalization of Huckleberry Finn, a sweet-tempered show called Big River. Perhaps I have too much reverence for the novel, which colored my opinion in this brief notice; in the years since, I’ve had a great time performing a song from the show: “You Oughta Be Here with Me,” in which I accompanied Amy Prothro, who melts your heart with the thing, on violin.


HUCKLEBERRY FINN FAIRLY LEAPS from the pages of Mark Twain’s novel as a timeless, fully-realized “cretur” whose adventures reveal those insights about ourselves that only the best novelists can capture. The book is virtuoso display of storytelling in which style is impossible to separate from content. Although the stories it tells are vivid, they rely on narrative language for their effectiveness.

In short, it’s a book that defies translation into any other discipline, and until Big River came on the scene it successfully resisted the lure of the stage (and screen). 

The Roger “Dang Me” Miller musical played a brief, acclaimed run at Proctor’s last week, demonstrating why it works so well: it’s just a swell kind of a setting, with high-energy performances and harmless songs. It moves quickly, celebrates freedom and the river and a few other wholesome things, and flirts with the general cussedness that made (and continues to make) the book such a cause célèbre.

But it ain’t Twain. As if to drive that point home, the costumed figure of the author appears at the start of the piece, somewhat bemusedly observing the entrance of Huck; he sings a bit of the toe-tappin’ opener, “Do Ya Wanna Go to Heaven!” before slipping away. He’s just not comfortable with these proceedings.

What’s left is a comfortable reminder of a book we all probably should read again. It’s not a kid’s book, but this is a kid’s musical, and those who continue to confuse Huck with children’s material probably will see no difference.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Kitchens Unconfidential, Part Two

From the Spattered Pages Dept.: Here’s the second installment of vintage cookbook roundups (part one is here). Well; not that vintage. It’s a selection of cookbooks I found compelling as 1993 drew to a close.


EVEN AS HOLIDAY COOKING gives you a chance to enjoy evocative seasonal dishes once again, it’s an opportunity for inexpensive travel. Explore the cuisine of a different part of the country or of a different country altogether, and you’ve learned something special about that culture.

Although the chefs Julia Child visits in the course of her new book are all based in this country, six of the 16 were born elsewhere and most of the others have travelled widely in gastronomic exploration. Cooking with Master Chefs is a companion to a new PBS series that you really won’t need to watch after reading this. Learning to cook from television is an odd conceit anyway; cooking is a tactile, participatory art – the direct opposite of what TV encourages.

So take advantage of this book’s tour of noted chefs and their signature recipes. And learn about each chef’s background and attitude as you do so. You’re not simply cooking Green Olive Tapenade with Alice Waters of Chez Panisse; you’re also learning how she revolutionized menus across the country with her emphasis on absolutely fresh ingredients. Each profile is accompanied by three to six recipes geared toward home preparation without compromising on the intricacies of particular dishes.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Kitchens Unconfidential, Part One

From the Spattered Pages Dept.: I have a passion for good cookbooks, and have enjoyed writing about them for many years. Today and tomorrow I’m sharing pieces I wrote over two decades ago about books I still consult.


THIS CULINARY TOUR OF EUROPE is the best kind of armchair (or stove-side) touring: getting to know a culture through its food. The evolution of any country's menus is closely tied to its political changes, and the “Heritage of ... ” series that Random House has been producing takes special note of that evolution.

The Heritage of Spanish Cooking, like its antecedent tribute to France, is a big, colorful volume filled with photos of gorgeously styled food as well as art reproductions illustrating customs of cooking and eating through the centuries.

Like The Joy of Sex, the book is divided into courses; unlike Joy, the courses keep coming. The section on appetizers, tapas and salads looks too tasty to break away from, yet further on are preparations of vegetables, of fish and shellfish, of meat, poultry and game – there's even a savory chapter that instructs you in making your own preserves and marinades.

Alicia Roos’ text introduces each chapter by tracing historical and cultural changes in cooking, a wonderfully scholarly exposition that puts the recipes that follow in much better perspective.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Bunny Hops

From the Turntable Dept.: My earliest record reviews for Metroland literally were that: reviews of records. Here’s one for an artist woefully underserved in the CD era, although I commend an excellent (but, unfortunately, out of print) Mosaic release for enough of Bunny Berigan’s work to keep you hale and happy for a while.


THE GREAT VICTOR VAULT has opened once again and grateful fans are sprinkled with 28 more cuts from the moribund Bluebird series. It's good to see these old friends again.

Someone at RCA has always been keen on providing us with historical material. The Vintage series was a single-disc series that touched on every type of pre-LP styling, from jazz to music hall to the songs of the railroad workers.

The Bluebird series came along about 13 years ago, first to encompass big bands, jazz, blues and race records, eventually just to finish the big band discographies.

When it died a few years back there was some unfinished business. The newly-revived series picks up with volume two of The Complete Bunny Berigan.

Berigan was a self-destructive trumpet star of the 30s who absorbed the groundbreaking work of Louis Armstrong, mixed it into his own unique playing and gave pulse to the bands of Dorsey and Goodman (among others).

Monday, February 02, 2015

How to Teach Your Kids to Like Music

Jascha Heifetz Dept.: It’s Heifetz’s 114th or 115th birthday, depending on which calendar you use, and in celebration let’s see what he and his publicist cooked up for a 1953 Saturday Evening Post piece. One of Heifetz’s publicists insisted that he never used ghostwriters. I’m suspecting, however, that the piece was transcribed and skillfully edited. One thing’s for sure: the lesson of how much practice is required to master a musical instrument has been lost in the Guitar Hero era.


ONE DAY LAST YEAR, following my concert in a Southwestern city, I was the guest of honor at a reception given by the local equivalent of Perle Mesta. It was one of those buffet-supper affairs. I had secured for myself a chicken-salad sandwich and a cup of coffee, and I was trying to balance the cup on one knee so that both of my hands could concentrate on the sandwich. I am reputed to have some agility in manipulating a bow across the four strings of a violin, but, alas, even after many post-concert suppers, I am still unable to master the art of eating smoothly on my knees.

Jascha Heifetz
As I was fumbling around with my food, an attractive woman, whom I judged to be about thirty-five years old, approached and said she wanted me to know how much she and her husband had enjoyed the concert. I smiled gratefully.

Suddenly she said, “Mr. Heifetz, do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”

“I don’t know if I can answer it,” I said.

“Oh, I’m sure you can. You see, it’s about my daughter. She’s ten years old and just seems to have no ear for music. She can’t even carry a simple tune. Do you think we are wrong in not giving her piano lessons and forcing her to practice?”