Search This Blog

Friday, January 31, 2014

Second Amendment

From the Theater Vault Dept.: Improvisational comedy is as old as any theatrical style, but was given new life in Chicago in the days when Mike Nichols a student at the University of Chicago and Elaine May was hanging out in the neighborhood. Second City evolved from some early ensembles, and continues to supply our best-known comedians. Here’s what I found when they stopped in Albany back in 1997.


ALMOST 40 YEARS AGO, when the ensemble that would become Second City was performing scenario plays in a bar in Chicago, they were asked to extend the length of their shows to allow more bar business. So they started improvising scenes. Improvisation calls on different acting techniques than scripted shows: an ability to be, Zen-like, “in the moment,” and an instinctive affirmation of anything your scene partners come up with.

Second City’s National Touring Company is a direct descendant of that tradition. Gone are the socially-conscious scenarios, replaced by sketch-comedy scenes, developed through improvisation and refined through performances. And the improvised finale is still part of the show.

Six young actors and a pianist turned the Egg’s bare stage into a restaurant, a hospital surgery, a clothing store, a fast-food restaurant and many more locations. Even though we saw no setting or costumes, we believed in the locations because the relationships among the actors were so compelling.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Touching Hearts and Affecting Minds

Guest Blogger Dept.: Let's hear (and see) what Vladimir Nabokov has to say about Lolita.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Taking His Licks

From the Concert Vault Dept.: Not only is Dan Hicks still going strong, but he has for cryin’ out loud Mort Sahl opening for him at an upcoming concert – a concert the theme of which primarily is comestibles. Here’s a review of a stop he made in the area a dozen years ago, before the Helsinki moved to Hudson, NY.


SINCE HE AMBLED ONTO THE music scene in San Francisco’s freewheeling ‘60s, Dan Hicks has been a compelling anachronism. His original songs and musical stylings showed influences from so many different genres that he could only be labeled, if a label was all that important, as an original. Which makes it hard to drop his records (and, now, CDs) into that all-important correctly defined bin.

Dan Hicks
His performance last Sunday at Club Helsinki had all the elements that made him unique through the 1970s, with an emphasis on jazz that keeps the Hicks ensemble category-free. There’s a taught, hard-swinging sound to the two guitars, violin and bass reminiscent of the Reinhardt-Grappelli Quintet of the Hot Club of Paris; there’s an easygoing Bob Wills charm. Then throw in the jive novelty of Slim and Slam and the close harmony of the Modernaires and you begin to get at least the palette.

It may be that Hicks as a performer has undermined the reputation he should enjoy as a songwriter. He’s way too funny onstage. He has a dry sense of humor and manner that wonderfully parodies the luv-ya-all insincerity of many a performer, yet he wields his wit without alienating the crowd – they love him for it.

But there’s something about a funnyman that discourages serious examination. Songs like “I Scare Myself” are classics – and it was covered by Thomas Dolby – and the Club Helsinki performance reminded us that it’s both the well-crafted lyric and hypnotic tune that make this such a great vehicle. “It’s theme song of a generation,” said Hicks, introducing the song. “A generation of wiped-out paranoids.”

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger

Rather than submitting to the House Un-American Committee's demand that he name names, Pete Seeger offered to sing to the chairman some songs from that chairman's native county -- which happened to be a coal-mining area. Not surprisingly, the offer was declined and Seeger was charged with contempt, a ruling that wouldn't be overturned for several years.

Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert, and
Fred Hellerman at Carnegie Hall in 1980
It was a gutsy move. Zero Mostel impersonated a butterfly, Artie Shaw wept, Burl Ives sang like a canary, Elia Kazan and Jerome Robbins named names like adorable lapdogs. Which is why Mostel and Seeger and so many others had to struggle for so many years to overcome the blacklist.

But Seeger's was a life of gutsy decisions, some of them simply the result of being in the right place, however ironically, at the right time, and deciding to stay there when a sense of safety might have suggested otherwise.

One of the foundation stones of his home in Beacon, NY, was a rock hurled through his car window by a state trooper in Peekskill in 1949, the aftermath of a concert at which Seeger, Paul Robeson, and many other left-leaning performers performed. As the local VFW saw it, it was a petrie dish of communist bacilla, sure to infect the surrounding populace, so they -- with the help of the troopers and other thugs -- ambushed the staging area and battered the departing vehicles. (An inquiry went to then-governor Dewey, who sided with the thugs.)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Egging You On

WE THINK OF HEN FRUIT as a breakfast item, and too often meet it atop a fast-food takeout sandwich, reconstituted from a powder. Eggs have a versatility that not only allow them to meet you in the morning in many different way, but also to feature in the meals you enjoy at the other end of the day.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
“All I need to do to see if a guy can cook is watch him make an omelet,” said the chef who trained me and who, mercifully, didn’t let my lousy technique stop him from hiring me. To make a good omelet, you should know how to scramble eggs.

Eggs should be at room temperature before you start, and the fresher the better. You’re better off buying them from a farmer or food co-op.

Almost anything I cook on the stovetop is done in olive oil. You can substitute butter, if you like, but it has less tolerance for burning. Start your lubricant heating in a nonstick pan. Break two eggs into a bowl and whisk them until the color is uniform. I add a splash of half-and-half. Salt and pepper it – especially pepper. Fresh chopped parsley is another excellent additive.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Fifty Million Frenchmen

From the Concert Hall Dept.: It’s always an impressive sight (though ever rarer) to see a large orchestra on the stage of the Troy Music Hall, never mind one playing to a full house, and this was a group that doesn’t pay to many visits to the United States – and it’s still going strong, still under the baton of Jean-Claude Casadesus.


THE MANY MEMBERS of the Orchestre National de Lille crowded themselves onto the small stage of the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall for a concert which did more than a dozen skilled ambassadors ever could to improve relations with France.

Orchestre National de Lille | Photo by Ugo Ponte
A French orchestra playing an all-French program so splendidly is a treat; it was eagerly savored by the full house Saturday night.

Offenbach’s overture to “Orpheus in the Underworld” has been lampooned by everyone from Spike Jones to Bugs Bunny, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that the composer himself intended some japery about the piece. Under conductor Jean-Claude Casadesus, there was no lack of humor as the orchestra bubbled through this crowd pleaser.

Pianist Brigitte Engerer then came onstage to play Saint-Saëns’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor. She wore a dress that wouldn’t look out of place on a singer with the Glenn Miller Orchestra: a black ensemble with a sequinned dickey, appropriate to the lighthearted mood of the concert.

Friday, January 24, 2014

War Horse

What’s Playing? Dept.: War Horse, a hit on the West End and Broadway stages, stopped by Proctors in Schenectady last week. Here’s my review.


IT’S A CINEMATIC SPECTACLE, the kind of theatrical event usually reserved for Cameron Mackintosh-style musical extravaganzas, last seen on the Proctors mainstage in the mammoth Les Miz. But this time it wasn’t a musical—although there’s plenty of music—and the main character was a horse.

That’s not strictly correct. The main character is war, World War I, to be exact, but the horrors of such an event transcend any one in particular.

Adapted from Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel, War Horse views events through the surprisingly animate eyes of Joey, a draft-horse-thoroughbred mix ill-suited for farm work in Devon, where he is raised, but who proves an admirable mount for a British officer battling his way across France.

This is a war of technological changes, however, and the cavalry charge is no match for automatic weapons. Joey’s fortunes soon change. He is pressed into service for the German side hauling an ambulance; eventually he is put to hauling heavy equipment. During all of this time he is sought by Albert (Michael Wyatt Cox), the boy who raised him and who eventually makes his own way to the battlefields.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

How Beauty Contrived to Get Square with the Beast

Guest Blogger Dept.: Another timeless classic by Guy Wetmore Carryl, with drawings by Albert Levering.


This shows how at poker one loses his pelf
When the other’s a joker and knave in himself.

Miss Guinevere Platt
Was so beautiful that
She couldn't remember the day
When one of her swains
Hadn't taken the pains
To send her a mammoth bouquet.
And the postman had found,
On the whole of his round,
That no one received such a lot
Of bulky epistles
As, waiting his whistles,
The beautiful Guinevere got!

A significant sign
That her charm was divine
Was seen in society, when
The chaperons sniffed
With their eyebrows alift:
“Whatever’s got into the men?”
There was always a man
Who was holding her fan,
And twenty that danced in details,
And a couple of mourners,
Who brooded in corners,
And gnawed their mustaches and nails.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Garden of Kong

From the Audio File Dept.: A couple more vintage CD reviews, this time of significant music written for films.


“RECOGNIZE THIS?” I asked my wife as the King Kong score played in the background. Crashing, ominous chords signalled the “Aboriginal Sacrificial Dance” sequence. “It’s from a movie,” she said. “Something pretty scary.”

Sixty-five years later, the score, even when shorn of its film, still packs a punch that excites the imaginations. This recording presents a full reconstruction of all the music Max Steiner wrote for the 1933 epic. It’s not, as recording supervisor John Morgan points out in the detailed notes, a recreation of what’s on the soundtrack, but rather an exciting performance of the score by a good-sized orchestra–larger than what Steiner used for the original, but one that suits his ambition, as evidenced by the orchestration.

You don’t have to be familiar with the film to enjoy the music–it’s stirring in its own right, full of contrast and surprise. If you do remember the movie, you’ll be all the more delighted by the images the music prompts.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Grumiaux Reaper

From the Vault Dept.: Here’s a review I wrote for Metroland, but which never seems to have gotten published. So I share it with you, only noting that the set described here is long out of print, and the lowest price for a used copy on is $125. I might be tempted to part with my copy for a little less than that . . .


ALTHOUGH HIS CURRENT REPUTATION may be overshadowed by a coeval generation of Russians, Belgian violinist Arthus Grumiaux could easily be mistaken for one of them when he’s surging to a big moment in one of the big concertos. He had a rich but cheerful sound that served him well in the warhorses, but this collection focuses on his more intimate side – the featured attraction being all five of Mozart’s concertos (and a spurious one).

Grumiaux won an international reputation with his interpretation of Mozart’s Concerto No. 3 in G Major, and it’s here in a 1953 recording with the Vienna Symphony; the others, waxed with the same orchestra, range from that year through 1955. Which means that they’re in mono, but so is most of the collection. Don’t let that dismay you: the sound quality, typical of Philips in that era, is superb.

These recordings also date from a time when the violinist was the star, so the recording balance tends to put him out front. But it’s not as egregious as it might be. Compare Grumiaux’s 1962 version of Fauré’s sonata with the Heifetz version, recorded a few years earlier, in which the piano almost disappears into the background. And the Fauré sonata, an unjustly neglected piece, showcases all that’s wonderful about Grumiaux’s sound and interpretive style, its heroic declamations just as convincing as its moments of sweetness.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Wrath of Mel

From the Vault Dept.: He agreed to return to Proctor’s Theatre for another performance, but he insisted that I be banned from the theater. Which, the Proctor’s management assured me, would not be the case – but Mel Tormé had been difficult to deal with from the get-go. I believe he did perform there again, but given the experience I recount below, I was hardly interested in seeing him perform again.


GEORGE GERSHWIN'S FILM BIO, “Rhapsody in Blue,” finishes with a performance of the title tune during which, as pianist Oscar Levant works his way to the finish, the point of view shifts to an overhead shot as the camera works its way up ... up ... past a few wisps of clouds ... on heavenward ... to suggest a composer's-eye view of the proceedings.

Mel Tormé
It was worthy attempt to pay tribute to the composer who by then had been dead for eight years. But it suffered from extreme sappiness.

This same phenomenon plagued Mel Tormé’s “Great Gershwin Concert,” performed at Proctor’s Theatre Friday evening with the able assistance of Leslie Uggams and Peter Nero. And we didn’t even get a complete version of the “Rhapsody.”

Tormé is a phenomenal talent who writes words and music, arranges, acts, and sings, of course. He had a good idea in adding continuity to this concert, and it’s nice to have the energy a variety of material can offer. But his is a kid-in-a-candy-shop attitude: if one song is good, a dozen must be better. Instead of hearing one work done well, you wind up with plenty o’ nothin’.

Too often it seemed that Tormé was merely using the memory and material of Gershwin to remind us how nifty he himself is: sure, it’s appropriate to salute Fred Astaire’s relationship with George and Ira, but a Tormé-rewritten lyric to “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” was full of treacle and lousy rhymes.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Unspeakable Jazz Must Go!

Reformers Reform Reforms Dept.: Put down that record of “Livery Stable Blues” and meet Fenton T. Bott. He’s going to set you straight about the evils of jazz, as recounted by wide-eyed scribe John R. McMahon, writing in the December 1921 edition of the Ladies Home Journal. Meanwhile, I’m off in search of some unchaperoned adventure.


EXPERTS TELL IN THIS ARTICLE the nation-wide aspects of our jazz scourge. They say legal prohibition of all dancing may come.

Unspeakable Jazz Must Go! It is worse than Saloon and Scarlet Vice,
Testify Professional Dance Experts – Only a Few Cities are Curbing Evil.

A reform movement has been started by cities and volunteer groups. A committee of women is helping to regulate in Chicago.

It looks as if the common people are in reaction against “common behavior.” Decency is regaining popularity among those who work for a living.

Meanwhile the idle rich are getting ranker. There are few signs of reform in high places. The “worst case” was observed on the dancing floor of an expensive New York hotel.

The high-society flapper is still going the limit. She drinks, swears, smokes, toddles and chatters stories that once belonged to the men’s smoke room.

You can’t reform a society flapper. Maybe not. She is a law unto herself. Perhaps. “It’s none of your business and the boys like it,” she says. Is that so?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Come Up to My Place

Another ditty that will be featured at my Valentine's Day cabaret show at Saratoga's Caffe Lena. Buy your tickets now so you can sit up close and heckle.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Family Table

What’s on the Menu? Dept.: As a restaurant critic, I’m required to taste many things. In this case, an excellent dinner with a helping of crow.


HAVING ENJOYED A TERRIFIC DINNER with a group of neighbors in a restaurant doing a lively Thursday-night business, I must now eat my words. Two weeks ago, in a review of Aladdin, which offers Middle Eastern fare in Amsterdam, I complained that Montgomery County lives in fear of its food. I offered as support of this observation my 20-plus years as a resident here.

Seafood mousseline | Photo by B. A. Nilsson
“But you rarely go out to eat in the county,” a neighbor complained. “You’re always in Albany or Troy or Saratoga.” She then proposed that we visit The Table at Fort Plain. It’s a drive of some 30 minutes from my house; 60 minutes from downtown Albany. It’s a community at the county’s western end best known for the flood devastation it suffered last summer—a flood that took its toll on The Table, which at that point had been open for only a year.

The restaurant’s basement flooded; wiring was destroyed and the wine collection was lost, among other damages. Many neighboring business threw in the towel, but the Katovitch family worked around the clock to get the place open again and were able to do so after only a month.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

For the Record (Part Two)

Burning up the Airwaves Dept.: A couple of days ago, I shared some of the reasons why I left a nice job as a programmer and morning announcer at Schenectady’s WMHT-FM. Here’s how I got into it in the first place.

By the end of 1979, I’d been working for several years as a waiter and then a line cook at white-linen restaurants in Westchester and Fairfield Counties, ending up in the kitchen at the prestigious Elms Inn in Ridgefield, Conn., the town in which I was raised. But one of my sidelines – albeit for no pay – was an airshift at WPKN in Bridgeport.

Not WMHT-FM, but kind of similar.
That station had developed an identity distinct from the University of Bridgeport, to which it was licensed, and under the aegis of Jeff Tellis and then my high-school buddy Harry Minot, the station became its own free-form entity. Although mine was nominally a classical-music show, representing my passion for that music and trying to combat the sad fact that few others were programming such stuff, I enjoyed mixing things up, throwing in jazz tunes that seemed to make sense in a playlist or, as I did one enjoyable night, offering color commentary alongside “The Magic Flute.”

There were classical-music stations to be heard in the area in those days: WQXR, of course, but also WNCN and, to a lesser extent, WNYC. The music also turned up on such iconoclastic stations as WKCR, WFUV, WBAI, and even WEVD (named for Eugene V. Debs!).

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Guest Blogger Dept.: Let us turn to the prolific pen of Hilaire Belloc, who gives us the saga of “Matilda, Who told Lies, and was Burned to Death.” (Drawings by
Basil T. Blackwood.)


Matilda told such Dreadful Lies,
It made one Gasp and
   Stretch one’s Eyes;
Her Aunt, who, from her
   Earliest Youth,
Had kept a Strict Regard for Truth,
Attempted to Believe Matilda:
The effort very nearly killed her,
And would have done so,
   had not She
Discovered this Infirmity.

For once, towards the Close of Day,
Matilda, growing tired of play,
And finding she was left alone,
Went tiptoe to the Telephone
And summoned the Immediate Aid
Of London’s Noble Fire-Brigade.
Within an hour the Gallant Band
Were pouring in on every hand,

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

An Order of Songs

Personal Narrative Dept.: With Feb. 14 looming disturbingly close, my cabaret-show partners got together with me today to run through material and figure out what material should work and who’s singing what and how might we court the unexpected without getting too weird.

While I don’t want to give away all of the surprises we’re planning, I thought I’d give you a glimpse into the rehearsal room. We’ve e-mailed; we’ve talked by phone. We have favorites from previous performances, but, with a performance on Valentine’s Day, we’re pursuing some of the odder corners of the love song tradition.

Malcolm Kogut, Amy Prothro, and
Byron Nilsson. Photo by Lily Whiteman
We’ll be at Saratoga’s Caffè Lena, a coffeehouse that’s been presenting an eclectic blend of folk and other acoustic music – and theater – since 1960. It’s an intimate house with an audience that meets you more than halfway, so we want to challenge them with material they would be hard-pressed to hear from anyone else.

So Amy Prothro and Malcolm Kogut and I hit the rehearsal room with piles of sheet music and a vague idea of how to order what feels like an excess of material, but it was easy to settle on an opening number. Amy just returned from a five-week stint in Michigan performing in an Irving Berlin revue, so we plucked “You’re Just in Love” from the show “Call Me Madam,” which features two contrasting parts (for two contrasting singers), bringing the two parts together at the finish.

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Disapproval of Chorus

Time Wounds Heels Dept.: Pawing through my “radio souvenirs” file yesterday, I found some documents from the start and finish of my brief career as morning programmer and announcer at WMHT-FM in Schenectady, back when the station had an in-house staff that knew something about classical music. Trouble was, the administrators didn’t. The station’s chief honcho not only was admirably ignorant about the music, but hated vocal music and anything with harpsichord.

Artwork by B. A. Nilsson
But! you argue: Don’t you need to know something about music even to hate an aspect of it? Of course, but this was (and remains) a listener-supported station, and the GM’s attitude was shaped by the people who would donate their thirty bucks to the station and then whine when something they didn’t like was aired. It seems that harpsichords and singers topped the list.

Shortly after I started there, one of the GM’s lackeys sent this memo to the radio stations’s program manager:

May 6, 1980
Re: WMHT Opera Policy

Over the months, you and I have had many separate discussions on individual aspects of handling operatic materials on the station. The following is an attempt to collect these points into a single, manageable package:

I. Opera, full or partial, shall only appear on Tuesday evenings with the exception of TV/FM simulcasts.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Let's Be Heard!

From the Ether Dept.: I just learned that Bob Grant died on New Year's Eve. He was 84, and had been a fixture of New York call-in radio since 1970, when he pretty much invented the format on WMCA. He was controversial enough to be booted from station to station over the years, bouncing him to WOR and WABC and back to WAMC.

A souvenir from Nov. 1977
I listened to him in the glory days when you also had Jean Shepherd and Barry Farber and Long John Nebel holding forth on the AM dial, but Grant carried on a crackling political discourse that, for all the unpleasantness of his opinions, at least was rooted in intelligence. Plus, I heard him also doing "psychic readings" those first few years, which underscored the fact that he was an entertainer at heart. The current bloviators -- Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage, and the like -- who pay tribute to Grant have nothing in common with the talk-show host I used to listen to. In later years, Grant became a caricature of himself, no doubt of a panicky wish to compete with the more vapid youngsters taking over the microphones, but in his palmy days, nobody could touch him for delightful outrageousness.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

World Weary

Noël Coward's ballad of ennui, as sung by Amy Prothro and me, with Malcolm Kogut at the piano, at Mohonk Mountain House last summer.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Esta Casa es Tu Casa

What’s for Lunch? Dept.: Here’s my recent review of a restaurant that has anchored a block in downtown Albany for several years.


HECTOR MARMOL SPENT MANY YEARS running restaurants in what is truly the culinary epicenter of this country: Queens. He had a place right off the 7 train in the shadow of Shea Stadium; he had a larger place not far from there. Profits were dimmed as rents soared higher; after his son was born, he wanted the comfort of more reliable expenses and decided to relocate to Buffalo. He stopped in Albany en route, and he’s been here ever since. “I heard about the Buffalo winters,” he explains, which instantly makes the snow on the street outside seem cheerful.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
He and his wife, Maria, opened Casa Domenicana on Central Avenue nearly eight years ago. He now owns the building it’s in, on the corner of North Lake, and his business is a brisk mix of takeout and sit-down, with a handful of small tables at which you can park yourself and your tray.

Along one wall are colorful murals he commissioned, showing the Caribbean setting of Hispaniola, the island his country shares with Haiti, and some lush views of the Puerto Plata beaches on the country’s north coast.

As Marmol points out, the cuisine of the Domenican Republic is very similar to that of nearby Cuba and Puerto Rico, adding, “My own cooking gets a lot of its flavor from garlic.” Which is an excellent starting place. I’m so partial to garlic myself that I have little sympathy with those who complain of its presence, and am unable to offer any counsel as to whether it’s used to excess.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Good Vibes on Marimba Street

From the Vault Dept.: Having unearthed this 1985 review of an unusual recital at Proctors in Schenectady, I searched the internet for a better photo of Nachiko Maekane than the thumbnail that ran with the article. I found none, but discovered how ignorant I can be of my own backyard. It turns out that Maekane lives in the area and spent some time on the music faculty at Schenectady County Community College, members of which joined her in concert last November!


CAPPING TWO WEEKS of community residency, the performance by marimba virtuoso Nachiko Maekane at Proctor’s Theater was a fitting conclusion to her stay here – and, it is hoped, an indication of the kind of talent we can expect by the next two performers who will have a similar residency in the area under the Affiliate Artists program.

Nachiko Maekane
Affiliate Artists has been operating since 1966, sponsoring gifted solo performers to develop new audiences in selected communities. Thanks to a gift from the General Electric Foundation, this is the first year the program has sent artists our way, and Ms. Maekane will be followed by an actor and a mime.

Tuesday night’s performance at Proctor’s was much more formal than what she had been doing – “informances,” they’re called, suggesting the mixture achieved by a combination of performance and discussion. Tuesday night, Ms. Maekane played a brief program of six pieces, most of which were written specifically for her instrument.

The marimba is a sort of percussion hybrid, placing the tuned wooden bars of a xylophone over the resonating columns of a set of vibes. It is played with one or two mallets in each hand. It does not naturally sustain a pitch, but a skilled performer, like Ms. Maekane, can bring forth an organ-like quality through clever hammering.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Anniversary Peace March

From the Streets Dept.: It was cold that day in March, 2004, so I’m adding this reminiscence to some souvenirs for cold-weather week.


“THERE’S A COUNTER-DEMONSTRATION UP AHEAD,” the young man shouted. “Don’t listen to them. Just keep moving. Keep moving. Don’t listen to them.” He wore a tag identifying him as a volunteer with International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), one of the groups responsible for coordinating Saturday’s protest march in New York and many other cities across the country and around the world. The most recent such march in New York, in Feb. 2003, resulted in over two hundred arrests, a statistic the organizers sought to avoid.

NYC, 21 March 2004 | Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Avoid it they did. The turnout, estimated by the city police to be 40,000 and by ANSWER to be more like 100,000, was an energetic, determined group, but cooperative enough that there were only four disorderly conduct arrests, and three of those weren’t even on the parade route.

The protest began at 23rd St. and Madison Ave., where the growing crowd listened to a succession of speakers that included Dennis Kucinich. Police again used metal barricades to block side-street access as the gathering filled, sending newcomers north for access to Madison Ave. The march itself began at about 1:30, traveling west across 23rd St. to 6th Ave., north to 40th St., east to Madison and back down to 23rd, where more speakers closed the program.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

The Heart of Marjorie Jones

Guest Blogger Dept.: A story by Booth Tarkington.

THIS LITTLE CARD, delicately engraved, betokened the hospitality incidental to the ninth birthday anniversary of Baby Rennsdale, youngest member of the Friday Afternoon Dancing Class, and, by the same token, it represented the total social activity (during that season) of a certain limited bachelor set consisting of Messrs. Penrod Schofield and Samuel Williams. The truth must be faced: Penrod and Sam were seldom invited to small parties; they were considered too imaginative. But in the case of so large an affair as Miss Rennsdale’s, the feeling that their parents would be sensitive outweighed fears of what Penrod and Sam might do at the party. Reputation is indeed a bubble, but sometimes it is blown of sticky stuff.

The comrades set out for the fête in company, final maternal outpourings upon deportment and the duty of dancing with the hostess evaporating in their freshly cleaned ears. Both boys, however, were in a state of mind, body, and decoration appropriate to the gala scene they were approaching. Their collars were wide and white; inside the pockets of their overcoats were glistening dancing-pumps, wrapped in tissue-paper; inside their jacket pockets were pleasant-smelling new white gloves, and inside their heads solemn timidity commingled with glittering anticipations. Before them, like a Christmas tree glimpsed through lace curtains, they beheld joy shimmering—music, ice-cream, macaroons, tinsel caps, and the starched ladies of their hearts Penrod and Sam walked demurely yet almost boundingly; their faces were shining but grave—they were on their way to the Party!

Monday, January 06, 2014

From the New World

From the Vault Dept.: A look back to a concert in 1989, presented by the still-going-strong Friends of Chamber Music, who place excellent events in the lovely Kiggins Hall at Troy’s Emma Willard School.


ALTHOUGH THE ACCOMPANYING NOTES exhorted us to pay attention to composer Karl Weigl as an important, neo-Romantic voice (he lived from 1881-1949), his String Quartet No. 5 in G Major began with a pleasant, forgettable dullness.

Karl Weigl
In the hands of the New World String Quartet, the piece was rendered with such finesse that it was enjoyable on that level alone. The Friends of Chamber Music concluded its current season (and celebrated its 40th anniversary) with this concert at Kiggins Hall in the Emma Willard School Wednesday evening, a superb choice of musicians.

Who made a superb choice in programming, because, as the Weigl quartet unfolded, that first impression was completely contradicted. While the first movement gave a sense of Schubert tinged with Richard Strauss, the second showed Weigl on his own, with exciting rhythms and a good use of instrumental timbre.

His obviously Viennese sensibility straddled the salon and saloon throughout the piece; while the Larghetto was refined and lovely, the concluding Allegro began with a funny out-of-tune sequence that led to a rollicking dance.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Aladdin’s Magic

This Week’s Restaurant Dept.: Improbably, there’s a middle-eastern restaurant in Amsterdam, NY. I’m hoping it’s a sign of cultural growth. But we’re not talking about one of the more enlightened semi-urban areas in New York’s (mid) upper reaches.


IT SHONE LIKE A BEACON on the gloomy Amsterdam street, about the only active entity at nine o’clock on a Friday night. From the parking lot we could hear the music throb; inside the place, the muted lighting was punctuated with rainbow flashes. A belly dancer worked the floor.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Red tablecloths and a display of hookahs dress the multi-floor dining area, with Christmas decorations accenting the walls. Hand-hewn beams give the place a Dutch barn look. High above our heads, an arched wooden bridge connected the two upstairs dining areas.

Aladdin’s Restaurant and Hookah Lounge opened in June on a stretch of Amsterdam’s Route 30 that has boomed with retail development over the past few years. It’s a partnership between Kousai Alikhan, of Gloversville, and his New York City-based friend Zouhir Lian, who also owns a Gloversville home. Both are from Syria, and sought to recreate the kind of eatery they grew up with.

Although belly dancing is offered only on Friday and Saturday nights, hookahs are available at or after every meal. The technique of sending one’s preferred smoke through a water bath is enjoyed by many different cultures, so it oughtn’t to seem too unusual. But the beauty of the hookah itself is impressive.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

The Cremation of Sam McGee

A cold-weather favorite, as I performed it with Malcolm Kogut in 1986. Here's the text.

Friday, January 03, 2014

My Winter Decathlon

The Biggest Chill Dept.: I so enjoy the hot buttered rum recipe reproduced below (from a piece written for a 1990 Schenectady Gazette winter tab) that I threw it into a Metroland piece many years later. But the book it comes from, Northwest Passage, would make for some fine stuck-in-the-house reading on a day like the frigid one currently surrounding us, so I’m going to dig through the stacks and read it again.


ONCE THE HILL BEHIND MY HOUSE disappears beneath its winter-long blanket of snow, many of the neighbors break out toboggans and sleds and dot the side of it, descending in crazy zigzags. Others strap their limbs into skates and whirl on the frozen water I can see from my window.

19 Feb. 2000 | Photo by B. A. Nilsson
I don’t sled, skate, toboggan or ski. That’s because winter offers me another sport, even more demanding in its regulations, a sport I play for the entire season. It’s the simple challenge of staying warm.

Sure, it’s my fault for living in a drafty old farmhouse, but I accept the fact that year after year the onset of winter will sound a silent starter’s pistol: On your mark. Get set. Get toasty!

The rules are simple. Maintain a surrounding warmth of at least 80 degrees, and don’t get a stiff neck at night. The component elements consist of combinations of clothing, insulation, fuel, and alcoholic beverages.

It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that the initial event takes place in the bathroom, when those first brisk days of fall send their chilled fingers to find you just as you’ve stepped out of the shower. That’s when the space heater is broken out of its summer wrapper and installed near the sink. And my wife, who usually decries my use of electricity as indulgent and ecologically unsound, makes not the slightest murmur of protest as I prepare for heated ablutions. She’ll be there next. A clear win for me, although it’s really a pre-season warm-up.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Stoltzman in Concert

January Jonesing Dept.: With a dazzlingly white new year on tap, I’m reminded of the events I enjoyed during Januaries past. Here’s one of them: a concert by clarinetist Richard Stoltzman at the beginning of 1987.


IT’S EASY FOR A PERFORMER to decide, “I’m a clarinetist. I have to do the right clarinet things.” Presenting the audience, then, with the clarinet stuff we’re already used to, which seems to come down to Mozart and familiar transcriptions.

Richard Stoltzman
None of which was on the program of clarinetist Richard Stoltzman’s recital at Proctor’s Theatre Saturday night. That right there tells you something about his refreshing approach.

Add to that some refreshingly clean and exciting playing and you have a performer who may do as much to advance the cause of his instrument as Benny Goodman did.

Stoltzman and pianist Bill Douglas also managed to work bassoon, percussion, scat singing, and ten more clarinets into the concert: again, not your usual setup.

Two clarinet sonatas were featured. The first, by Schubert, is a transcription of a violin sonatina that worked extremely well on the woodwind instrument, which has more sympathy with the fiddle’s tone of voice than the more eager-to-be-transcribed flute.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014