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Monday, April 18, 2022

I’ll Give You a Camera

I’VE NEVER LIKED having my picture taken. Of course, it’s required when pursuing and promoting entertainment gigs, but I’ve learned to endure it much the same way as I endure dental work. When I was five years old, my family lived in the northern New Jersey town of Glen Rock in what seemed to be a large house on South Maple Avenue. It turned out that Duncan Butler, our next-door neighbor had a photography studio in town, where my younger brother and I had our portraits taken, attired in little-boy suits and 60s-thin bow ties. Even – or perhaps especially – at that age, I was embarrassed by my visage.

I believe that the middle photo on the right
is a Dunc Butler shot. There are more in
the LP set's booklet, which I no longer own.

All of this I mentioned in a piece I posted here a decade ago, and it appears to be the only mention you’ll internet-find when searching for the photographer. (You can also find a few credits here at discogs.com, but they don’t show up on general searches.) As a result of that blog post, I recently heard from a man who, while researching writer-composer Paul Bowles, came across a Discogs listing for a ten-inch Atlantic LP titled “Haiti Dances,” for which Bowles wrote liner notes. And Butler is credited for the cover photo. Imagine the poor researcher’s bafflement when all he could discover was that old blog post of mine! He sent me a message, and I told him the rest of the story, which I’ll now tell you.

In my teens, I liberated myself away from the pop-music hits and discovered the wonders of classical and jazz, among other poorly named styles, and began obsessively collecting records. Records, mind you, those 12 by 12-inch long-playing marvels that captured wonderful music in their grooves and offered an education on their rear covers.

Friday, April 15, 2022

The Tariff Unmasked

It’s the Taxman Dept.: As you struggle to meet the IRS deadline today (actually, the deadline is next Monday, but today’s date has a mystical ethos about it), consider the hidden taxes we must pay, particularly the result of tariffs imposed on imported goods. When Robert Benchley wrote the piece below in 1922, the country was still reeling from the effects of World War I, during which President Wilson lowered or eliminated many tariffs, even while creating the Federal Reserve in order to centralize banking. His tariff-lowering Underwood-Simmons Act also re-established the federal income tax. By 1919, the Republicans had regained control of the House and Senate, and made news with their Emergency Tariff of 1921. No doubt this was on Benchley’s mind when he penned this essay. Still to come from the Republicans was the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, which helped worsen the Great Depression. Just thought you’d like to know.

                                                                                 
          

LET US GET THIS TARIFF THING cleared up, once and for all. An explanation is due the American people, and obviously this is the place to make it.

Viewing the whole thing, schedule by schedule, we find it indefensible. In Schedule A alone the list of necessities on which the tax is to be raised includes Persian berries, extract of nutgalls and isinglass. Take isinglass alone. With prices shooting up in this market, what is to become of our picture post-cards? Where once for a nickel you could get a picture of the Woolworth Building ablaze with lights with the sun setting and the moon rising in the background, under the proposed tariff it will easily set you back fifteen cents. This is all very well for the rich who can get their picture post-cards at wholesale, but how are the poor to get their art?

Monday, April 11, 2022

The Ugly Duckling

From the Classical Vault Dept.: Thirty-five years later, Harlow Robinson’s Prokofiev biography is still the best of an ever-increasing shelf of such studies. But for the best overall picture of the composer and his life, read it alongside Robinson’s more recent volume of selected letters by Prokofiev – and then tackle the three-volume autobiography. And click here for my review of one of the concerts mentioned below.

                                                                                                   

TEN YEARS IN THE MAKING! Eight trips to the Soviet Union! What sounds like a spy thriller is in truth a biography of one of this century’s most popular and controversial composers, Sergei Prokofiev, written by SUNY-Albany professor Harlow Robinson.

In conjunction with the book, published last month by Viking Press, SUNYA is presenting a festival of Prokofiev’s music in concert and on film.

“I’m glad to be able to do something musical to tie in with it,” says Robinson, who had a hand in the programming of the two concerts.

Saturday at 8 PM pianist, William Jones is joined by a number of other artists at the SUNYA Recital Hall in a variety of Prokofiev’s chamber music. “Bill was very enthusiastic when he heard I was writing the book,” Robinson says. “And he supplied some of the material that’s in it. He studied piano with Alexander Barovsky, who wrote a nice personal portrait of Prokofiev in his memoirs. Unfortunately, those memoirs never got published, but Bill got a copy of them, in Russian, from Barovsky’s widow.”

As soloist, Jones will play Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 3 (“From Old Notebooks”) and selections from the Op. 12 collection. He will be joined by soprano Anne Turner in “Five Poems of Anna Akhmatova,” Op. 27, sung in Russian, and “The Ugly Duckling,” Op. 18.

Friday, April 08, 2022

Feeding the Crowd

From the Food Vault Dept.: I haven’t been back to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center for several years, not since a Philadelphia Orchestra concert I was reviewing there was made miserable by a drunken group of rowdies. But many visits before then had their own fillips of misery thanks to the awfulness of the concession stands, run by Aramark, a huge corporate entity that is taking over the entire world of concessions, it seems. The stands were never well-staffed, the pricing was atrocious, and the food put Stewart’s offerings on a gourmet plane. It wasn’t always like that at SPAC. At least, not in 1990, when the following interview took place.

                                                                                         

THE DIVERSITY OF SARATOGA’S SUMMER THRONG is summed up by the food these people eat. It ranges from burgers to banquets, from the costly hot dogs grabbed at trackside to the elegant spreads at the Hall of Springs.

SPAC on a Good Day
Photo: AP/Hans Pennink

Those banquets are put together by Hall of Springs Catering Manager John Piccolo, but he easily sheds the black-tie look for a grillman’s cap. “I’m constantly searching out the market,” he says, explaining this diversity, “to see what the customer wants. To see what I can add to the foods I serve.”

He’s been doing so in Saratoga for nine years, but he’s been in the restaurant business for over a quarter-century. “I had my own place in Albany, and my family owned a little corner restaurant in Schenectady a hundred years ago.”

Like another notable SPAC employee, Piccolo went to college to be an accountant but changed over to foodservice with an emphasis on banquet preparation.

Monday, April 04, 2022

Training, Not Taming

From the Vault Dept.: From 1871 to 2017, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus toured the world, an ever-changing spectacle that weathered the many changes in travel, venue, and audience expectation until animal-rights controveries helped shutter it five years ago. Gunther Gebel-Williams was the star animal trainer there for over 20 years. After he retired, he became the organization’s Vice President of Animal Care. He died in Florida in 2001. I interviewed during that final tour in 1990.

                                                                                          

IT’S THE LAST TOUR for Gunther Gebel-Williams. The 119th edition of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus has been designed to showcase the man who has been the star attraction for 20 years – with a career that went back another 20 years in Europe.

Who will replace him?

A lot of eyes are turning to Mark Gebel, 18-year-old son of the star. Gunther isn’t sure about completely turning over his mantle to the boy. Mark will take over the elephant and horse training when his father leaves the circus, but the tigers go back with Gunther to Florida. “(He) still has to get the trust to train tigers. He is still too young to do it himself,” Gunther says about his son. He’s worried, of course, about comparisons putting one or the other in an unjust light.

This retirement party began in late 1988 and will take in 92 cities before finishing in Pittsburgh in November. It adds one more city to the number racked up by Sarah Bernhardt during her two-year farewell tour in 1916.

The local legs of the journey are Albany and Glens Falls, with performances at 4 and 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday at the Glens Falls Civic Center, and, when they pull into the Knickerbocker Arena, at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 11 and 12, 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday.

Friday, April 01, 2022

And the Same to You

DUDLEY MOORE devised this piece for “Beyond the Fringe,” the 1960 revue that changed the face of comedy. As he tells it, he came up with it the night before opening night. I had the pleasure of seeing him perform it in the show “Good Evening,” which he and Peter Cook performed in the UK (where it was titled “Behind the Fridge”) and throughout the US. Here’s one of the better-quality YouTube versions.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Virtual Secretary

From the Tech Vault Dept.: Here’s another dinosaur of a piece that I found on an ancient hard drive, but can find no tearsheets in my files that would show me the published product. I’m guessing it ran in about mid-1995. If you find a copy in your mildewed archives, let me know. The chief attraction here is to see how far technology has driven us since I wrote the piece, almost every aspect of which, from a software-and-hardware perspective, has been supplanted.

                                                                                          

MANAGING YOUR LIFE these days is like keeping track of a small business. You’ve got to keep track of people like doctors, bankers, brokers, and insurance sellers, not to mention trying to remember a birthday or two. If you’ve got kids, the names increase exponentially. Now let’s say you’re starting to third wave it, working at home a couple of days a week. You need to track who you’re calling and who called you. And if you’re not there to take a call, you don’t want to miss a message.

I do it all with my home computer. I’m too kindhearted ever to bark, “Get Chicago on the line!” to an employee, but I have no problem bossing around my modem. Combine one of the new multifunction modems with good support software and you’ve got yourself a virtual secretary.

If you’re planning to go anywhere near the Internet, you’ve probably already got your eye on a 28,800 bits-per-second modem. Because there’s such a high demand for them, manufacturers are offering all kinds of extras to sweeten the deal. You get faxing. You get voice mail. You even get Caller ID info.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Silk City Classic

From the Food Vault Dept.: I’m not sure where the reference to 1939 you’ll see below came from; according to fairly reliable sources, the structure we’re talking about arrived at 21 Frontage Road in Glenmont in 1962, a classic Silk City diner that initially was christened the Miss Glenmont. Then it became Johnny B’s in 2005, operating until 2020, when it became a pandemic victim. The building’s fate remains uncertain, with some locals wishing to save the structure even as a neighboring Stewart’s eyes it as an expansion site. Here’s what I found there 20 years ago.

                                                                                         

WE ARRIVED ON THE HEELS of a party of six that clogged the entryway. Just ahead of them was a party of five, sitting at the counter. Servers bustled by us, arms laden with breakfast goodies. Most of the tables looked crowded. It seemed hopeless.

A recent Google Street View
view of the building.

The crowd shifted slightly. A table bobbed by us, carried by a server who used it to fashion room for six at a booth for four. And suddenly we were beckoned to a booth.

That we were placed between the party of six and the party of five was of little consequence. As I contemplated the menu, I didn’t succumb to the urge to reach behind me and grab the cell phone out of the numbskull’s hand (you’re dining with five others and you need to shout into a phone to somebody else?). Nor did I slap the child with the party of five who erupted into tears from time to time, impervious to his mom’s half-hearted there-theres. I was in too good of a mood.

Besides: It’s a diner. It’s Sunday. It’s slack-cutting time.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Stardust Memory

From the CD Vault Dept.: Back in what we didn’t realize were the waning days of compact discs, the major labels actually did us some favors by allowing quality talent to supervise the re-relase of recordings by quality talent of very bygone days. Dick Sudhalter was the right man to tap for the Hoagy Carmichael set I reviewed some twenty years ago.

                                                                             
           

HOAGY CARMICHAEL WAS HIP ENOUGH to record with Bix Beiderbecke in 1927 and with Art Pepper in 1956. His song “Star Dust” is a cornerstone of American popular music. He had an easygoing presence in movies, with notable roles in “To Have and Have Not” and “The Best Years of Our Lives.” And his songs have been covered by anyone who dips at all into the standards canon.

The cuts on Bluebird’s “Stardust Melody” were chosen by Richard Sudhalter, whose Carmichael biography recently was published. Although Carmichael was a compelling performer of his own material, others put more definitive stamps on the songs. But Carmichael’s roots were very much in the early years of jazz, and this collection mines the strengths of the RCA Victor catalogue to present versions that are more jazz- than vocal-driven, all recorded between 1925 and 1947. And the 1947 cut, a “Rockin’ Chair” by Louis Armstrong and His All-Stars, is a throwback to the pre-war style.

“Rockin’ Chair” makes two other appearances: in a small-group session with Mildred Bailey, who made a trademark out of the song, and in Hoagy’s own 1929 version. Although the latter, and its session-mate “March of the Hoodlums” are billed as previously unreleased, they in fact appeared with all the other Carmichael-featured cuts on a 1989 Bluebird CD (“Stardust and Much More”).

Friday, March 18, 2022

The Fable of the He-Gossip and the Man's Wife and the Man

Guest Blogger Dept.: I mean, how much of this stuff of mine can you take? Hence this relief, thanks to a return appearance by George Ade. Best known for his inventive Fables in Slang, this particular saga dates from before 1900. It might have been written yesterday.

                                                                                  
     

ONCE UPON A TIME there was a He-Gossip named Cyrenius Bizzy. Mr. Bizzy was Middle-Aged and had a Set of dark Chinchillas. He carried a Gold-Headed Cane on Sunday. His Job on this Earth was to put on a pair of Pneumatic Sneakers every Morning and go out and Investigate Other People's Affairs.

The Scandal | Drawing by
Clyde J. Newman

He called himself a Reformer, and he did all his Sleuthing in the line of Duty.

If he heard of a Married Man going out Cab-Riding after Hours or playing Hearts for Ten Cents a Heart or putting a Strange Woman on the Car, he knew it was his Duty to edge around and slip the Information to some one who would carry it to the Wife. He was such a Good Man himself that he wanted all the other Men to wear long sable Belshazzars on the Sub-Maxillary and come to him for Moral Guidance. If they would not do it, the only Thing left for him to do was to Warn their Families now and then and get them into Hot Water, thus demonstrating that the Transgressor must expect Retribution to fall on him with quite a Crash.

Sometimes he would get behind a Board Fence to see the Wife of the Postmaster break off a Yellow Rose and pass it over the Gate to the Superintendent of the High School. Then he would Hustle out on his Beat and ask People if they had heard the Talk that was Going Around. Of course it Grieved him to be compelled to Peddle such Stories, but he had to do it in the Interests of Morality. If Folks did not have a Pious Protector to spot Worldly Sin and then get after it with a Sharp Stick, the Community would probably go to the Dogs in less than no time. When he had a Disagreeable Task to Perform, such as letting a Merchant know that his Business Partner had been seen slightly Sprung at a Picnic, he always wished to get through with it as quickly as possible, so usually he Ran. He did not want any one else to beat him there, because the Other Fellow might not get it Right.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Vegetables Unleashed

IF I DIDN’T KNOW BETTER, I’d think that José Andrés is obsessed with vegetables. But I do know better: He’s obsessed with everything to do with food and food production. And I’m sure that hardly defines the limits of his interests.

You know of Andrés because of his humanitarian visits to disaster areas where he and his crews have fed masses of people through his non-profit World Central Kitchen. But he’s also a restaurateur, with dozens of dining venues in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York, and many other cities. He celebrates his native Spain, but with a restless sense of fusion. A flagship is Mercado Little Spain, nestled under Manhattan’s High Line, which comprises three restaurants: Lena, where most items are grilled; La Barra, featuring tapas; and Spanish Diner, featuring “larger portions of Spanish favorites.” But there’s also China Poblano in Las Vegas, combining Mexican and Chinese fare, and four locations of Beefsteak, which presents the vegetables and recipes in Vegetables Unleashed.

This book, written in collaboration with Matt Goulding, is a top-of-the-lungs celebration of the plant-based matter we like to eat and a surprising amount that we’d never otherwise think of consuming. Andrés loves peelings and other scraps – no wonder he’s pictured glorying in a wastebin! – and by the time you reach the end of this book, you may start to treasure them, too.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Sax in the Offing

From the Jazz Vault Dept.: I offered a piece here a few days ago about Nick Brignola, which reminded me that the Albany area has a still-extant saxophone wizard in its midst: Brian Patneaude. In the fifteen years since the piece below originally ran, he has continued to perform and record and teach in the area, and I had the pleasure of working with him on a short video I wrote about here.

                                                                           
        

NO MUSICIAN TRULY CAN BE DESCRIBED as shy, not when the job requires regular performances in front of an audience, especially not when those performances require jazz improvisation. When Brian Patneaude hoists his Selmer Mark VI and starts to blow, a hard-driving, melodically gifted personality shines through. When he stops to chat, the tempo changes. He speaks softly. He considers his words. He gives the impression that he’d be happier back on stage.

Brian Patneaude
Photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk

He’s been working most visibly  in the area as part of a quartet, with a regular Sunday gig at Justin’s and frequent appearances at venues like One Caroline in Saratoga and Schenectady’s Stockade Inn.

“I like to think that the music we make as a group can be enjoyed by jazz fans and even people who don’t think they’re jazz fans,” he says. “It’s not something where I’m trying strictly to reach out to the jazz community.”

Patneaude’s just-released third CD, “As We Know It,” will be celebrated with a release party at 8 PM Friday, Apr. 20, at WAMC Performing Arts Studio’s Linda Norris Auditorium (339 Central Ave., Albany), an event that will feature a full-length performance by the musicians in question.

Monday, March 07, 2022

Following Orders

From the Opera Vault Dept.: As we anticipate another summer of musical delights at the Glimmerglass Festival, we look back to productions we enjoyed – this one a highlight of the 2003 season.

                                                                             

FROM THE PROTECTIVE GUARDIANS of “Daughter of the Regiment” to the abusive captain of “Wozzeck,” military figures tend to play well in operas. Robert Kurka’s “Good Soldier Schweik” may present the most elusive of such figures. Like Stan Laurel, he is a well-meaning naïf whose mere presence inspires bombast and disaster, and yet he has enough cunning to preserve himself throughout such tribulation.

Anthony Dean Griffey
As the final production of the current Glimmerglass Opera season, it featured a magnificent performance by tenor Anthony Dean Griffey in the title role. Onstage throughout almost all the opera, he easily conveyed Schweik’s wide-eyed innocence while conveying the full power of the score with a powerful voice. Looking like a young Chuck McCann, he wore green while most of the rest wore gray, a faun amidst a sea of faceless urbanites.

John Conklin’s design stylized the elements of war and bureaucracy almost too much, with soldier’s helmets made from buckets and plungers and a set of moveable platforms. But the cartoon aspects of the set suited Rhoda Levine’s staging, which kept a sense of crowded busy-ness even with a modest-sized cast.

Friday, March 04, 2022

Garden of Eatin’

From the Food Vault Dept.: The saga of the restaurant reviewed below is a doughty one. A 19th-century farmhouse was turned into a convent in the 1960s by slamming a large stone edifice in front of it. After the nuns gave up, the place began its journey as a restaurant. The Heavenly Inn was first, followed by Rene Tornier’s three incarnations: As L’Auberge Suisse in 1986, eventually re-naming it Swiss Fondue, then, as you’ll read below, a final (for him) re-branding as The Herb Garden. Fine dining wasn’t destined to persevere at that place: next it became J.J. Madden's Pub, then The Big Box Bar. It’s now been shuttered for about five years, although it was supposed to become an apartment building. As to the fate of Tornier, I have no idea and Dr. Google is mum on the matter. As a side note, this piece ran three months after my daughter, Lily, was born, and Susan, my wife, didn’t feel like making the visit with me. So her midwife, “Claudia,” joined me instead. I pseudo-named her because Lily was born at home, with no board-certified obstetrician around, which could have landed the attending midwives in legal trouble. But that’s another story, a boondoggle unto itself.

                                                                                
           

The property according to Google Maps.      
GERSHWIN'S “AN AMERICAN IN PARIS” was playing as we were seated. That will introduce Rene Tornier, chef-owner of the Herb Garden. You may have known the restaurant as Auberge Suisse or, more recently, Swiss Fondue.  It’s a former convent on New Scotland Avenue in Slingerlands, a picturesque (and shorter than you think) drive from anywhere else in the Capital Region. Tornier is a transplant, a sculptor who trained as a chef in restaurants that took him from St. Thomas to Savannah, Ga., before he landed in this area to open his own restaurant in 1986 with the flavors of Switzerland and France informing the menu.

He’s had a stormy relationship with fondue, the best-known Swiss dish. It bounced on and off his menu according to how he believed it was being perceived. Sometimes it didn’t seem serious enough; other times, as when he renamed his restaurant to celebrate it, it seemed like a good draw.

Monday, February 28, 2022

Let Your Fingers Do the Tapping

From the Jazz Vault Dept.: How nice to note that 35 years ago, almost to the day, I was enjoying my first live-concert exposure to guitarist Stanley Jordan. He’s still going strong, settling in (as I write this) for three days at the Iridium in Manhattan before he takes his new show “Stanley Plays Jimi” around the country. And that’s Hendrix he’s talking about. Here’s what he did in Troy, NY, in 1987.

                                                                                              

WHEN ARTIE SHAW WALKED OFF THE BANDSTAND in 1938, he was fed up with the hit-seeking audience that wanted to hear only the songs it knew. Guitarist Stanley Jordan’s easygoing manner suggests none of that hotheadedness, but he certainly faced a similarly-minded crowd at the Troy Music Hall Sunday night.

Jordan is a young, extraordinarily gifted player. He knows the standards. His own songs also are impressive. But the star of a Stanley Jordan show is his technique, which he refers to as “tapping.”

It’s a method of playing amplified guitar by striking the string at the point of contact with the fingerboard, so one finger does the work of two. And ten fingers therefore sound like a small combo.

Jordan improvises with a well-honed bop voice; there is a lot of Wes Montgomery in his playing. Three years ago he played as the Las Vegas opening act for Bill Cosby; now, with a top-of-the-charts recording behind him, he is the star.

And that’s a mixed blessing. It puts him in the dilemma of attracting a large audience that responds not to his music, but to his hits.

Friday, February 25, 2022

The Critic Is a Ass

From the Classical Vault Dept.: First, let me note that Max Lifchitz remains, as I write this, a distinguished member of the faculty at SUNY Albany (back when the pieces below were written, the newspaper’s style was to represent it as ASU, for Albany State University). He has done an incredible amount of work bringing music old and new, but especially new, to the public’s ear. Trouble is, critics like yours truly come along with some kind of snob-assed chip on the shoulder, and write snarky crap like the review that follows the interview piece below.

                                                                              
  

MAX LIFCHITZ IS QUICK TO RECOGNIZE the large amount of chamber music that gets performed in this area.

Max Lifchitz in younger days.
“I think that's good,” he says pleasantly. “But there isn't enough new music on those programs, so for three days I am packing new music into concerts that I hope might put into people’s minds that there is a lot of it worth listening to.”

He is a new associate professor at Albany State University, a composer-performer-conductor who founded a chamber group especially to reinforce that hope.

The North/South Consonance Ensemble comes to ASU for three performances in the Recital Hall of the Performing Arts Center at ASU, beginning at 8 p.m. tomorrow and running at the same time the two successive nights.

“We give five or six programs each year in Manhattan,” he says, “and we also tour the boroughs, New Jersey, and Long Island. This will be our debut in Albany.”

Monday, February 21, 2022

Noting an Increase in Bigamy

Guest Blogger Dept.: Robert Benchley points out that he hasn’t been featured on these e-pages since late last year. Fear not, my friend: there’s always room for you. And here he tackles one of those social problems that just won’t go away.

                                                                                       

EITHER MORE MEN are marrying more wives than ever before, or they are getting more careless about it. During the past week bigamy has crowded baseball out of the papers, and while this may be due in part to the fact that it was a cold, rainy week and little baseball could be played, yet there is a tendency to be noted there somewhere. All those wishing to note a tendency will continue on into the next paragraph.

There is, of course, nothing new in bigamy. Anyone who goes in for it with the idea of originating a new fad which shall be known by his name, like the daguerreotype or potatoes O'Brien, will have to reckon with the priority claims of several hundred generations of historical characters, most of them wearing brown beards. Just why beards and bigamy seem to have gone hand in hand through the ages is a matter for the professional humorists to determine. We certainly haven't got time to do it here.

But the multiple-marriages unearthed during the past week have a certain homey flavor lacking in some of those which have gone before. For instance, the man in New Jersey who had two wives living right with him all of the time in the same apartment. No need for subterfuge here, no deceiving one about the other. It was just a matter of walking back and forth between the dining-room and the study. This is, of course, bigamy under ideal conditions.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Part Expatriate

From the Classical Vault Dept.: Here are liner notes I wrote for a proposed CD release of Bohuslav Martinů’s Violin Sonatas, which would have been released on the Dorian Recordings label had that particular deal gone through. So you’ll have to pull out whatever version you have in your collection in order to listen along with the words below.

                                                                          
          

WE ARE ALL EXPATRIATES to some extent. If not cut off from our native soil, we still find it hard to stay connected with our communities. A sense of loss and of alienation is outstripped, we hope, by the excitement of discovery as we make the most of our travels.

You can hear that in these sonatas, written by a man of Moravian descent whose Bohemian childhood took him from a country church to a city orchestra and soon, like a dream, to Paris. Bohuslav Martinů lived there in near poverty, absorbing the mad cris-cross of culture between the wars while avoiding any specific cultural camp.

Thus the Sonata No. 1. Written in 1927, as Martinů was gaining a reputation as a Czech-loyal individualist, it’s jagged, jazzy, hewn with cells of melody that pop in and out of its syncopated propulsion. To the French – to much of Europe – at that time, American jazz was a revelation, examined and celebrated with far more enthusiasm than the so-called serious musicians of its native country could spare.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Symphonic Sax

From the Jazz Vault Dept.: I regret that I was unable to attend the concert described below, but I did see Nick Brignola perform on other occasions, which fully justified his reputation as a major star of the jazz scene, one who just happened to live in the Albany area. (He died in 2002.) Here’s a preview of the kind of fascinating music melding that could happen in the area in 1988.

                                                                               
      

“SOMEBODY ASKED ME the other day, ‘Are you playing the Firebird Suite?’” Baritone sax virtuoso Nick Brignola is speaking about his concert this Saturday with the Schenectady Symphony. “I said, ‘No, but I might play Yardbird Suite.’”

An unusual programming move teams the orchestra with a jazz quartet led by the man considered by many to be the leading baritone player in jazz – and Brignola has an equally-high reputation with much of the rest of wind-instrument family as well.

Although Brignola lives in the neighborhood, it’s a lucky treat to find him performing in the area. “I’ll be playing at Justin’s in Albany in February and in March. I’ll also be in Austin and in Baltimore, and I’m doing something with the US Navy Band in Washington DC. So I’m in and out.”

The Schenectady Symphony Orchestra concert takes place at 8 PM at Proctor’s Theatre; music director Charles Schneider will be on the podium.

Brignola is looking forward to working with the symphony: “It’s going to be a nice experience in the sense that we don’t get this chance very often where there’s a meeting between a jazz group and a symphony orchestra, and I’m sure the Schenectady Symphony doesn’t get this chance very often.”

Friday, February 11, 2022

Virtual Dreams

From the Smut Vault Dept.: Alongside those straight-up, technically detailed pieces I wrote for a variety of computer magazines in the early 1990s was my stint as a writer for an array of salacious magazines. This was akin to being a comedian working strip joints: The customers don’t pay attention, but you get a chance to hone your skills. The technical requirements described below are the best part of the piece – how antiquated it seems a mere quarter-century later!

                                                                                          

HOWARD STERN CALLS IT the first good reason for computers to exist. If you enjoy calling 900 numbers, it certainly gives you far more value for your money. If you’re frustrated by the lack of real-time tits on the Internet, this is the alternative. It’s called Virtual Dreams, and you use the same resources that the Internet calls for – personal computer, color monitor, fast modem – to get online.

Jean Harlow wasn't a
Virtual Dreams option

Once you’re there, you get an online date. But she’s not some kind of nerdish frump. You’re face to face with a gorgeous cyberbabe. That is, you see her face, because she’s looking at a camera. And she’s sitting in front of a computer monitor and keyboard. You’ll see her type a greeting to you. She’ll ask your name. She’ll try to get to know you a little.

And she’ll do whatever you want. In fact, she can’t wait to take her clothes off for you. Control yourself. Don’t be like Howard – he didn’t even wait to be introduced before exhorting his virtual date to take off her bra.

Because we prefer to take our time, let’s look at the technical side of Virtual Dreams while our new girlfriend gets comfortable. It’s kind of a one-way videoconferencing system, sending text and full-motion images your way. There’s no trickery here: your date is at the other end of the phone line. Full motion doesn’t mean TV quality motion – computers and modems aren’t that fast yet.

Monday, February 07, 2022

Counter Intelligence

From the Tech Vault Dept.: I can’t find tearsheets for this piece, which I wrote for Computer Life magazine in 1995 or so. This means you’re spared the step-by-step illustrations, which is just as well. This is a completely outdated piece of software put out by a company that, as far as I can tell, no longer exists. And anyway, your kitchen is just fine.

                                                                              

THE CONTROVERSY STARTED SHORTLY before Thanksgiving. “We need a new stove,” my wife declared. We both used to cook professionally and never have been happy with consumer-grade kitchen appliances. “We’ll look for a restaurant stove,” I said. “A used one.”

You don’t want to hear the whole saga. It started with a used stove, sure, for a great price. But it turned out to be fitted for natural gas, as opposed to propane. And my rural town only has propane available. So that would mean a costly upgrade. Still, the upgrade was cheaper than a new stove. Or so I thought, until I saw a nice new one finished with stainless steel that would look terrific in our kitchen-to-be. So we upped the budget a bit, learning as we did so that we’d also need a hood and exhaust system, and the price tag grew.

We got the stove in and it threw everything else out of whack. All the elements of a kitchen work together--a good kitchen is practically organic. But now our traffic patterns were confused. And with six burners to help us cook the extravaganzas we like to prepare, we knew we’d need to up our kitchen to two sinks and three workstations.

Friday, February 04, 2022

Concerted Reality

From the Classical Vault: These anniversaries can be tedious, but I, at least, find it interesting to see what I was doing on this date in a year that is something-divisible-by-five years ago. In this case it’s 35 years, the venue was Union College’s Memorial Chapel, and the performers I reviewed were the Prague String Quartet, an ensemble founded in 1955 by violinist Břetislav Novotný, who had been part of the just-disbanded Prague Quartet. Novotný died in 2019 at the age of 95. I can’t find any reference to current activity by the quartet, so I suspect it, too, is gone.

                                                                      
                   

IT WORRIES ME THAT THE RECORDING has become a standard by which performing groups are judged, forcing upon them a standard created in the artificial environment of a studio that lacks the excitement of audience interaction.

Another worry is that the recording has lulled the listener into a too-passive mode, allowing the music to drift into the background while some other activity is carried on.

Both worries were supported by Saturday night’s concert by the Prague String Quartet which, with guest pianist Gloria Saarinen, performed at Union College’s Memorial Chapel.

The two big pieces on the program were by Czech composers, certainly the group’s strong area. The Quartet No. 2 by Janáček, subtitled “Intimate Letters,” brought my first worry into play. The ensemble explored the four-movement work with an energy and intensity that made the most of the fragmented moodiness of Janáček’s work. But they did so with enough abandon to result in less-than-perfect playing. Is this a drawback?

Monday, January 31, 2022

Like a Big Pizza Pie

From the Food Vault Dept.: It’s long gone, I’m afraid. Owner Victoria Gelaj sold Pasquale's and moved south, the better to deal with some family issues, as I understand it. Which was a shame: this had become a favorite Albany hangout since my first visit to the place in 2009, described below.

                                                                                           

YOU HAVE YOUR HALLOWE’EN INDULGENCE, I’ll have mine. As my wife and daughter plied the streets of Albany with a passel of costumed friends, a friend and I went in search of good pizza. And did we ever luck out.

The website AllOverAlbany.com voted Pasquale’s pies the best in its 2008 Tournament of Pizza, and the restaurant is again one of the top contenders in this year’s contest – the results of which will be announced as this issue of Metroland hits the streets.

While I can’t weigh in on Pasquale’s from a tournament-style perspective, I can anecdotally laud it for a superior product in a high-competition field. Of course, the general standards aren’t all the highest – there’s plenty of mediocre pizza out there, and even mediocre pizza can be satisfying if it’s late and you’re hungry.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Dogging the Classics

 From the Classical Vault Dept.: One memorable weekend twelve years ago, the Albany Symphony gave a pair of concerts at a spiffy new hall in Troy – or halls, I should say, because the Symphony itself was in the Concert Hall, the smaller Dogs of Desire unit in the Theater. I was impressed enough to beg for more than the usual space for this longish review.

                                                                            
       

IT’S POSSIBLE THAT A HALF-CENTURY AGO you could have seen, say, Copland, Bernstein and Schuman at a concert hall during a performance of their music. But back then it was almost unheard of for a major orchestra to put three living American composers on the same bill, never mind in the same room.

James Primosch
Not that we’ve made a whole lot of progress since then, which is why the Albany Symphony Orchestra’s dogged pursuit of new and recent works remains admirable. Friday night’s Dogs of Desire program at EMPAC’s Theater gave us composers Patrick Burke, Ted Hearne, David Mallamud and Todd Reynolds, each with a premiere. Saturday night’s concert at EMPAC’s Concert Hall featured the presence of three of the four represented composers, with a program that included two premieres. That’s an unprecedented amount of new stuff.

ASO conductor David Alan Miller encouraged composer James Primosch to consider a Hudson River theme for his Meet-the-Composer commission. Primosch’s relationship with the orchestra goes back to 1992, when they premiered his “Some Glad Mystery;” for this concert, he drew inspiration from the Hudson River School of painters (Frederic Church. Thomas Cole, et. al.) and wrote a piece titled “Luminism,” a sort of synesthesia – reversing the best-know type – in which color and light inspire music.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Fiddler on the Hoof

From the Classical Vault Dept.: The bane and glory of a performing artist is the incessant touring the job demands. But this has allowed me to see Itzhak Perlman in performance near my home turf several times during his years of travel. Here’s an account of a recital he gave in Schenectady in 2010.

                                                                             

IT’S HARD TO SAY that a performer is at the peak of his career until you see him start to falter, at which time the judgment becomes hindsight. So let’s just say that violinist Itzhak Perlman continues to perform as inspiringly as ever.

Itzhak Perlman and Rohan De Silva
Photo by David Bazemore
Perlman and pianist Rohan De Silva last played Proctor’s in 2004, a concert I’ve reminisced about often enough to seem much more recent. And the program was similar insofar as it featured slightly lesser-known works in the violin-piano repertory.

Beginning with a sonata by Mozart (in A Major, K. 526), which is variously numbered as 14, 15, 18 or 35 depending on whether you count the youthful sonatas and throw out the fragments and/or possibly spurious works. Over the course of writing those works (between 1763 and 1788), Mozart improved the role of the violin from accompanying instrument to full-fledged partner, so by the time he got to this work, a nice balance had been achieved.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Eliza's Mother

Guest Blogger Dept.: Let’s welcome back Barry Pain with the third chapter of his wonderfully droll book Eliza. Chapter one is here, two is here. I don’t wish to put you off by overstating the case, but leave it to you to decide how funny they are. You will, of course, be inclined to swoon with pleasure if you wish to remain my friend.

                                                                                            

I GENERALLY SEND ELIZA to spend a day with her mother early in December, and try to cheer her up a little. I daresay the old lady is very lonely, and appreciates the kindly thought. The return ticket is four-and-two, and Eliza generally buys a few flowers to take with her. That does not leave much change out of five shillings when the day is over, but I don’t grudge the money. Eliza’s mother generally tries to find out, without precisely asking, what we should like for a Christmas present. Eliza does not actually tell her, or even hint it – she would not care to do anything of that sort. But she manages, in a tactful sort of way, to let her know.

"It was true I ran into the horse."
Drawing by Wallace Goldsmith

For instance, the year before last Eliza’s mother happened to say, “I wonder if you know what I am going to give you this Christmas.”

Eliza said, “I can see in your eye, mother, and you sha’n’t do it. It’s much too expensive. If other people can do without silver salt-cellars, I suppose we can.”

Well, we got them; so that was all right. But last year it was more difficult.
 
You see, early in last December I went over my accounts, and I could see that I was short. For one thing, Eliza had had the measles. Then I had bought a bicycle, and though I sold it again, it did not, in that broken state, bring in enough to pay the compensation to the cabman. I was much annoyed about that. It was true I ran into the horse, but it was not my fault that it bolted and went into the lamp-post. As I said, rather sharply, to the man when I paid him, if his horse had been steady the thing would never have happened. He did not know what to answer, and made some silly remark about my not being fit to ride a mangle. Both then and at the time of the accident his language was disrespectful and profane.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Behind the Lines

EDWARD SOREL’S COVER ART for his book Profusely Illustrated pictures him at a drawing board, pen poised in his right hand. In all other respects, as we learn from the narrative’s autobiographical details, he was an unapologetic lefty, committed to progressive causes, often functioning as a contemporary Hogarth or Daumier when he had the right (left) forum at hand.

At 92, Sorel is taking stock, not only of his life and work but also the society amidst which he’s been working. He notes at the outset that he sought to “save a few of my drawings from the oblivion that awaits most protest art and ... magazine illustrations,” and so we have 177 such pieces enshrined here – all the more admirably considering that, as Sorel explains later, the book was put together during a time when coronavirus shutdowns limited his access to library-stored originals, leaving his photographer-son Leo the task of photographing many of them from tearsheets. You’d never know it. The reproductions look terrific.

He also promises to “offer up an explanation for how the United States ended up with a racist thug in the White House. My belief is that it was made possible by the criminal acts committed by the twelve presidents who preceded Trump.” This promise is depressingly fulfilled as we regularly veer from his own well-told tale to incisive White House visits, beginning with Truman’s red-baiting tactics.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Orchestral Harris-ment

From the Classical Vault Dept.: It numbs me sometimes to think that a review such as the one below was crafted 34 years ago. Although my doctor insists it’s merely neuropathy. In any event, here’s a review spotlighting a Roy Harris work I’m eager to hear again.

                                                                                   

THE MOST REPRESENTATIVE FLAVOR of 20th-century American music is in the music of Roy Harris. It may not be a majority representation – there are too many disparate paths to follow. Nor is it a popular representation – anything that could possibly be labelled classical is damned where popularity is concerned. But a merry amalgam of the many voices of this country sparkles through Harris’s work, as his 1940 (but only recently premiered) violin concerto reveals.

Roy Harris
Soloist Gregory Fulkerson did a magnificent job performing it with the Albany Symphony Orchestra on Friday night at theTroy Music Hall, proving Harris to be a quiet champion in the virtuoso tradition. There was no question that the violin was the star, but a benevolent one, happy to share the spotlight with the orchestra. Led by music director Geoffrey Simon, the ASO was a strong and effective partner.

Tinkering with the concerto tradition a little, Harris opens the single-movement work with a languorous melody on the violin, echoed by a plaintive oboe. The several changes of mood are anticipated by the soloist, urging the orchestra into ever-faster dances, until the piece sweeps to a jaunty finale in which the soloist gets to fiddle his heart out, replete with an impressive parade of technical devices that Fulkerson negotiated with ease.

Harris absorbed the folk-song traditions of this country, and, although he could tend toward the mawkish, as in his “Folkaong Symphony,” he captured, when at his his best, the sense of protest and adventure characteristic of that tradition.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Parchment Treats

NORWEGIANS DON’T WAIT for a holiday to put treats on the table. This I know, having grown up with a Norwegian grandmother. So did Isabel Burlingham, although her mormor stayed in Norway. During her many visits, Burlingham learned recipes that she now employs in the delectable offerings she bakes and sells as Parchment, a Troy-based enterprise that offers its comestibles at the ongoing Troy, Saratoga Springs, and Schenectady farmers’ markets, as well as on the shelves of the Honest Weight Food Co-op. Come May, her products will be back in many seasonal markets as well.

Isabel Burlingham in Troy
Burlingham left a career in chemistry to do this, a career that resonates with the science of baking. What drew her to chemistry in the first place? “A desire to understand how things work. I watched Bill Nye the Science Guy when I was really little, and that inspired my love of the magic behind life and the planet. So chemistry was a natural progression for me – especially versus biology or physics. It wasn’t the science or how bodies work. It was, Why is a stone blue? Is it because there’s a mineral in it that is reflecting a blue light? Or is it like a green leaf, absorbing everything but the green color? The chemistry perspective came more naturally to me.”

She worked for over a decade in that career, first in a corporate setting, then with a Saratoga County-based startup company. “I didn’t start my career as a baker until Covid, when the startup laid everyone off so that we could collect unemployment. I’d been unhappy with corporate life, which is why I moved into the startup field. But even then, I was not satisfied.”

Friday, January 07, 2022

Musically United

From the Classical Vault Dept.: Stripling that I was at the time, I remember that there was some excitement in the music press when Ursula Oppens’s recording of “The People United.” came out in 1979, three years after the work premiered at the Kennedy Center in 1976. I bought that record and fell in love with the piece, written by Frederic Rzewski (who died last summer) on a commission from Oppens and as a political gesture as well, something that was always important to him. The piece stands alongside Bach’s Goldbergs and Beethoven’s Diabellis as one of the towering works in the keyboard literature. You can also read my account of seeing Rzewski perform the work in Troy, NY, here.

                                                                                           

WRITTEN IN 1975 for a commission from pianist Ursula Oppens, Frederic Rzewski’s hour-long “The People United Will Never Be Defeated” is one of the most fascinating, monumental works of the 20th century. It explores the sound of the piano with sometimes bizarre results, indulges in oddball time signatures and calls upon the soloist to slam the lid and whistle along.

Yet it’s a defiantly tonal work, paying as much tribute to Bach as it does to Rzewski’s post-Cowell contemporaries. The short, tuneful theme, which shares a chord structure (“changes,” in jazz lingo) with a well-known Paganini variation subject, is followed by six sets of six variations apiece, each set exploring a different concept (rhythm, harmony and more).

But it’s more intricately constructed still, with the sixth variation of each set serving as a summary of the preceding five, and the component variations of the sixth set referring back to each ordinal correspondent.

This puts the work in a structural league with the ’70s output of such writers as John Barth and Gilbert Sorrentino and the seeming non-sequitur style of Donald Barthelme – and, like the work of those authors, Rzewski’s piece is dramatically effective even without a knowledge of its innards.

Monday, January 03, 2022

Honest to Goodness

From the Food Vault Dept.: Albany’s expansive food co-op has been in business for 45 years. Since the time I wrote the piece below, it moved to larger quarters (with easier parking), went through staff and management upheavals, successfully waged some union-busting, and has settled into a corporate-like entity still beloved by many. The pricing and selections reported below have, not surprisingly, changed, and Gustav has long since left the place.

                                                                                   

NO MATTER WHAT ELSE I take away from this place to eat, the picture I always take away is that of Gustav Ericson, factotum of the cheese department, beguiling me – and everyone else who happens to standing nearby – with a taste of something I’ve never before sampled, something pleasingly aromatic and exciting to the palate.

Gustav Ericson, recommending
“Now try it with some of this chutney,” he says, and suddenly I’m in a spicy, more complicated flavor arena, and he knows I’m hooked and cheese and chutney both join my shopping basket.

Thus it was on a recent visit. I cruised the produce aisles, admired the bulk staples, looked longingly upon the hair and skin care products, then made my way past the deli case into the next room. “Have you had a sample yet?” asked Gustav, and who am I to say no?

Ericson has been a protean presence in the region, a pastry chef who spent time in a variety of shops and kitchens before settling in at Honest Weight. “I joined the co-op well before I started working here,” he explains. “I came in as an assistant manager, and seven years ago I became manager of the cheese department. But I have some customers who’ve been following me for about 15 years, buying their bucheron from me every week. I love the co-op, and I love the way of doing business here.”