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Friday, September 02, 2022

Cuisine of the Sun

From the Food Vault Dept.: To have chef Roger Vergé visit Albany in 1987 was a Very Big Deal. I was already a fan by way of his book Cuisine of the South of France, and was delighted to cover that visit in the piece below. As you’ll notice, I also got to taste some excellent food and wine into the bargain.

                                                                                                 

WHEN ROGER VERGÉ was five years old, his aunt Celestine bought him a small bench so that he could see over the top of the kitchen counter. It’s a view – and a point of view – that stayed with him for the next half-century.

Roger Vergé
Vergé – one of the very few chefs with a three-star rating from France’s prestigious Michelin guide – was at the Desmond Americana Saturday to introduce a new line of wine that bears his name, an occasion honored with a dinner by the local chapter of the Chaine des Rotisseurs.

“It is very important to have kids in the kitchen,” says Vergé, who cites tales of his own children’s cookery. “My daughter was eight and we were preparing some dessert tarts. I watched as she filled a tart with honey and then sprinkled sugar on top. ‘Why did you do that?’ I asked her. ‘How else are you going to cook the sugar?’ she said.”

He calls his cooking “Cuisine of the Sun.” He emphasizes freshness and creative seasoning. “I like to cook with herbs,” be explains, “and it is very important to have a mixture of fresh vegetables on the table, too. These are all sun products.” At his restaurant in France, Le Moulin de Mougins, he offers a menu not only crafted around what’s available and fresh any given day, but one that also stresses a harmonious blend of food and wine.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Not-So-North of the Border

A MOLCAJETE IS A THREE-LEGGED BOWL, traditionally made of basalt, which has been used as a mortar for food-grinding for thousands of years in Mesoamerican cultures. Because it retains heat for a very long time, it’s also used for food presentation, and you’ll find it as the centerpiece of a spectacular entrée at Greenane Farms in Meredith, NY.

Your molcajete arrives bubbling, earning its nickname of “volcano.” Ringed around its edge are strips of cactus and cheese, next to green onions, Mexican rice, and, hidden in the salsa verde, slices of very hot potatoes. Order the Volcan Vegetariano ($23) and there’s also grilled tofu in the mix, while the Volcan de Pollo ($25) features strips of chicken and a link of homemade chorizo.

At a recent visit, I ordered the Volcan de Res ($29), so the lip of my steaming molcajete sported strips of grilled Angus beef, still red in the center even as the heat kicked in to brown them some more. There’s a fresh, grassy flavor to pasture-raised beef that the elders among us still remember as the way beef is supposed to taste, and it becomes the joyous centerpiece of an array of complementary flavors, from the smoky bite of the chorizo to the mellow ease of those cactus strips.

Not only will you get one of the finest Mexican-cuisine meals you’ve ever enjoyed when you dine at Greenane Farms, but you’ll also have the satisfaction of knowing you’re dining on their own pasture-raised meats. This has been a passion of farm owner Patrick Rider – whose family has been in the area for eight generations – since he purchased the property in 2003. Now he owns 400 acres and leases over a thousand more, on which he raises 250 head of grass-fed Angus cattle as well as pigs, chickens, goats, sheep, and more.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Sardonic Salute

From the Classical Vault Dept.: William Bolcom’s Piano Concerto No. 2 was premiered in April of this year, by Igor Levit and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra conducted by Elim Chan. “Don’t bother asking whether the premiere took place in the United States,” wrote Seth Colter Walls in the New York Times, “where major presentations of music by Bolcom, an American, have fallen out of fashion. Instead, this new concerto was presented in Germany, at the Heidelberger Frühling Festival.” It wasn’t always that way. I first heard Bolcom’s first piano concerto in Saratoga in 1987, when Bolcom was composer-in-residence with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Those days are long, long gone. Here’s my review of the evening.

                                                                                         

WILLIAM BOLCOM’S PIANO CONCERTO, performed Friday night by soloist Emanuel Ax with the Philadelphia Orchestra, is a piece calculated to amuse and to offend. The last of a series of works by Bolcom performed at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center to honor him as composer-in-residence, it’s a piece you can point to and shout, “There! That’s a truly American work!”

William Bolcom
Photo by Peter Smith

Written in 1976, it reflects Bolcom’s concern with the bicentennial mania growing throughout the country, and manages to be critical and celebratory at the same time.

He is one of the very few contemporary American composers able to speak a native musical language without sounding condescending, which is in itself very refreshing and certainly prompts some nationalistic pride in the listening.

The work also closely examines the role of the piano in the concerto form, experimenting with different angles and settings. At times it was the aural equivalent of that old optical illusion of a drawing of a cube that points towards or away from you: Was the pianist dominating the orchestra or vice-versa? Coming as this piece did right after a Mozart concerto (No. 25 in C Major), it offered a stunning contrast to Mozart’s antique sweetness. Listening to the older work was an exercise in nostalgia; Bolcom’s concerto made a statement about our country, our century, and us as listeners.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Listening to the Land

AGRICULTURE IS NOW INEXTRICABLY LINKED TO CLIMATE CHANGE. The evidence is incontrovertible; the damage is already taking place. As Laura Lengnick observes in the opening pages of her updated and expanded book Resilient Agriculture, “Climate change is happening now. Climate change is changing everything.”

The first version of her book was written seven years ago, which turns out to be an eternity where climate effects are concerned. She profiled over two dozen farms in the U.S. that were coping not only with climate change but also with the transition of corporate agriculture to a style that’s more environmentally sound. In the new book you’ll find the stories of even more farmers and ranchers pursuing sustainable practices.

Even before she began researching the book, Lengnick worked on a USDA report recommending ways to cope with the new challenges of agriculture. It sounded an alarm many were unhappy to hear. But dramatic changes in the recent past persuaded her to re-interview original subjects, talk to even more, and add more climate-specific information. As she puts it, “It is difficult to grasp the reality of these times. That the weather changes we’ve experienced in the last decade are going to continue to grow more damaging. That the weather is not going to settle down into some new normal. It isn’t easy to fully understand the fact that spring and fall weather will continue to grow more variable, that both flooding rains and drought will grow more intense and will happen more often, and that record-breaking weather will become common. It’s even harder to realize what this means for the people who feed us.”

Thursday, August 04, 2022

In Search of Salvation

MATTERS OF RELIGIOUS FAITH inform the two one-act operas comprising “Double Bill” at the Glimmerglass Festival, productions that show how effectively a small cast, a versatile set, and a virtuoso orchestra can convey the emotionally fraught content of these pieces.

Michael Mayes and Jacquelyn Matava
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
“Taking up Serpents” is rooted in a rural charismatic church in Alabama, from which 25-year-old Kayla (Mary-Hollis Hundley) has fled. She's now working at a Save Mart drug store, where she gets the news that her preacher father has been bitten by a snake, perhaps fatally. This is her chance to say goodbye.

The relationship was too complicated for an easy farewell, as we learn in flashback scenes where the younger Kayla (a very effective Carly R. Carillo in a non-singing role) learns, from her father's aggressive efforts to impart fearlessness, to be anything but. As Daddy, Michael Mayes is appropriately flamboyant, sporting a big voice and shaking with frightening ecstasy in his shiny suit as he exhorts his congregants.

Although his wife, Nelda (Jacquelyn Matava) has learned to submit to his bullying, Kayla has rebelled. But her rebellion is emotionally incomplete, as the flashbacks reveal. This is where the tools of opera are most effective. Jerre Dye’s libretto is drawn from his own experience growing up amongst rural holy rollers, and offers a clear-eyed view of the consequences of that kind of cultish inculcation, where love becomes a bargaining unit.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Rossini Afloat

THE IDEA OF A JUKEBOX OPERA using Rossini’s music is a terrific one – so good, in fact, that the world-premiere production of Tenor Overboard at the Glimmerglass Festival left me wishing for more. I don’t think the piece went at all far enough in exploring the possibilities, yet it’s a good-enough production that it may seem sufficient to many.

Fran Daniel Laucerica as Dante, Jasmine
Habersham as Mimi, Reilly Nelson
as Gianna and Armando Contreras
as Luca. Photo: Karli Cadel/
The Glimmerglass Festival
The conceit is to get a handful of quarrelsome characters aboard a steamship bound for Italy, so that they may sort their differences in this classically confined space. Thus daughters Gianna (Reilly Nelson) and Mimi (Jasmine Habersham) are fleeing their overbearing father, Petronio (Stefano de Peppo) and end up winning places in a vocal quartet suddenly (and way too conveniently) shy a pair of members.

We began with a rousing version of the overture from La scala di seta, proving again that music director Joseph Colaneri and the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra are potent forces, sending a rich, focused sound into the acoustically benevolent Alice Busch Opera Theater – and an especially great treat after last season’s lawn performances with piped-in music.

As an opera recital, Tenor Overboard succeeds brilliantly. Giving singers with excellent voices a best-of menu of Rossini arias and ensemble pieces all but guarantees a lovely experience. But there were two shows going on here, each in a different language. The plot, such as it was, was performed in English; the musical portions switched to Italian. Thus, as we learn of Petronio’s frustration with his independence-seeking daughters, he sings an aria (“Il lamento di Petronio”) drawn from the Thieving Magpie’s “M’affretto di mandarvi i contrassegni,” but re-lyricked for the occasion.

Friday, July 22, 2022

An Experiment With Policeman Hogan

Guest Blogger Dept.: Stephen Leacock insists that he’s been overlooked. No longer shall I allow this indignity to continue, so here’s one of his Literary Lapses, drawn from his first collection of essays. It also ties in with one of my most-consulted blog pieces, wherein I described my brush with noted graphologist Carlos Pedregal.

                                                                                          

MR. SCALPER SITS WRITING in the reporters’ room of The Daily Eclipse. The paper has gone to press and he is alone; a wayward talented gentleman, this Mr. Scalper, and employed by The Eclipse as a delineator of character from handwriting. Any subscriber who forwards a specimen of his handwriting is treated to a prompt analysis of his character from Mr. Scalper’s facile pen. The literary genius has a little pile of correspondence beside him, and is engaged in the practice of his art. 

Outside the night is dark and rainy. The clock on the City Hall marks the hour of two. In front of the newspaper office Policeman Hogan walks drearily up and down his beat. The damp misery of Hogan is intense. A belated gentleman in clerical attire, returning home from a bed of sickness, gives him a side-look of timid pity and shivers past. Hogan follows the retreating figure with his eye; then draws forth a notebook and sits down on the steps of The Eclipse building to write in the light of the gas lamp. Gentlemen of nocturnal habits have often wondered what it is that Policeman Hogan and his brethren write in their little books. Here are the words that are fashioned by the big fist of the policeman:

“Two o’clock. All is well. There is a light in Mr. Scalper’s room above. The night is very wet and I am unhappy and cannot sleep—my fourth night of insomnia. Suspicious-looking individual just passed. Alas, how melancholy is my life! Will the dawn never break! Oh, moist, moist stone.”

Friday, July 15, 2022

Summer Sides

From the Food Vault: It’s outdoor dining weather, and Metroland magazine used to devote an annual issue to the topic, wheedling ad dollars from businesses with any possible association to that topic. Here’s my contribution to a 2000 issue.

                                                                                            

OUTDOOR DINING AT MY HOUSE invariably revolves around the grill, but we don't limit our party meals to the traditional menus of chicken and ribs, burgers and dogs. Sometimes the sides can steal the show.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Good side dishes require preparation. Anyone can slop mayo onto a mound of macaroni and call it salad, but why not enjoy a dish that lights up the palate? Here's the first tip: Make your own mayonnaise. There's no comparison between homemade and store-bought.

At heart, it's an oil and water emulsion, the water derived from an egg yolk, and lemon juice or vinegar. The egg yolk is also the emulsifier, binding the oil and water. And what your mayonnaise will include, unlike commercial types, is good olive oil (or, at the least, canola oil – try to stick with a monounsaturated oil, which is better for your health).

Food processor mayo is a dream to make. You drop in ingredients, whirr, and it's done. I get my eggs from a private source, and don't worry about salmonella; if you're concerned, do the first part of this over a stove to get the yolk mixture to a salmonella-killing 160 degrees for one minute.

Friday, July 08, 2022

Why Your Food Ate That Stuff

From the Very Soil Dept.: This is a companion piece to my review of What Your Food Ate, the incredibly compelling new book by David Montgomery and Anne Biklé, a piece you can read here. Then come back to this interview for more insight into their thoughts and processes.

                                                                                    
               

What Your Food Ate, the new book by David Montgomery and Anne Biklé, is so self-explanatory that there’s not much left to say to them, aside from “You must have put a hell of a lot of work into this” and “Do you think it’ll help?” But I caught up with the busy authors, who are married, by phone at their Seattle-area home, and spent a pleasant half-hour in conversation.

David Montgomery and Anne Biklé
“It’s an inspirational and depressing book,” I suggested, noting that I had reviewed their earlier books, The Hidden Half of Nature and Growing a Revolution, I was somewhat prepared for the journey from deep inside the soil to deep inside your body, following the path of vital micronutrients. But this is a carefully reasoned study, supported by source material that spills from the back of the back over to the book’s website.

“We read a ton of stuff, literally,” says David. “There are about a thousand articles that were source material. And for the final version of the book, we decided to put that material online. There was a lot of homework that went into this. I think you can understand why. In contrast to the other two books you mentioned, we believed that this book really had to be underpinned with documentation of how we arrived at these ideas and how arrived at what we're saying. Because the ideas and the information in this book isn’t going to be flattering to everybody.” Could he be referring to the big chemical fertilizer companies. David laughs. “I’m not sure they’re gonna love this book.”

Friday, July 01, 2022

The Pit of Deliciousness

From the Food Vault Dept.: Things have been getting a little too healthy around here, so here’s a review I wrote in 2013 about a barbecue joint in nearby Cohoes. I revisited the place a few times – it really was the best in the area – but I’m saddened that it closed earlier this year.

                                                                                                    

TRANSPLANTED TEXAN DAVID FRAZIER has seen a considerable amount of change where barbecue is concerned. He moved to the Capital Region in 1992, when grilled meat was incorrectly termed barbecue.

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
I last wrote about him in 1995, when he had a joint on Colvin Ave. and was trying to bring true religion to the area masses. “Good barbecue is more than just a well-wrought recipe,” I wrote back then. “It’s a sociological phenomenon.” The challenge has eased considerably since then as a succession of eateries have fired up the smokers and offered varying shades of barbecue, and Frazier particularly welcomed the arrival of Dinosaur BBQ in Troy two years ago.

“Business has gone way up since they opened,” he says, noting also that he was helped by his move three years ago from downtown Cohoes to a larger, easy-to-find building just off 787.

Frazier grew up in Texas and thus was nicknamed “Tex,” and got a masters in marketing from University of Texas. But barbecue was a way of life down there that he wasn’t prepared to leave behind.

Friday, June 24, 2022

What’s Eating You Is What You’re Eating

WHAT YOUR FOOD ATE is the startlingly portentous title of a new study by the married team of David Montgomery and Anne Biklé, a book that takes a remarkably thorough look at how and why humans interact with food and how that food interacts with other substances. Folk wisdom declares that the dirt you inadvertently consume serves to keep you healthier; this book reveals that there’s more truth in that than you might suspect.

Except that you don’t have to eat dirt to get those benefits – you just have to eat minimally processed food that has been allowed to grow in a healthy, natural environment. Trouble is, that food is becoming ever more difficult to find.

Montgomery, who is a professor of Geomorphology, and Biklé, a biologist, have covered these topics in their previous books, The Hidden Half of Nature, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, and Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back To Life, each of which has been reviewed on this site. But their new book not only weaves together a more complete overview of those topics, it also provides sound scientific study to support their conclusions, enough, I hope, to persuade those who might still be skeptical about the conclusions found herein.

The conclusions are simple. And profound. Our bodies have an innate nutritional wisdom. We figured out, through the trial-and-error that informs evolution, what kind of diet is needed to maintain health and fight disease. We began farming and penning animals ten thousand years ago and our bodies adapted to the dietary changes. Now, in this most modern of modern ages, we’re more likely to suffer from micronutrient malnutrition and resultant disease.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Rags Are Riches

WILLIAM BOLCOM’S INTEREST IN RAGTIME began in 1967, when he learned of a vanished ragtime opera by Scott Joplin – a name he’d never heard – and discovered that Queens College associate Rudi Blesch had a vocal score of it. Blesch was co-author of They All Played Ragtime, the definitive book on the topic, and soon Bolcom was learning and performing the ragtime repertory. I think we can credit him with planting the seed that grew into the ragtime revival: he played some Joplin for Joshua Rifkin, who went on to record excellent interpretations of Joplin rags on Nonesuch LPs. The records sold well, and when film director George Roy Hill heard one of them, he decided to use Joplin’s music in the “The Sting” in 1973. The world became ragtime-suffused, to the point where I saw Benny Goodman mock “The Entertainer” at a late-‘70s Carnegie Hall concert.

Even as he was performing classic ragtime pieces, Bolcom began writing his own take on the genre, joining a number of fellow composers in the late ’60s to renew the literature of this engaging form. At first, he pieces were Joplin-like, but very soon he branched out into more Bolcom-esque works.

A somewhat heavy-handed recording of the then-complete Bolcom rags played by John Murphy came out in 1998; Spencer Myer released a single-disc collection of 16 Bolcom rags in 2017, and it’s a fine recording, but Marc-André Hamelin has just released a two-CD set that not only gives you everything Bolcom considers a rag but also presents them in a thoroughly idiomatic way. Hamelin sounds like he’s channeling Joplin by way of Bolcom, a testament to the skill both of composer and performer.

The 27 pieces included on these discs were written between 1968 and 2015, the majority of them before 1972. “Incineratorag,” one of the earliest, could pass for a 1902 piece except for some of the unusual (for that time) harmonies. In keeping with Joplin’s own admonitions, the sheet music for this one is headed, “For Heaven’s sake, not too fast!”

Friday, June 10, 2022

I’ve Got a Secret

RUSS WALTER’S BUSINESS MODEL probably would send an economics consultant screaming out of the room. Walter has been writing and selling The Secret Guide to Computers for 50 years, revising it frequently to keep up with changing technology. But he doesn’t sell it through the usual outlets – he sells it himself. And he gives exponential discounts when you buy multiple copies, and lets go of earlier editions for a song. And he offers free tech support. Like the big companies, it’s available any time of the day or night; unlike them, he takes the calls himself.

The book itself is packed with text, laid out on a two-column page with little of the usual relief for the eye. But you’ll want it by your computer or your bedside or somewhere very convenient. Let me tell you how invaluable this book is.

I got pushed into the world of personal computers in 1985. The magazine I was writing for no longer wished to transcript typescript, so the publisher worked up a deal to get his staff and writers a discount on the purchase of an Epson machine running the latest iteration of the Intel 8088 chip and offering two 5 1/4-inch floppy disk drives. If this means nothing to you, you’re in good company. It meant nothing to me at the time, and, because the damn thing just sat there blinking its stupid green “A:” prompt, I decided to get rid of it.

“Other people have learned to use these things,” my wife observed. “Why can’t you?” With my intelligence thus impugned, I sought help. From books, my usual educational conduit, and computer-oriented magazines that lately had been appearing on the newsstands. In one such magazine, I read a review of The Secret Guide to Computers, a review noting that Walter sold the book himself, alongside offering free tech support by phone any time of the day or night. I called and ordered the book.

Friday, June 03, 2022

The Fable of Paducah’s Favorite Comedians and the Mildewed Stunt

 Guest Blogger Dept.: It’s George Ade again, a regular visitor to these e-pages, with another fable in slang. It describes details of the vaudeville era, and names some of its stars. I’ll save you the trouble of looking them up: Francis Wilson was a singer and comedian who started in minstrel shows. He was founding president of Actors Equity. Nat Goodwin moved between stage shows and vaudeville, and played Fagin in a 1912 film of “Oliver Twist.” British-born Richard Mansfield was renowned for his Shakespeare performances, and his too-convincing portrayal of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” in 1888 led people to suspect he could be Jack the Ripper. And a burgoo picnic remains a popular Kentucky outing, in which a free-form stew is the culinary center of the event.

                                                                                             

ONCE UPON A TIME there was a Specialty Team doing Seventeen Minutes. The Props used in the Act included a Hatchet, a Brick, a Seltzer Bottle, two inflated Bladders and a Slap-Stick. The Name of the Team was Zoroaster and Zendavesta.

These two Troupers began their Professional Career with a Road Circus, working on Canvas in the Morning, and then doing a Refined Knockabout in the Grand Concert or Afterpiece taking place in the Main Arena immediately after the big Show is over.

When each of them could Kick Himself in the Eye and Slattery had pickled his Face so that Stebbins could walk on it, they decided that they were too good to show under a Round Top, so they became Artists. They wanted a Swell Name for the Team, so the Side-Show Announcer, who was something of a Kidder and had attended a Unitarian College, gave them Zoroaster and Zendavesta. They were Stuck on it, and had a Job Printer do some Cards for them.

By utilizing two of Pat Rooney’s Songs and stealing a few Gags, they put together Seventeen Minutes and began to play Dates and Combinations.

Zoroaster bought a Cane with a Silver Dog’s Head on it, and Zendavesta had a Watch Charm that pulled the Buttonholes out of his Vest.

Friday, May 27, 2022

57 Channels and Nothin’ On

From the End of Humanity As We Know It Vault: Bill McKibben is best known for his prophetic and tireless fight to promote climate awareness, but he also explored an area close to my heart: television. Specifically, the toxic nature of the medium, which he and I discussed in 1992 to welcome the publication of his book The Age of Missing Information.

                                                                                          

A CHILLY MIST shrouds the tops of the mountains surrounding Bill McKibben's Warren County home. As is true of most large old rural houses, his has a front door as well as a door that everybody uses. That one’s around the back.

Bill McKibben
Tall and wiry, with close-cropped hair and an high forehead, he looks like any area farmer. Boots, jeans and a plaid flannel shirt added a touch of North Country ease. “Didn’t expect it to be so cold out today,” he says. “I’m sorry you can’t see the mountains. Come on in and have some soup with me.”

McKibben, once a staff writer for The New Yorker who also ran a small homeless shelter in Manhattan, has now spent several years in what might seem like rural seclusion. But it was logical and necessary choice, explained in his books The End of Nature and, just recently, The Age of Missing Information.

“I had to do this experiment,” he explains, “and see what came of it. I was hoping for a book, but I had very few preconceptions, fewer than usual.” The experiment placed him in front of a television set for several months, auditing over a thousand hours of television programming – everything that was available on each of the hundred cable stations in Fairfax, Virginia, during the 24 hours of May 3, 1990.

Friday, May 20, 2022

In the Soup

STUNG WITH AN ATTACK of middle-class guilt, Stephen Henderson sought to expiate by helping to cook meals at a variety of soup kitchens around the world. Bringing a home-gourmet sensibility to these excursions, when placed in charge he designed menus not necessarily conducive to catering or soup-kitchen tastes, so his home-cooking-based efforts tended to throw him into high-pressure on-the-job training. But as his catering-kitchen skills grew, so did his self-awareness. And he tells his stories so endearingly that The 24-Hour Soup Kitchen will win your heart. It’s an entertaining and enlightening book.

The genesis is straightforward enough. Henderson is a travel writer who likes to cook. He’s living well enough to acquire an aging co-op in New York City. It needs a new kitchen. So he buys a new stove, a top-of-the-line Lacanche. He’s too tasteful to mention a price, but those ranges run at least $10,000 today. Henderson visits the manufacturing facility in France, and, while dining with its director, learns about Alexis Soyer, a famous chef during the 19th century, a man renowned both for his lavish way of life and his invention of the soup-kitchen concept.

It’s a concept that seems more necessary than ever, and Soyer’s life (and lingering Lacanche guilt) inspired him to travel around the world to a variety of soup kitchens, large and small, and learn about them by working at them.

Henderson’s odyssey begins at Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, a massive Sikh temple in Delhi that grew from a 17th-century bungalow to the large, ornate structure you’ll find today. He was there to help with langar, a tradition among Sufi Muslims that offers food, served in a communal dining area, to anyone of any religion who wishes to partake. Gurdwara Bangla Sahib feeds about 20,000 people a day, 600 at a time, and those who work or eat there are required to do so barefoot. Biswajit Singh, the only paid employee at the kitchen, organizes the prep and cooking with no foreknowledge of the supplies he’d be working with – they are donations that arrive based on the whim of the benefactor, such as a flatbed truck loaded with cauliflower.

Friday, May 13, 2022

A Bridge Not Far Enough

From the Theater Vault Dept.: After seeing an incredible performance by Michael Fischetti in “Glengarry Glen Ross” at Capital Rep the season before, I was eager to see what he’d do with the challenging lead in “A View from the Bridge.” He did excellently, but the rest of the production seemed a little limp, almost as if the production team wasn’t prepared to fully commit to the play’s place and time. Here’s what I wrote about it, taking us back to a chilly night in 1987.

                                                                                       
             

THE BRIDGE IN QUESTION is one of those gloriously metaphorical items that spans the literal and metaphysical: it joins boroughs, countries; it joins aspects of law and aspects of morality.

Arthur Miller wrote “A View from the Bridge” in 1955 as a one-acter and expanded it when it proved successful. As with so much of the playwright's work, there is a strong central character in the process of conflict and self-discovery who nevertheless is doomed.

Michael Fischetti and Sully Boyer
With Eddie Carbone, it is a conflict between loyalty and sexual feeling that brings him down. He is attracted to his just-come-of-age niece; he also is attracted to the man she wants to marry.

This is in Brooklyn of the late '40s, so Eddie, a longshoreman, doesn't have a very sophisticated language with which to express his varied feelings, never mind that he's dealing with such great taboos.

Such subjects are now the stuff of television soap operas, so today there isn’t a lot of shock value in Eddie’s dilemma. What keeps a production of “Bridge” interesting are rich portraits of Eddie, his friends and family.

Friday, May 06, 2022

Jazzing the Menu

From the Food Vault Dept.: It’s difficult to tell what’s going on at Schenectady’s Van Dyck Restaurant these days. It turned into the Mad Jack Brewing Co. a few years ago, and seems to have weathered Covid in that guise, but the only menu offerings on the website are a few pizzas and, even though its Facebook page sports the famous “Great Day in Harlem” photograph, there hasn’t been any significant jazz near the place in many years. Here’s one of five reviews I wrote of the place over the years, this one from 25 years ago. There’s a more current one, from 2009, that I’ll post in the weeks to come.

                                                                                          

BESIDES BEING A CHARMING BUILDING in Schenectady’s Stockade area, the Van Dyck has also hosted appearances by legendary jazz musicians. During my own time in Schenectady, I’ve seen Earl Hines and Red Norvo at the club, among many others. It was sad to see the business close a few years ago, but the decline had been steady and apparent. With a fresh emphasis on food, a new brewery component, and extensive remodeling, the restaurant reopened under new ownership in late March.

One of the shrewdest moves was to lure chef Dimitri Cruz from Siro’s, the seasonal Saratoga gourmet restaurant. Cruz, a Round Lake native, brings a wealth of commendable experience to the job, with a special love of Asian cookery learned during a stint at Manhattan’s Noho Star restaurant.

Other good ideas include a refurbished bar twice the size of the old one, yet still comfortable and intimate, and moving the jazz room to the second floor. The lineup of players, including upcoming appearances by Marian McPartland and Mose Allison, also gives the reassuring message that music is being taken seriously here again.

Friday, April 29, 2022

A Re-Sounding Success

From the Tech Vault Dept.: There can’t possibly be a more technologically dated piece in my files than this one. Here I am, in 1995, telling you how to hook up your computer’s audio output to your home stereo system. Who does that any more? As a matter of fact, I do. If there’s an indignity involved, it’s the horrific rewrite some subeditor put my piece through, so I’m satisfying my still-bruised ego by posting it here in its original form. (Photos by John Popplewell.)

                                                                                
        

MY IDEA OF AUDIO HELL is the multimedia section of any computer show. There’s something about the output of all those tiny, tinny speakers that makes my back teeth think of fingernails on a chalkboard. Because most of those loudspeakers sound terrible. When it comes to any multimedia enterprise – I’m thinking especially of television now – audio tends to get short-shrifted. A few manufacturers are offering terrific computer speakers, but they’re not cheap. And chances are that right now you’re listening to a possible solution to the computer audio problem.

Let’s say that you recently picked up a multimedia kit for your computer. Which means you probably did what I did: shopped around for the right CD-ROM player and sound card combo, and then went along with whatever speakers were thrown in. Try this simple test: Heft one of the speakers in your hand. If it weighs about the same as this magazine, don’t look for your audiophile friends to swoon at the sound of it..

There are alternatives at hand. First and easiest is a pair of headphones. They sound better than those cheap speakers, and they bother nobody else. But headphones will always be a secondary technique, because nothing takes the place of being able to crank that music! You’ve got a good stereo system playing – so route the sound from that sound card into your stereo and enjoy the assault of real amplifier muscle. Or fire up a round of Doom and enjoy the assault.

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.