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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?