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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.