Friday, August 31, 2012

Itzhak Perlman's Birthday

Perlman turns 67 today. "At the age of three he was denied entrance to the Shalamit Conservatory for being too small to hold a violin."

File:Ed Sullivan - Itzhak Perlman 1958.jpg
With Ed Sullivan in Israel, 1958

What a national treasure.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Louis Armstrong: Now You Have Jazz

Satchmo                                      Adi Holzer, 2002

Louis Armstrong, the phenomenal jazz trumpeter, performer, and all around good will ambassador was born on this day in New Orleans in 1901. He was a trailblazer in any number of ways, and although he left us in 1971 his imprint remains large in popular music and jazz in particular. Here is a link to the Armstrong page at NPR's Jazz Profiles where you can listen to the master himself and to others as they describe his broad cultural legacy. Readers can learn more at the Louis Armstrong House Museum site.  Here are few samples of Armstrong at work:

There is an hour of music in this first video. If you can't enjoy all of it, at least go to 17:20 and listen to Now You Have Jazz.

And here is a signature hit Armstrong recorded in 1968.

It's safe to say that Armstrong indeed helped make a wonderful world during his near six decades in jazz and popular music. May his smile, his sound, and his goodness stay with us for a long, long time.

A Night (And A Year) In Old Savannah

In doing some research on Savannah, OTR was quickly daydreaming about his early experience with that city. Here is a reprise - slightly edited - of a post he wrote in mid-2008.

Bonaventure Cemetery
Now that I have some reference brought on by 62 years of experience in this world, I am sometimes amazed at what great changes can be brought on by rather unexpected, ordinary circumstances. Great masses of people and the courses of their lives can be changed overnight or in an matter of months not only by a natural disaster, war or human event, but also by a subtle cultural shift. That comes to mind when I think of Savannah, Georgia, one of the nation's most beautiful cities, and a city I have admired and enjoyed for over thirty years.

Yes, really, it was a rainy night in Georgia. It was also cold, foggy, and 3 a.m. The year was 1967, and four of us were on our way to south Florida for winter break. After navigating the Route 17 /I-95 construction puzzle in South Carolina, Savannah was a welcome glow in the fog. At the end of the Talmadge Bridge, in the very heart of town and beyond, we were stunned to find every store and gas station closed. The stench from the nearby paper mill left us gagging. After regaining our bearings, we sped south thinking Savannah was little more than a dump.

I have two recollections of Savannah that night. First, there was a boulevard lined with stunning live oaks draped in Spanish moss and glistening from the glow of street lights high above the trees. And second, beyond the oaks was the shadowed facade of one weathered and neglected building after another, literally block after block. It was surreal. The image has never left me.
OTR's Jones Street project
In 1977, and quite unexpectedly, I found myself seduced by Savannah's charms and restoring a townhouse in the historic district. But after a year, events in my personal and professional life changed and led me to conclude that I was not a happy man. Almost everything had changed that year. The townhouse sold quickly and profitably and I moved east to the islands and enjoyed life there for another decade. In Old Savannah the architecture remained. The divisive social issues of race and class remained. The weight of an enormous heritage of the American South and all the baggage that accompanied it remained.

Two events would soon come to change Savannah. First, there was SCAD, the Savannah College of Art and Design. Founded about the time I moved to town, SCAD's student body grew quickly into the thousands, almost all of them housed in the historic district. The school contributed to the preservation of many historic buildings and, in several ways, revived commerce and excitement in the downtown community. The second event was the arrival of "the book." I had been living in Savannah only a few months before realizing it was a most unusual place, full of interesting - more at bizarre - characters, and perhaps as surreal as my memories of Oglethorpe Avenue on that rainy winter night. Writing a book never entered my mind until years later. But it did almost immediately to New York journalist, John Berendt. He captured both the city and its character to perfection in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, published in 1994.

Bonaventure Cemetery
"Midnight" was a sensation, a best seller, and tourism exploded.The Savannah experience changed within months. There were more restaurants to enjoy. The night life flourished. Tour options abounded, from ghost, to pirate, to transsexual. The pace changed: faster, broader, deeper, never ending, and more expensive. The historic district became a fishbowl and much of its intimacy compromised. Soon, the pioneers paid $6,000, $8,000, then $10,000 or more in city/county taxes to live in the homes they had lovingly restored. Many of them left out of financial necessity. Had I stayed, I too would have been displaced. My wife and I could no longer have afforded to live in the home I restored. That saddens me, along with the realization that the divisive issues of race and class and social baggage remain unchanged.

Today, the people go about their daily lives shadowed by those magnificent, moss draped live oaks. The wonderfully restored facades look down on them daily. The ships and their accompanying tugs glide in on the incoming tides. Their music fills the historic district. And Bonaventure Cemetery's ancient gate welcomes the living and the dead into what I believe is the nation's most beautiful cemetery. So much has changed in Savannah, but in the very quiet hours, in the intimate gardens, and in the music of the squares as well as that of a piano a few door aways, you can find the city I knew thirty years ago.

History tells us that Savannah will not, perhaps cannot, be everything to everyone, but it remains a most seductive place. I invite you to enjoy this historic city - do read "the book" first - where you too may be changed as much as I was those many years ago.

Bonaventure Cemetery

Friday, August 3, 2012

Performance Perfection, Or: Why Television Talent Shows Don't Matter, Part 10

Jonathan Winters appearing on the NBC Comedy Hour in 1956

When OTR began his search for a comedian for this performance series, he thought at first that the honor belonged to Robin Williams. After watching what seemed like hours - enjoyable as ever - of Williams routines and interviews, he realized that this versatile comic owed so much to another comedy genius who is still with us but rarely performing. That individual is Jonathan Winters. In the last decade, he has appeared in and provided the voice of characters for a few films; otherwise, he is not well known to younger generations. To appreciate fully this remarkable talent, OTR's readers need to look back through the last fifty years of his career. Once they do, they will understand why Robin Williams has identified Winters as his mentor and inspiration.

So...if you want entertainment instead of warblers, screamers, low-rent vaudeville, obnoxious and over-rated pseudo-star panelists and eight minutes of commercials every half hour, you can enjoy this even if the art form is at the bottom of your list:

Winters turns 87 in a few months. He is indeed a treasure in the world of American entertainment.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

For Lefties, A Great Disturbance In The Force

It's just another day on Atlanta's freeways

This morning OTR happened to catch a radio interview with pollster and pundit, Matt Towery. The immediate subject was the defeat by metro Atlanta voters of a one cent, ten year long sales tax devoted to funding transportation. The proposal lost by a landslide, 67% to 37%. The campaign led to some unusual alliances. Most notable were Republican Governor Nathan Deal joining with Democrat Mayor (Atlanta) Kisim Read to support the plan while the Sierra Club of Georgia, the NAACP, and the Georgia Tea Party linked in opposition. Towery pointed out that pro-tax forces ran a miserably ineffective, detached  $7,000,000 campaign, blowing almost all of it on television ads. On the other hand, the opposition had around $25,000 and thousands of ground pounders willing to go door-to-door, wave placards at intersections, and rally at every opportunity. Granted this isn't the best economic environment in which to propose a tax increase, still the proponents must have believed the perceived traffic gridlock would save the day. Early on, polls showed they would have a steep uphill battle, but they persisted with the delusion of victory to the very end. Toward vote day, their message shifted somewhat to describe the proposal as an economic stimulus AND traffic plan. OTR suspects this only muddled the message and hardened the opposition.

Two more events entered the Towery interview. First was the overwhelming and unexpected victory of Ted Cruz in the Republican Primary Election in Texas. Cruz is an outsider and a Tea Party favorite. His defeat of the Republican establishment's - Rick Perry's - candidate, Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, assures that there will be another conservative voice in the Senate. That Cruz won by 13% of the vote is remarkable.

The last subject was yesterday"s lunch date at Chick-fil-A. Just a week ago, Mike Huckabee, the politician, writer and media host, called for Appreciation Day at Chick-fil-A as a show of support for the company's respect for conservative values, both religious and political. His proposal stormed across the World Wide Web, thanks in part to nation-wide support from the grassroots of the Tea Party . Corporate officials told their store managers to expect an increase of 15% to 20% in business. By lunch time yesterday, traffic jams, long lines, and parking overflows all pointed to something more than a blip for sales. The increase at many stores was closer to 200%. Although Chick-fil-A does not release daily sales data, they have stated that record sales of $17,000,000 did occur on one Friday after Thanksgiving. Unofficial folks in the know said that yesterday's sales exceeded $30,000,000 and the impact of Appreciation Day enthusiasm would boost sales for weeks.

Taken separately, these three happenings may not provide pundits with much excitement. Together, they indicate three points: distrust of those in office, respect for fundamental cultural and political values, and the surprisingly strong impact of right and possibly center right/independent forces in this election cycle.

Strange bedfellows, the opposition, and chicken power all reinforce the thinking that it's going to be an interesting hundred days until Tuesday, November 6.