Saturday, May 31, 2014

Summer Wind 2014

South End, Tybee Island, Georgia
For the past week we have watched wave after wave of clouds, showers, and some strong storms sweep across our patch of Piedmont east of Atlanta. It is a sure sign that the trade winds have resumed for another year. 

In coastal Georgia, the trades usually creep in softly around the middle of May. They bring in the high cirrus and horsetails as well as the puffy fair-weather cumulus clouds that race over the beach. The clouds sweep inland twenty miles or so where they meet the uplifts of diurnal heating enhanced by the incentives of an onshore flow. Often, the result is a brisk and exciting line of thunderstorms sometimes extending from the city-state of Charleston to the Players Club fairways at Ponte Vedra Beach. In Savannah, the 3:00 pm showers are so predictable you can almost set a watch by them. When residents advised me an umbrella was a summer essential they weren't fooling. The city's collapsing thunderstorms produced some of the heaviest perpendicular rainfall I've witnessed.  

For eleven years I worked at the mouth of the Savannah River and watched the light show over Savannah arcing north and east toward Hilton Head Island.  Occasionally storms moved to my location when the land breezes swept in early and pushed the activity to the southeast. Such a magnificent show.  Warm evenings were soon replaced in the early morning hours with a quiet southeasterly breeze embracing the island in salt-saturated humidity and a haze that turned golden with a full sunrise. The Boat-tailed Grackles skirmishing in the oleanders nearby served as a natural alarm clock during the eight years we lived on Tybee Island. I do miss the birds, but not their alarm clock role.

The trade wind days last into September to be replaced by weeks of spectacular warm, dry, cloudless days, cool nights and warm water lingering into November. Of course, the occasional tropical storm can interrupt the coastal idyll that is the norm on the sea islands. It is to be expected and respected by those who share the fragile boundary of life at the ocean's edge. In Atlanta we'll sometimes enjoy the remnant sea breezes that survive the 200 mile journey from the Atlantic. It is a welcome reminder of the joy of coastal living.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Benny Goodman: More Clarinet!

Benny Goodman in 1970

Last Saturday, we commemorated the birthday of Artie Shaw. Today marks the birthday of another world-class jazz clarinetist, the "King of Swing," Benny Goodman (1909-1986). He grew up poor in Chicago, but received quality musical instruction. Before long, he was playing "professionally" with many bands. The Chicago music scene also gave him an affinity for New Orleans style jazz. At 20, he left for New York and world fame.

Mention "Palomar Ballroom" and "Carnegie Hall" in the same breath and any popular music historian will follow with "Benny Goodman." Both performances are landmarks in the history of swing and jazz.

In 1935, his orchestra performed regularly on an NBC Radio program entitled, "Let's Dance." It was broadcast live across the country. Young people in the East were fast asleep when his orchestra hit the airways, but it was perfect timing for the West Coast. A strike ended the broadcasts after a few months and the band decided on a coast to coast tour. In the interior states, the tour was a disaster because people didn't care for "upbeat" jazz arranged for orchestra. The band was looking forward to the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles as the last stop and an end to the pain. When they arrived, thousands of young fans who had heard them on the radio were waiting to hear them in person. What was to be a welcome end turned into the beginning of the Swing Era.

Eighteen months later, the now famous Goodman Orchestra was invited to present a jazz review in Carnegie Hall, a venue historically reserved for "high brow" music. Several members of the Duke Ellington and Count Basie orchestras and others joined on stage to perform a concert ranging from traditional to unconventional. Music historians generally regard this legendary performance as the most important in the history of jazz. After January 16, 1938, jazz became mainstream American music.

Still tapping your foot?

What you heard in the video was a small portion of Sing, Sing Sing - Gene Krupa on drums, Harry James, Ziggy Elman and Chris Griffin on trumpet - coming at the end of the concert. What's missing is Jess Stacy's celebrated response to Goodman's nod for an unexpected piano solo. Here is all twelve minutes of a performance that would change the world of music.

Goodman would go on performing jazz, classical, and popular music for another fifty years, literally to the day he died in 1986. Check out the "King of Swing's" official site for more information.

Sources: Wikipedia and the Official Website of the King of Swing, Benny Goodman.

This is an updated version of a 2009 OTR post. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day 2014: A Poem, An Illustration, And Sublime Music

On this day we honor men and women who have made the supreme sacrifice in service to their country. They gave their lives that we might live out our own in an experiment of community called the United States. Take some moments today and reflect on what these heroes have given you and your family.

Although there were many veterans in my family, none of them died during their military service. The family archive reflects this outcome: only one item, a circa 1908 postcard - in a collection of 800 cards - commemorates the day. The text reads:

From the silence of sorrowful hours,
The desolate mourners go,
Lovingly laden with flowers,
Alike for the friend and the foe:
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment day.
Under the roses the Blue,
Under the lilies the Gray


Today, we call it Memorial Day and, though both its date and scope have changed over time, its central meaning remains strong. At virtually every crossroad town from sea to sea, there will be old soldiers, flags, a speech or two, and prayers. These events will take place at memorial walls bearing the names of the honored dead. Invariably, the audiences will be small, but firmly dedicated to the idea that the nation will always remember the cost of freedom. 

Music will play a central role in the commemorations. In the American composer, Charles Ives's day (1874-1954), the holiday we celebrate today was known as Decoration Day.  The official change in name to "Memorial Day" took place in 1967. Regardless of what we call it, Ives captured much of the historic character of this day in "Section II, Decoration Day," of his composition, Holiday Symphony.  There are a number of familiar tunes in the piece, but you may not recognize them without a guide. Like the holiday itself, Ives give us rich, complex, and contemplative moments in time and space.

Music most sublime.

May you experience this day to its fullest; that is, with remembrance and celebration.

This post is an edited  compilation of earlier OTR Memorial Day commemorations.  

Friday, May 23, 2014

Memorial Day Weekend 2014

A Soldier's Burial

Not midst the chanting of the Requiem Hymn,
Nor with the solemn ritual of prayer,
Neath misty shadows from the oriel glass,
And dreamy perfume of the incensed air
Was he interred;
But in the subtle stillness after fight,
And the half light between the night and the day,
We dragged his body all besmeared with mud,
And dropped it, clod-like, back into the clay.

Yet who shall say that he was not content,
Or missed the prayers, or drone of chanting choir,
He who had heard all day the Battle Hymn
Sung on all sides by a thousand throats of fire.

What painted glass can lovelier shadows cast,
Than those the evening sky shall ever shed,
While, mingled with their light, Red Battle's Sun
Completes in magic colors o'er our dead,
The flag for which they died.

General George S. Patton (1943)

This post first appeared in OTR in 2011.

Artie Shaw On Clarinet

Today is the birthday of Arthur Arshawsky (1910-2004), the clarinetist, composer, band leader, and author better known as Artie Shaw. To say that Shaw was complex and difficult would be an understatement. He was married eight times, greatly disliked fame, and resented the conflict between creativity and the music industry so much that he virtually abandoned music in the early 1950s. Perhaps his life illustrated a never ending search for perfection by a man who could have approached it in any number of fields. When he died in December 2004 at the age of 94, he was recognized as one of the century's finest jazz clarinetists and a principal force in the development of the fusion of jazz and classical music that would become known as "Third Stream Music." Technically, I think he was at the top. This 1936 recording of him performing his composition, Interlude in B Flat, provides the evidence:

Fed up with music he turned to writing an autobiography, several novels and short stories, and an unfinished historical fiction trilogy on the jazz era. For a more thorough examination of even more facets in the life of this restless musical genius, visit this link at Swing Music Net for his obituary and this entry for his Wikipedia biography.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Dystopian Havana That Visitors Never See

Now and then, we Americans hear about the wonderful world that is Cuba, a crony capitalist banana republic freed by the collectivist idealism of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, et al.  There may have been some truth to that prior to 1990 but things changed dramatically when the Soviet Union crumbled and the generous annual supplement to keep communism alive in Cuba and the Americas ended. In the generation since, life for Cubans outside of the elite class has worsened dramatically. And tourists who visit this Marxist-Leninist republic and describe it the the rest of the world cannot leave their "bubble" to witness the poverty around them.

Michael Totten, a contributing editor at City Journal, managed to visit Cuba and get outside the tourist bubble. His report on life in a country that at one time was a thriving middle class society will add some reality to the concept of collectivist ideology.

Totten begins with this:

Neill Blomkamp’s 2013 science-fiction film Elysium, starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, takes place in Los Angeles, circa 2154. The wealthy have moved into an orbiting luxury satellite—the Elysium of the title—while the wretched majority of humans remain in squalor on Earth. The film works passably as an allegory for its director’s native South Africa, where racial apartheid was enforced for nearly 50 years, but it’s a rather cartoonish vision of the American future. Some critics panned the film for pushing a socialist message. Elysium’s dystopian world, however, is a near-perfect metaphor for an actually existing socialist nation just 90 miles from Florida.
I’ve always wanted to visit Cuba—not because I’m nostalgic for a botched utopian fantasy but because I wanted to experience Communism firsthand. When I finally got my chance several months ago, I was startled to discover how much the Cuban reality lines up with Blomkamp’s dystopia. In Cuba, as in Elysium, a small group of economic and political elites live in a rarefied world high above the impoverished masses. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, authors of The Communist Manifesto, would be appalled by the misery endured by Cuba’s ordinary citizens and shocked by the relatively luxurious lifestyles of those who keep the poor down by force.

Here is your link for the full article.

For those readers who enjoy outstanding writing and a conservative perspective on the American experience, I recommend City Journal as a voice of reason in a world of media too often consumed by delusion. The print version is a graphic delight as well - looks good on the coffee table - but much of the content is available free on line. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Magnificent Orson Welles

Orson Welles at the age of 21
Today marks the 99th anniversary of the birth of Orson WellesHe has been missing from the world stage for over a generation now. The film and stage industries will always owe him immensely for what he brought to them and for the treatment his genius received at the hands of a Hollywood film cartel that resented outsiders.

Welles was a remarkable entertainment talent as an actor, writer, director, producer and more. Before he was thirty, he had terrified the nation with his realistic Halloween night presentation of H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds (1938) and awed film audiences with Citizen Kane (1941). Welles was already a rather contentious artist when he achieved almost instant fame. Both elements helped label him as a difficult, if not reckless, personality and he never endeared himself to the Hollywood in-crowd. The consequence of "all that" was a limited number of noteworthy films and a long list of unfinished projects, and the question, "Whatever happened to Orson Welles?"

For a taste of Welles as writer, director, and co-star, here is the famous "mirror scene" from The Lady of Shanghai (1948). Film critic David Kehr has called the film "the weirdest great movie ever made."

Photo Credit: Library of Congress (Carl Van Vechten, photographer, March 1, 1937)
Kehr Quotation:, review of The Lady of Shanghai