Monthly Archives: July 2013

A Note on the Effervescent Swag of the Reverend Jesse Jackson…



Love him, hate him, or both, but the Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. is arguably the greatest black politician in American history–and that covers a whole lot of ground, including The White House. He stepped into the spotlight in a moment of near-total darkness for progressives nationwide, following the murder of his mentor, Dr. King, and then proceeded to ball out in unprecedented fashion for 45 straight years. He has many, many critics, and rightfully so, but not one of them has even half his hustle on his worst day, whether it’s international hostage negotiations, high-level national politics, or building mass-movements from scratch across multiple platforms. Yeah, he didn’t become president, but he’s helped put three in office so far, and Hillary Clinton might be the fourth in 2016.

Jesse Jackson meets with Dream Defenders in Tallahassee, July 30, 2013

His work in Tallahassee today was masterful: Dream Defenders had been up there for days, and their appeals were curtly dismissed by elected officials–then Jesse showed up, wielding a power that transcends party politics, and transformed the dynamic of the whole situation is less time than it took him to put on their t-shirt. He’s like a walking signal-flare alerting national media to the relevance of situations they were otherwise inclined to ignore–and he’s done this for three generations, with a record of consistent long-term success unmatched by anyone since Saul Alinsky, if not the legendary “Boss” Tweed himself.

Put most simply: Jesse is to President Bill Clinton and President Obama what “the American Dream” Dusty Rhodes is to “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, in terms of being an early prototype for the type of politician that would eventually thrive in the new reality, and today pretty much certifies that. Is he shady and controversial? Of course–he’s from Chicago! His efforts over the past couple days have really helped reinforce the essential role he has played in organizing–and galvanizing–activist groups, and those efforts are worthy of praise, independent of ideology.

Random Thoughts on “Besame Mucho”…


Sunday morning finds me up early and, at present, listening through versions of Consuelo Velasquez’s “Besame Mucho”, a jazz and pop standard that has retained its full potency in the 73 years since its composition in 1940. I have no idea how many times the song has been performed or recorded in that time–hundreds, easily. I’ve probably heard 100 myself over the last 20 years, including several new ones just a few minutes ago. The universality of the tune makes it readily accessible as the embodiment of  a certain mood, so rooted in that time and place that it, The melody is ubiquitous; it can float in the background like spiderwebs in a breeze, or be battle-axed with bravura bombast. It’s all good, as they say.  Put most simply, “Besame Mucho” is America’s “Dark Eyes”.

Firstly, let’s just get this out of the way right now, since it can’t rightly be ignored, especially with the display of circular breathing at the end. I never expected to ever heard anything by Kenny G I could even stand, let alone really enjoy, but if it happens again, I will consult a priest…

The Johnny Hepbir Trio does a really nice Gypsy Swing rendition…

The late, great pianist Michel Petrucciani (1962-1999)made regular use of the song during his too-short but masterful run in the 1980s and ’90s. My favorite of the bunch comes from his Live Solo album (1999, recorded 1997), which also contains arguably the greatest solo piano version of “Caravan” ever (although Dick Hyman’s version at Maybeck maybe exceeds his, in terms of sheer balls-out virtuosity)…

Petrucciani augmented his piano with the Graffiti String Quartet for this version from 1994. They add the proverbial brooding intensity, which probably matches the artist’s own feelings at that point in his life…


Another great pianist to tackle the tune is Dave Brubeck, who recorded this version (which includes some sweet boo-bamming) in 2000…

The trio led by bassist Avishai Cohen (not to be confused with trumpeter Avishai Cohen) wholly appropriated the tune during their Cully Jazz set in 2011, offering one of the freshest, most forward-thinking renderings ever; note his epic little bass solo to start things out…

I had no idea the Beatles had recorded “Besame Mucho” as well. Apparently they used the tune as part of their infamous failed audition for Decca Records on New Year’s Day, 1962, one of the more fateful fuckups in music history. Decca instead chose a band called Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, which was a pretty good band that had some hits but, by virtue of having not been the Beatles, have been reduced largely to a trivia question, if not a punchline. Meanwhile, the Beatles signed to EMI that May, and Pete Best was fired after their first recording session for the label in August, replaced by Ringo, and it was off to the races…

What got me started browsing “Besame Mucho”s on the YouTube was the desire to hear what’s probably my favorite version ever (though that Cohen has me reconsidering): This 1962 take from a quartet led by vibraphonist Dave Pike, with bassist Herbie Lewis and drummer Walter Perkins, featuring a guest appearance by the great pianist Bill Evans. As the story goes, this rare sideman gig from November 1961 was Evans’ first recording session since the tragic car crash the previous July that killed his friend, the groundbreaking bassist Scott LaFaro, whose work at the Village Vanguard earlier that year remains a signpost of modern music. Evans’ solo is viewed by some (like myself) as a kind of stylistic and emotional encomium for his fallen colleague, whose death at just 25 was a blow to the business similar to Clifford Brown demise five years earlier. Note, also, Perkins’ solo, which adds a sort of martial touch to a track already infused with dramatic tension. Since it was the first version I went for, it makes sense to put it last…

Besame Mucho – Jonny Hepbir Trio

Interview with Alessandra Altamura, author of “Music Club Toscana”


Music Club Toscana: Music time stories, by Alessandra Altamura. Piombino, Italy: Edizioni IL FOGLIO. 192 pp.

"Music Club Toscana" cover

It was mid-afternoon in late March when the postman’s knock interrupted my nap. (Being in journalistic exile leaves much room for napping, and other forms of self-reflection.) The package I signed for had ten stamps on it—five depicting the Terme Di Bonifacio VIII, and a row of five up top depicting the late singer Nino Reitano (1944-2009)—totaling 12.50 Euros, the equivalent of $16.07. Interesting: I hadn’t even opened the package yet, and I’d already learned something! That was to prove a useful omen.

Inside the envelope was a fresh new copy of the debut collection of 22 short-stories by Alessandra Altamura, an Italian-born literature teacher who turns 40 this November and graduated from the Liceo Classico Macchiavelli and the University of Pisa. The contents were pleasant, but of no surprise; I’d been waiting for it for a few days. Altamura, the author, had sent it off from her home in Lucca (near Pisa), in Tuscany in the great historic country of Italy on March 12. Two weeks days to travel across the Mediterranean, the European continent and the Atlantic Ocean seemed quite reasonable.

I was looking forward to seeing it for myself, and I was in no way disappointed. Music Club Toscana: Music time stories is a labor of love in the most literal sense; it combines her dual passions for music and her own native culture. Translated from the original Italian, the writing is vibrant and briskly-paced; the text moves fast over 192 pages. The book’s contents are like its packaging: smooth, compact and colorful. Speaking as someone who no longer makes regular practice of reading much fiction, I enjoyed the book immensely. After reading her book, I got the chance to briefly interview Ms. Altamura via email from New York City, where she arrived to begin her book tour last week.

SDH: How long did it take to write this book? Where did the idea come from?

AA: I wrote my book in a few months, less than one year, but I collected the material for these stories [over] my whole life. The idea comes from my love for music, especially live music. I have many friends who are musicians, also my brother plays the guitar. Other than that, music clubs are full of stories and characters.

SDH: Are your characters all real people, all fictional, or a combination?

AA: Some characters are real, with their real names, some are fictional and some are a mix of reality and fantasy.

SDH: What kind of music do you like?

AA: The first story was born in a club in Florence where my friends usually play, then came all the others. In the book there are many kinds of music, because each person needs a different kind of music. Personally I prefer jazz, the great songwriters and in general a music that makes people meet and think.

SDH: Which of the venues did you visit first?

AA: I visited first the places closest to my town. Lucca, Pisa, Florence. Then I went to the farest, like Siena, Arezzo or Grosseto, just to have a complete vision for my book.

SDH: Which venue in the book is your favorite?

AA: My favorite venue and also my favorite story is the one that takes place at Le Murate, that was the prison of Florence before becoming a club.

SDH: Tell me a bit about the lady who translated the book into English…

AA: Shayna Hobbs is a friend of a friend, who lived some time in Italy and taught me English. Now they live in Georgia and they will host me after Florida. oh, this is a funny thing, because each story is translated from a different friend. So in English there are really many characters and voices. Then a lady read it to see if there were mistakes. Maybe there are still some mistakes, because we did all quickly when I was leaving to London, but the English version is a proof that my friends love me…

SDH: Do you plan to write more books? Have you decided on the topic yet?

AA: I think to write another book, with stories that take place all over the world. In fact I’m trying to travel and know better other countries.

SDH: Who are your favorite Italian musicians?

AA: My favourite Italian musicians are the big songwriters, who are also poets: de Andrè, Fossati, Guccini, De Gregori and others. I went to the concerts of many of them and I liked much, but I’m sorry, because I never listened to a concert of de Andrè, before he died.

[She will be at Chamblin’s Uptown, in downtown Jacksonville, on Sunday, July 21 to sign copies and give a presentation on her work. If you’re into travel literature or jazz, it’s well-worth checking out.]

July 19, 2013

Notes for Niglets: “Nobody Will Care”


Dear Niglet,

Sorry to open this with a racial slur, but you should get used to it. I’m sure you’ve been paying attention to the recent controversy over the Trayvon Martin killing, and the subsequent acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman–or, maybe you haven’t. Maybe you’ve been so busy roaming the streets looking for potential victims that you didn’t notice at all. Some people think that’s exactly what you’ve been doing, and you should get used to it. I’m not here to talk about the case; we’ve done that plenty, already. I’m here for one reason: To explain what the verdict means for you.

Basically, the verdict clarifies that your life has no value in the state of Florida–or, at least, measurably less value than those of someone who’s not black. It’s different if you’re an adult, because you can move away, and adults have more legal rights than children. But Florida is a state that has chose to define itself as a place that is simply not safe for children. Our state is full of thousands of registered sexual offenders, who commit crime after crime against children and are released to do it again; almost all child-killings are done by such people, but guess what? Their lives matter more than yours. Those people run free because it’s more important to keep prison-space open for people like you.

Now, politics is one thing, but from a practical standpoint, having once been one of you, I’m anxious to make sure you niglets stay safe in a state where you are presumed to be a dangerous thug. You don’t have to follow my advice, but if you don’t, you might be killed one day–and nobody will care. So, here’s a few little helpful hints.

There are a few points to cover here, so I’ll just hit them with bullet-points:

Stop listening to rap music: Great music, sure, but all it really does is teach you to speak, dress and behave in ways that make white want to shoot you even more than they already do–and that is the whole point. Although Zimmerman jurors never saw much about Trayvon Martin’s history, the general public seems to feel that because Martin wore a hoodie, had a little gold grill in mouth, and had photos of pot and someone’s gun on his phone, Zimmerman’s suspicions were correct, even though he never saw that stuff until much later. Based on that argument, most young black males are fair game. More of you will be killed, as society fleshes out the contours of the law.

*Don’t go outside at night: Not everyone’s eyesight is good enough to see black people in the dark, and in many cases it’s probably for the better. Black and the night are inextricably linked in the mind of the majority culture. When people tell their children to get home before dark, it’s because they are afraid someone like you will hurt them–and statistically, that’s entirely possible. The reason some cities have curfews is because of people like you. In you’re a black male under 18 in Florida, the only thing you’re going to find out on these streets at night is death–and nobody will care.

*That said, it may be unreasonable to expect people to stay indoors for 12 hours of every day, just because society thinks they’re dangerous. You may have very good reason to be outside–Maybe you’re a high school athlete, because black males are really good at spectator sports, which offers the rare opportunity to be perceived as a human being, rather than a collection of fake statistics. Or, perhaps you are part of that allegedly small percentage of black men with actual job–or, maybe you’re a drug dealer, which is pretty much the same thing.

*If you must go out at night, precautions must be taken. Don’t talk to white people unless you have to; your smiling face and friendly demeanor may be interpreted as a setup for robbery; your innocent request for directions may be interpreted as a distraction, and you may be killed–and nobody will care. Do not travel in large groups, because the more black males in one place at one time, the more dangerous non-blacks will perceive the situation. With all the guns in this state, and the sudden empowerment many feel due to the Zimmerman verdict, it’s just not worth the risk.

*Along those lines, this is probably the most important point of all: Do not speak to any white woman you don’t already know, and do not allow yourself to be alone with them. It doesn’t matter how good a rapper you are, or how many yards you gained playing football; even if you’re LeBron James, they will think you’re Kobe. In you’re in a room alone, and a white woman enters, immediately leave, and make sure other whites see you leave, to avoid any possible legal issues later. If you’re walking down the street, and a white woman is walking from the other direction, cross the street immediately. If a white woman asks you a question, the answer is “I don’t know–sorry I have to leave.” White men and white women have their own longstanding psychosexual dynamic, wherein even though the primary physical danger to white women is white men, neither believes that; they think it’s you, and by “you”, I mean any unknown black male in their presence. Obviously, that is usually not the case. But, the lesson of the Zimmerman verdict is that the risk of a worst-case scenario, however small, justifies extreme vigilance to eliminate any possibility. In such situations, like clubs and parties, it’s important to remember: You are NOT a person–you are an object, a symbol, a pawn in a game being played between white liberal women and the sleazy, violent white men they are programmed to breed with. Often, white women will seek to cultivate relations with blacks as an expression of discontent with the oppression they have endured under the historical dominance of white males, and knowing how much white males hate black males–well, that’s basically why twerking exists. People always wonder why women stay in abusive relationships; it’s because some ladies are biologically and culturally programmed to respond favorably to abuse. It’s all fun and games, until something happens, and it will be your fault whether you had anything to do with it or not. I’m not saying you can’t be friends with white people, or date outside your race; not at all. Those are all perfectly wonderful things, but they may get you killed–and nobody will care.

*Now, as to statistics: In your life, you will have the benefit of many white people who claim to know exactly what’s “wrong” with you and how to “fix” you. You will hear all kinds of statistics claiming that you are less intelligent, more inclined to violence, less likely to succeed in life, etc. You will also see and hear all kinds of well-meaning racist satire, because white people still think racism is funny–and, honestly, they’re right. When people say such things to you, it’s important to just smile and let them talk. Any objection to it will be used to reinforce whatever they were saying, because they already think you’re touchy, with a hair-trigger temper. As a young black male, you are simply NOT allowed to take offense to anything, ever. Don’t confirm their fears, or you might be killed–and nobody will care.

*Also, you will hear much earnest talk about the differences between black people and niggers, or between the word “nigger” and the word “nigga”. Even though white people know that black people almost always take offense to hearing white people use such terms, they can’t resist; they truly love saying the word. Imagine not being able to call a tree, “tree”, or a chair, “chair”; it’s a similar thing for them. When you hear such things, just smile. Let them say what they want; it’s just words. But it’s perfectly ok to say, “Oh wait, sorry, I have seen that Chris Rock clip before–um, I have to leave…”

*Since young black males are allegedly driven by a self-destructive impulse to replicate the violent deaths of their favorite rapper (Oh yeah, some people believe this), you may reject all this sage advice. You might be thinking, “Naw, nigga, I ain’t goin’ out like that; I’ma keep it, and y’all muthafuckas can kiss my black ass!” (If you’re one of those young black males who pronounces words “properly”, apologies; sounding “white” is a pretty good defense mechanism.) Well, that’s your business. Just remember that, if anything happens to you, it will be presumed that it was your fault, and that your parents failed to raise you “properly”. If there is a trial, all of your friends and loved ones will be viciously insulted, and your killer will, depending on his race, get paid.

Well, there ya go. That’s the best advice I can offer–but since young black males are apparently so stubborn, you will probably just ignore me and get yourself killed–and nobody will care. Actually, they never did, and the only good thing about his whole tragedy is that at least now the rest of you know the reality of your situation. Good luck, niglets!



Gang War (1940) [a.k.a. Crime Street]


Really grimy, even by Harlem 1940 standards. Not sure why this film isn’t a classic; it hits the marks like Brody in Japan. Star Ralph Cooper went on to become the long-time host of “Amateur Night” at the Apollo…

“Cast (IMDB): Ralph Cooper as Bob ‘Killer’ Meade; Gladys Snyder as Maizie ‘Sugar’ Walford; Reginald Fenderson as Danny (Meade’s chief henchman) (as Reggie Fenderson); Laurence Criner as Lew Baron (as Lawrence Criner); Monte Hawley as Bill (Baron’s henchman); Jess Lee Brooks as Lt. Holmes (as Jesse Brooks); Johnny Thomas as Phil (Meade’s driver); Maceo Bruce Sheffield as Bull Brown (as Maceo Sheffield); Charles Hawkins as Tip (Brown henchman); Bobby Johnson as Waxy (Baron henchman); Henry Roberts as Slim (Meade henchman); Harold Garrison as Slicum (Meade’s publicity man); Marie Bryant as Dance Specialty (uncredited); Willie Covan as Dance Specialty (uncredited); Louise Franklin as Phil’s Girl (uncredited); Halley Harding as Baron Henchman (uncredited); Ray Martin as Man in Bar (uncredited); Ernest Morrison as Gang Member (uncredited); Edward Thompson as Man in Courtroom (uncredited).”  

Notes on Gene Krupa: “Dial M For Music”, 1967


May 11, 1937: Krupa sweats through his suit as the Benny Goodman band challenges Chick Webb at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. Some estimates suggest that between 4,000 and 20,000 people went in, through and around the venue that night…

Multi-instrumentalist Eddie Shu did epic work with Gene Krupa in the mid-’50s, following up from Charlie Ventura in the ’40s. Parts of this were in the old DCI VHS on Krupa (which, like the whole series, never went digital); so was the session with Sid Catlett on “Boy, What A Girl!” For some reason, after 20 years, the full videos of both find their way online, entirely unrelated–in this case, thanks to Shu’s children. Here Krupa, a devout Catholic, lays it down for some teenagers in Chicago, and basically does a shoot interview; truly essential stuff. He’s 58 here. If Krupa were a wrestler, he’d be Lou Thesz