Saturday, January 22, 2011

Giant Strides in reverse -

Bing Crosby said, "I think popular music in this country is on of the few things in the 20th Century that has made giant strides in reverse."

I haven't heard of any recently written "pretty" music, but I have heard several younger singers doing the pretty songs of earlier years. Perhaps because I tend to enjoy male voices more than female, I chose the following vocalists to write about.

Michael Buble' is a very talented performer born in the '70's who does not really have a style of his own, but sings the old numbers like "Call Me Irresponsible" and "For Once In My Lifetime" the way someone my age likes to hear them. If you watch him (lucky you, if it's in person) you will see he has a little attitude, call it swagger maybe, that you might not "hear" on a CD. However, I think his charm and musicality come through in pieces like "Save the Last Dance For Me" he has a little different sound. It's a country song, but he makes it his own with a little different leaning toward a Latin blend.

Michael Feinstein is a little older than Buble'. Born in the late 50's he had an opportunity to be influenced by working as Ira Gershwin's assistant. Feinstein is an accomplished pianist in his own right, and a lot of his work is "cabaret style" with himself as accompanist. His specialty is romantic songs, and probably the fastest among his performances would be "Something's Gotta Give." He has made many albums and worked with many groups. One important work he has done was with the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra in early 2001 in which he performed "Laura", "Stormy Weather" and other standards. All works were by Jewish American composers including Gershwin, Berln, and Herman's "I Wont Send Roses." Unlike Buble', Feinstein has developed a style of his own, a confidence and maturity that, if you have the opportunity to compare old work with new, will be discernable. Michael Feinstein's mother was a tap dancer of little fame and his father was salesman, who also was an amateur vocalist.

Harry Connick, Jr. is the third performer I enjoy. He was born in the late 60's; younger than Feinstein, but older than Buble', he has written songs, put together his own bands, and most definitely developing his own style. While he has made a career of singing the Great American Songbook pieces, he didn't try to copy the old performers. He admitted he did not have the vocal strength to sound like Sinatra or others, although he was being touted as the "Chairman nouveau" by some promoters. He played young Lt. Cable in the 2001 version of So. Pacific; and in Pajama Game he was the piano-playing Sorokin. My impression of Harry Connick, Jr's career is that he has had lot of fun. He was worked hard and used his talent to the highest scale.His is the voice in the movie "Sleepless in Seattle" singing his own "Wink and a Smile". His father was a district attorney in New Orleans who also played piano and sang as a hobby in local night clubs.

To be fair, Diana Kral is a very credible young woman, born in 1964, who sings jazz and swing with the best. She came to the US from BC, Canada. Her father played stride piano and he exposed her to all the greatest musicians such as Thelonious Monk, Claude Thornhill and Paul Whiteman ( the latter previously profiled in a blog). Her style is not a copy of any other performer. She has toured with Tony Bennett. She has sung blues, jazz and traditional music (the latter a Christmas album) and is right at home with swing. It is said her only mistake so far has not taking Bennett up on the offer to make an album with him. That's o.k., Diana, you're doing just fine.

Another female performer that I admit to really liking among the younger set is k.d. lang.
No, I didn't leave off the capitals. She doesn't use them. I have seen videos of her and like her unselfconscious style. She is who she is and sings with confidence but not brass. She professes to be attracted to both women and men - but not equally. She DID do an album with Bennett. It is one of my favorite "put on some music and go to sleep" albums. She is an activist for many causes such as animal rights, gay rights, and human rights. She also came from Canada and puts a nice mark of her own on country. I am not a fan of country, but she makes it very listenable. Some of her songs have a heavy guitar (she might be playing it it is so in tune with her) but the lyrics come over it very well. She is considered a rock and roll artist. I have not heard any of that music.

Just thinking about the variety of styles each performer uses, I recommend not giving up on someone just because you have heard them one piece you don't care for. In my circle of very talented senior organ players (senior as in age, not necessarily accomplishment) I notice that each really does well with one or two rhythms and tempos, but it doesn't stop them, nor should it, from playing every other one. A gal who plays fast Latin because she loves Ethel Smith's rendition of TicoTico doesn't necessarily play it like Ethel, but isn't she just having a ball doing it? And the person who loves Hank Williams might attempt to play a country piece with a twangy guitar which would "twang" my ears uncomfortably, but if he loves what he does, that's what hobby music is all about. If any of us plays comfortably enough to share our music at a senior center, nursing home or community event, that's hobby organ's purpose. I can't sing, but I do enjoy all of the performers I have written about today. And I don't think we have taken strides in reverse. I think somewhere out there are composers writing good music we have yet to hear. We just need to make the need for it known.

Bob Hope once said of Phyllis Diller, "When she started to play, Steinway himself came down personally and rubbed his name off the piano."

As long as Mr. Lowrey doesn't appear to remove his name from your instrument --

Keep a song in your heart and keep the music playing.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Hey, Gov -

Hey, Governor LePage -

Listen up. The country is trying to become more civil and courteous and you're not hearing the message.

Yes, Maine's governor LePage made a serious gaff again last week when instead of making his polite excuses for not being available for this week's MLK events, he made a rude remark telling the NAACP what they could do. It would have been nice if he had remembered to write the MLK date on his calendar and set it aside as he made plans for his first year in office. And couldn't he have squeezed out an hour to sit in on one of the several events? Of course, he could have but he didn't. Too bad but not a disastrous.

Mr. LePage is not a racist. He has included a Jamaican boy in his family, in fact, speaks of him as his son. Although the young man apparently has a father in Jamaica and is not an American citizen, and, according to what I have read, he has not been adopted by the LePages. Apparently Raymond (the young man's name) has told his peers he is in this country to get a better education. He has confided he hopes to be a golf pro. His father was a caddy for PLP when he was in Jamaica at some point.

Now the NAACP is understandably offended that 1) Mr. LePage did not make time for the MLK events, and more rightfully 2) that he made a crudely dismissive remark when questioned about the lapse. They made their ire public - very public - which doesn't help the help matters. And exacerbating the situation, Mr. Nemitz, in the Maine Sunday Telegram wrote a scathing criticism.

The young collegians in Maine are up in arms because one of the Governor's first acts was to nullify the previous governor's decision to make asking for a detainee's proof of citizenship unlawful. They think that indicates exclusion perhaps racism.
I believe in seeking proof of citizenship when someone has broken the law; have no problem with it if I get caught speeding, which would probably be the most likely reason I would be detained. The older I get the more I believe in an I.D. Card for everyone, picture and a lot of information all encoded which would apply only to the card holder. What's wrong with that? It sure would simplify things for the police, the airlines, hospitals, banks, etc.

Back to the Governor - I am sure handsight will serve him a hefty dish of "wouldda,couldda, shouldda." Next time maybe he will at least send a person close to him - his daughter who works in his office, his Jamaican son, his personal assistant. No one is infallible, not even the President of the Maine NAACP, so I hope they all learn to get along forgive one another their "trespasses."

janice major

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

January 11, 2011

Interesting date, 1/11/11.

Maine has a lot of statues and public art pieces. I am sort of fascinated by them and once thought I would like to take pictures of as many as I could find, and perhaps publish it. But Maine Arts Commission printed a little booklet and I thought I could not compete with them. I bought a few and sent them to out-of-staters I thought might be interested.

I am not very fond of "modern art" where statues are concerned. They are supposed to have meanings, which I don't always get, and often I don't find them very artistic at all. There was a statue in a small park by Portland's Baxter Boulevard (the Baxters were very benevolent citizens who donated lots of land for public use, and Percival Baxter was one of our governors. Anyway, back to the statue I really liked by the boulevard --
I could relate to it: It was a tall stalk with a burst open pod at the top. It looked like a milkweed pod and the star-shaped seeds bursting forth seemed to me to speak of a hopeful future, regeneration; even a giving of onesself. It had developed a nice coppery patina which made it even more attractive, in my untutored eye. Alas, that lovely piece of art has been replaced by what I think is a rather cold and ugly steel structure which I get no message from. It is cold and steely stark. If any who happens to read this blog knows the meaning of that piece, I would welcome enlightenment.

A few years ago an artist from out of state was commissioned to create something to put in the Old Port area of Portland. She devised a series of curving steel blades which were supposed to resemble the ripples of the Fore River, and between the blades the city was to, and did, plant some grasses which would sway with the wind, making the visual more realistic. The grass did not do well in our Maine atmosphere, and the steel blades looked like a couple of scrapped guillotines. The city spent hours and dollars trying to keep the weeds down and the grasses up to no avail. The piece will be removed, hopefully placed somewhere out of the way where no one has to look at it. There are rules about what the city can do with a piece of art once it accepts it, and the artist has a good deal of say in the matter. The artist who created that monstrosity made several trips to Portland to argue her case for keeping it, but the citizenry prevailed. Now the "arts commission" for the city will have to spend a few more of our treasure to find something else to fill the spot. I would suggest the simply plant appropriate flowers as they do in some other areas.

Burr Miller, a sculptor of some renown was a resident of Kennebunk Beach when I was young. His wife was a Russian artist or vocalist - I can't remember which. What I remember was that someone said to me, "Burr Miller's wife is a "White Russian." I had no idea what that meant, but I suppose that meant she was not of Oriental persuasion. Anyway, she was a very aristocratic appearing woman, and he was a somewhat older looking man suffering, I think, from MS. They had two children, who never attended local schools to my knowledge. Perhaps they were home schooled, which would have been quite unusual in the early fifties.Burr Miller sculpted a statue of Thomas Brackett Reed which stands on the Western Promenade in Portland. It is a very stately statue of a Maine Representative who became the 38th speaker of the United States House under Grover Cleveland.

Some of my favorite statues are two children sitting on a bench reading, which is by the door of the Kennebunk Library; the dolphins playing in a circle in the Old Port of Portland; the well known lobsterman, also in Portland in the Old Port. Now I have a question about that statue because I found an article that said it is situated at the tip of Bailey Island. Perhaps there are two versions. I will have to drive over the old cribstone bridge to the island and see if in fact there is one there. And is it the same one? There is a darling little "water girl" holding a leaking water bowl in Portland. It has been in several different places, and I am not sure where it stands at this writing. The last time I saw her she was in front of the public library,and her bowl was empty. In Longfellow Square in Portland there is a large statue of Henry sitting in his chair. It has been carefully restored in recent years and somewhat recently he was turned to face in a different direction, to what purpose I do not know. The restoration which included a good cleaning off of the friendly pigeon droppings, was accomplished by a fund raising done by school children, in large part encouraged by Evelyn Densmore, their teacher.

There is a large collection of marble statuary and sculpture in the Portland Museum of Art, one very famous Pearl Diver. A sad piece for the diver has succumbed and is stretched out over a raised base.
Bernard Langlais was a wood sculptor. He would take a chunk of wood, almost any size including very large logs,and envision various people, animals, and objects. A man named Daniels who was a radio repairman, took some scrap and made a "road runner" out of it and before he could toss it into the scrap heap, someone bought it. From there a new career for Mr. Daniels, he made many metal sculptures including a brave St.George facing down a ferocious dragon. The man who created LO
VE named Robert Indiana was in Maine when he got that clever inspiration which became familiar everywhere. Nearly every town has a Civil War Memorial. They all look alike to me, but I am told they are not all of the same hero. I like art that looks like something so I barely give a second glance to a lot of modern pieces. I don't understand many of them. I like outdoor pieces. One of the newer pieces in Portland is just outside the baseball park. It is of a family, Mom, Dad and two little kids. It was very controversial because it is a generic American family. The minority community complained that it was not representative of them: not Hispanic, African-American or Asian. It was privately commissioned and the "arts committee" finally allowed it to be put in place. It's a nice work and a fitting depiction of the a family out for a good time. I guess it looks Caucasian, but it is after all bronze in color. To me it just looks like a really great family enjoying a day at the ball park.

I am fascinated that anyone can take a piece of wood, a chunk of marble or other stone, a lump of clay. or in Mr. Daniels' case, a heap of scrap metal, and see it's potential. I have often thought I would like to take a lump of clay and make a head just for the experience. I don't think it would become a museum piece but maybe someone some day would find it tucked away in the back of the garage and say, "I wonder what she was thinking when she did that?" I tried whittling once. It looks so easy and the block of wood was already marked off.
The poor little bird came out looking like a misformed embryo of a sea creature. I did gain even more admiration for clever people who take a pen knife and block of wood and turn out a credible bird or bunny.

Another nice thing about statues is you can stare at them and look at them from every angle and they don't get angry at your rudeness, or blush at your critical eye, or say "What are you lookin' at?" I like statues. I consider them nice assets of the community.


January 4

Maine is a winter state. By that I mean to convey that we have long winters that go very deep. But this has been a really agreeable one so far. Of course, it is less than one month old and has nearly three months to go. The sun still warms the earth and melts what snow there is, and the nights get cold which creates "black ice" in unexpected places. I went to put out my trash Monday morning and my driveway was slick with the treacherous glaze. I tossed a scattering of ice melt product ahead of myself, and it did it's job efficiently so I got the trash out. However, the sun does not get to the driveway until around noon, so before long the driveway was again frozen over, ice melt pebbles and all. After seven months of above freezing temps, we forget how to watch out for such things as "black ice" and sudden squalls. I was driving east one day recently and drove right into a driving, blinding snow storm which lasted about two miles. Then I drove right into a beautifully sunny landscape dusted with what looked like frosting sugar. I saw some drivers who seemed not to know what to do as they drove into the squall. Some even pulled off to the side hoping, I guess, that it would move on, which it did. Either that or it just spent itself out.

The papers are full of stories of descriptions of wonderful places to ski; the outdoor memorial family skating rink in Falmouth is open. The information is out about upcoming winter carnivals and "winterfests." All wonderful, winter-in-Maine traditions for the young, eager and able. Maine is also one huge art colony. From the renowned Portland Museum of Art, Barridoff Galleries, Jameson Art Group all in Portland to
such interesting galleries as Bayview Gallery in Camden and Brunswick, Carver Hill Gallery in Rockport, The Firehouse Gallery in Damariscotta, Home and Away in Kennebunkport, Turtle Gallery in Deer Isle, and the Kicking Bull in Wells. These are just a few, and of course, there is a lot of art in such places as the Brick Store Museum in Kennebunk. And if art isn't your interest, there is music and theater from high schools to very professional productions in many community theaters.
While "summer theater" is widespread, local thespians strut their stuff all year round.

An award was given recently to an artist for his rather comic illustration of tennis lessons at the Kennebunk(port) River Club. It shows a crowded country club tennis court with dozens of people in various poses of lobbing, backhanding, stretching, underhanding, overhanding, hanging over the net, in and out of bounds, facing off, flopping down. It's one of those pieces of work you can look at over and over and always see something amusingly different. It caught my eye and I would like to see the original, but would settle for a nice reprint.

Maine in Winter. No need to get bored. The University has classes, the Community Colleges have classes, the local high school and senior services programs have much to do. Enjoy.