A is for Albany High School awards

Albany High School was up for six awards in an event fashioned after Broadway’s Tony Awards®

Hairspray Director Gregory Theodore Marsh, Annabelle Duffy , Theatre Ensemble Director Ward Dales
Back on Saturday, May 19, the family went to Proctors Theatre in Schenectady to attend the 2nd Annual High School Musical Theatre Awards for New York’s Capital Region in partnership with The Broadway League.

Albany High School was up for six awards in an event fashioned after Broadway’s Tony Awards®. The evening celebrated “the achievements of the region’s theatre students from 23 area high schools, highlighting the importance of arts and theatre education.”

The AHS March production of “Hairspray” won for best musical, best technical execution and best choreography execution. Moreover, “Albany High junior Annabelle Duffy won best actress for her portrayal of feisty Tracy Turnblad.”

She received an all expenses paid trip to New York City to receive training from working Broadway professionals. Annabelle and a young man from the area participated in the Jimmy Awards, the national stage in which high school performers across the nation acted and sang, on June 25.

At Proctors, our family applauded wildly for AHS and also my young niece’s high school; one of the supporting characters in their The Music Man was nominated, which somehow meant that the niece got to perform in the energetic opening and closing numbers.

Truth is that some of the Albany High School rooting was a bit of chip on the collective shoulders of the city dwellers. On the standardized tests, the urban schools don’t fare nearly as well as the ones in the suburban districts. But as someone wrote on a Facebook listserv:

“What I do know is my children will have experiences like many others won’t. They are exposed to the world thanks to classmates, teachers, and courses not available in many locations… Remember money talks and those districts with most living in poverty are underfunded and inundated with unfunded state mandates.”

Not incidentally:

Grammy-nominated jazz artist Stefon Harris (Albany High School ’91) was named a recipient of a 2018 Doris Duke Artist Award – “one of the most prestigious arts grants in the country – for his continuing contribution to jazz.

“Harris is one of seven performing artists that will receive $250,000 in flexible funding, along with up to an additional $25,000 to encourage contribution to his retirement account.”

For ABC Wednesday

Treadmill of my own design


I mentioned recently that I performed in a concert on Sunday, November 18, singing with my church choir a bunch of songs about St. Cecilia. Then a concert on Sunday, November 25, with people who had sung with organist Don Ingram in the past, singing the Christmas section of Handel’s Messiah in honor of Don’s 80th birthday, a benefit for his church’s organ fund.

So the logical thing to do on Sunday, December 2 would have been to do nothing. Instead, I ATTENDED TWO concerts. The first was actually An Advent Processional with Lessons and Carols at the Cathedral of All Saints in Albany, from 2:30-4:05 with The Wife; we saw a number of people I knew.

Then we rush back, and while my wife is taking the child sitter home, I call the College of St. Rose’s box office to see if there are more tickets for the 5 p.m. performance of “It’s a Jazzy Christmas” at the Massry Center, but all I got was a recording. So we hightail it to CSR, and not only are there more tickets to go with the two comps, we can get one that’s right next to ours.

The show featured a great jazz trio in the tradition of Vince Guaraldi’s groups, playing some Charlie Brown Christmas tunes and other holiday favorites. It was regularly interrupted by this story about a character, shown on a video screen, trying to steal Christmas, which was all quite goofy. There were puzzles for kids to solve, but 1) not enough time/light for most to solve them and 2) no incentive for them to do so. Our sense was that it was enjoyable enough, but if we had spent $50, rather than just the $10 for the Daughter’s ticket, we would have enjoyed it far less. Still, the guest vocalist who sang “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” was excellent, and there were milk and Freihoffer’s chocolate chip cookies before the show.

Next milestone: the Daughter’s performance in the Nutcracker on Sunday, December 16. Yesterday was another practice, and tomorrow is the dress rehearsal.

Then some major holiday the week after that.

Oh, and I’ve been going to rehearsals for some church play in March, but more on that down the road.

The only time I get to go grocery shopping is late at night (no longer my strength) or early in the morning. I like going to the 24-hour store at 5 a.m., when the staff is stocking the shelves. They play music that one doesn’t hear during the day; the last time I left humming Lola by the Kinks.

Book review: Vince Guaraldi at the Piano

Vince Guaraldi was known as the “Italian leprechaun.” He was short, barely over five feet tall, and youthful looking; this was the reason for his signature mustache, to look older.

If you know the name Vince Guaraldi, it’s probably because you associate the pianist as the composer of the music for the Peanuts television specials, starting in the mid-1960s. However, Doctor Funk, one of his nicknames, codified in a song he wrote and performed a decade earlier, was a well-respected performer and composer in the Bay Area/Northern California jazz scene.

Derrick Bang notes in the preface of Vince Guaraldi at the Piano that he was a reluctant writer of Vince’s legacy, expecting that someone more personally knowledgeable of the performer would surely show up to pen his story. Finding none, he put together an almost encyclopedic recollection of the musician’s life, starting with the influence of his mother. He had two failed father figures in his life, and just as Freddy Lennon reached out to John after the Beatles were famous, Vince’s dad sought to re-enter Vince’s life after Peanuts; both John and Vince said an emphatic “NO.”

Vince was an important member of combos fronted by Cal Tjader and Woody Herman (the third “thundering herd”). He actually had a Top 40 hit with Cast Your Fate to the Wind [listen] (#22 in 1963), though you may know the song better from the cover version by Sounds Orchestral (#10 in 1965). His jazz mass was revolutionary for its time. Like too many musicians, though, he got the short end of a lot of business deals early on.

Vince was also known as the “Italian leprechaun.” He was short, barely over five feet tall, and youthful-looking; this was the reason for his signature mustache, to look older. He also could have quite a temper, especially as it applied to the music, but he seldom held a grudge.

This is an important book, which I’d like to have in my library, not so much to read, but to refer to, like many reference books published by McFarland Press. He crossed paths with an interesting group of folks, including comedian-social activist Dick Gregory, influential jazz critic Ralph Gleason, plus musicians from the Kingston Trio to Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. It was Brazilian guitarist Bola Sete, though, who helped infuse the bossa nova influence that’s apparent in many of the Peanuts themes.

Some folks call this a biography, while at least one described it as more of an “expanded provenance.” It surely doesn’t always read like a bio, but the information’s all there. And the early chapters plus the ones after Vince’s sudden death in 1976, before his 48th birthday, allowed for a more reflective style.

Peanuts creator Charles Schultz died in 2000; 15 months later, he was posthumously given the Congressional Gold Medal. Peanuts TV writer/producer/director Lee Mendelson was expecting the Marine Corps Band to perform the national anthem. But when they played Linus and Lucy [listen] instead, “there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.” And, oddly enough, that included me too. So even with this wealth of facts, there IS an interesting story narrative within as well.

Check out It’s Jazz, Charlie Brown: the Vince Guaraldi Story. Profile of jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi. Aired on WFIU / Indiana Public Radio’s “Night Lights” program on December 7, 2009. 59 minutes.

Guess who won FREE TICKETS to “It’s a Jazzy Christmas”, featuring the music of Vince Guaraldi, at the College of St. Rose’s Massry Center this afternoon?


J is for Jazz

As Ira Gershwin said, in the line quoted in every obituary: ‘I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them.’


I decided that I don’t REALLY want to explain what jazz is, mostly because it’s too difficult. You can read all about it on the page dedicated to Ken Burns’ Jazz, the third in his trilogy of documentary miniseries about Americana, along with the Civil War and baseball. The Wikipedia reads: “Jazz is a musical style that originated at the beginning of the 20th century in black communities in the Southern United States. It was born out of a mix of African and European music traditions… As the music has developed and spread around the world it has drawn on many different national, regional, and local musical cultures giving rise, since its early 20th-century American beginnings, to many distinctive styles.”

This level of cultural integration is evident as musicians of different races often played together at a period in the United States where integration was NOT the watchword. Speaking of which, read what the New York Times columnist Frank Rich was moved to write a few days after Ella Fitzgerald’s death. He stated that in the Songbook series, she “performed a cultural transaction as extraordinary as Elvis’s contemporaneous integration of white and African-American soul.

“Here was a black woman popularizing urban songs often written by immigrant Jews to a national audience of predominantly white Christians. As Ira Gershwin said, in the line quoted in every obituary: ‘I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them.'”

Here are links to some great songs in various jazz traditions:

St. Louis Blues – W.C. Handy and Orchestra

Sing Sing Sing – Benny Goodman

Mood Indigo – Duke Ellington

Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off – Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, a Gershwin tune

Salt Peanuts – Dizzy Gillespie

April in Paris – Count Basie (cuts off last 10 seconds)

Take Five – The Dave Brubeck Quartet, one of the few jazz songs to make it onto the pop charts in the rock era

My favorite album, Kind of Blue by Miles Davis (read)
So What 9:22
Freddie Freeloader 9:46
Blue in Green (Miles Davis and Bill Evans) 5:37
All Blues 11:33
Flamenco Sketches (Miles Davis and Bill Evans) 9:26

Finally, Jazz Corner Of The World/Birdland – Quincy Jones (1989) featured the last studio recordings of jazz legends Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan.

Oh, one of a number of lists of the 100 great jazz songs of all time.

ABC Wednesday – Round 11

Summer Songs: Summertime

The summer songs are over, as the season begins to fade…

I’ve long been a sucker for those Red, Hot, and Blue albums. Not only are they generally great compilations, but they aid AIDS research.

At some point, I purchased By George & Ira: Red Hot on Gershwin, which I was quite fond of. Some critics complained about the multiple versions of a few songs, but I love the way Nina Simone’s version of I Loves You Porgy segues into Bill Evans’ instrumental take, e.g.

There are four versions of Summertime. The first is by an unlikely participant on this mostly jazz album: Janis Joplin [listen], who, according to one reviewer, “will certainly get the listener’s attention as she twists and turns the lyrics in a raspy interpretation.” Of course, as it’s probably the first version of the song I owned, from Cheap Thrills, the Big Brother and the Holding Company album, I have a particular fondness for it. Of course, she died in 1970 at the age of 27 from a drug overdose.

Though a quite different take, I also loved the Billy Stewart version [listen]. I realize it’s the trilling of the tongue bit that I found so entrancing (and one of my former co-workers found it so irritating; she wouldn’t allow me to play it if she were around). His “Summertime” was a Top 10 hit on both the pop and R&B charts in 1966. He died in a car crash in 1969 at the age of 32.

A more traditional jazz version came from The Stan Getz Quartet [listen]. Getz died in 1991 at the age of 64 from liver cancer.

Charlie “Bird” Parker [listen] performs the final version of the song. He too died young, at the age of 34. “The official causes of death were lobar pneumonia and a bleeding ulcer but Parker also had an advanced case of cirrhosis and had had a heart attack.”

The summer songs are over, as the season begins to fade…

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