Monday, December 31, 2012

Thoughts on the New Year

2012 was truly a year of some wonderful highs and troubling lows. As I look back, it was a real roller coaster of a year. It is very disconcerting to see the year end with such tragedy and cause for concern. We have some serious political, economic and social challenges going into 2013. While the re-election of our President was cause for optimism for a better America, the forces that are fighting against change seem ever more determined to undo the will of the people. Let us hope that the forces of peace, justice and equality prevail over those that wish to obstruct change.

Those "obstructionist" forces are on the wrong side of history; the conservative right, the NRA, and the Republican congressional leadership to name a few.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Tragedy in Newtown

Today tragedy struck in my home state of Connecticut. 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, CT, about 60 miles from my home. Twenty of the deaths were elementary school students, 4th grade and under. This tragedy follows recent other incidents in a movie theater and another in a shopping mall. There is something wrong in a society where guns are so prevalent. Not only are they so easily obtained, but they are glorified in movies, television and video games.

If today's events don't provide the impetus for much tougher restrictions on gun ownership, I don't know what can. None of these tragedies would have happened if guns were not so ubiquitous in our society. I'm sure everyone of these perpetrators felt they had a constitutional right to own their firearms.

All I can say is shame on the NRA and the politicians that defend them. Many of those politicians have sold out to the NRA for 'generous' campaign contributions. In some small way, this blood is on your hands. Some of the blame must also lie with our entertainment industry that uses gratuitous gun violence in movies, television and especially video games. If only that industry would show some responsibility instead of simply appealing to such base instincts in order make their big profits. But I suppose that is asking too much.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Time Out - Remembering Dave Brubeck

red hot cool brubeckDave Brubeck is remembered in this week's jazz podcast. Brubeck passed away this week on December 5, just one day shy of his 92nd birthday. His album Time Out was the first jazz album to sell one million copies and to go Platinum. For many, like myself, Dave Brubeck and Time Out was our first introduction to jazz music.

We begin the podcast with his music and then we will hear from some modern artists that have been influenced by Brubeck's unique use of time.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


A couple of days ago, Mitt Romney, speaking to his donors after the election blamed his loss on Obama "Gifting" minorities and young voters. Those gifts were, guaranteed and affordable health care (did Romney "gift" citizens of Massachusetts with RomneyCare while Governor?), amnesty for children of illegal immigrants (what crime did these latino children commit?), and government subsidized college loans (didn't Romney claim that he would be the Education President?). Romney's statements are a despicable display of divisiveness and perhaps bigotry. They are right in line with his 47% remarks that ultimately doomed his candidacy. These remarks show his complete lack of compassion to those in less fortunate circumstances. Moreover it demonstrates how "out of touch" Mitt Romney and many of the conservative media and blogosphere are.

What is the real reason Romney lost the election? It was his own incompetence as I pointed out in this blog post nearly two months before the election (quoting an excellent article from conservative David Brooks).

Friday, November 09, 2012

Post Election 2012 - An Affirmation

Thankfully, the election season of 2012 is over. Billions of dollars were spent. The country was at times bitterly divided. As American's we had our chance to go to the polls and participate in determining the future of our great country. The results have been tallied and we have Barack Obama as president and a Republican controlled House and a Democratic controlled Senate; just as we had for the last two years. I think it is more accurate to call this an Affirmation than a Transformation. However, it is a significant and profound Affirmation.

The country voted to Affirm the leadership of President Barack Obama and the ideals, values and policies he has promoted under his administration. By doing so, the country rejected the "vision" of Romney, Ryan and the Republican opposition.

Lets be real. The Republican party had a platform of divisiveness and hate. It was hate that was defeated on November 6th, and defeating hate is always a good thing.

Listen to the conservative media's spokespeople that supported Romney/Ryan. Have you listened to the voices of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly or read the conservative blogosphere? They speak an obsessive, unrelenting and vicious hate filled rant against the President of the United States. There was rarely commentary about how Governor Romney would transform this country. There was not much about his 5 point plan that would reduce the deficit or create jobs and no answers to the problems facing this country. Just a singular vitriol hatred for the President.

Let's look at the Romney campaign. His stance was anti-women (oppose Fair Pay Act, right to choose abortion, guarantee of birth control in health plans). He was anti-immigration (self deportation, against the dream act). He was anti-gay (signed a pledge to uphold "Defense of Marriage Act", appoint Supreme Court Justices that will strike down gay marriage). It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that you can't attack such a large segment of our society and expect to get the support of the American people.

In one of Romney's only "authentic" moments of the entire campaign the country saw, from behind close doors, as he trashed 47% of American citizens as not taking personal responsibility for their lives, as not being worth his time or effort in this campaign. That is nothing but divisive, un-presidential and probably worthy of disqualifying Romney as a viable candidate. There are so many other examples of questionable campaign strategies, some steeped in racism, some in fear mongering, but I think I made my point.

On the other hand, Obama offered a vision of unity, diversity, equality and conviction. Just watching an Obama rally, one could see ethnic and racial diversity, college students, and basically a cross section of America. Watching a Romney/Ryan event looked like a Tea Party rally of middle aged angry white citizens who were more motivated by removing our first African American President than electing Governor Mitt Romney.

Towards the end of the campaign, many of the undecided saw an economy that is indeed recovering, and that recovery is happening at an accelerated pace. There has been 30+ months of job growth, decreasing unemployment, housing starts and prices are moving up, retail sales are increasing. Health care reform was enacted to cover all Americans. Through the disaster of storm Sandy, we saw Obama and FEMA come to the aid of our cities, and Republican Governors supporting Obama's efforts. These are all positive signs that had a sharp contrast to the oppositions message of fear, uncertainty and doubt. In the end this country made an AFFIRMATION to move this country forward with a vision of diversity, equality, justice and renewed determination to support Obama's leadership.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Election Day

Today is election day and I encourage all to get out and vote no matter what your voting preference. In this election though, the vote is clear and the stakes are high. Romney supporters will say that Obama can not run on his record and must resort to petty disparaging of his opponent.

Well let's look at that record. Obama ended the Iraq war, and captured Bin Laden. Nearly all economic indicators show growth and recovery, 30+ months of job growth, unemployment rates are improving. Over the last few months housing starts are up and so are housing prices. Retail sales are up, a record high DJIA, and a rejuvenated Auto Industry. The economy has a long way to return to pre-Bush levels, but all indications are that we are in an accelerating recovery.

Obama has supported Women's health and pro choice policies, Romney has pledged to reverse them. Obama had the courage to come out in favor of Gay rights and marriage equality (the new Civil Rights). Romney has signed a pledge to tear apart Gay families by supporting the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.

What does Romney/Ryan offer? Return to failed Bush economic policies that brought us into the depths of unemployment and recession, a pledge to appoint Supreme Court justices that oppose abortion rights and marriage equality for gay couples. Romney mocks Climate Change and will cut budgets for FEMA and leave the states to fend for themselves when natural disasters strike. His Fairy Tale tax plan with 20% rate cuts will either result in middle class tax increases or add trillions to the deficit.

Obama will move us forward toward economic recovery and social justice. Romney will turn back the clock with tried and failed economic policies. He will promote the social policies of the Tea Party and the evangelical right for whom he now owes a great deal of political capital.

The stakes are high and the choice is clear. Just GO VOTE.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pat Metheny's Orchestrion

We saw Pat Metheny concert last night and part of the show included a scaled down version of the Orchestrion.

A CBS Morning feature on Metheny's Orchestrion project.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Pre-debate analysis - TRUST

Recently I have seen several bloggers and pundits suggest that Obama's seemingly commanding lead may be too big for Romney to overcome. I feel that the recent polls show that the popular vote will be extremely close, and in the last few days, Obama's lead has been shrinking. The MSM has been reporting a spread of only 2 to 4 points in national polls, most of which are within the margin of error.

The electoral college is shaping up somewhat differently though. Most of the swing states are leaning to Obama, though I suspect that those will tighten up as well. The way those Red/Blue maps look today, it is hard to work out a scenario where Obama does not reach the 270 electoral votes needed to win the election. My favorite poll-watching sites are FiveThiryEight and RealClearPolitics. The latter shows Obama with 269 electoral votes as of today, with 88 toss up votes not counted.

I think that the race will be very close and several of those swing states may very well swing the other way (as we are seeing in NC). With over 30 days to go, three Presidential and one VP debates, a vulnerable Middle East situation, and another round of monthly economic reports to be released, this race could change significantly in either direction.

However, what Mitt Romney can not escape is the lack of trust in him, that voters feel. After all, his positions change almost daily at this point. Even in these last 48 hours, I have seen him change position on significant parts of ObamaCare, immigration policy and taxing the wealthy. So which Romney can you believe? The Romney we will see in the Debates this evening? The extreme right wing Romney we saw in the Primaries? The moderate Romney as the Governor of Massachusetts? The Romney of today, last week, 3 months ago?

Ultimately, the election will be decided on trust. With Romney's chameleon-like record, how can you trust that the Romney you vote for on November 6 will put forth an agenda that is consistent with the values and policies that he speaks for today? It is that lack of trust, that weakness in character, that lack of conviction, the constant flip-flops that Romney cannot escape.

I predict that Obama's strategy for this debate will be to exploit that weakness. Obama will highlight how Romney's positions change depending on the audience he is speaking to and the latest polling data. Romney is a weak candidate, and would be a weak President. He is too easily swayed by Corporate interests, polling data, special interest groups and campaign contributors. If Obama uses this tactic, I cannot see how Romney can effectively counter. Checkmate!

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Alternative

The Republican base is so fond of expressing their virulent, often irrational hatred of Barack Obama. They actually have little to say about the alternative, Mitt Romney, his proposals and prospects for changing the economy or foreign policy. That is understandable because Mitt, being a serial flip-flopper, changes his positions so often that it is difficult to know what he stands for. He has changed positions on abortion rights, nationalizing MA's RomneyCare, Support for Tarp/Stimulus, Stem Cell research, minimum wage, immigration amnesty, Social Security privatization, campaign spending limits, global warming, banning assault weapons… just to name a few.

Lets face it. The man is weak. He lacks any conviction and the courage to stand behind his beliefs (what ever they may be on any given day). His views will change based on whatever presents him with the best opportunity to satisfy his blind ambition. That lack of conviction has led him to get in bed with the social conservatives. He has adopted the radical Tea Party views of anti-abortion choice, anti-gay marriage equality, anti-immigration reform, anti-birth control access… you get the idea. With his VP choice of Tea Party's poster-boy Paul Ryan, it will be awfully hard to shake off the influence of these social conservatives and evangelicals. This weakness of conviction and history of flip-flops will be his ultimate downfall during the debates and weeks following up to the election.

One thing he has stood firm on is the economic policy of George W. Bush. You know, those policies that REALLY pushed our economy off the financial cliff in late 2008; the policy of lowering tax rates for the highest tax brackets and deregulating finance and business. These are the policies that led to the reckless behavior of Wall Street and toxic mortgage trading that ultimately destroyed the housing markets, plummeted stocks and led to losing jobs at the rate of 750,000 per month resulting in a +10.6% unemployment by the time it had bottomed out. That trend has since been reversed and has been slowly but steadily improving despite a shameless Republican congress bent on obstructing any White House legislation to increase job growth.

So what does Mitt Romney have to offer? Return to the tried and failed Bush policies, a weakness of character, and a social conservative agenda. Yeah, that is some great vision for the future. I think I'll stick with Barack Obama. I think most of America will do the same.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Incompetence Revealed

The revelations in the last couple of days that further reveal Mitt Romney's character have been eye-opening. David Brooks wrote a very intelligent Op-Ed piece in the Times this morning. There are a lot of things that Brooks says here that all of us will agree and disagree on from very different viewpoints. That is what makes it such a compelling read. PLEASE take the time to read this article.

I think you will see what I mean by his summation in the last two paragraphs:
Sure, there are some government programs that cultivate patterns of dependency in some people. I’d put federal disability payments and unemployment insurance in this category. But, as a description of America today, Romney’s comment is a country-club fantasy. It’s what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney. 
Personally, I think he’s a kind, decent man who says stupid things because he is pretending to be something he is not — some sort of cartoonish government-hater. But it scarcely matters. He’s running a depressingly inept presidential campaign. Mr. Romney, your entitlement reform ideas are essential, but when will the incompetence stop?

A link to the entire article.

Republicans are so fond of writing about Obama's so-called incompetence. Surely Romney's "shoot now, aim later" statements on the day of the Libya tragedy points to Romney's own lack of ability in handling a crisis. Add to that the 47% rants and you have to question what kind of president this guy will make.

Today's Romney Tapes are a further example of a man who can't be trusted to this job. Here he blabbers away to a group of wealthy donors that Palestinians don't want peace, that a two state solution is an impossibility. While that kind of bluster may sound great for cocktail party conversation or at your neighborhood bar, it certainly is not something a presidential "hopeful" should be spouting off at a fundraising dinner. These are words that can seriously compromise sensitive negotiations, ideas that need to be held close to your vest. If Mitt were to become president, these would be factors that could dictate the outcome of a Middle East settlement. Once again, Romney comes off as very Un-Presidential, perhaps even dangerous.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Review of Litchfield Jazz Festival 2012

After many years of being a big jazz fan, it is surprising that I never had attended the Litchfield Jazz Festival right in my home state of Connecticut. One of the reasons I hadn't attended is that I cover the Newport Jazz Festival for WHUS which was on the same weekend. This year, that changed and it gave me the opportunity to attend.

The Festival has moved to the Goshen Fairgrounds. It is a beautiful ride into the country side, and the site has two performance tents as well as tents set up for vendors selling the usual food and wares you might find these events. The main performance stage hosted a great lineup of jazz musicians. A smaller stage is for students that attended the Litchfield jazz camp to perform and attend the informal master classes that the jazz artists put on in between sets. Combine the country setting, with the aspiring young students and the great music on the main stage, and you get a great vibe for a jazz music festival.

The Sunday lineup covered a superb range of many jazz styles. Here is a short review of each of the musicians we saw.

Gregoire Maret is a harmonica player unlike any other since Toots Thielman hit the scene many decades ago. Maret seems to be appearing on every ones new album as a guest artist. His quartet began with a very cerebral sound that escalated in intensity as his set progressed. At times he sounded like Shorter on the mouth harp. It was an exceptional performance.

Donny McCaslin showed his extreme chops on tenor sax. Jason Lindner on Fender Rhodes used lots of electronic echo and modulation effects for that jazz-rock fusion, spaced out sound. At times, those special effects over-shadowed Lindner's real soloing abilities and McCaslin's complex compositions. Tim Lefebvre and Mark Guilliana rocked out on bass and drums. It was a hyper kinetic modern set.

Next up, Hubert Laws, master of flute took the stage. Laws made his mark in jazz with that slick, highly arranged sound that the CTI record label was known for back in the 70's. Hubert still has that sound today. While the music sounded fairly dated, particularly after McCaslin's set, Hubert Laws showed off that pure perfect tone he gets from the flute and piccolo.

Miguel Zenon is one of my favorite alto sax players, composer and arranger, and his set did not disappoint. He played from his latest album which arranges traditional Puerto Rican songs for a modern jazz quartet. These songs had extended soloing which showed Miguel and the quartets skills on their instruments and improvisational abilities.

Lastly, singer Kevin Mahogany and guitarist Dave Stryker finished the show with Kansas City Swing. Swingin' is what they did. It was great to see alto player Mike DiRubbo, who cut his teeth at U of Hartford playing with these cats. They finished off the show with a romping version of Route 66 that had the crowd leaving with a smile.

Litchfield Jazz Festival was a great time. I will be sure to return next year and I urge you to check it out as well.

Clockwise, Gregoire Maret, Hubert Laws, Miguel Zenon, Mike DiRubbo and Dave Stryker

Check out the links below for more photos, podcast and info on the Litchfield Jazz Festival
My complete photo album

My pre-festival podcast

Litchfield Jazz Festival website.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Newport Jazz Festival 2012 Review

Now that we are basking in the afterglow of the most famed and historical annual event in the jazz world, it is time to review the 2012 Newport Jazz Festival. The lineup featured great jazz artists; grand masters and young lions, modern progressives and traditional purveyors of bebop standards.

The festival has three stages. The large main "Fort Stage" is host to the some of the biggest names in Jazz. It has open lawn seating and a beautiful view of the Newport harbor . There are 2 additional stages that are smaller more intimate settings under tents. Here, you will find young emerging jazz cats or established masters playing with their latest ensembles.

For me, the most interesting performances were ones that explored new sounds and stretched beyond traditional jazz bebop forms with free soloing, and unconventional composing. Dafnis Prieto's Sextet best exemplified that style of music with a powerful driving sound. Rudresh's Samdhi set combined rockin' jazz-fusion with Indian melodic influences. Dave Douglas/Joe Lovano's Soundprints Quintet blew freely within compositions inspired by Wayne Shorter.

Rather than reviewing all the performances we saw, I would refer you to the NPR's coverage of the Festival that has great audio and video recordings.

Here are my picks for the standout performances of the 2012 Newport Jazz Festival.

Saturday Fort Stage
  • Pat Metheney Unity Band
Saturday Tent stages
  • Jack DeJohnette Group
  • Dafnis Prieto Sextet
  • Dave Douglas/Joe Lovano Soundprints
Sunday Fort Stage
  • 3 Cohens
Sunday Tent stages
  • Miguel Zenon Rayeula Quartet
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa Samdhi
  • John Hollenbeck Claudia Quintet+1
Below are some of my favorite pictures that I took at the festival, but please see my entire picture gallery here.

(l to r, t to b) Joe Lovano, 3 Cohens, Dana Leong, Pat Metheny, Me with Anat Cohen, Rudresh Mahanthappa

Hear some tunes from artists appearing at the festival on my Newport Preview podcast.
My live tweets during the festival, follow @DigginJazz for all my Twitter posts!

For more information, check out the official Newport Jazz Festival website.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Brain Drain is Back

I just re-activated this blog based on new rules and protocols by Blogger. The biggest change is that blogs now need to be hosted on Blogger, therefore it now has this blogspot URL. I am not sure how I will use this. I see I haven't posted to here since 2009. My last post is a good one! It's from an interview I had done with Jazz bassist Dave Holland. I would like to use this blog, as I had in the past to post not only jazz music articles, but those of a wider range of interests. We will see what happens.