Burney in Berkeley

By November of 1770 the English organist, traveler, and man of letters, Charles Burney had been on the road for five months, touring the Continent doing research for his General History of Music; the first of its four volumes would come out six years later. With winter looming and the Alps still to be crossed (or […]

Disaster Music

As historic Midwestern floodwaters receded, another “bomb cyclone” attacked the central U.S. this week. It is a time of extremes: to the south wildfire danger builds in New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma. So much for homeland security. Looking beyond the battered American interior and its borders, Cyclone Idai and its floods have brought far greater […]

Bach in Chico

From Stanford University in Palo Alto, California northwest to the State University of California at Chico it’s a neat 200 miles—the kind of distance the young Bach would have covered on foot. He certainly wouldn’t have done it in a late model Subaru cadged from a friend with FastTrak for the tolls, feet-freeing cruise control, […]

According to Plan & Without a Host

For all the narcissism, self-promotion and just plain old bad taste, the annual Academy Awards have an unnerving propensity for making unwanted, Weinsteinian advances on that most alluring of sequined starlets: ontology. This time out these gropings included not just existential questions like is human language fundamentally comprehensible, that is to say, how bad can […]

Bogart Weather

Sunny California is dark and rainy, just like it so often was in the great film noirs Hollywood churned out in better cinematic times. The atmospheric river that has dispatched days and nights of storms across the state of California this past week and caused flooding in north and south, from mountains to sea, is […]

Grass from the Ashes (Mar. 17, 1999)

In Phoenix long green means grass. Not the kind you smoke, but the kind flanking business parks, bordering the rarely-used sidewalks of six-lane boulevards, decorating the headquarters of the Arizona Water Resources Administration downtown, growing miraculously around all those canyon dwellings barely visible behind security gates, and, to be sure, richly deployed on the countless […]

Bass On Top: The Genius of Paul Chambers

Mozart and Charlie Parker died young. Paul Chambers died younger. He was thirty-three years old when he succumbed to tuberculosis fifty years ago on January 4th, 1969. Had he not been taken early, Chambers would now be eighty-three, an age achieved only rarely by jazz musicians of his generation, many of whom fell victim, either […]

Foppish Fashions & Sonic Banquets

If ours is not a great age of Tudor, Elizabethan, Protectorate, Restoration, Hanoverian, and ongoing Windsorite dramas on big and small screens alike, it is certainly an abundant one. The sun never sets over this British Empire, streamed by Netflix and the lesser world entertainment powers through ever time of day and every time zone. […]

Bikini by Rita; Voice by Anita

The “R” isn’t working. As the letters blink to life one after the other from top to bottom there’s a pause between the “T” lighting up and then, at last, the “O”: CAST O. Even with the gap, the pink-red neon letters seared against the cloudless blue of a perfect San Francisco afternoon make a […]

To the Master of the Anti-Carol & Holiday Jeer

Against-the-grain singer and piano man Bob Dorough died this past April at the age of 94. His singular approach to song will always be associated for me—and countless others—with the season. So here, just in time for Christmas, is a tribute to the departed bebopper after a long life, richly lived and sung. An armchair […]

Jazz in San Francisco

It used to be that you’d duck out of a smoke-filled jazz show for a much-needed gulp of fresh air. Bebop was breathless in more than one sense: not only fast, but also dangerous to the lungs of the listeners. Not that they cared much, since most of them were smoking, too. Legion are the […]

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