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 […]

Bach’s Day & Night

Time is not just relative. It’s political, too. We often measure our lives by presidential terms: the Carter years; Clinton time; Bush I; Bush II? The end of time under Trump? Time can be bent to the will of the majority. This week California voters approved Proposition 7 enabling the state legislature to make Daylight […]

Jazz With Spirit

Jazz is thought of as a secular music, yet at its best the church echoes through it. The give-and-take of jazz is said to have its origins in the improvisational call-and-response of African-American worship, the rich harmonies and spontaneous melody-making, too. Many of the great jazz musicians were products of a religious upbringing that provided […]

Bollocks to Brexit: The Plumber Sings

Lambeth, London — That Frank Sinatra’s recording of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash I was Takin’ a Bath” are both among Charlie Mullins’s declared musical favorites might come as something of surprise—Cole Porter’s ironic exercise in faux-sophistication from the 1958 movie High Society romping with boisterous teen trifle from the […]

Did Bach Lose The Cold War?

Can the credits wreck a film? I’m not talking about choking on a popcorn kernel when you see that the best boy happens to be the same guy who ran off with your wife. The problem can be far more serious than that: after the story has been told in image and sound, some directors […]

Bach At The Beach

Bach never went in the ocean for a refreshing dip. He never even set eyes on the Atlantic. He could have made it to the North Sea at Lübeck during his sojourn there to learn from Dieterich Buxtehude in the winter of 1705-6. But the old city was an island moated by the Trave River […]

Death By iPod

The iPhone has made universal the paradoxical pleasure of listening privately in public. The casual hello and exchange of pleasantries; an alertness to oncoming steps and the ability to wait politely for a person to pass by; an awareness of the sounds of the city or the country: for many these stimuli are now often […]

The Musical Tastes of Spring

All traces of snow are at last gone from the picturesque nineteenth-century cemetery in Ithaca, New York. Down below in the nearby the Cascadilla Gorge the creek gathers momentum from late-arriving spring’s rain. Just beyond the graveyard the fraternity brothers will soon emerge from their beer-soaked dens to bask in the spring sunshine and advertise […]

The Ubiquitous Mr. Desplat

It can be an instructive and amusing exercise to pretend you’re the one who has to write the movie captions for the hearing impaired. Sound effects are easy: [distant artillery fire]; [a chainsaw in the closet]; [a dog barks from other side of the confessional]; [rain drops on the magnolia leaves];  [sound of pant seam splitting]. […]

Imperial Pomp

No work of music has a greater lock on a single ritual than Edward Elgar’s Pomp & Circumstance March no. 1 does on American graduations. Cock an ear in the direction of high school and university campuses across this country in May or June and its impossible not to hear the strains of this late-colonial […]