Saturday, April 30, 2011

How I Almost Got to Jazz Fest 2011

It's that time again- the 2011Jazz and Heritage Festival in AGC, New Orleans, LA started yesterday.

Back in 2009, in this very blog, I wrote about what I considered the commercialization of Jazz Fest (as it's called) and how I wasn't attending. It was a kind of sour grapes review, where I made the point of disparaging such acts as Bon Jovi, a group of singing hairdressers from New Jersey.

Two years later, of course, everyone loves New Jersey. We are inundated with views of the New Jersey culture through television, that noble window on the world of Reality with a capital "R". They have real housewives there, and an upstanding group of young people living on or near the scenic Jersey Shore, among others. I've never seen these shows, but I'm sure they are excellent or they wouldn't be on television, which must maintain a standard of quality in broadcasting, as mandated by the ever watchful and incredibly discerning American public.

Finally, someone is always available to pump your gas in New Jersey, and the gas prices are still low, lower than they are here in Washington, DC, a town whose real housewives were not quite real enough for television.

Okay, enough about New Jersey. This is about another "new" place: New Orleans. And it's also about the power of dreams.

The last time I went to Jazz Fest was in 2008. I stayed with my friends, the Freeland- Archers (not their real names) in their baronial mansion in the Garden District. The Freeland- Archers (ntrn) had moved to AGC fr/ New Jersey (coincidence?) right after Katrina and have made a wonderful home there. They have  opened their doors to their old friends and at the same time they have immersed themselves in the rich culture of New Orleans, which, in any other city in America would be regarded as counter culture.

When I stay there, I always sleep in the same room on the second floor of their turreted home.  The main window, across from the bed, looks out on the sunrise. At first I tried to make the curtains blot this out, but after a few mornings I began to like it. Sometimes I go back to sleep, but other times it seems like a perfect way to wake up. The bed is large, and very ornate and the walls of the room are covered in a padded cloth material, a kind of brocade. In fact, the whole house looks like something out of Storyville, except that it is miles away from Storyville and also (I'm guessing) more tastefully decorated.

That's New Orleans for you: most people want a storybook house, but in New Orleans you can get a Storyville house.

Yesterday morning I was dreaming away in my own bed here in Silver Spring when I had a strange and curious dream. I dreamed I was in the bed at the Freeland- Archer house in New Orleans, surrounded by the plush cloth walls. It was one of those very real dreams and, for a moment, I thought I was really there, about to wake up and head to Jazz Fest with the Freeland- Archers. Then, suddenly, I was back in my own bed, but that was a dream inside the dream, because I woke up and, to my relief, was in New Orleans again. The sun had risen, the birds were singing and the dogs were barking. Then, just as suddenly, I woke up again and I was in Silver Spring, and the sun was shining and the birds were singing. (No dogs, though.) And just as I thought I was home, I woke up again in New Orleans!

I've never had a dream quite like this. For a long moment, I was lost between locations, caught up in a dream slipstream, like an astral traveller who has lost the astral map. I teetered between New Orleans and Silver Spring for a dream moment then finally came to in Silver Spring, where I am now.

Did I actually truly get to New Orleans, even for a tiny nano- moment? I think so, but I'll never know for certain. Just as I'll never know for certain whether I'm really back in Silver Spring.

One thing is for certain though- I won't be going to Jazz Fest again this year.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Weegee the Famous (redux)

I couldn't resist sharing this photograph of Weegee. It's by Richard Sadler and I found it at the Hot Parade Blog.

© Richard Sadler

As you can see, Weegee is using the Zenit 3M, a Russian camera. Today the  Zenit 3M is worth about $150.00, according to this website-

Why is Weegee using a Zenit? Is it a joke, or a statement on the Cold War?  The photograph was made in 1964, so if the old Maestro is trying to tell us something, he's picked the right era.

Or maybe he just liked it. After all, Leicas were expensive even back then.

Monday, April 18, 2011

From Standard to Poor

I just read that Standard and Poor, a top credit agency, has downgraded the United States from "stable" to "negative". Evidently the agency feels that unless our nation's lawmakers work together, we will eventually default on our loans. Words like "depression" are being flung about on CNN and MSNBC.

Oddly enough, at almost exactly the same time, I read that the following companies paid either NO taxes or fractional taxes for 2010:

1. Exxon/ Mobil
2. Bank of America
3. General Electric
4. Chevron
5. Boeing
6. Valero Energy
7. Goldman Sachs
8. Citigroup
9. Conoco/ Philips
10. Carnival Cruise Lines
[source: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)]

Well, no wonder we're broke! My taxes just don't amount to enough to give Bank of America a trillion dollar bail- out.

If the richest corporations in America don't pay taxes, and the richest private citizens in America receive the deepest tax cuts, then who is paying for services in this country? Besides me?

You, probably, unless you fall into the categories I just mentioned.

America is broke. America is desperate. Anyone who is a citizen of this country and thinks it's ok to have legions of people living under the poverty line, or children and adults who are either starving or seriously malnourished, or seniors who can't get proper medical care, anyone who feels that way is not being a good American. It's as simple as that.

Because America is us. We are America.

Sure this country runs on capitalism- everyone knows that. But let me tell you, my fellow Americans, that unless you want to bone up on your Mandarin Chinese, you're just going to be harvesting rice with your Communist brothers way sooner than you think, if you think about it at all.

Write, call or email your senator and your congressperson and tell them what you feel should be done. You elected them, they're working for you. Let them know.

It's your America.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Letritia Kandle and the Kohala Girls

Ah, the interweb. Sometimes I find stuff that seems so cool that I have to share it with you, even if you've already seen it.

I saw a wonderful picture in Amy Crehore's terrific blog Little Hokum Rag, which, if you haven't seen then stop reading this and go there now.

It was of a group of female musicians from Chicago called the Kohala Girls. Here's the pic:

Needless to say, I was intrigued (who wouldn't be?) so I did some interweb research and found some more pics, probably from the same session.

The guiding light of this visually remarkable ensemble was a woman named Letricia Kandle, seated second from left. An acknowledged steel guitar virtuoso, she later recorded and arranged with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, playing a unique instrument called the "Letar", a steel guitar hybrid with four necks, each (presumably) in different keys.

Letricia with Paul Whiteman and the Grand Letar

According to one of her former music students, she was a natural musician, able to sight read and play classical music on the steel guitar. At one point she had sixteen guitar teachers working with her at her school in Chicago.

Ms. Kandle died last June at the age of 94. Apparently she was happy to be rediscovered, although she had stopped playing back in 1954.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Welcome Back, Lord Buckley (It's His Birthday!)

 My friend John Hostetter reminded me this AM that today is Lord Buckley's birthday.

Whew! First Sonny Boy Williamson I, then Muddy Waters and now Lord Buckley. The blog is turning into the Birthday Hall of Fame! But, well... it has to be done, Gentle Readers. We can't let Lord Buckley celebrate his birthday in silence, at least not here in L by L.

I first wrote about Lord Buckley here. I had been sent a rare and wonderful portrait (reprinted above) of his Lordship by Sir Wilhelm Freeland- Archer of New Orleans LA, which necessitated a blog entry right then and there.

At that time I didn't know how to put video in the blog, so this time we're going to actually get to see his Lordship in action! And some biography, although, as I said in the last blog, there's a lot of info on the interweb.

Born in California in 1906, Buckley's early years are somewhat sketchy. We do know that by the 1930's he was in Chicago, eking out a living on the fringes of show business, although he considered himself a vaudeville performer. He had a kind of acrobatic act, doing flips from a standing position, and hurling himself into the audience.He also worked as an emcee at dance marathons and even briefly ran his own club, Chez Buckley, reportedly bankrolled by Al Capone.

During World War II , he entertained the troops for the USO, where he met then- newspaper columnist Ed Sullivan. They became friends  and Sullivan had Buckley on his television show several times, always with the same act: a living ventriloquism affair, called "the Four Chairs", where Buckley would pull up members of the evening's cast (including Sullivan) and do their the voices in a kind Amos and Andy dialog as he manipulated their heads. Kinescopes of the performances  still exist (I've seen some) and, while it is embarassing to hear Buckley's thick version of black speech, there is a kind of energy to it.

Here's a clip from 1949 that gives an idea of Buckley's persona of the time:

An Armstrong impression, and a story, told in dialect, while wearing white tail and tails.

At the time of his final appearance on Sullivan, Buckley had found the voice that would make him immortal, the ultimate white hipster voice, the definitive Lord Buckley voice, the "hip- so- mantic" Saint voice.

He had recast Shakespeare's "Friends, Romans and countrymen," speech as a so- called "hip" eulogy, using jive as the language, cadenced in a ultra- theatrical manner, and calling it "Hipsters, Flipsters and Finger- Poppin' Daddies." Sullivan vetoed the Shakespeare piece, and yet one more "Four Chairs" performance took place. (Wish those were on YouTube.)

In doing "Hipsters, Flipsters", Buckley moderates the Amos and Andy cadences  and uses his own voice, eliminating the "dese, dem, dose" mannerisms so offensive to the ear today.  Although the origins are still African- American, his monologues, with the clipped syllables and rapid delivery are clearly Buckley's own.

Here's a video that I shot of John Hostetter doing "Hipsters, Flipsters":

And one of my favorites, Buckley's appearance on Groucho Marx's "You Bet Your Life," where you get a little taste of the Maestro himself doing "Hipsters, Flipsters":

I'm sorry to say I can't find any videos of Buckley in action doing any of his true classics, like the retelling of the life of Christ, called "The Nazz," or the amazing "Train", or "Governor Slugwell." Amazon lists several downloads, and at least one CD, including a concert at the Ivar theater in Los Angeles (an appropriately sleazy venue.)

Lord and Lady Buckley dancing during a show: ever the romantic
I recommend them all (I haven't heard the Ivar show), of course, or I wouldn't be writing this.

By the late 1950's, Buckley was doing the voice of the beatnik character on Beanie and Cecil, a cartoon show originating from Los Angeles, created by ex- Warners animator Bob Clampett. After his death, Scatman Crothers voiced the role.

In October of 1960, he traveled to New York for work only to have his cabaret card revoked because of a 1941 marijuana conviction. While fighting the revocation, he collapsed and died in a hospital there on November 12th.

Seven or so years later, in the Summer of Love, Buckley's recordings would be played on underground FM stations and interest in his pioneering lifestyle would be rekindled. Today there are Buckley- inspired festivals and gatherings, and several Buckley interpreters working professionally.

April may be the cruellest month, but it must also be one of the hippest: Muddy Waters and Lord Buckley. Look to the stars, my friends!


Monday, April 4, 2011

Muddy: Never Gone, Never Forgotten

Happy 96th Birthday, Mr. Waters.

I'm playing at the Zoo Bar Thursday, stop on by and we'll do some tunes. I'll buy you a bottle of fine champagne and we can recall the good times. Have I thanked you enough for everything? I doubt it.

Thank you again, Mr. Waters.