A Visit To Manzanar

On August 21, 2014, in Current Events, Photography, by Michael Katz

Sunset

The other day, on my way back from the Yosemite High Country, I stopped off at the Manzanar National Historic Site, a few miles north of Lone Pine. Manzanar was one of 10 War Relocation Centers during World War II. United States citizens of Japanese descent were forced to leave their homes and abandon their businesses and were installed in these internment camps for the duration of the war. It was clearly one of the low points in our national history.

Manzanar Barracks
Manzanar is probably the best known of the camps, thanks to the photo essay of Ansel Adams. Adams’ work featured many portraits of the Japanese families, as well as images of daily life amid the stark (and deceiving) beauty of the Alabama Hills, the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Although most of the structures are gone, a few barracks remain, as well as a cemetery, orchard, guard tower, and a modern Visitor Center.

Orchard 04

By the time I arrived, the visitor center had closed for the day, but I caught up with one of the rangers as she was leaving and she gave me a quick overview of the area. I was free to drive around the dirt loop road and photograph the evening light, as the sun disappeared behind the Alabama Hills. At dusk the light illuminates the White Mountains on the other side of the Owens Valley. There is also some lovely backlighting in the orchard and cemetery. The temperature hovered near ninety, even at sunset, a reminder of how unforgiving the climate was for those interned there. And yet, even in the ruins of the camp, there were still fruit trees from the orchard and the shell of a Japanese garden, evidence of the lives these Americans made for themselves under difficult conditions.

Cemetary

Cemetary

I plan to stop in again when the Visitor Center is open, and hopefully photograph in morning light as well. For all of you who routinely drive by Manzanar on your way to Mammoth or Yosemite or Tahoe, I highly recommend that you allot some time to stop and visit Manzanar.

Boundary

Poppy Pix Clix

On June 6, 2014, in Photography, Sports, by Michael Katz
Poppies and Lacy Phacelia

Poppies and Lacy Phacelia

It’s always nice to get a little recognition, so I’m happy to note that my image  Poppies and Lacy Phacelia was chosen as one of this week’s Photoshelter Selects. Photoshelter is the organization that runs my photo website, as well as hundreds of others from photographers far and wide. They choose a handful of images every two weeks to highlight. There’s a more complete report on my day at the California Poppy Preserve (hit the link) and a report on my recent Yosemite visit  on this site, as well. Of course you can see all my images on my Photoshelter site.

As a special bonus. here’s a couple of images from my night at Dodger Stadium Monday, as the White Sox suffered a sixth inning defensive meltdown and dropped a 5-2 decision (They won the next two games.) Those images are with my Canon Power Shot, a nice little camera for such things.

Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw

 

Jose Quintana

Jose Quintana

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Looking for a delightful story about a photographer, a wedding and Yellowstone National Park?   My new novel, Dearly Befuddled,  is available via Amazon. 

Check it out.

 

The Pied Piper of Los Hamelin

On May 15, 2014, in Sports, by Michael Katz

Hameln1Once upon a time there was a town with a rat problem. Although it was only a couple of rats, they were mean, voracious rats who had come all the way from Boston and infested the most prized asset of Los Hamelin, their beloved baseball team. “What shall we do?” cried the outraged populace. “We’d give anything to get rid of those two rats!”

Along came the Pied Piper of Guggenheim. “Don’t worry,” said the Piper. “We’ll get rid of your rats.  We’ll pay them two billion dollars to go away, and we’ll spend even more money for players so you won’t have to suffer any more mediocre baseball. We’ll even reduce the parking.”

“Hooray!” shouted the good folks of Los Hamelin. No one asked where the two billion dollars came from.  Everyone assumed the Pied Piper of Guggenheim created money from his money farm in Illinois. The ecstatic citizens returned to their previously rat-infested ballpark in record numbers. They hailed the Pied Piper of Guggenheim and his partner, a locally famous Magic Man, as heroes.

Then one day, it came time to pay the Piper. “We have assessed the cost of getting rid of your two rats,” the Piper said. “We have decided that everyone who owns a television in Greater Los Hamelin must pay an additional five dollars a month for their cable or satellite services.”

The people of Los Hamelin were outraged. “What?!! Five dollars a month? For all time?”

“Well, for now. It could go up. By the way, we raised the parking, too.”

“But…but some of us never had a rat problem in the first place! Why should everyone have to pay an extra five dollars a month? And by the way, those two rats? They’re still in the parking lot.”

The Pied Piper of Guggenheim yawned. “Not my problem,” he said.  “We sold the television rights to an Evil Troll. I’m sure you can work something out with him.”

So the citizens of Los Hamelin marched down to the Evil Troll of Time Warner to protest. The Evil Troll said, “You will all pay your extra five dollars a month, whether you like baseball or not, or we will not let any of you watch your team.”

“But that is so unfair, Evil Troll!”

“Life is unfair. I have to pay for Rachel Maddow. We already agreed to pay the Pied Piper eight billion dollars, so either subscribe to us or go complain to the Lords of Satellite.”

Across the bridge from the Evil Troll, the Lords of Satellite were doing some math. The Suddenly Heroic Lord of DirecTV wondered if he could keep raising monthly fees five bucks every time some sports team or league formed their own network. He looked down the road, where the Republic of Dish had been the only principality not to sign up with the Los Hamelin basketball team. Despite prophecies of Doom, the Republic of Dish did not crumble into the ocean. It seemed to be doing just fine. Meanwhile, a smattering of small, independent republics, whose citizens were mostly naïve waifs, had sprung up: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Blockbuster. The young waifs were migrating to them in growing numbers, forsaking both the Lords of Satellite and the Evil Troll. The Suddenly Heroic Lord of DirecTV thought, we could lose lots of Greater Hamelin citizens if we give in to the Evil Troll.

The Evil Troll said, “We don’t care. And besides, we are about to be bought out by an even Eviller Troll. In a few months this will all be Comcast’s problems.”

And so it came to pass that Los Hamelin baseball broadcasts went dark to 70% of Los Hamelin. Not even their leading citizen, Saint Vincent, could watch the games. The baseball fans of Los Hamelin complained to their mayor. They wrote angry letters. Finally, they went back to the Pied Piper and said, “Look, why don’t you just give some of your money back to the Evil Troll, and he will in turn reduce the fees and we can all see our beloved baseball team again.”

The Pied Piper looked at the citizens with a jaundiced eye. “That is not,” he said, “how you get to be Piper. And besides, the Magic Man tells me that there is a new, even bigger rat in Los Hamelin that I must get rid of. He tells me it will require a great deal of money.”

“It’s only the Clippers.”

“But the whole NBA wants me to get rid of him.”

The citizens of Los Hamelin took a deep, collective breath. “So how much is that going to cost us?”

The Pied Piper turned and walked back into his luxury box. He said, “I’ll let you know.”

2 blossoms 5097

It’s hard to believe, basking in near 90 degree weather here in Santa Monica that a week ago I was sitting through a bone chilling rainstorm that would turn to snow by evening. But, as the river rafting guides like to say, “No shit, there I was…”

I had picked up photographer Michael Frye’s FB post that the dogwoods were blooming early at Yosemite and the waterfalls were close to peaking. I decided it was time to give the new Volvo a workout and hit the road. The only lodging available was the unheated tent cabins in Curry Village, but thanks to my Yosemite Conservancy coupons, I got a great rate, so off I went.

Wednesday afternoon was balmy with no hint of the predicted storm. I arrived in time for some nice evening light. I did a quick scouting expedition of the dogwoods in the Curry Village area and the trail towards Mirror Lake. There was a nice light on Halfdome; with no clouds to add texture, I positioned myself behind an oak and made use of a neutral density filter to get the image below.

Halfdome 5066

Thursday was another cloudless and warm day. I headed off in the morning for the nexus of the Pohono Bridge and the Merced River, a reliable source of blooming dogwoods. From there, it’s a matter of watching the light as it filters through the trees, cross-hatching blossoms, leaves and river.

dogwoods merced 5228

In the afternoon, I took the shuttle bus to the Mirror Lake stop and hiked along Tenaya Creek, where Ansel Adams did some of his most notable work. There are trails on either side of the creek, and lots of hikers – spring break had flooded the park with groups of kids. But as the afternoon wore on there were some nice opportunities.

Dogwoods, Tenaya 5171

Friday the storm came, as predicted. A couple of times I thought I could venture out for a rainy day hike, but each time I tried, the water poured down harder. So I engaged in my Rainy Day Activities. I took the shuttle to the Ahwahnee Hotel and treated myself to their breakfast buffet, then plopped down in the  cavernous reading room by the grand fireplace and spent the better part of the day plowing through Seth Davis’ 500+ page biography of John Wooden. By evening, the rain had turned to a wet, heavy snowfall. Let me just say that when you are staying in an unheated tent cabin and you can see your breath, it is not a good sign. Still, I had my sleeping bag, and other than nature calling at 3 AM, it was all quite bearable.

dogwoods and firs pohono 5234

By the time Dawn spread her rosy fingertips the storm had stopped, and much of the snow had melted from the valley floor. There was some wonderful light to revisit the Pohono bridge area, and lots of fog and mist circulating around the valley, giving some haunting looks at El Cap and the Three Brothers. I hung around until the chain requirements were removed from Rte. 41.

3 Bros 5255

 

As usual, the Gates of the Valley provided a fitting farewell.

gates 5271

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Speaking of photography and delightful fiction, my new novel, Dearly Befuddled,  is available via Amazon. 

Check it out.

 

 

poppyscape2

I headed out to the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve Saturday, gimpy ankle and all, to do a little spring photography. The Poppy Reserve is located about 15 miles east of Lancaster (gateway to the Mojave!) and reports were that the poppy fields were in splendid bloom. There are a few challenges to shooting in the High Desert, the principal one being that it is really windy. The gusts can pick up to 25-40 mph as the day progresses, so those of us who like our photography at the sunset magic hour are at a disadvantage. Getting to Lancaster at sunrise isn’t exactly in my playbook, but I did manage to arrive by mid-morning when the breeze was relatively gentle. A wispy cloud cover diffused the sunlight and made for some nice conditions.

Poppies and Goldfields

Poppies and Goldfields

About a mile or so west of the Reserve, the surrounding fields were bursting with brilliant orange; dozens of cars pulled off the roadside and folks waded onto private lands (avoiding the entrance fee) where they were crouching,  chest high in poppies. Being basically a law abiding sort, I drove on into the Reserve, which covers 1800 acres and has over seven miles of hiking trails. Its gentle slopes offer some nice perspectives not available from the road, and there’s a mix of wildflowers that include brilliant yellow goldfields, as well as owl’s clover and lacy phacelia (I once knew a Lacy Phacelia, but that’s another story.)

poppy cu

I’m happy to say my ankle held up ok, though crouching down to poppy level was a bit of a challenge. I did manage to lighten the load a little by leaving my tripod on the trail halfway to Antelope Butte. It only took me about a half mile or so of semi-weightless hiking to realize this; as I re-trudged my steps, I was happy to see a young couple approaching me, tripod in hand.

It was at this point that I thought I heard a sandwich and a beer calling my name, and thus ended my afternoon at the Poppy Reserve.

poppy hillside

I could not help but notice a ballpark at the Intersection of Rt. 14 and Avenue I. The Hangar, as it is called, is the home of the Lancaster JetHawks, an A League affiliation of the Houston Astros. They had a 6 PM game against the High Desert Mavs (Seattle Mariners) so I hung around. The Astros may be crummy, but they have had the #1 pick in the MLB draft the past two years, including 6-4, 19 yr old  shortstop Carlos Correa.

The ball game was lots of fun, 9 bucks getting me a second row seat behind home plate. Correa hit a single, double and triple and made a diving stop of a liner in the hole. He’s pretty clearly a talent, though he needs to work on his base-running. He slid awkwardly a couple of times on the back end of hit and runs, and you wouldn’t want a kid like that risking a broken ankle on bad fundamentals (maybe I’m just thinking too much about ankles these days).

Carlos Correa whacks a double

Carlos Correa whacks a double

The JetHawks first baseman Brandon Merideth hit two HRs, the last one a bomb that easily cleared the centerfield fence, 410 feet away. I looked up his stats afterward. He is 24, which is a little long in the tooth for A ball. I hope he gets a shot.

Minor league games can be fun, full of mascots and promotions and lots of kids. I’m now the proud owner of a JetHawks blanket, which will come in handy on cool desert nights. The games work out best if the young pitchers can get the ball over. Saturday night they did; the game was played at a crisp pace. I left in the bottom of the 8th, the JetHawks ahead 7-1, the game barely over two hours. I made it home in about the time it takes to get out of the Dodger Stadium parking lot.

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Speaking of photography and delightful fiction, my new novel, Dearly Befuddled,  is available via Amazon. 

Check it out.

It is hard enough to be funny in literary fiction these days, especially with the cognoscenti convinced that every laugh has to be paid for with several heaping doses of despair. It is especially difficult in short fiction, where F. Scott Fitzgerald’s observation that “There are no second acts in American life” seems to have been adopted as the Golden Rule. I once was at a panel of short story writers when some innocent in the audience asked Ron Carlson why so many stories seemed to be about the terminally depressed and dysfunctional. He replied  that when people gather around the water cooler in the morning, they aren’t asking why things are going so well in Bob’s life. They are asking why Bob didn’t show up for work this morning.

bark   OK, I get it. But does every story have to end up with Bob sticking his head in the oven? Where does country music end and literature begin?

I’m happy, then, to report that Lorrie Moore has a new collection of short stories, entitled Bark, which are often laugh-out-loud funny and, although sometimes sad, not unrelentingly or hopelessly so. Moore, who taught for many years at the University of Wisconsin, seems to have a perfect ear for Midwestern irony that can be expressed succinctly and without pathos. In one of my favorite passages from her novel A Gate At The Stairs, her characters drive across southern Wisconsin; the narrator Tassie observes:

We passed through the marshland village of Luck, whose municipal welcome sign read YOU’RE IN LUCK.  And though on leaving I spied no sign saying NOW OUT OF LUCK, every aspect of it was soon implied. Edward had taken a wrong turn, and we had to turn around and go back through the town. YOU’RE IN LUCK, another sign said, and I imagined a horror movie wherein we never found our way out of this town…

It’s that kind of dilemma that seems to assert itself in the stories of Bark, which does have its share of relationships that are in various states of abandonment and disrepair, or at least are headed that way, or should be. But Lorrie Moore’s characters are delightfully observant, even as life seems to be spinning away from them.  In the opening story, “Debarking” (Moore, as if setting up the board for Double Jeopardy, has lots of fun with the title theme) Ira’s wife Marilyn has left him, and he has occasional custody of his eight year-old daughter, Bekka. He meets a woman named Zora who has a teenage son and tells him:

                “Once you have a teenager, everything changes.”

                Now there was silence. He couldn’t imagine Bekka as a teenager. Or rather, he could, sort of, since she often acted like one already, full of rage at the incompetent waitstaff that life had hired to take and bring her order.

If relationships don’t quite work out, it could be the result of recombinant pairings of people who probably couldn’t succeed in them to begin with, but haven’t given up. Perhaps it is their own sense of irony that makes them subject to disaster.moore2

Or sometimes they are perfectly matched, like Bake McKurty, the writer of a little-read biography of George Washington, and his wife Suzy, who deftly guides him through numerous social missteps. In the story “Foes,” Bake and Suzy are at a literary gathering for a small magazine in Georgetown. Suzy leaves Bake to his own devices as he thoroughly alienates a lobbyist named Linda who is sitting next to him.

Suzy leaned in on his left and spoke across Bake’s plate to Linda. “Is he bothering you? If he bothers you, just let me know. I’m Suzy.”

More often though, couples are mismatched. KC, the protagonist of “Wings,” is a singer of a certain age (“I may be older than what I seem. I don’t know what I seem.”) who is coming to grips with her limitations as a songwriter and the shiftlessness of her boyfriend, Dench. Like a lot of people we know, she can be uncannily observant about the world around her, yet helpless to recognize her own predicament. When Milt, an older man, asks her over for muffins, Dench bloodlessly remarks:

 “Giving the old guy a thrill? Good idea.”

“What’s wrong with you?”

“I’m just saying,” said Dench in a hushed tone. “He’s probably loaded. And gonna keel soon. And…”

“Stop.”

How KC navigates this path reflects a particular skill of Moore’s, weaving through KC’s self-realizations about her attraction to Dench as she strikes up a friendship with the elderly Milt.

By the time Moore presents us with the final story, “Thank You For Having Me,” it is presumably safe to be hilarious, in her understated way, from the beginning. The narrator is a single mom  who is mourning the news of Michael Jackson’s death while her fifteen year-old daughter Nickie (who has once gone trick-or-treating dressed as a sniper) prods her to get ready for the wedding of her erstwhile baby-sitter.

I tried to think positively. “Well, at least Whitney Houston didn’t die,” I said to someone on the phone. Every minute that ticked by in life contained very little information, until suddenly it contained too much.

It’s actually the second wedding for the woman, a Brazilian named Maria who has already divorced one local farm boy in favor of another. The first one, Ian, is providing the music for the ceremony. His father is hopelessly infatuated with Maria.  I could go into more detail, but you’d best discover it for yourself.

As someone who has spent a good deal of time in Wisconsin, including graduate school in Madison, it was always nice to know that one of the country’s finest writers was teaching there. So it was with some disappointment that I heard Lorrie Moore has decamped to Vanderbilt. Well, I don’t begrudge anyone greener pastures. I’ve never been to Nashville, though from what I’ve heard, the sensibility there isn’t quite the same as Madison. (What is?)

No offense, Nashville.

Minnie Pearl

Minnie Pearl

I hope Ms. Moore does not feel obliged to go around wearing hats with the price tag still hanging from them.

We’re not bitter, really.

At least she did not move out here to write screenplays.

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A gentle remind that my new novel, Dearly Befuddled,  is available via Amazon. 

Check it out.

Monterey Jazz Festival 2014 Preview

On April 4, 2014, in Music articles, by Michael Katz

MJF57 _2014_PosterHow exactly do you stage a world class jazz festival in 2014?  How do you program for diverse audiences, in an art form where performers continue to shine into their eighties, while younger players reach out to the rhythms of their own generation? Artistic Director Tim Jackson has made some intriguing choices for the 57th Monterey Jazz Festival, to be held September 19-21.

Let’s start with MJF’s principle headliners. There’s Artist–In-Residence, drummer Eric Harland, at 37 a relative youngster, who shines in different configurations including several pairings with this year’s Featured Artist, Monterey icon saxophonist Charles Lloyd. Then there is young pianist Aaron Diehl, with a commissioned tribute to the legendary MJQ pianist John Lewis. Add to that multiple appearances by Robert Glasper, Jason Moran and Christian McBride, and you are beginning to get the picture.

As a critic of a certain age, I naturally respond better to some parts of the Main Stage line-up than others. For example, pianist Billy Childs’ “Re-Imagining Laura Nyro” with Shawn Colvin, Lisa Fischer and Becca Stevens sounds inviting to me, having grown up with all the great Laura Nyro tunes. Similarly, bringing in Booker T. Jones (Booker T and the MGs!) on Saturday afternoon should be a hoot. And the Sunday show with the Next Generation Orchestra, followed by Jon Batiste and Marcus Miller, ought to be terrific as well.

Booker T

Booker T

Charles Lloyd

Charles Lloyd

I fully understand the logic behind The Roots, who anchor Jimmy Fallon’s red hot new Tonight Show. I saw them last year at the Playboy Jazz Festival and understand their appeal, but they blasted me and many others back to the buses early. Playboy, at the Hollywood Bowl, is a single venue; MJF offers many great alternatives, and I’ll get to them in a moment. There’s much more on tap at the Arena, including the debut of vocalist Cecile Mclorin Salvant Friday night, Robert Glaspar’s “Experiment” band and Herbie Hancock. (As you might guess, I’ll be hoping for an acoustic set from Herbie.)   Saturday afternoon begins with one of last year’s hits, Davina and the Vagabonds and, after Booker T, caps off with nuvo-bluesman Gary Clark Jr. Sunday night should be a beauty with Charles Lloyd’s quartet, featuring Eric Harland, Reuben Rogers and Jason Moran, followed by Michael Feinstein with his Sinatra Project, with MJF favorite Russell Malone on guitar and Harry Allen.

But, if Sinatra isn’t your cup of tea – or jigger of Jack Daniels…here comes the fun part.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that $125 invested in a three day Grounds Pass may be one of the great bargains in the history of this or any other festival.   Let’s start with the smallest venue, the Coffee House. Always an intimate forum for piano trios, this year all three nights are dedicated to the memories of the late Mulgrew Miller, who lit the place up two years ago, and James Williams. What a treat to hear Harold Mabern (Fri), Donald Brown (Sat) and Geoffrey Keezer (Sun).  This is a must see event.

Claudia Villela

Claudia Villela

Friday night has highlights everywhere: Brazilian vocalist Claudia Villela and tenor man Harvey Wainapel with a Getz-Gilberto retrospective, Christian McBride’s trio, Berklee College’s Sarah McKenzie, as well as Cecile Mclorin Salvant reprising her Main Stage debut and Charles Lloyd’s Sangam group featuring Zakir Hussain on tabla and Eric Harland. And that’s just a sampling.

Saturday afternoon features the usual raucous picnic at the Garden Stage, including the return of Davina and the Vagabonds, the Pete Escovedo Orchestra, Red Baraat and much more. Saturday night there’s a different look from Christian McBride with Booker T and Uri Caine, a Blue Note 75th Anniversary Band featuring trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, drummer Chris Dave, Robert Glasper on keyboards, bassist Derrick Hodge and guitarist Lionel Loueke, all of whom have shined at MJF in recent years. Billy Childs and Aaron Diehl bring their ensembles over from the Main Stage, as does Becca Stevens. John Hanrahan leads a tribute to Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. Eric Harland leads his Voyager band both Saturday and Sunday nights.

Eric harland

Eric Harland

Sunday brings highlights from the Next Generation Festival in the afternoon. Garden Stage highlights include Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band, and a duo of vocalist Youn Sun Nah and guitarist Ulf Wakenius, who last played at MJF with Oscar Peterson. Sunday night features trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis and his father Ellis at the Night Club, along with Akinmusire’s quartet. And there’s the annual B-3 Blowout at Dizzy’s Den featuring the Tony Monaco Trio in one set and vocalist Pamela Rose with Wayne De La Cruz in the other.

I know I’ve left a lot out. My apologies if your favorite is missing. But really, the Grounds are a cornucopia of talent, and I haven’t even talked about the food.

For more info, go to… https://www.montereyjazzfestival.org/

Miss Me?

On March 15, 2014, in Blogging Life, Film, Mike's Fiction, Photography, by Michael Katz

It’s been a few months since Katz of the Day began its revised life as Katz of the Whenever I Feel Like Providing Free Content.   I’d like to report that the KOD Inbox is full of “Where have you been?”  and “We miss you!”  and “How Do I Know My Spam Filter is Working?” I’m happy to say that a few folks actually miss it, and it would be nice to say that the blog is a useful partner to my for-profit writing, which was its purpose. While I’ve been busy in the KOD-cave here in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, scribbling away at projects that might pay for the recent termite inspection, here’s a few news bits on the KOD Omni-Cultural Experience.

KOD Cave buried deep under the Santa Monica Mountains

KOD Cave buried deep under the Santa Monica Mountains

We’re happy to say that our indie film Remembering Phil,” the Kafka-esque tale featuring Nick Turturro, Joanne Kelly, Christina Murphy, Steve Valentine and special guest star Dan Castellaneta, is available on an ever-broadening scale. We are now on Hulu at this address:http://www.hulu.com/watch/589301    We are available on both Amazon Instant:http://www.amazon.com/Remembering-Phil-Nicholas-Turturro/dp/B00I11COUE/ref=tmm_aiv_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1394240255&sr=8-1   and Amazon Prime.  And if you’re a Netflix subscriber, please keep requesting us at: http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Remembering_Phil/70260086?locale=en-US , and someday they may actually supply the film.   If you are a fan of Remembering Phil, please do us the favor of posting a favorable comment at any of these venues. It’s a sad fact that most comments are posted by vitriolic sorts who have been possessed by the most wicked and malevolent of demons. This is social media, after all, so any positive word of thumb is appreciated. And don’t forget the Remembering Phil Original Soundtrack!

In the meantime, it’s getting toward spring, which is a great time to read a funny and charming story about a wedding in Yellowstone National Park.  Whether you are a photographer, fisherperson, film buff or just a believer in hopeless romance, Dearly Befuddled is for you! It’s available at Amazon. as a paperback and E-book – or BOTH, at a special price. Want to feel like you are making a special contribution to literature? Buy a copy and watch Dearly Befuddled leap 750,000 spots on the Amazon best seller list. And again, if you enjoyed the book, spend a few moments and write a nice review blurb on Amazon. The reader reviews are the “currency” for getting attention – such is life in the digital Me-verse.

To show how much I appreciate your patronage, I’ll provide some more of the wonderful essays that you’ve grown accustomed to over the past two years. For every 100 books sold, I’ll come up with a brand new, never-before-shared literary nugget. Such a deal! (I’ll let you know if I get close.)

And don’t forget to check out my photography site, with up-to-date images from last year’s trips to Yellowstone, Yosemite, and a few points in between.

Well, that’s about it for now. In the immortal words of Bob and Ray:

“Hang by your Thumbs.”

“Write if you get work.”

Eliane Elias Live At Catalina Jazz Club

On February 28, 2014, in Music Reviews, by Michael Katz

_Eliane_Elias_-_Photo_by_Bob_WolfensonLA jazz fans are getting a rare treat this week, with the first club appearance in many years of pianist and vocalist Eliane Elias. The Sao Paulo native was in wonderful form Thursday night at Catalina Jazz Club on Sunset, interpreting the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Ari Barroso, Gilberto Gil and Dorival Caymmi as well as sharing tunes from her latest CD I Thought About You, a tribute to Chet Baker.

I have always loved Elias’ piano chops. She brings a verve and sensitivity to the bossa nova, agilely bridging the gap between American jazz and the Brazilian sound. Having grown up in Brazil and played with Jobim, Elias is able to make even Jobim’s most frequently covered compositions, such as Chega de Saudade (No More Blues) seem fresh and original. Her standard trio, which included husband Marc Johnson, a superb musician in his own right on bass and Mauricio Zottarelli  on percussion, was augmented by one of LA’s brightest young guitarists, Graham Dechter.

For many years Elias, who first garnered attention here in the States as a member of the group Steps Ahead, was essentially a pianist, with a few vocals dropped into her albums. That has changed in the last few years.   She makes the most out of a bright, airy range, teasing playful innuendos out of the Portuguese lyrics and drawing a breathy romance from American tunes, particularly evident in the Chet Baker material.  Thursday night, the Baker oeuvre  included a lilting version of I Thought About You. There was more than a hint of nostalgia – not too many of us “take a trip on a train” anymore, though we might if Eliane Elias was on board. This Can’t Be Love was fairly straight ahead, with a little Nat King Cole dalliance. My favorite of that group was Embraceable You which began with a lovely piano intro, then segued into a lush vocal, aided by Johnson’s fine bass work.Eliane and Marc Johnson

Still, the high point of catching Elias at Catalina was the chance to see and hear her extended piano work, especially on the Brazilian tunes. There were, among others, Ari Barroso’s Isto Aqui O Que E’, where the sly bossa beat works perfectly with the breathless vocal bridges, and Dorival Caymmi’s Rosa Morena. Caymmi’s work captures so much of the Brazilian ethos: haunting, with a tinge of regret, yet at the same time possessing the lilting pulse that sounds so optimistic. Eliane Elias can’t help but foster that with her lovely stature, friendly patter and sensitive performance. Most of the Brazilian tunes last night came from her CD Light My Fire.

ElianeElias_ITAY_5x5RGB300dpi The near capacity crowd at Catalina brought her back for a final riff on Jobim’s Desafinado,  which allowed the whole group to stretch out, and gave us another chance to hear guitarist Graham Decter and some pulsating drumming from Mauricio Zottarelli. Dechter, a terrific talent, has been profiled on these pages before.  Meanwhile, Eliane Elias continues at Catalina through Saturday. Don’t miss her.

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A   reminder: Our film Remembering Phil, with a great jazz score featuring Bob Sheppard, Michael Wolff, Roy McCurdy, Todd Cochran and John B. Williams is now available on Hulu at: http://www.hulu.com/watch/589301      And don’at forget Michael Katz’s  new novel, Dearly Befuddled,  is available via Amazon. 

A Minimum Wage For Humanists

On December 4, 2013, in Current Events, Literature, Sports, by Michael Katz

mikeveniceThere has been a lot of talk lately about the minimum wage, mostly by politicians who gravitate toward their red and blue corners, with the exception of a few enlightened conservatives who believe that raising it would help keep low wage earners off  welfare and illegal aliens on the other side of that big electronic fence they want to build. Closer to home, Gary Gutting, a Notre Dame philosophy professor opining in the NY Times, talked about the tough road facing us secular humanists – writers, artists, photographers, fly fishermen – who are woefully underpaid considering our obvious worth to society. (He didn’t mention screenwriters, who do have a minimum wage, if we can get ourselves hired). (He didn’t mention fly fisherman, either, but I thought their inclusion was implied.)

There were a couple of noteworthy thought bubbles in Gutting’s column, the main one being that our schools ought to serve as a well-funded estuary for us humanists. Writes Gutting:  “We could open up a large number of fulfilling jobs for humanists if (as I’ve previously suggested) we developed an elite, professional faculty in our K-12 schools. Provide good salaries and good working conditions, and many humanists would find teaching immensely rewarding.”

This assumes that we humanists really want nothing more than to be teachers, to grace eager young minds who would otherwise be occupied with X-Boxes  and skateboards with our humanistic virtues,  at a healthy guaranteed stipend. I’m not sure what the non-humanistic teachers think of this, or how they will feel when we ask them to take over our classes for a month or two while we finish our novels, symphonies or cathedral-sized frescoes.

At the same time, Professor Gutting compares our plight with that of schools’ athletic programs, and somehow uses as a point of comparison the Minnesota state legislature’s decision to pony up $500 million dollars for the NFL Vikings’ new stadium, while the Minnesota orchestra teeters on the edge of bankruptcy. As if a Notre Dame professor had to go to Minnesota to find instances of wretched excess in sports. Perhaps the orchestra could perform at halftime on Notre Dame’s exclusive NBC football broadcasts.

tyler flowersNow, I’d like to segue to some equally relevant White Sox news. The Sox yesterday re-signed weak-hitting catcher Tyler Flowers to a one-year, $950,000 contract. Flowers hit .195 with 10 HRs and 24 RBIs and missed the last month with a rotator cuff injury. Sports Illustrated’s baseball expert Tom Verducci, in a recent article on the “Worst Positions in Baseball” had the Sox catchers leading the AL in worstness. The minimum salary for major league baseball players, by the way, is $480,000, which could pay for a lot of humanists. The White Sox lost 99 games last year, so you could argue that they could have paid the entire team the minimum salary, with the exception of All-Star pitcher Chris Sale and the beloved Paul Konerko, and not done any worse. Moreover, Flowers’ contract is hardly the most egregious example of this supposed mid-market team misdirecting potentially humanistic resources to crummy players. John Danks, a pitcher, made $15 million and went 4-14. Adam Dunn made $15 million and hit .219.

Now, I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that a lot of us humanists would rather be part of an “elite, professional faculty” of a major league baseball team than of some junior high school in Toledo. There are plenty of ways that a humanist could contribute to a baseball team. Here are a few:

  • Dugout Hygiene
  • Body Art
  • Music Appreciation
  • English as a Second Language
  • English as a First Language

I think you could make the argument that every major league team would benefit from having at least seven or eight humanists on staff. Every team could produce novels like The Natural or The Art of Fielding. And that doesn’t even include the Poet Laureate. We haven’t had a great baseball poem since Tinkers To Evers To Chance. All we need is a little funding.

So, as a White Sox fan, I urge my team to set an example. I propose a Katz of the Day Humanistic Formula, where the Sox take the difference between the MLB minimum and the amount they are overpaying our worst players (this would be somewhere around $45 million) and use it to fund the White Sox Elite Professional Humanist Faculty.

I hereby nominate myself Department Chairman.

hahnTo GM Rick Hahn, a fellow New Trier and Northwestern graduate…you know where to reach me.

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  A Hanukah/Christmas reminder: Michael Katz’s humanistic talents are on full display in his new novel, Dearly Befuddled,  available via Amazon.