I’m in complete agreement with all those people who say, regarding movies, “I just want to be entertained.” This populist position is much derided by my academic colleagues as simpleminded and unsophisticated, evidence of questionable analytical and critical acuity. But I agree with the premise and I, too, just want to be entertained. That I am almost never entertained by what entertains other people who just want to be entertained doesn’t make us philosophically incompatible. It just means we shouldn’t go to the movies together.
Richard Russo, Straight Man


admatI think many of us jazz fans can identify with the above sentiment, expressed by Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo’s lead character, William Devereaux, in his novel, Straight Man. It explains how a lot of us became jazz aficionados in the first place. The third weekend in September has always been a special time, when we gather in Monterey and surround ourselves with music and friends. Drenched in sunshine and margaritas, we can cease being curmudgeons about the decline of western culture, if only for a few days. Lately, some of us have found our beachhead eroding just a bit, as the Jimmy Lyons Stage has become a potpourri of what Stephen Colbert might call “Jazziness.” On the other hand, the four main Grounds venues have become so full of premier (if sometimes lesser known) attractions that we can hardly complain, even if season ticket holders must sometimes suffer through long lines with the hoi polloi. Herewith are some of the things that entertained me for what turned out to be most every waking moment (and a few semi-waking moments) at the 57th Monterey Jazz Festival, from the sublime piano trios to the Arena headliners.

MULGREW MILLER/JAMES WILLIAMS TRIBUTE AT THE COFFEE HOUSE

I attended one set from each of the three featured pianists, and they were all superb. Friday night, Harold Mabern, a mentor for everyone concerned, gave a boisterous, rollicking performance. Accenting Duke Ellington’s mantra that “There are only two kinds of music…” Mabern drew on such diverse sources as Sonny Stitt, Chaka Kahn, Steely Dan and Sholem Aleichem (okay, Jerry Bock). Mabern plays a percussive piano, block chords resonating from his right hand, melodic counters from his left. The intimate environs proved a perfect setting for his good-natured perspectives on his material. Where else but in Mabern’s world would you segue from Walter Becker and Donald Fagin’s Do It Again to the score of Fiddler On The Roof, first with a few sly notes of If I Were A Rich Man, and then a lush version of “Matchmaker, Matchmaker.”

Donald Brown

Donald Brown

I was unfamiliar with Donald Brown prior to the festival, but his late set Saturday night was one of the high points of the weekend. Brown, from Memphis, centered his set on the compositions of Mulgrew Miller and James Williams. I had seen Miller many times, but didn’t always associate him with his compositions. The first few notes of Second Thoughts and Soul-Leo were a reminder both of that rich talent, and what I sometimes find missing from many of the young tigers on the current scene. Composing ain’t easy. Not everyone can do it. It can range from the simplest line, sometimes formulated in an instant, to the rich texture and interplay between instruments. Trumpeter Joe Mazzafero augmented the group nicely, accenting the melodies and playing a rich flugelhorn. Throughout, Brown played with grace and sensitivity, a sweet ending to what had been a long and sometimes frenetic Saturday at the fairgrounds.

Geoffrey Keezer (from Eau Claire, Wisconsin) is better known than Brown or Mabern on the West Coast, having played with Ray Brown’s trio and vocalist Denise Donatelli among others. Like Donald Brown, he devoted his late set Sunday night to the works of Miller and Williams. He was joined by one of the top young drummers on the scene, Ulysses Owens Jr., and bassist Richie Goods. The playing was spritely and sympathetic throughout. Compositions included Williams’ Arioso and Miller’s Farewell To Dogma. These were tunes that I hadn’t heard before, but it didn’t matter. The room, half-empty when the show started, had filled to near-capacity. The unseasonably warm temperatures, which prevailed all weekend, made the place feel like the inside of your living room on Christmas night. Keezer and the trio closed with Miller’s The 11th Hour, a bright end to the last of three memorable sets at MJF.

NOTE TO FESTIVAL DIRECTOR TIM JACKSON: If this Global Warming business is for real, you’d better find a way to get those ceiling fans working in the Coffee House.

FRIDAY NIGHT VOCALS: CLAUDIA VILLELA and CECILE MCLORIN SALVANT

Claudia Villela

Claudia Villela

I was always a huge Stan Getz fan, so the Getz/Gilberto tribute at the Night Club was too tempting to pass up, even if it meant rearranging my Friday schedule to miss the Arena entirely. Though nominally referring to guitarist Joao Gilberto, this show belonged to Claudia Villela. She was a delight, singing entirely in Portuguese with verve and passion. Starting with a sultry version of Corcovado, then a joyful romp through Doralice and So Danco Samba, Villela proved she belongs with any of the great Brazilian vocalists. Talented saxophonist Harvey Wainapel did an excellent job channeling Getz, but he smartly brought his soprano sax along; there was only one Stan Getz, after all. Wainapel showed his own chops accompanying Villela on a couple of her originals. He stayed with the soprano on O Grande Amor, giving Jobim’s tune a fresh take that was the highlight of the set. Villela accompanied herself on tambourine with a spritely O Pato (The Duck) – quacking along in case anyone missed the translation. Bob Baso took the Joao Gilberto guitar chair and provided a steady samba pulse. It did seem a little odd that they neglected to play Girl From Ipanema, but I got the sense, after an extended take on Una Nota De Samba, that they just ran out of time.

At 25 years of age, singer Cecile McLorin Salvant came to Monterey with an impressive reputation. Backed with a superb rhythm section featuring pianist Aaron Diehl, she performed the late set at the nightclub before a capacity throng. Salvant has a vocal range that recalls Sarah Vaughn, and she uses it all in her impressionistic interpretations. Every number turns into a mini-drama, her vocals surging and ebbing. These skills were on full display in Bert Williams’ Nobody, which starts with sweet innocence and moves toward bluesy, Bessie Smith-like bravado. Salvant turned I Didn’t Know What Time It Was into a romantic rhapsody, and finished with a haunting Spring Will Really Hang You Up The Most. She was captivating, though at times you wanted to hear her let go of the reins, especially as the late night set wore on. It’s nice to give your rhythm section a chance to stretch out, but at 11:45 I had to struggle a little to get through an extended bass solo, no offense to the talented Paul Sikivie. Salvant left the crowd with a lingering anticipation of what will come next in her blossoming career.

PARTY TIME

Even the most dedicated of us jazz ascetics have to admit that music is supposed to be fun. It is okay to dance and clap and bounce around in the aisles. The afternoon programs at the Arena and Garden Stage have long been designated as Party Time, with lots of intriguing offshoots. In recent years there has been Angelique Kidjo with her lilting African songs and rhythms, the dearly missed Pete Seeger with his Inspirational Folk Scene and, of course, Trombone Shorty leading the entire festival in Way Too Much Fun. Trombone Shorty set the bar so high for high octane jazz/funk/soul that anything else can seem like a weak imitation. That said, MJF 57 came through with a diverse lineup, beginning with Davina and the Vagabonds, who had lit up the Garden Stage last year. Davina Sowers, leading the group in from Minneapolis, projects a kind of Divine Miss M persona with little bits of Ethel Merman and Kate Smith mixed in. She plays a boisterous piano and rips out the tunes without affectation. My favorite was an almost ragtime version of John Sebastian’s Daydream, with a great wah-wah trumpet by Dan Eikmeier.

Booker T.  Jones

Booker T. Jones

If that wasn’t enough for us graying Boomers, next up was Booker T. Jones, late of the MGs. The MGs were the house band for all those Stax Records hits and Booker T. spent a little too much time covering Muddy Waters’ Hoochie Coochie Man and Prince’s Purple Rain. The real fun started when he got back behind the Hammond B-3 organ for Green Onions and Leon Russell’s A Song For You. With his son Ted on guitar, he ran through more MGs hits including Hiphugger, Soul Limbo and finally settled into a groove of simmering funk with the closer, Time Is Tight (the tune seems more apropos now than it did back in 1968.)

Sunday had Marcus Miller bringing his electric bass to the Jimmy Lyons Stage. I’m sympathetic toward Miller, who hosts a great radio show on Sirius Radio and is an eloquent spokesman for jazz and funk in its many forms, even if an hour of bass-driven tunes can leave me a little burnt out. Miller rewarded the Arena audience with perhaps the emotional high point of the festival when he performed Goree’, a song reflecting his experience on the island off the coast of Senegal, and the Door of No Return, where captured Africans began their journey into slavery. Dedicating the song to hopefulness, Miller performed mostly on the bass clarinet with a deeply moving solo that had the crowd on its feet.

Back on the grounds, the annual B-3 Blowout got an early start on Sunday with singer Pamela Rose fronting a quintet that featured Wayne De Luca on the Hammond B-3 at Dizzy’s Den. The flame-haired Rose, whom we last heard at Monterey in “Wild Women of Song” can surely belt ‘em out, and she ran through standards like Too Close For Comfort and Peggy Lee’s You’ve Come A Long Way From St. Louis. De Luca swung vibrantly on the B-3, and Las Vegas alto sax player Charles McNeal provided some stirring solo work. Later in the set Rose performed a soul-drenched version of Allen Toussaint’s It’s Raining, providing an emotional anchor for the set.

YOUNG TIGERS

Ambrose Akinmusire

Ambrose Akinmusire

The notion that jazz audiences haven’t warmed up to the new young talent took a broadside Saturday evening, as a turn-away crowd swarmed Dizzy’s Den at 5:30, usually a time for dining and breathing out between Arena shows. The attraction was the Blue Note 75th Anniversary “Our Point of View” band, celebrating the label’s 75th anniversary with a lineup of young all-stars. Robert Glasper anchored the group on keyboards and contributed a sparkling composition. The frontline featured trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and Marcus Strickland on tenor, along with Lionel Loueke on guitar, Derrick Hodge on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums. The group had not played together before, so there wasn’t really time to work out crisp arrangements, but the sheer talent was overpowering. Akinmusire, at 32, is fast becoming an MJF icon. An Oakland native, he is an alum of the Next Generation Orchestra and has already been the Artist-In-Residence. His own set on Sunday drew a capacity crowd at the Night Club. His surging trumpet brought the packed crowd to their feet in the opening nod to Wayne Shorter and he later contributed a ballad to the show. I hadn’t heard Strickland before, but he more than pulled his weight, with some soulful tenor solos. Loueke has sparkled at MJF in a variety of settings. I first heard him with Terance Blanchard and he played with Herbie Hancock Friday night. A native of Benin in West Africa, Loueke’s rhythms, sometimes acid-toned, sometimes tapped in counter-melodies, added breath and dimension to the band, and his soloing held the audience rapt. Glasper, meanwhile, served as de facto leader and MC, giving the audience a taste of his keyboard talents and keeping the impromptu nature of the group pulsating. It would be great to see this group again with some time to work together, perhaps on tour or at the Jimmy Lyons Stage.

CAMEOS

Sarah McKenzie

Sarah McKenzie

Over the course of the festival, there are always some artists of whom I can only catch glimpses. Inevitably, I’m thinking, “Why didn’t I get here earlier?” or “I should stay here for the rest of the set.” I caught Chilean tenor player Melissa Aldana at the Garden Stage with a lovely solo in the midst of I Loves You Porgy. Later that evening, I heard Sarah McKenzie, an Australian singer/pianist, for a couple of numbers. She radiated aplomb on the piano, reminding me a bit of the late Marian McPartland, and has a lovely voice as well. A Berklee College graduate, she teamed up with 2014 Berklee scholarship winner Emery Mesich, an alto sax player, for a duet on Henry Mancini’s Moon River. On Saturday, one of the benefits of showing up early at Dizzy’s Den for the Blue Note set was the opportunity to hear the end of Becca Stevens’ session. She closed her set with a brisk and joyful take on Joni Mitchell’s Help Me. Sunday night, as I was strolling between the Arena and the Coffee House, I heard the sweet sounds of Ben Flocks’ tenor wafting into the night. I wandered over to the Garden Stage and caught Flocks finishing up Stardust, then took a seat on the metal benches while he reduced his group to a trio and echoed Sonny Rollins’ I’m An Old Cowhand. All of these artists merit a return trip to Monterey.

VIRTUOSOS ON THE MAIN STAGE

All meandering aside, it wouldn’t be Monterey without some star turns on the Jimmy Lyons Stage. Saturday night, 29 year-old pianist Aaron Diehl, who’d already played twice with Cecile McLorin Salvant, led off the program with the annual commissioned piece, dedicated to former MJF Musical Director and Modern Jazz Quartet pianist John Lewis. It was a perfect pairing of subject and assignment. In a three part suite entitled Three Streams of Expression, Diehl recalled Lewis with trademark precision and spareness, yet never failed to swing. His suite opened with a simple theme and variations thereof, then moved to the baroque style chamber music that Lewis perfected with the MJQ. Warren Wolf held down the Milt Jackson chair and more. Wolf has emerged as one of the top young vibes players around. He accepted the challenge of representing Jackson’s exquisite phrasing, but still managed to maintain his individuality, spinning off generous riffs as Three Streams flowed from baroque to a more bluesy finish. David Wong on bass and Peter Van Nostrand on drums supported ably throughout, with Wong contributing a tasteful solo. Diehl, meanwhile, provided the intricate rhythms and countermelodies, working in tandem with Wolf for a performance that sparkled at every turn.

Billy Childs

Billy Childs

Billy ChildsMap To The Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro was, for me, the most anticipated event of the festival. Because I’d interviewed Childs for my article in the MJF program, I knew that he’d chosen some of Nyro’s more personally intense and reflective songs for his CD over her more obvious hits. What you really had to experience in person was the layered nature of the arrangements, with Quartet San Francisco’s strings augmenting Childs’ own quartet, which featured Steve Wilson on woodwinds, Scott Colley on bass and Brian Blades on drums, along with Carol Robbins on harp. And oh, yes, another star turn from trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. That is a lot to incorporate, on fairly short notice, and Childs pulled it all off seamlessly. There were three vocalists, with two songs apiece. Becca Stevens had the most challenging role in terms of audience recognition, with Confession and To A Child, the latter from one of Nyro’s later albums. She delivered both in poignant fashion, as Childs integrated the strings with Wilson’s sax and his own piano solos. Shawn Colvin, probably the best known of the singers, also had two of the more familiar Nyro tunes, And When I Die and Save The Country. The former was presented spiritually, with another Steve Wilson interlude to spice things up, absent all the pop fusion from the Blood Sweat and Tears version. I was a little less prepared for Childs’ Save The Country, which Nyro herself had performed with a bang-up gospel driven piano and horn chorus at the end. Childs’ version was more of an elegy, though Akinmusire’s piercing trumpet solo sent a charge through the piece. Childs then took a beautiful solo tour through New York Tendaberry, before bringing Lisa Fischer to the stage. It’s safe to say that Fischer, who starred in the Oscar-winning Twenty Feet From Stardom, was the best received of the three vocalists. She gave an energetic rendition of Map To The Treasure, with Carol Robbins opening the piece on her harp. Fischer also had the most upbeat arrangement, from one of Nyro’s most familiar songs: Stoned Soul Picnic. With the crowd behind her and Childs’ piano in support, Fischer’s “Surrey on downs,” had everyone in the Arena on their feet.

Charles Lloyd

Charles Lloyd

Charles Lloyd had been wowing Grounds audiences throughout the festival, from his Sangam trio with tabla player Zakir Hussain to a duet with pianist Gerald Clayton. His Sunday night Arena appearance, featuring pianist Jason Moran, was just superb. Lloyd, even at age 76, retains one of the most strikingly beautiful tones on the tenor sax. He put the Arena crowd at ease almost immediately with a lilting exploration of What’s New, weaving in and out of the melody with Moran dancing around his solos. Reuben Rogers on bass and Artist-in-Residence drummer Eric Harland completed this first call rhythm section; they were articulate and sympathetic throughout. Lloyd didn’t talk at all to the audience, but there was no lack of communication. He switched to flute, after a stately bass intro by Rogers; his chops on that instrument remain steady and swinging, and he gave plenty of room for Moran to create his own path on piano. Moran, who himself had been a presence throughout the festival, from the hip-hop collaboration with Robert Glasper to his own Fats Waller Dance Party at the Garden Stage, was at his pure jazzy best. He swooped through glissandos, layering his chordal work with Lloyd’s runs on the tenor and flute. Lloyd’s first few notes of Forest Flower had the audience stirring. It remains as lovely today as when Lloyd first recorded it on the Arena stage in 1966.

When it was over, a gentleman a few seats down from me remarked, “That’s what the Monterey Jazz Festival used to be!”

Alas, there’s the rub. Time doesn’t stand still. Festival Director Tim Jackson has a 5,000 seat arena to fill; his base of annual ticket subscribers has aged. Some observers were mockingly critical of the folks who fled the Arena when bands like The Roots were blasting away, but I won’t go there. Pop music tastes tend to find their angle of repose at the loudest and least lyrical points; there is nothing new about that. Meanwhile, audiences at Monterey, especially on the Grounds, seemed to have no problem finding music that swung, both hard and gently. Most every venue I attended was packed. So if Arena season ticket holders noted that Lloyd, Moran, Childs and Diehl (albeit in somewhat different formats), as well as Cecile McLorin Salvant, Robert Glasper, Ambrose Akinmusire, Christian McBride and DelFeayo Marsalis all could be heard for the price of a Grounds pass, they could be excused for wondering exactly how to value their annual Arena Ticket Package.

They could be forgiven for looking backwards, wistfully.

Like Richard Russo’s protagonist Devereaux, they, too, just want to be entertained.

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Countdown to the Monterey Jazz Festival

On September 18, 2014, in Music articles, by Michael Katz

MJF57 _2014_PosterIt’s about time to hit the road for my annual pilgrimage to Monterey, for the 57th Monterey Jazz Festival. I’m really excited about the depth and breadth of this festival. For someone who considers himself a straight ahead guy with a twist of Brazilian-funk-soul-hard bop, I can honestly say there promises to be something entertaining happening every second of the upcoming weekend.

In a slightly odd manner, festival artistic director Tim Jackson, who spends most of his media face time extolling the headliners, really doesn’t get the credit for the range of this festival. I’m going to sidestep the stars – the names that keep popping up on my internet banner ads – and throw out a few acts you might not be familiar with. Here’s a quick peek by venue, from smallest to largest. And a quick disclaimer: I’m sure to ignore more than a few names who will win your hearts.

COFFEE HOUSE

Harold Mabern

Harold Mabern

This intimate setting is the site of a fest-long tribute to the late pianists Mulgrew Miller and James Williams. I’ve long admired Harold Mabern, who I’ve heard often with tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander. His trio performs Friday night. Donald Brown performs Saturday night and Geoffrey Keezer, who we’ve heard live and on record often here on the West Coast, anchors the Sunday night program. If you don’t catch at least one of these sets at the Coffee House, you are missing one of the highlights of the festival. And if you want to take a break from the raucous Saturday afternoon schedule, drop in at 5:30 and catch vocalist Sarah McKenzie.

 

GARDEN STAGE

Jason Moran

Jason Moran

The Garden Stage, a comfy outdoor amphitheatre surrounded by California live oaks, is often the most enjoyable venue at MJF. This year the highlights are so numerous, you can drop in anytime and have a blast. Friday night features Chilean tenor sax player Melissa Aldana, followed by Sarah McKenzie. Saturday afternoon is the annual soul-blues-funk fest, with Red Baraat and last year’s breakout performers, Davina and the Vagabonds. Saturday night is an outright treat, with Jason Moran’s Fats Waller Dance Party and the Pete Escovedo Orchestra guaranteed to tear things up. On Sunday, Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius, last heard at MJF with Oscar Peterson, teams up with Korean vocalist You Sun Nah, followed by the Brian Blade Fellowship.

Melissa Aldana

Melissa Aldana

 

DIZZY’S DEN

Pamela Rose and Wayne De La Cruz

Pamela Rose and Wayne De La Cruz

Dizzy’s and the Night Club are the two larger grounds venues, and are stocked with stars great and small. Featured artist Charles Lloyd will appear twice at Dizzy’s, Friday night with Indian tabla player Zakir Hussain and artist-in-residence drummer Eric Harland, and Sunday night with pianist Gerald Clayton. Saturday, vocalist Becca Stevens and her band plays in the afternoon, followed by two all-star ensembles, the Blue Note 75th Anniversary Band and the Philadelphia Experiment with Christian McBride and Booker T. Jones. Sunday Night features the annual B-3 organ blowout, with Tony Monaco, Wayne De La Cruz and vocalist Pamela Rose. Eric Harland and his own group, Voyager, closes out the show.

 

 NIGHT CLUB

Cecile Mclorin Salvant

Cecile Mclorin Salvant

The Night Club is loaded Friday evening. It opens with a Stan Getz/Astrud and Joao Gilberto bossa nova tribute, with Harvey Wainapel on tenor and vocalist Claudia Villela. Christian McBride’s Trio follows, and Cecile McClorin Salvant, a terrific young vocalist who is opening the Arena show, closes the Night Club set. Saturday’s highlights include Cuban clarinetist Alden Ortuño Cabezas with Habaneros in the afternoon, and evening performances by vocalist Lisa Fischer, Harland’s Voyager and pianist Aaron Diehl. Sunday night features young trumpet lion Ambrose Akinmusire and trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis’ quartet with his dad, Ellis on piano.

Habaneros

Habaneros

ARENA

Billy Childs

Billy Childs

As I mentioned previously, Cecile McClorin Salvant opens the show here Friday. Saturday afternoon Booker T. Jones brings back memories of the Stax years, and by now you’ve surely heard about blues guitarist Gary Clark, Jr. I’m especially eager to hear Billy Childs’ set of Laura Nyro music, and not just because I wrote the MJF program article about it. As I mentioned, vocalists Becca Stevens and Lisa Fischer have sets of their own on the grounds, but it will be your only chance to see Shawn Colvin. Another great young pianist, Aaron Diehl, opens the evening with a commissioned tribute to the Modern Jazz Quartet’s John Lewis. I’m always a big fan of the Next Generation Band, which opens the Sunday afternoon show. I’ve been listening to bassist Marcus Miller on his Miller Time Sirius Radio show on Sundays, so I’m guessing his Arena show will be lots of fun. And Charles Lloyd’s jazz quartet with Jason Moran, Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland should be a terrific.

Marcus Miller

Marcus Miller

So that’s a quick look at MJF’s cornucopia of music. Some names are familiar, others will open your eyes and ears.  If you are anywhere in the Bay Area, or SoCal for that matter,  make the trip to Monterey. It promises to be a great weekend.

A Visit To Glacier National Park

On September 13, 2014, in Photography, by Michael Katz

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I spent a few days last week in Glacier National Park, on the back end of the Investech/Stack Financial Management Glacier Summit Conference in Whitefish, Montana. I’d been to Glacier once before, with a photo workshop in 2005, but I think you always learn your way around a little better when you are on your own. At that time I had a primitive digital camera and was still in love with my Hasselblad X-Pan, a panoramic film camera. Alas, I had to get rid of it as film became scarce, though you can enjoy some of the images on the Panoramics gallery at my photo website.

Last week I was closer to the west side of the park, and had accumulated a list of “favorite places” from various members of the Stack Financial Team. Of course, seeing things from a photographer’s point of view can be a little different, and you are always subject to light and weather conditions when you just have a few days. Bright, sunny weather in September may seem perfect to most, but we of course are cheering for something a little more apocalyptic.

So I took a mid-afternoon stroll through the Trail of the Cedars and then up Avalanche Creek, towards Avalanche Lake. The bright sun was slashing through the canyon, and in a serendipitous moment, it dappled through a turn in the creek and allowed me a look at a small cascade.

Av lake tr

Avalanche Lake is a pretty little lake, with some nice cut throat trout in it, or so I heard. But the light was harsh, and my images were fine for documentation, but we’ll move on to Logan Pass, which is about halfway up the Going To The Sun Road that bisects the park. I was told Hidden Lake was a great sunset spot, though it is probably better at sunrise, as the sun sets behind it. Unfortunately, staying as I was at a Motel 6 in Kalispell, about 90 minutes away, making the sunrise wasn’t in the playbook. But there were some nice opportunities, including some pretty wildflowers along the way.

flowers 88

The setting sun presented some stunning backlight behind Hidden Lake, and there were plenty of mountain goats roaming around.

hidden lake sunset

As the crowd thinned and the sun set, I returned down the trail towards Logan Pass and watched the full moon rise above the trail.

hidden lake trail

The next day I wandered around the Apgar Visitor Center at Lake MacDonald, on the West end of the park. I rented a kayak and whiled away the midday hours, then returned to Logan Pass to hike the Highline Trail, which traverses the opposite ridge, high above the Going To The Sun Road, and thus gets the full benefit of the late afternoon light.

Highline 2

There were browning beargrass stalks, sparkling creeks, and rolling hills, opposite the backlit peaks that I’d seen the night before. I tried to time things so I’d be returning before dark, and got back just as a full grown big horned ram was wandering around the parking lot.

Highline 3

The next morning I returned to the Trail of the Cedars. A wisp of overcast had moved in, providing a perfect filter for the dense green trail.

Cedars 55

So there’s a few highlights, and I’ll add a full gallery to my photo website in a little bit.

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

_________Sunset__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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/